Rorate Caeli

Trinity Sunday's papal Mass: liturgical note

One of the few "traditionalizing" elements introduced into the papal liturgy in the reign of Benedict XVI that had essentially survived until now in the current pontificate was the practice of requiring those receiving communion from the Pope to do so kneeling and on their tongue.

To be more precise: in his Masses for the public, Pope Francis had usually given communion to the deacons  (who always received kneeling) while famously abstaining from giving communion to the laity. However, the papal deacons had always given communion in the Pope's place, and those receiving from them continued to be required to kneel and to receive on the tongue. To many who had been anxious about the changes implemented in the papal liturgies since March 2013, the survival of this practice in the Pope's Masses for the public was a great consolation. 

Sunday's papal Mass at the parish of "Santi Elisabetta e Zaccaria," the Pope's first pastoral visit to a Roman parish outside of the Vatican itself, saw the Pope give first communion to several children (and at least one adult). The full video of the Mass can be found here, with the communion of the children taking place starting at 1:49:15.

He gave communion to the children (and the adult) while they stood, and he also did so without a paten (even though he would first intinct the host in the Precious Blood). It is quite clear from footage and photographs of the Mass that there was more than enough space for a kneeler to have been put in front of the Pope and, surely, procuring a kneeler and a paten would not have been impossible in a Roman parish for a papal Mass! 

To those tempted to dismiss the significance of this action: consider that this took place in the Pope's first Mass in a parish of his diocese outside the Vatican, in a Mass that was broadcast live by Centro Televisivo Vaticano and which took place not on an ordinary weekday or a "green Sunday," but on one of the great feasts of the liturgical year.  Furthermore, precisely because it took place in a parish of his own diocese, it cannot but send a clear signal about what he sees as appropriate for the liturgy in a typical parish.

(As an aside, the so-called "Benedictine altar arrangement" was also reduced in this Mass to two small candles and a small crucifix in the middle of the altar.)

When Pope Benedict XVI reigned, every little "restoration" of traditional elements to the papal liturgy was often trumpeted as yet another momentous step in the restoration of the liturgy for the whole Church. It strikes us as absurd and inconsistent that now that another Pope reigns, "papal example" in the liturgy is suddenly treated in some "conservative" quarters as "irrelevant" and as being of little or no concern, something best ignored and needing no comment. Unfortunately, the restoration of the sacred liturgy can never be built on wishful thinking, or on denial, or on coming up with strange and improbable excuses (sometimes in the name of charity!) to explain away the obvious. 


  1. At the typical "conservative" Catholic websites and weblogs, no doubt, the equivocating will become a torrential flood. There's no breaking through their wall denial.

  2. To be honest, I'm surprised kneeling for communion last this long with Pope Francis. He seems to be a man who holds orthodox views on the teachings of the Church, but he also seems to have little use for the traditional manner in which the Mass is celebrated. On this measure, he seems very much to be a man of VCII.

  3. Robbie in what way are you implying the Holy Father is a man of Vatican II? That kind of statement requires clarity as written text can't convey the underlying meaning.

  4. What I find most puzzling is Pope Francis' desire to shed his vestments as quickly as possible. After Mass, Pope Francis was greeting guests on the altar and while the other cardinals, priests and deacons were still wearing their Mass vestments, Pope Francis removed his chasible, alb and mitre and was standing on the altar in his white cassock and zuchetto. This is not the first time I have noticed the Pope quickly removing his vestments. It's almost as though he is embarrassed to wear them! Very puzzling, indeed.

  5. I have often heard Conservatives say to matters like these when one mentions them: "If you cannot praise, keep quiet." Once the advice looks very sound, how would the gentlemen here respond to that?

  6. Anonymous11:46 PM

    Henrique, the Neo-cons can bury their heads in the sand while Rome continues to burn. But denial will not restore the Church. Someone must stand and fight.

  7. I agree that this is a wrong-headed move on the part of the pope; but the more we traditionalists "fight", the more we are branded as "out of step" and marked down as a people to be ignored. Our silence will speak volumes. Our suffering will act in our name. This too shall pass. The only thing truly worth "fighting" for is our own salvation; we cannot save anyone else. They must use their own wills.

  8. Not puzzling at all. Up to now we had 5 popes who were "makers" of the Vatican II. This Bishop of Rome is the first one who is a "product" of that council. Nothing good came from that "adventure" and nothing good will continue to come.

  9. It seems to me that you have forgotten what it means for a Christian to "fight". We fight by suffering. We speak volumes with our silence. We will win the day, and the hearts of all people of good will only if it can be said that we never reviled others, but were always reviled; never struck blows, but were always persecuted; always spoke the truth, but never condemned those over whom we had no authority. And no, convoluted defenses for questionable behavior do not amount to silence or submission, because they will never be accepted by those for whom the defenses are being offered.

  10. Anonymous1:00 AM

    We must also fight for our children's salvation. Parents have the duty not to stay silent. Suffer, do penance, yes. But fight also. Prayer AND action.

