by Fr. Jim Chepponis
Today’s Question: The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord
The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, February 2, is celebrated this year on a Sunday. The last time this occurred was in the year 2003. The Mass begins with the blessing of candles and the procession. Two options are presented in the Roman Missal: the first is a gathering outside the main church followed by the procession; the second is a solemn entrance beginning either in front of the church door or inside the church itself. As far as I know, there is not a “third option” which omits the entrance ritual entirely, although I fear that some parishes will either be unprepared or not want to “be bothered” by the details.
If the celebrating community is small or is an intentional community (convent, monastery), the challenges are not as great as dealing with a large city or suburban parish with three or four Sunday Masses. So, it seems to me that there are many pastoral and practical issues that need to be addressed in order to make sure that the ritual is celebrated well.
Here is a checklist of sorts, along with some questions that need to be addressed:
1. Does the parish have enough candles available for the people? Chances are that the tapers stored in the sacristy closet from last year’s Easter Vigil may not be adequate.
2. Are the candle bobeches attached ahead of time? If so, who does this? Are the candles given to people as they enter church, or are they in the pews ahead of time? Who does this?
3. It seems to me that there needs to be some sort of announcement (by the cantor or whoever) before Mass even begins to tell the assembly what’s going on, as a form of hospitality. (e.g. “Please take the light from the candle and pass it on… turn your attention to the back of the church… join in singing… etc.)
4. How are the assembly’s candles lit… a “flick of the bic” or something more gracious? Unlike the Easter Vigil, there’s no mention in the ritual of any connection of the candle lighting with the Paschal Candle.
5. How many people are needed to make the candle lighting go smoothly, especially in a large church with people spread throughout the pews? Who does this? (Ushers, though well-intentioned, may not be the best choice!)
6. The Roman Missal states that the following antiphon may be sung during the candle lighting: “Behold, our Lord will come with power, to enlighten the eyes of his servants, alleluia.” However, no verses are given. Are suggested verses in some other liturgical book? The antiphon by itself is not long enough to cover the candle lighting. But the Missal does say that “another appropriate chant “ may be sung. Practically, if the assembly is expected to sing at this time, they can’t hold a lit candle in one hand and a hymnal in the other! A simple refrain might work best.
7. Once the candles are lit and the music is finished, the priest leads the sign of the cross and greets the people, and gives the introductory address. Then the priest says the prayer blessing the candles. The priest then sprinkles the candles with holy water. Does the rite presume that the candles to be blessed are the ones held by the assembly, rather than a box of candles on a table? No music is suggested at this time, but it might take some time for the priest to travel through the church for the sprinkling (perhaps similar to the way palms are blessed on Palm Sunday).
8. What music is used during the procession? The choices in the Roman Missal may not be long enough. (The first option is Simeon’s canticle in a refrain-and-verse style; the second is a long antiphon that seems meant for choir alone.) The Missal states that the Entrance Antiphon of the Mass is sung as the procession enters the church. Again, the antiphon is somewhat lengthy, perhaps meant for a choir. But what about Masses in which the choir is not present? If a different song is chosen with the expectation that the assembly participate, the assembly will still be holding lit candles, so a short refrain might work best.
9. After the priest has arrived at the altar, the Missal says that the Gloria is sung, followed by the Collect. Do we presume that the Penitential Act/Kyrie is omitted?
10. When are the assembly’s candles extinguished? If after the Collect, perhaps some kind of simple announcement needs to be made, e.g. “Please extinguish your candles and be seated for the Liturgy of the Word.”
11. There may be a lot of maintenance issues with the candles after Mass. From my experience, candles drip on the pews and on the hymnals; candles fall on the floor and are trampled upon; candles may even be placed in the hymnal racks!
12. Finally, communication with the priest, music ministers etc.is essential in order to avoid a liturgical disaster!
There really are a lot of practical issues concerning the opening rite of the Presentation of the Lord! How will you celebrate this feast in your parish or community? Any comments and “best practices” would be welcome.
Fr. Jim Chepponis is pastor of St. John Capistran Parish in Pittsburgh, PA. He is also Director of the Office for Music Ministry for the Pittsburgh Diocese and a published composer.
Moderator’s note: “Non solum” is a feature at Pray Tell for our readership community to discuss practical liturgical issues. The title comes from article 11 of the Vatican II liturgy constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium: “Therefore there is to be vigilance among holy pastors that in liturgical action not only are laws for valid and licit celebration to be observed, but that the faithful should participate knowingly, actively, and fruitfully.” (Ideo sacris pastoribus advigilandum est ut in actione liturgica non solum observentur leges ad validam et licitam celebrationem, sed ut fideles scienter, actuose et fructuose eandem participent.) May the series contribute to good liturgical practice – not only following the law, but especially grasping the spirit of the liturgy!