QUAERITUR: Gathering around the altar at school Mass

From a reader:

It was announced during our school Mass today, by the associate here at the parish where I teach, that henceforth, whatever class has “planned” the school Mass each week will be invited to gather around the altar for the Eucharistic Prayer and will remain until they have given the Sign of Peace to Father.

This is sloppy sentimentality.  This crude attempt at being “meaningful” demeans both the Mass and everyone involved.

I don’t believe there is an explicit prohibition in any document against this.  However, there are documents which describe who should be where.

For example, in GIRM 295 we read.

The sanctuary is the place where the altar stands, where the word of God is proclaimed, and where the priest, the deacon, and the other ministers exercise their offices. It should suitably be marked off from the body of the church either by its being somewhat elevated or by a particular structure and ornamentation.

Lay people are not to be in the sanctuary unless they have a ministerial role.  “Standing there” is not a role.

Furthermore, in the USA people are to kneel – not stand – from the Sanctus until after the Amen at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer.

Also, back in 1981 the Congregation for Divine Worships official publication Notitiae (No. 17 (1981) p. 61) responded to a question about this matter.

Query: At the presentation of gifts at a Mass with congregation, persons (lay or religious) bring to the altar the bread and wine which are to be consecrated. These gifts are received by the priest celebrant. All those participating in the Mass accompany this group procession in which the gifts are brought forward. They then stand around the altar until communion time. Is this procedure in conformity with the spirit of the law and of the Roman Missal?

Reply: Assuredly, the Eucharistic celebration is the act of the entire community, carried out by all the members of the liturgical assembly. Nevertheless, everyone must have and also must observe his or her own place and proper role: ‘In liturgical celebrations each one, minister or layperson, who has an office to perform, should do all of, but only, those parts which pertain to that office by the nature of the rite and the principles of liturgy’ (SC 28). During the liturgy of the Eucharist, only the presiding celebrant remains at the altar. The assembly of the faithful take their place in the Church outside the ‘presbyterium,’ which is reserved for the celebrant or concelebrants and altar ministers.

While this does not say explicitly that that people with no ministerial role mustn’t stand around the altar, it is pretty clear that that is the meaning of the response.

Furthermore, at no point is there an indication in the rite for the priest or anyone else to invite people to come into the sanctuary and stand (against the Church’s clear direction during the Eucharistic prayer) near the altar.

Moreover, the Ceremonial of Bishops 50 states,

“A minister who is not wearing a vestment, a cassock or surplice, or other lawfully approved garb may not enter the sanctuary during a celebration.”

The priest who has this in mind should be dissuaded from starting this, perhaps over a couple mugs of rich and aromatic Mystic Monk Coffee.  If he will not be dissuaded, then he should be compelled, either his superior if he is a religious and/or by the local diocesan bishop, whose task it is make sure that the Church’s liturgical directives are followed.   One could also explain the situation to the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments and ask for advice.

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  1. S Petersen says:

    Father, please state sometime how we’re to take this incessant trespasses against us. Yes, forgive the actors, but what kind of attitude can we cultivate toward the Magisterium. This stuff never stops and the bishops, (bur for the merest handful) never do anything. Priest & Bishop both egregiously erred in regard to a kneeling “ruling” locally–I spent 60 bucks petitioning the right dicastery and haven’t heard from the Vatican, the Chancery or the Parish–I’m banned. Am I wrong to be angry? impatient? cast down? Should I rejoice in this persecution that stems from the Church hurting Herself?

  2. SPetersen: Since I don’t know very much about your situation, I cannot make a very good response. I don’t think people must simply lie down and let themselves and others be kicked. People have a right to the proper celebration of the sacraments and liturgical worship. That said, charity should be your goal in all things. And be patient, along the lines of Luke 18:1-8.

  3. Ah, Fr. Z., you crack me up!!
    Not about the issue at hand, nor of your very wise and correct answer.
    Those monks surely must not only pray for you every day but do extra penance, as well; you are really helping them out!!

  4. Bah. Seventies nonsense, such as was done to my First Communion class.

    Of course, if everybody wears an alb, carries a candle, and does server stuff, that would at least make some sense. But then there’d be kneeling, and we can’t have that. Bah.

  5. Supertradmum says:

    Last Easter, I visited my parents and went to Easter Mass with them in their Midwest parish. At the third Easter Mass of the day, all the children were invited around the sanctuary for the homily, which was a question and answer period. It was so horrible, but most people thought it was “cute”, as the children gave incorrect answers to the questions about Easter and the Resurrected Christ. This type of thing happens, apparently, every Sunday at the “Children’s Mass”. It is so seventies and so annoying, but the Bishop allows it. One can only wish and pray for more vocations from sensible young men, who do not need to be the center of attention or trendy.

  6. I thought that’s 70 parish was over. They still do this? Even though it’s a cute sentiment, it’s completely wrong and takes away from the dignity of the Holy Mass. If Holy Mass were a dinner meal, then sure it’d be appropriate. They stopped doing that at my old parish back home thank God.

  7. KristenB says:

    I know that LifeTeen use to have the teens come up to the altar before and during the Consecration.
    I was under the impression that “cease and desist” order had been given to LifeTeen regarding the practice…

    Yes, I was correct in that assumption… I would use the links below as sources to present to the pastor in question regarding this practice.
    and, of course, Fr. Z already has a post about it:

  8. Gaz says:

    I remember attending a Mass in a small chapel at which the celebrating priest invited all (6 or 7) to gather around the altar for the Eucharistic prayer. I did as I was bid but was the only one who knelt.

  9. Dr. Eric says:

    This is why I stopped going to daily mass at our local church that also has a primary school. I was so enraged when the priest did this. He should know better, it’s like a physician who through negligence prescribes the wrong medication that his patient is also allergic to to treat an infection.

  10. Hans says:

    The question answered in that particular Notitiae brings to mind another.

    During one of our formation classes in the last week or so, one of our instructors suggested that those bringing the gifts forward bring them to the altar, where the priest would receive the gifts from them, instead of the priest receiving the gifts from them at the front of the presbyterium. They would then, their task completed, return to their seats.

    Are those bringing forward the gifts performing a “ministerial role” for which it is appropriate for them to be at the altar, in the presbyterium, or not? And if not, since this reference doesn’t seem entirely clear in this context, where could I find a clearer one?


    On another mostly-unrelated subject, do the ‘Mystic Monks’ sell anything other than coffee? I had coffee with my breakfast this morning, but it was my first coffee since we were in Italy in early July, and that because my friend who goes to Italy a lot told me it was basically illegal to go to Italy and not drink coffee.

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