Q. I have a question: when a priest celebrates Mass and fails to use the new translation, especially the words of consecration, is the sacrament valid? Are his actions illicit? This is not a case of an occasional “slip up” but rather a continuing refusal to use the new language because he judges it awkward.
A. The Church’s formulary for the heart of the Ma
ss – “the words of the Lord” spoken over the bread and the chalice of wine, generally referred to as “the Consecration” – must be followed by the celebrant of Mass; no one is permitted to alter them on his own. Absolutely essential are the words, “This is my body,” and “This is the Chalice of my Blood…” The pronoun “my” emphasizes the truth that the priest (or bishop) stands in the place of Christ, because the Mass constitutes a sacrificial banquet made by Christ to the Father. If the essential words are absent, the liturgical action has to be assessed as invalid. It goes without saying that deliberately causing an invalid sacramental action is a serious violation of the reverence that must surround all holy procedures.
There are those who argue that minor changes are simply illicit and do not invalidate sacramental actions. Such an attitude is a puzzlement, however. A priest acts in the name of the Church; he should strive to act in concert with the Church, by whom he is empowered to minister. The Church has a 2,000-year history; how can a priest possibly claim superiority over an institution that has weathered all kinds of innuendos and arrows down through the centuries? More than simple hubris seems to be indicated here.
When lecturing in sacramental theology on the graduate level in the seminary (once a favorite task of mine), I repeatedly insisted that seminarians learn to be deliberate (and not scrupulous) when conferring a sacrament. In other words, there is a need to pray and think beforehand so that one’s sacramental action never approaches the threshold of the habitual, nor even the virtual. “Do what you are doing” (Age quod agis) is a norm that is helpful here; the Latin means “Pay attention to what you are doing.” (This was a corrective constantly made by seminary rectors and professors in my years of study and/or teaching; it applies both to attention and intention.)
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Q. Where in Church law is it said that there must always be a lamp burning before the Tabernacle of Reservation?
A. One key reference to the need for a lamp near the tabernacle is Number 316 of the General Introduction of the Roman Missal. The liturgical regulation reads:
“In accordance with the local traditional custom, near the tabernacle a special lamp, fueled by oil or wax, should shine permanently to indicate the presence of Christ and honor it.”