Q&A about Elevation at Mass using both hands

I am finally getting around to something Fr. McNamara of the Legionaries of Christ at Regina Apostolorum wrote for ZENIT.  He answers liturgical questions.

Something very interesting rises from this Q&A, which I will get to down the line and at the end.

He tackled a question about the elevation:

Both Hands at Elevation of Host

And More on Sacraments and Intentions

ROME, SEPT. 30, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: At the consecration of the bread at Mass, is the priest required to hold the host up with two hands? In our church, the priest raises the host with only one hand in a rather casual manner. This makes me almost cry, as I cannot help but think that this gives a message of irreverence to the church community. I would appreciate your thoughts on this. — K.S., Frankfurt, Germany

A: The General Instruction of the Roman Missal does not give a detailed description of this rite. Nor do the liturgical norms and rubrics surrounding the consecration in the missal explicitly determine that the priest takes the host in both hands. These rubrics are the following:

"1. In the formulas [of the consecration] that follow, the words of the Lord should be pronounced clearly and distinctly, as the nature of these words requires.

"2. The Priest takes the bread and, holding it slightly raised above the altar, continues:

"3 He bows slightly [and says “Take this” etc.]

"4. He shows the consecrated host to the people, places it again on the paten, and genuflects in adoration.

"5. After this, the Priest continues: [“In the same way” etc.]

"6. He takes the chalice and, holding it slightly raised above the altar, continues:

"7. He bows slightly [saying “Take this” etc.]

"8. The Priest shows the chalice to the people, places it on the corporal, and genuflects in adoration."

If we were to limit ourselves to a minimalist interpretation of the rubrics, we would have to say that there is no strict legal requirement to hold the host in both hands.

However, the liturgical norms of the ordinary rite, even though they no longer describe each gesture in detail, tend to presume continuity in long-standing practice. Thus there is every reason to assume that when saying simply that the priest “takes the bread,” the legislator presumes that he will do so with both hands as is obligatory in the extraordinary form of the Roman rite.   [Interesting.  I believe there was once a dubium submitted to the Holy See some years after the Novus Ordo had come in.  Because of the squishy, vague rubrics of the Novus Ordo, people were left scratching their heads about how to do things that had not been spelled out with the detail of yesteryear.  For example, how did one incense an altar?  That was clear in the older form of Mass, but left without specifics in the new, though eventually the Ceremoniale Episcopoum offered some grossly minimialistic advice.  In any event, the Holy See (read: Bugnini and crew) responded to the dubium that in cases of doubt it was NOT to be assumed – NOT to be assumed – that things should be done in the old way!  Of course in those days the men who had worked in the Consilium precisely to destroy the "Tridentine" mentality and shift the Church’s ecclesiology and liturgy away from what Trent had laid down, had a vested interest in preventing any old from being done.  Also, they were heavily invested still in a certain odd view of inculturation. Of course, "not to be assumed" still permits room for old ways… maybe… but that is not what the Congregation was driving at.  So, I find this statement of Fr. McNamara very interesting.  From his lips to the CDW’s ear.]

This is certainly the most natural practice and it is followed by the overwhelming majority of priests worldwide. Holding the host and chalice in both hands allows for greater pause, reverence and composure in carrying out this rite. As our reader points out, holding up the host with one hand can evoke an impression of nonchalance on the part of the priest with respect to the Eucharist.

On the other hand this practice is perfectly justified when a priest is physically impeded, [Of course… no one is bound to the impossible.] as was the case of Pope John Paul II who held up the host with one hand when he could no longer control both members. In such a case any lack of aesthetics is more than compensated for by the priest’s devotion to his ministry edifying and nurturing the faithful.

Finally, it is important to remember that we are above all before a consecration narrative of the saving events and not before a historical narrative mime or drama. It is therefore liturgically incorrect for the priest to add dramatic gestures that are not described in the rubrics and have no basis in traditional Church practice[Priests just look silly when they do this.]

Some practices that crept into the liturgy, such as that of breaking the host while narrating Our Lord’s action of breaking the bread, have been explicitly forbidden in the instruction "Redemptionis Sacramentum."

