QUAERITUR: covering relics when the Bl. Sacrament is exposed

From a reader:

Is it still rubrical for reliquaries to be covered when the Sanctissimum is exposed?  The old rubrics call for it, I believe.


So, this is about what to do in the newer, post-Conciliar forms of liturgical actions.

A long time ago the Congregation in Rome replied to a question.  When the new rubrics are directives are vague or absent, are we to do things as we have always done?  The Congregation replied that it was not to be assumed that we should in those cases do things the old way.

Well… then what in the name of all that is holy are we supposed to do?  Make it up as we go?

That seems, in fact, to have been their intention.   A close reading of the book which came out under the name of the former papal MC Archbp. Piero Marini reveals the laser beam focus the Bugnini and the Consilium had in stripping Rome of its centralized power to regulate liturgical matters and to place everything in the hands of local communites. 

The resulting discontinuity with the past and between local Churches has been devastating for our Catholic identity.

This is one reason why Pope Benedict has given us Summorum Pontificum whereby the older Missale Romanum and older Rituale and Pontificale can be used freely.  We must regain continuity and thus revitalize our Catholic identity.

Thus endeth the lesson.

To our question.

My understanding is that relics on the altar were in the old days and now when the older forms are used, to be covered in some way or removed in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament exposed.  In practice, they are sometimes exposed on the feast of the Saint whose relic is exposed for veneration.  This is probably not the case with relics of the True Cross, with documents, etc., but I am not sure.

My answer is that if it was done that way before, then do it that way now!  Did the Blessed Sacrament suddenly get demoted in dignity?

Also, when it comes to Exposition and Benediction if you follow the old way of doing things… which you are perfectly free to do know, then you have your answers to these questions. 

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  1. Cory says:

    Institute of Christ the King in Chicago covers the relics during the exposition.

  2. Mitch says:

    That response from the Congregation seems as a blatant intention to wipe away all the was done before to the minutest of details. Creation and Invention was to totally uproot anything that was done before. If it was not an attempt at rupture, I don’t know what is. And leaving so much open and unresolved was just a sloppy job. No wonder there was worldwide confusion and despair. Rome and the Roman example is just what is needed. Besides, what does it hurt really..Why do so many want to look anywhere but Rome for their direction. I never understood this ambivalence and sometimes arrogance. It just seems so unfounded. Although Rome itself sometimes seems to have gone beserk with some things, only perpetuating the confusion, like this type of response from the Congregation. I pray this Pontificate and future ones can somehow unify what has become so fractured in the last few decades..

  3. Josephus muris maliensis says:

    And for that matter, the candles at the altars, images and statues of saints in or near the sanctuary should be put out, if they have been alight, (ie for festal Vespers) as should the Paschal Candle in Eastertide, BEFORE the Sanctissimum is exposed for veneration.

    To widen the discussion, there was also the practice, if during a period of extended exposition, a homily was given, that the Sanctissimum be covered, as it is assumed that the attention of the Faithful is elsewhere, and thus there is a risk of profanation by ignoring.

    This was usually done in most churches by erecting small banner, like a fire-screen, in front of the Throne.

    Lest anyone think this is archaic practice, it is still widespread in Spain, in the New Rite. At Lugo, where there is perpetual exposition in the Cathedral, a little handle is turned at the side of the baroque reredos, and a little silver-gilt cloud with the Holy Ghost on it comes round on a wire and conceals the Monstrance. Thus is the Sanctissimum concealed for all Offices and Masses there to this day. Here is a picture: Lugo Reredos

  4. In some way, a related question: a certain well-known chapel used for televised celebrations of Holy Mass has — of all things — a double-sided crucifix on the altar, that is, one with a corpus on both sides of the cross. It seems to me that such crucifixes were explicitly forbidden in a Roman text some time ago. I read the text in question ages ago and have not been able to find it, but I have no recollection of a change in that particular bit of legislation.

  5. Papabile says:

    It would be good for the CDW to definitively reprobate the dubium Father Z speaks of. Then things would come to a much better light.

  6. Ian says:

    Local custom is fine and good. Even before the Consilium had their way, there was plenty of local variation, but the variation which was truly organic and good was based on the same fundamental Roman liturgical principles.

    For instance, the number of times a bell is rung, or if the acolyte helps with the chalice veil and burse at Low Mass were local variations. That an acolyte would not genuflect when he simply went to the credence without passing the center is a principle.

