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Elevation of the Consecrated Host

Date: December 5, 2021
Author: Fr. Edward McNamara, LC

Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and sacramental theology and director of the Sacerdos Institute at the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: I have three questions. 1) I've noticed a priest tends to take a long time during the elevation, or showing, of the consecrated host, and then when he genuflects, he takes a long time on his knee. How long should the elevation of the host and chalice take? Are there any indications on what is dignified and what is an exaggerated length of time? 2) I've noticed celebrants and concelebrants bowing to the altar or the consecrated species each time they approach and retreat from the altar during the Liturgy of the Eucharist when, for example, they must say a part of the Eucharistic Prayer, or move out of the way for a concelebrant to approach to read from the altar missal, or to prepare the altar or tidy up what is on the altar: missal, corporal, etc. The Roman Missal indicates a bow when passing in front (or behind) the altar, but not when moving to and from it (e.g., from and back to the credence table), or moving closer or moving back a little for the reading I just mentioned. 3) There seem to be no rubrics on genuflection when removing the Blessed Sacrament from the tabernacle in a reservation chapel and bringing it to the altar during Mass. Is it sufficient to genuflect just before opening the tabernacle door and then simply uncover the ciborium, go to the altar, place the ciborium on the corporal, and step back if you are an assisting minister? -- F.R., Rome

A: As our reader implies, there are some areas of liturgy for which there are no precise rubrics. There are probably several reasons for this, not least among them being a deliberate desire on the part of the Church to move away from excessively detailed prescriptions and also to avoid favoring a spirituality that might equate authentic devotion with ritual precision.

Thus, no specification is made as to how long the host and chalice should be shown to the faithful. However, there are some indications that could assist the celebrant in gauging appropriate timing.

The rubrics of the Roman Missal before the consecration indicates:

“In the formulas that follow, the words of the Lord should be pronounced clearly and distinctly, as the nature of these words requires.”

What is said about the clear and distinct pronunciation of the words could be equally applied to the mode of performing the ritual gestures.

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal, No. 150, also says:

“A little before the Consecration, if appropriate, a minister rings a small bell as a signal to the faithful. The minister also rings the small bell at each elevation by the Priest, according to local custom. If incense is being used, when the host and the chalice are shown to the people after the Consecration, a minister incenses them.”

Taking these two indications into account we could say that a priest should not be too hasty in making the gestures nor excessively slow. One could calculate the time for showing the sacred species as being roughly equivalent to the time required for three double-swings of the thurible and the genuflection be made so that the gesture demonstrates an act of adoration without being so prolonged as to lose its character of being a unified physical act of bending the knee and rising.

With respect to the second question, I would be of the opinion to limit the bows to when they are prescribed. Although these gestures are probably spontaneous acts of fervor, in general, concelebrants should make the same gestures as when they are principal celebrants unless specifically indicated otherwise.

I would consider our correspondent’s proposal as to how to bring the Eucharist from a reservation chapel to the altar as being adequate, albeit with the proviso that the Church prefers that the faithful at communion receive hosts consecrated during the Mass rather than making habitual use of the reserved hosts.

On returning the ciborium to the tabernacle after Communion, a genuflection before closing the tabernacle door would also seem to be adequate. The general rule regarding omitting genuflections toward the tabernacle during the celebration of Mass except at the beginning and end does not address this particular circumstance and refers more to movements in the sanctuary area.

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