Others, while not specifically mentioned, fall under the same logic that motivated that prohibition. For example, some priests have fallen into the habit of making a gesture of offering toward the faithful with the host and chalice while saying “Take this, all of you.” The addition of such a dramatic gesture is unjustified from the point of view of the rubrics and tends to be quite distracting.  [And silly.]

Above all, however, this action tends to dislocate the fourfold action of the Last Supper that the Church has placed at various moments of the Eucharistic celebration. These four moments are succinctly described by (now Bishop) Peter J. Elliott in his "Ceremonies of the Modern Roman Rite," (footnote 59): [Interesting]

"(1) The preparation of gifts (he took),
the Eucharistic Prayer (He blessed or gave thanks), and then
the fraction (he broke), and finally
the communion (He gave)."

For this reason I believe that we can affirm that the Roman rite’s characteristic sobriety and lack of dramatic flair [More is less and very often less is more.] is well-grounded in both theology and pastoral good sense.

Summorum Pontificum really shifted the ground on this issue of "what do we do when the Novus Ordo rubrics are vague and squishy"?

I think we must now assue that when there is doubt, we really ought to do it the old way!

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in SESSIUNCULA. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. “It is therefore liturgically incorrect for the priest to add dramatic gestures that are not described in the rubrics and have no basis in traditional Church practice. [Priests just look silly when they do this.]”

    Yes Father they do and I witness how silly this looks everytime I attend Mass in my parish. Wish we could get the word out as I do believe that when priests do this they are sincerely trying to add reverence when in fact it does just the opposite! I think there are many who are searching for the reverence and respect we find in the Latin Mass but because of the way it has been viewed in the past, are very hesitant to look there.

  2. Bro. David says:

    i was wondeing Fr. if you could post something concerning the incensing… is the old manner of incense actually forbidden? I know of a priest who still incenses w/ the old prayer (incensum ascendat…). with the three cross and three circular swings, etc… is this actually allowed? where can i found the requisite documentation?

  3. Fr. BJ says:

    I would like to see the older rubrics observed wherever there is vagueness in the Novus Ordo (i.e. in most places…), but I would also like some more official guidance on this from the Holy See. Otherwise what will happen is the same arbitrary approach that results in the deformations of the Novus Ordo: priests will pick and choose which old rubrics they want to include and leave out others, and there will not be consistency.

    We are getting mixed signals from higher-ups on this right now. We see the Holy Father himself using the older rubric in places where there is vagueness or silence in the N.O. (e.g. the incense prayers), and then we see him also using the older rubrics even when they run counter to what the N.O. clearly says to do (e.g. the hand gestures at the preface dialogue). Then we have more shall we say “extreme” examples, such as that recent Mass (was it in Austria with Abp. Ranjith?) where the good Archbishop even did double genuflections at the consecration and so forth, again counter to what the N.O. clearly states should be done.

    I have as it were dabbled with using older rubrics myself while celebrating the N.O., for example resting my hands on the corporal as I hold the host and the chalice while saying the words of consecration, placing folded hands on the edge of the altar mensa for the “In spiritu humilitatis” and “Domine Iesu Christe Fili Dei vivi” prayers, circular hand motion before the final blessing, folded hands while reading gospel, hand motions like the Holy Father does for the preface dialogue (hands on the altar for “Dominus Vobiscum”, lift them up for “Sursum corda”, join them for “Gratias agamus”), etc. etc. But at the same time I wonder, Aren’t I just doing the same thing that the N.O. deformers do?

    The difference between “enriching the rubrics” and what the N.O. deformers do is that enriching involves continuity and deforming involves rupture. So they are not the same thing. At the same time, there is the element of arbitrariness which is common to both enriching and deforming: one has to pick and choose which rubrics to “import”, absent an official explanation of what should be done. All this to say that I really hope that an instruction comes out explaining better what exactly the mind of the Holy Father was on the matter of “mutual enrichment”, especially in the light of the various public examples of “enrichment” that we have seen, and how different some of them have been.

  4. I second Bro. David’s question. I hear that Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Cardinal Arinze all incense the gifts in the “old way.” Yet, when you refer to the dubitum about “that in cases of doubt it was NOT to be assumed – that things should be done in the old way” that dubitum was specifically about incensation. How do we reconcile the conclusion of that dubitum with the actions of the popes and cardinal, since a dubitum is considered the authoritative interpretation?