  11. "Prayer AND action."

    Exactly what is needed.

  12. You guys of the rorate caeli blog forgot the terrible songs that were sung during the Holy Mass and also the aplauses. I was completely petrified when I saw the video of the Holy Sacrifice.

  13. Your children will not go to hell unless they choose to do so. Suffering is action. Your children will observe and wonder. Consider Ss. Perpetua and Felicity. As I am always telling my students, "Mortal sin is not a mud puddle. You cannot 'fall' into it by accident or be pushed into it by another. Take responsibility."

  14. Anonymous3:01 AM

    Action? There is no earthly recourse. He's the Pope.

  15. Anonymous3:01 AM

    Mr Orr, that's still no reason not to stand up and demand our patrimony. I choose to be more of a Churchill than a Chamberlain.

  16. Imagine if Arbp. Lefebvre did nothing in the 70s, just sat around and suffered. There's a time to suffer and there's a time to act. God doesn't want anyone to just sit around and pretend nothing's going on.

  17. Imagine if Arbp. Lefebvre decided 'suffer' in the 70s. There's a time to suffer and a time to act, but there's never a good time to do nothing.

  18. Great article. I have been defending the Papacy for over 30 years. For the first time I find myself not being able to defend it. Your Holiness Pope Francis for God's sake "Quo Vadis?

  19. Well, here's my crack at an excuse that I find wanting, though not improbable. Based on the way the Pope has conducted himself so far, I would guess that the Pope wished to conform to the liturgical practices of the particular parish, rather than have the parish conform to what have hitherto been papal liturgical practices. That would be consistent with what has been an evident minimization of papal pomp.

  20. Well, we should take heart that the example of Benedict XVI will have a greater impact than that of Francis. Both take place against a context of a certain informality and simplicity in the way the mass is normally celebrated; for this reason the example of Benedict stood out and was noteworthy, while that of Francis is less distinctive, and hence less influential.

  21. Who said to pretend that there's nothing going on? But as for worrying about where we would have been without Lefebvre....

    Luke 19,40, "I tell you, if they keep silent, the stones will cry out."

    Counterfactuals are pretty difficult to comprehend in light of God's omnipotence. And can we say that ALL of the fruit of the Archbishop's "action" has been good? The fact that we're all arguing about it right now suggests that the devil managed to take his share of the pie as well. I don't want to turn this into an argument about the SSPX, however, and I'm sorry to have perpetuated this problem.

    1. It's certainly more comfortable being silent.

    2. Apparently not....

  22. These children lost probably the only opportunity they had of receiving communion while kneeling. The intinction is common in Mexico and more hygienic than drinking other people's saliva.

    I was hoping the cold hearts of American Bishops might break down and they might allow US to receive while kneeling at the NO. But with this show from above we can forget about it.

    Santo Padre, used es el sucesor de Pedro y todo lo que Ud. hace será imitado ecumenicamente. Las tradiciones milenarias de nuestra Iglesia se pueden perder en una misa sola, aunque sea para favorecer a los pobres.

  23. You're right in a way of course.
    But I think we are doing the right thing by not making to much noice about this bad papal example.
    You're right, that's not good news, and I don't see how we can see this as a good move from pope Francis. But I think also that we're right not making this bad example too much known. So that people don't follow it...

  24. Augustinus said:

    "He gave communion to the children (and the adult) while they stood"


    Man won't kneel --
    Daily to pray
    But lift his hands
    To applaud and play.

    Man won't kneel --
    Examine acts dead
    But perform for himself
    By bowing his head.

    Man won't kneel --
    Emotes bad behavior
    No matter reviews
    The director's his savior.

    Man won't kneel --
    He's the star can't fail...
    So the prop-man struck
    The Communion rail.

  25. Anonymous11:52 AM

    A kneeler or prie-Dieu would have been more practical than the deacon having to nudge a child closer to Mr Bergoglio.

  26. I always thought that intinction was not generally permitted in the Roman Rite?

  27. Julian Barken

    I don't think I'm breaking new ground by stating Pope Francis is likely a man of VCII when it comes to the Liturgy. In late April, Francis warned against turning back the clock to the way things were before VCII in one of his morning homilies.

    Just as important, in the days following the conclave, Archbishop Chaput went on the Hugh Hewitt radio show and told the host the liturgical style of Francis was that of VCII. Maybe that's not definitive, but it's certainly evidence of how Francis views the Mass.

  28. call me a neocon, but I won't throw in the towel yet! [[I do recall that at this stage in his pontificate, Pope Benedict was still giving out Communion in the hand]] Let's see what happens on the Feast of Corpus Christi.....

    I just read Francis' 'favorite book' Lord of the World. It is a great encouragement--provided it is truly a favorite of his. It has:
    1) evil masonic priests betraying the Church
    2) a hero who believes the Church's only hope is the Mass and the Rosary
    3) evil communists running the world....

    Pray for the Holy Father and petition him!

