From a reader…
I went to a another parish ___ since I was out of town. The chalices were made of glass. I wrote the Bishop of the Diocese of ___ expressing my concern of the abuse and I was told that the Bishop gave a dispensation because it was an expensive gift in memory of someone as part of a fundraising to build the Church. Is there a dispensation for this type of thing? The other thing I saw and asked about was the fact that a lay person was cleaning the sacred vessels. I was told that the Priest is allergic to wheat and or alcohol and that again a dispensation was given. I have a wheat allergy and it isn’t a problem for me to touch wheat. Just curious about all of this. To me it sounds loosey goosey.
For an answers, I consulted trusted canonists.
One trust clerical canonist wrote:
Ah summertime. The chance to travel and explore. The opportunity to visit different churches around the country and stumble across novel liturgical practices, and to be scandalized by the same.
What is amazing here is the speed with which the interlocutor received a response from the bishop’s office! Under a week! Kudos to the bishop’s office for at least replying with great haste.
The 2004 Instruction, Redemptionis Sacramentum makes it clear that vessels for Holy Mass should be made from solid, precious, and unbreakable materials.
Article 117 states, “Sacred vessels for containing the Body and Blood of the Lord must be made in strict conformity with the norms of tradition and of the liturgical books. The Bishops’ Conferences have the faculty to decide whether it is appropriate, once their decisions have been given the recognitio by the Apostolic See, for sacred vessels to be made of other solid materials as well. It is strictly required, however, that such materials be truly noble in the common estimation within a given region, so that honour will be given to the Lord by their use, and all risk of diminishing the doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharistic species in the eyes of the faithful will be avoided. Reprobated, therefore, is any practice of using for the celebration of Mass common vessels, or others lacking in quality, or devoid of all artistic merit or which are mere containers, as also other vessels made from glass, earthenware, clay, or other materials that break easily. This norm is to be applied even as regards metals and other materials that easily rust or deteriorate.”
Now, (and we’re playing a little inside baseball here, so pay attention to the particulars) Redemptionis Sacramentum is an instruction (canon 34) issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. As an instruction, it is not in and of itself “law,” nor does it possess papal authority, since the Holy Father merely approved of it in the common manner. Therefore, it would seem possible for a bishop to make contrary provisions.
But wait! As an instruction, RS is intended to provide for the proper application of a law – an instruction is a means by which a law, the meaning of which may be doubtful, is explained and the faithful are instructed on how it is to be employed. It is an instruction, primarily, on the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani – which “institution” is unfortunately translated as “instruction”, although the IGMR is very much so law, and not merely an instruction).
The IGMR makes it clear that “sacred vessels are to be made from precious metal,” (p. 328) though provisions are made for them to be made from other “solid materials that, according to the common estimation in each region, are precious…” No mention is made of glass, and the clarifying Instruction bars the use of glass outright.
A bishop has a significant amount of latitude in legislating in his diocese. He cannot, however, act in contradiction to a higher law. Canon 135 explicitly states that “A lower legislator cannot validly issue a law contrary to a higher norm.”
It’s a similar situation with regards to laity purifying the vessels during or after Mass. The law of the General Instruction (p. 279) says that the vessels are to be purified by the priest, a deacon, or an instituted acolyte. The bishop has no authority to dispense from that law. If the priest is unable to accomplish this task, the bishop should either assign a deacon, or institute an acolyte or two to assist the priest.
All that said, we’re left with the question of what to do when confronted by liturgical abuse such as the above. We can certainly complain and write letters and try to explain to priests that what they’re doing is wrong. Chances are, it will have little effect. At this point in time, we’re very close to a tipping point – the number of solid, orthodox, young priests, inspired by Pope Benedict XVI and his vision of liturgical reform is quickly outpacing the outdated and tired vision of the 70’s and 80’s. In most places (I realize not all, but most) a rubrically correct liturgy and an orthodox homily are within a relatively short drive. My advice – rather than subject oneself to undue stress and concern, when one encounters liturgical abuse or weirdness, walk away and find the nearest solidly orthodox priest and parish.
Here is the answer of another canonist:
My initial thought is that the questioner is being lied to, unless there was a LOT lost in translation between the response she received and her summary of the response. In other words, my hunch is that they’re just defying the rubrics and then covering it up with a bunch of semi-coherent excuses. But assuming she’s getting the truth:
Taking the second “dispensation” first, the 2003 circular letter from the CDF regarding the use of mustum and low-gluten hosts says, “If a priest is able to take wine, but only a very small amount, when he is the sole celebrant, the remaining species of wine may be consumed by a layperson participating in that celebration of the Eucharist.” So in theory, a layperson could licitly have at least some part in the purification of the sacred vessels in such circumstances, lapse of the general indult for the US notwithstanding. It’s hard to see what circumstances would require a layperson to take over the purification altogether: if a priest has such a severe allergy/addiction that he cannot even touch wheat or wine, one wonders how he can celebrate the Mass at all.
The first “dispensation” is considerably more dubious. Redemptionis Sacramentum 117 reprobates the use of glass vessels, not because (or not solely because) they are not commonly regarded as noble, but because they are inherently breakable. They create a wanton risk of profanation. Any dispensation requires “a just and reasonable cause, after taking into account the circumstances of the case and the gravity of the law from which dispensation is given; otherwise the dispensation is illicit and, unless it is given by the legislator himself or his superior, also invalid” (c. 90 §1). Here we have a very grave law being dispensed in the name of a seemingly trivial cause (not wanting to hurt the feelings of a donor?).
Stretching the limits of charity and physics, I guess it’s not altogether impossible. Hypothetically if we were dealing with an unusually durable glass chalice (a durability equivalent to metal) of unmistakable nobility, and if somehow even the appearance to the faithful of a risk of profanation were somehow excluded, I think a dispensation could be justified. Or to look at it another way, when RS says “alia vasa ex vitro, argilla, creta aliisve materiis confecta, quae facile frangantur,” you could read the “quae” clause as restrictive; in that case, a dispensation sensu stricto, would not be necessary at all.
Loosey goosey indeed.