  5. Does this mean that the dubitum is considered null and void. If so, that would have huge impact on the Novus Ordo since you could assume older actions where the rubrics are not specific. I don’t want to be legalistic, but I just want to understand what the authority of the dubitum is and why it seems like the liturgical law is being broken by the popes and cardinal.

    Do we need a dubitum about that dubitum?

  6. Fr. Z – is it true that before Vatican II, those men who had an impediment with one hand or arm could not be ordained (perhaps because both hands could not be used in the Mass?)

    If that is the case, and if that is still binding today, that would be one area that, out of charity and common sense should be amended to cover priests who are or become disabled by some means (stroke, injury, etc.) and are prevented from using both hands/arms.

    Am I off base in my thoughts on this?

  7. Fr. Z says, “some priests have fallen into the habit of making a gesture of offering toward the faithful with the host and chalice while saying “Take this, all of you.”

    I thought I was the only one bothered by this practice. I find it totally distracting. I’m trying to focus on Our Lord, and I have a priest looking me in the eye. I don’t believe these “dramatizations” are necessary. I can only imagine the drama-like courses taught in some seminaries to ingrain this into men studying for the priesthood.

    I grew up seeing that and when I got to Grotto where Masses were celebrated ad orientem, realized it is not the face of the priest that should be sought in the Mass, but the face of God.

    When a priest looks around at everybody during the Consecration, it justdraws their attention to his face, which is natural.

  8. Rubricarius says:

    Of course in the Tridentine liturgy there is one day in the year when one hand, the right, is used namely the Mass of the Pre-Sanctified on Good Friday: Tunc Celebrans, facta reverentia usque ad terram, supponit Patenam Sacramento, quod in dextera accipiens elevat, ut videri possit a populo

  9. Fr. BJ says:

    Diane: I’m trying to focus on Our Lord, and I have a priest looking me in the eye.

    In the extraordinary form the priest whenever facing the people had to keep a certain custody of the eyes – I think I read in one place that he shouldn’t look beyond the altar rail. I generally try to maintain this in my celebration of the N.O. for precisely the reasons you state! It is strange and distracting to have all this eye contact, especially at that point in the Mass!

  10. Ken says:

    The LC priests I know are very reverent adherents to the novus ordo. I only wish they would (1) embrace the importance of Latin and (2) consider setting an example with the extraordinary form.

  11. Derik C says:

    Fr. Z: and lack of dramatic flair [More is less.]

    shouldn’t it be Less is more?

  12. Woody Jones says:

    Ken, I completely agree with you. I would note however, that having visited at the Legionary scholasticate in Thornwood, NY, the Legionary community there do have more Latin in their liturgies, and as I recall, they even received kneeling (on the step of the sanctuary, as there was no kneeler or altar rail) on the tongue.

    What was maybe even more interesting to me was how a Legionary choir of 100 or so young men could make even some of the more modern hymns sound reverent. You should hear their rendition of the old Fanny Havergal classic “Take my life and let it be, consecrated, Lord to thee”.

  13. Nathan says:

    Fr. BJ: “Otherwise what will happen is the same arbitrary approach that results in the deformations of the Novus Ordo: priests will pick and choose which old rubrics they want to include and leave out others, and there will not be consistency.”

    Father, what an insightful comment! Both you and Fr. Zuhlsdorf hit the continuity issue in the liturgy squarely on the head.

    My God bless you in your labors–I’m confident that your flock is already greatly blessed.

    In Christ,

  14. Manuel says:

    I have been to very few novus ordo masses where the priest DOES NOT make a gesture of handing over the host and chalice to the congregation. What gives? If it is not permited why is it the norm? So the answer above is incorrect when it says only some priests. For me it has been the vast majority.

  15. toomey says:

    More and more reasons to embrace the TLM.

  16. Romulus says:

    Priests being only human, the Church has given them rubrics in large measure to save them from their own silliness (from which even the devout and orthodox are not all immune). I wish people could understand this and see rubrics not as an imposition but as a provident gift. Perhaps it would help if those of us in the Latin rite had a keener appreciation of theosis.

    I wish also that those obsessing about the Mass as expression of community would give some thought to the communal value of everyone not doing his own thing.