    "Holy Father, is humility only good for you, but not for us? What is more humble [and for that matter, just] than kneeling before the King of kings?"

  29. Robbie:
    "... let's wait and see what happens at Corpus Christi..." You wait. I'm tired, I'm old, I'm losing my faith waiting for crumbs of reverence to fall from the table of the church as though it were extraordinary of the church to feed me thus .

    "Extraordinary'... there's a words that has taken on a tragic meaning.

  30. Not only that, but if you guys notice, the words of consecration are being recited in the vernacular (Italian) at the recent Papal Masses, contrary to all of his previous predecessors.

  31. Anonymous4:38 PM

    I find the conception that there is only ONE way to react to the crisis in the Church ludicrous. It is also a false dichotomy. I assure you, that those who stand and fight for our great Faith will be made to suffer. Where would the Church be without great Saints who stood and fought against corruption, abuse, and heresy? Ever read the Church Fathers? Did they not "fight?"

    The Catholic religion is the great "both-and" religion. It is not "either-or." Whenever one says there is only one way to respond to a situation, I tend to get very skeptical, very quickly. Perhaps some souls are more called to quiet suffering, and some to more visible action, but that does not mean that either is more right than the other. I don't know why some have to pretend there have to be such distinctions. It's like those who denigrate contemplative religious for "doing nothing." They do far more than we will ever know in this life, but for some, that "inactivity" seems a waste. But our Holy Mother Church, in Her wisdom, knows that She needs both active and what appear to be more passive apostolates.

    God bless you.

  32. poetcomic1

    Respectfully, you must have confused my comments with someone else. I did not write a comment about Corpus Christi. That was Kneeling Catholic.

    I am a strong advocate for the traditional Latin Mass and am most distressed by what I've seen in the first two and a half months of Francis. As such, my choices for Pope were Ranjith, Burke, and Bagnasco.

  33. Only a tiny number of people receive communion kneeling. I haven't been to any Mass in 20 years where kneeling was required. I see VERY few people take communion other than in the hand either. Could someone explain why children when receiving communion from the pope should act differently to when they receive the sacrament from others? I genuinely don't understand what the issue is. Please explain it to me.

  34. For those of you complaining about people receiving Communion whilst standing: remember that our Eastern Rite Catholics and our Orthodox brethren always - always - stand to receive; for them to kneel would be unthinkable.

    Reception whilst kneeling is a laudable Latin Rite tradition but is not, in any sense, a more appropriate or better way to receive than standing.

  35. Anonymous12:29 AM

    The problem with communicants not kneeling to receive Our Lord from the Pope is that people at the same Mass did genuflect to kiss the Pope's ring. Ponder that inversion of values and weep.

    Humility should not lead to this. This jarring sight could have been predicted and prevented by the master of ceremonies, if the manner of administering communion had not been improvised.

    Holy Father, please consider the scandal that it gives Christ's poor sheep when liturgical norms are arbitrarily suspended by the Supreme Pontiff. It causes little people like me to doubt the authority of the Petrine office -- little obedient people with large families, and impressionable young sons who would be priests.

    If you scatter me, what will become of my children?

    "For my part, I should not believe the gospel except as moved by the authority of the Catholic Church." (Saint Augustine, Against the Fundamental Epistle of Manichaeus)

    Holy Father, please stop improvising!

  36. If you want to reform the Church, become a Saint.

  37. >>>Only a tiny number of people receive communion kneeling. I haven't been to any Mass in 20 years where kneeling was required. I see VERY few people take communion other than in the hand either. Could someone explain why children when receiving communion from the pope should act differently to when they receive the sacrament from others? I genuinely don't understand what the issue is. Please explain it to me.<<<<

    Dear Jim!

    Thanks for reminding us that traditionalists need to explain what seems to them to be obvious!

    let me briefly try to encapsulate our frustration....
    Hand Communion is casual, i.e. it resembles the way we eat potato chips. Receiving on the tongue reminds us of the specialness of What we consume.
    Standing is casual, it resembles people queuing up for movie tickets or lottery tickets at the local Circle K. Kneeling is a more intense gesture. [Don't you agree?] It sends a message thru our bodies to our souls that we take this act seriously. Why would anyone want a more 'casual' approach
    On a historical note...kneeling Communion[according to Professor Eamon Duffy] was one means Elizabeth I's informants spotted unreformed Catholics.
    Given the above, I think most Catholics--if it were ever explained to them-- would want to kneel and receive our Lord directly on the tongue.

  38. "We speak volumes with our silence."

    Pardon me if I find it just a tad ironic that this comes from someone who has already left half a dozen comments on this one thread alone.

  39. "If you want to reform the Church, become a Saint."

    These kinds of comments drip hubris. The person who leaves them assumes two things: those who criticize aren't saints, and that God will judges everyone except the person who leaves these kinds of comments.

  40. Elfrancoloco makes a good point. Pope Francis seems to be improvising. He does not seem to want to face the fact that he is a monarch now.


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