    Understanding that, the general Roman principle is that you only use what is needed for the action. Extraneous actions and items are not favored. Hence, Relics are good and useful and were used for Solemn and Sung Mass when they are incensed, but they were either covered or removed during Low Mass when they were extraneous, since they serve no liturgical purpose. Better still the old Roman practice was that when there was no liturgical act, the altar was bare except for the linens which served to cover the mensa. Even today, often the main altar in the Papal Basilicas are without decoration when there is no liturgical action. If you go to St. Peters, you will often see the main altar without antependium if there is no liturgical action. Any relics are put away and sometimes even the cross and candlesticks are removed.

    Hence, if you look at both the old practice and the principles, not only should relics be covered during exposition, but there\’s really no good reason to leave them on the altar outside of a liturgical action where the altar is incensed (Vespers, Lauds, Sung or Solemn Mass).

    In places with Reliquary chapels, it is common practice for the relics intended for the main altar to be stored there until they are needed, and then when the altar is set up, the Sacristan moves these to the altar, and replaces them afterward. This allows private veneration outside of the Liturgy.

    Don’t misunderstand me. Local custom is certainly a good thing, but there must be a good reason behind our actions.

    Regarding relics on the altar, there is a good reason at Mass, but rarely is there a good reason not to put them away after Mass.

  7. Josephus muris maliensis says:

    Ian, this is all true and right, but the question was what happens when the Sanctissimum is exposed at the end of a liturgy when the relics are used? For example, Vespers on the patronal feast, or All Saints, or Easter Sunday etc. Then they should be covered, with the usual red damask veils. If they are small enough, the reliquaries could be removed, but normally this would not be possible without a lot of sacristans fussing around, whereas the covers can, and should, be put on by a server, at the same time that the benediction candles are lit.

    Let no-one forget, while on this subject, that people also may not enter the sanctuary where the Sanctissimum is exposed without being dressed; ie NO women, nor laymen in street dress. sacristans should put on a surplice to change the candles etc, eg during 40 hours. Any priest entering the sanctuary for whatever reason, liturgical or otherwise, should wear surplice and white stole.

    There is no reason whatever to think these rules have been changes in the Novus Ordo – merely ignored.

  8. magdalene says:

    Well, first of all, I would have to say that most modernist churches do not have relics in reliquaries so it is not an issue, And although Eucharistic Adoration has been returning, many parishes do not have that either.

    As a ‘commissioned Eucharistic minister’ I exposed and reposed the Blessed Sacrament every week for 13 years. The priests would have nothing to do with it, even though they lived only across the street. They allowed it and for that, at least, we wree grateful. But none of them ever came nor did they wish to expose or repose the Blessed Sacrament; it was left to the laity to do if they wanted this devotion at all.

  9. Presbyter says:

    Some authors say relics of martyrs should be veiled in red, those of other saints in white. However, I haven’t yet found one who tells you what to do if, for instance, you have relics of “mixed” saints in one reliquary, or three reliquaries on an altar containing only relics of non-martyrs, and just one containing only those of martyrs. Can anyone enlighten me, please?

  10. Josephus muris maliensis says:

    Authors write many things, I have never anywhere in Europe seen while reliquary covers used in this way of distinguishing between martyrs and confessors. I would go so far as to say absurd, pure rubricist wishful thinking. All such covers in the treasuries across the world are either velvet or silk damask, usually with gold fringes, and almost invariably red.

    What to do? Juts get on with it and use common sense.

  11. Jonathan Bennet says:

    If the Congregation says we are free to make it up as we go along where the new rubrics are silent, then we are free to simply revert to the older rubrics in these matters.

    Hence, when the Blessed Sacrament is exposed, cover your relics or remove them.

  12. No one of consequence says:

    From that reply by the Congregation: “In incensation the celebrant (GIRM nos. 51 and 105) proceeds as follows: a. toward the gifts: he incenses with three swings, as the deacon does toward the Book of the Gospels; b. toward the cross: he incenses with three swings when he comes in front of it; c. toward the altar: he incenses continuously from the side as he passes around the altar, making no distinction between the altar table and the base: Not 14 (1978) 301-302, no. 2.”

    That doesn’t sound to me like “Make it up as we go.”

  13. Presbyter says:

    Josephus muris maliensis – Thank you for your input, which I value. However I regret the need you seem to feel to be aggressive and to belittle opinions other than your own.

  14. Presbyter says:

    Hmmm. I wonder why you didn’t post that intervention three posts earlier. Mine seemed very moderate and polite.

  15. Josephus muris maliensis says:

    Presbyter, and Fr Z, my apologies if I came across as intemperate, this was far from my intention. Rereading, do I not see that I have criticised anyone posting here, merely put forth, in the interest of debate, an argument against certain practices which I am aware are promoted by certain theoretical rubricists in liturgical manuals, particularly of the early 20th century.

    Should, however, if anyone have taken offense, I am most truly sorry.

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