Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Thursday, February 22, 2018

What's your question?

Q. Can chaplains in military service regularly offer three Masses on Sundays? Do they have to offer Mass only on an altar stone with relics?

A. A column that I wrote not too long ago, about Connecticut’s Military Chaplains during World War II, prompted some liturgical questions as well as plaudits for the more than 50 priests who saw action on land, sea or in the sky.

The verb “trinate” is a canonical term referring to celebrating three Masses on a given day. Not infrequently, especially with shortages of priests, trination is pastorally necessary, albeit difficult. Besides, special permission is usually required, permission based on pastoral need. The problem is not simply whether the celebration of three Masses is too physically taxing (especially when lengthy travel is involved), but whether such trination can be implemented with due external reverence. (When I used to teach sacramental theology in the seminary, I stressed that the real question here is not whether a priest can offer three Masses, but whether he can say three Masses well. Surely this is the key criterion for limiting the practice in liturgical or canon law. See Canon 905.)

The point is that service chaplains during wartime often must celebrate three Masses; the need can be urgent. Whenever I reflect on the vocation of wartime chaplains, I also reflect on this omnipresent duty.

Furthermore, chaplains during WWII were constrained by liturgical norms that have since been eased, thanks to Vatican Council II. Prior to the Council’s liturgical reforms, chaplains had to carry altar stones, in which relics were embedded. For several years during the time of the Vietnam War, I served as an “assistant chaplain” for a rifle company of Marines. I recall carrying an altar stone, even for field Masses; it was simply a square of marble, and somewhat weighty. The Mass linens (three were required) were placed on the altar stone, upon which the chalice, paten and ciborium were placed (on the three linens and a corporal). The Mass kit that I used was borrowed from an army chaplain who carried and used it through WWII.

After Vatican II, it gradually became customary to replace the altar stone with a “Greek Corporal,” a square linen into which relics had been sewn. Special permission was required for this substitution; I remember writing to a Cardinal-Archbishop to acquire and obtain a Greek Corporal (based on liturgical usage within the Ritual Churches of the East, such as the Byzantine). Later, the Roman Rite adopted its own “Roman Corporal,” which I petitioned for and received.

Today, of course, Mass may be celebrated with only one altar cloth, and, obviously, with a corporal. See the new Roman Missal, The Sacramentary, General Introduction, No. 297.

All of the above rules pertain mainly to reverence – the sanctity of the Eucharist, an awesome gift from the Lord. When one thinks of how difficult it was for embattled chaplains – carrying those heavy altar stones into the field – one recalls the need for the greatest reverence, in all aspects of the Liturgy.

Reverence is, of course, required for solid and meaningful liturgy. Internal reverence is therefore assumed, not only by the ministers but also by all participants. But external reverence, alluded to above, is also needed, if only to serve and intensify interior reverence. Even the way that the opening Sign of the Cross is made, constitutes an important gesture.

What's your question?

 

Q. Can chaplains in military service regularly offer three Masses on Sundays? Do they have to offer Mass only on an altar stone with relics?

 

A. A column that I wrote not too long ago, about Connecticut’s Military Chaplains during World War II, prompted some liturgical questions as well as plaudits for the more than 50 priests who saw action on land, sea or in the sky.

The verb “trinate” is a canonical term referring to celebrating three Masses on a given day. Not infrequently, especially with shortages of priests, trination is pastorally necessary, albeit difficult. Besides, special permission is usually required, permission based on pastoral need. The problem is not simply whether the celebration of three Masses is too physically taxing (especially when lengthy travel is involved), but whether such trination can be implemented with due external reverence. (When I used to teach sacramental theology in the seminary, I stressed that the real question here is not whether a priest can offer three Masses, but whether he can say three Masses well. Surely this is the key criterion for limiting the practice in liturgical or canon law. See Canon 905.)

The point is that service chaplains during wartime often must celebrate three Masses; the need can be urgent. Whenever I reflect on the vocation of wartime chaplains, I also reflect on this omnipresent duty.

Furthermore, chaplains during WWII were constrained by liturgical norms that have since been eased, thanks to Vatican Council II. Prior to the Council’s liturgical reforms, chaplains had to carry altar stones, in which relics were embedded. For several years during the time of the Vietnam War, I served as an “assistant chaplain” for a rifle company of Marines. I recall carrying an altar stone, even for field Masses; it was simply a square of marble, and somewhat weighty. The Mass linens (three were required) were placed on the altar stone, upon which the chalice, paten and ciborium were placed (on the three linens and a corporal). The Mass kit that I used was borrowed from an army chaplain who carried and used it through WWII.

After Vatican II, it gradually became customary to replace the altar stone with a “Greek Corporal,” a square linen into which relics had been sewn. Special permission was required for this substitution; I remember writing to a Cardinal-Archbishop to acquire and obtain a Greek Corporal (based on liturgical usage within the Ritual Churches of the East, such as the Byzantine). Later, the Roman Rite adopted its own “Roman Corporal,” which I petitioned for and received.

Today, of course, Mass may be celebrated with only one altar cloth, and, obviously, with a corporal. See the new Roman Missal, The Sacramentary, General Introduction, No. 297.

All of the above rules pertain mainly to reverence – the sanctity of the Eucharist, an awesome gift from the Lord. When one thinks of how difficult it was for embattled chaplains – carrying those heavy altar stones into the field – one recalls the need for the greatest reverence, in all aspects of the Liturgy.

Reverence is, of course, required for solid and meaningful liturgy. Internal reverence is therefore assumed, not only by the ministers but also by all participants. But external reverence, alluded to above, is also needed, if only to serve and intensify interior reverence. Even the way that the opening Sign of the Cross is made, constitutes an important gesture.