  17. Richard says:

    The discussion here on how a priest shouldn’t add certain gestures and pantomime here reminds me of when a priest was reading the gospel on the changing of water into wine at Cana in Galilee like he was a preschool teacher leading storytime. He made downward individual pointing gestures to indicate that “six stone jars were standing there” and spoke with a tone of amazement at mention of the water “now become wine”.

  18. Thomas says:

    Ah yes. At my parish, our priest says weekday Masses ad orientem…except he turns to the people for the consecration, which is very curious since he otherwise is very diligent in following the GIRM. I would point this out to him, except that he is a very imposing individual, and he is “retiring” at the end of the year. Or does someone think I should make such an effort? Perhaps this is something I need not have bothered putting in public.

  19. RichR says:

    With the rise of experientialism and individualism, it seems natural that these didactic and pedantic gestures would arise. the problem is that experientialism and individualism can be narcissistic.

  20. Fr. K. says:

    Paragraph 42 of the Girm seems to apply here. I believe it is new in the 2002 Missale:
    42. The gestures and posture of the priest, the deacon, and the ministers, as well as those of the people, ought to contribute to making the entire celebration resplendent with beauty and noble simplicity, so that the true and full meaning of the different parts of the celebration is evident and that the participation of all is fostered.52 Therefore, attention should be paid to what is determined by this General Instruction and the traditional practice of the Roman Rite and to what serves the common spiritual good of the People of God, rather than private inclination or arbitrary choice.

    Note the added words, “and the traditional practice of the Roman Rite”

  21. Fr. K said: “Note the added words, “and the traditional practice of the Roman Rite”

    Wow, even the GIRM contradicts the dubitum!

    But the incensation is still a question since the Ceremonial of Bishops seems to only indicate a simple 3 “flicks” of the thurible in the incensation of the gifts and not the traditional 3 crosses and 3 circles. It’s just such a confusing mess.

    Arg, 500 years of refined and explained rubrics out the window with the Novus Ordo and now we are starting all over again in figuring out how to say Mass.

  22. Tim Lang says:

    This is an important question that I ask for answers on this thread.

    If the priest does not hold or touch the host during the institution narrative is the consecration valid?

    The priest adlibs much of the Mass but does say “this is my body …etc” but he doess not hold the host. His hands are in a mini orans position above the host which sits on apaten on the altar and he does not pick up or hold the host with one hand let alone two.

    Is there a valid consecration?

    Fr. ?

    Tim Lang

  23. Matthew says:

    Tim Lang: sounds awful to me… Is this in the UK?

    All: I think “traditional practice” says it all. Always do the old if in doubt. But, why can’t the GIRM just come out and say it?

  24. Mark S. says:

    As a curious aside to this debate, my previous pastor was left-handed and used his left hand only throughout the consecration. He once told us that his mother had been almost supersitious about this, apparently feeling that left-handedness was “sinister” for diabolical reasons, i.e. that it was a sign of Satan at work!

  25. Matt says:

    I could no longer attend some parishes because of the improv from the alter. I was so very fortunate to have a canon lawyer as the priest at our gradeschool when I was in gradeschool in the 80’s.

    When I started gradeschool our priest said the NO revrently. He was not yet a canon lawyer. When he finally became a canon lawyer he stopped saying the NO unless it was requested. He said only the TLM. The older I get I feel so lucky to have had him as a priest. When you are a boy and learning to server mass, well lets just say father was stickler for having things done proper and with respect.

    I vividly remember father keeping his thumb and finger joined after consecration. They were never separated until fingers were purified after communion. It always stuck in my mind that his finger had touched the real presence in the host and nothing else could defile them. In the NO I rarely if ever see a priest purify his fingers after communion or show any outward sign of respect.

    It seems the more I learn about the church and tradition the more I am horrified at all that has been lost in the NO. I could also never undertand why the general absolution before communion was eliminated in the 1962 TLM? It makes perfect sense to me to be in the state of grace before receiving the eucharist. As long as you did not have mortal sin on your soul you would be in the state of grace when you received our Lord.

    Changes in the liturgy should be organic and not a wholesale removal of those things that help to propely dispose us to receiving the real presence.

Comments are closed.