Can the Laity Expose the Blessed Sacrament?

by Jimmy Akin

in Liturgy

A reader writes:

I live in a large parish and we have a community of lay people who manage perpetual adoration. My weekly adoration hour is the first hour after Mass on Sunday. Thus, I am required to place the Blessed Sacrament in the monstrance as soon as Mass ends. Since the tabernacle and the monstrance are in the same chapel, I have to remove the glass pix containing Our Lord from the tabernacle, walk a few feet to the altar, and place it in the monstrance. The only instruction I've been given regarding this process is to do it reverently.

Is it acceptable for a layperson like me who is not an extraordinary minister of holy communion to place Our Lord in the monstrance?

I am pleased to inform you that the situation you describe is, in principle, licit.

According to the document Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharist Outside Mass, which is part of the Roman Ritual (see The Rites, vol. 1):

91. The ordinary minister for exposition of the Eucharist is a priest or deacon. At the end of the period of adoration, before the reposition, he blesses the congregation with the sacrament.

In the absence of a priest or deacon or if they are lawfully impeded, an acolyte, another [extraordinary] minister of communion, or another person appointed by the local Ordinary may publicly expose and later repose the Eucharist for the adoration of the faithful.

Such ministers may open the tabernacle and also, as required, place the ciborium on the altar or place the host in the monstrance. At the end of the period of adoration, they replace the blessed sacrament in the tabernacle. It is not lawful, however, for them to give the blessing with the sacrament.

92. The minister, if he is a priest or deacon, should vest in an alb, or a surplice over a cassock, and a stole. Other ministers should wear either the liturgical vestments that are used in the region or the vesture that is befitting this ministry and is approved by the Ordinary.

The priest or deacon should wear a white cope and humeral veil to give the blessing at the end of adoration, when the exposition takes place with the monstrance. In the case or exposition in the ciborium, he should put on the humeral veil.

The passages in blue are the ones that relate directly to the situation the reader is speaking of.

The reader is not an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion and thus would fall under the provision for another person appointed by the local ordinary. Normally the local ordinary is the bishop (there are typically a few other individuals in a diocese that also count as ordinaries, but normally the bishop is meant).

Despite this, it is my understanding that various bishops have delegated the faculty of appointing such person to the pastors of parishes. That is undertandable since the pastors have a more direct knowledge of the people who would be undertaking the task and, apart from unique circumstances, would likely be the person whose recommendation the local ordinary would accept and approve.

Consequently, if the reader has the permission of her pastor to expose the Blessed Sacrament, I would assume that either the bishop has delegated this faculty to the pastor or that the pastor has obtained the bishop's permission for the reader to do this.

In fact, the pastor may have delegated the function further, to whoever is in charge of the perpetual adoration program. That's a bit iffier legally, but it falls under the rubric of "If the local system is working, Rome isn't likely to make an issue of it."

If the reader wants to inquire further, that's certainly possible, but I don't see it as being necessary. The situation sounds as being on acceptibly safe to me.

The text also explicitly gives the minister of exposition permission to place the host in a monstrance, so that aspect of the reader's experience is also covered.

Finally, the text mentions appropriate vestiture. This language is typical of what you find in liturgical documents concerning the clothing that various lay-ministers should wear. It's always non-specific, typically with a reference to it being "fitting" and in accord with whatever is locally approved.

That's a deliberate punt down to the local level. It's language that is meant to give the local ordinary the authority to intervene if there is a problem, but it doesn't require him to draw up a specific set of guidelines.

There may be some dioceses in the United States that have norms for this, but I would be somewhat surprised if that were the case. The clothing of an ordinary layperson exposing the Blessed Sacrament is a rather narrowly-specified thing, and typically dioceses don't have policies for that kind of fine-grained detail.

More commonly whatever would locally be considered appropriate wear for Eucharistic exposition would be considered sufficient, and the bishop would consider it necessary to get involved only if someone were regularly wearing something truly inappropriate by local standards.

It thus sounds to me that the situation the reader describes is in compliance with the Church's laws and there is no need to scruple about it.

I hope this helps!

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{ 9 comments }

David Ozab May 4, 2011 at 8:14 pm

I’m thinking dress as the altar servers do at Mass; in either an alb, or a cassock and surplice depending on the local custom. Censing the Blessed Sacrament with pre-blessed incense should also be ok, right?

freddy May 5, 2011 at 12:03 pm

CONTENT DELETED.

georgie May 5, 2011 at 12:13 pm

FREDDY CIRCUMVENTION DELETED.

georgie May 5, 2011 at 12:25 pm

CONTENT DELETED.

Wendy May 5, 2011 at 3:40 pm

Thanks for the info, Mr. Akin — I’ve wondered about this sort of situation, too. A note on this particular case: so far as it’s described, it seems like it might be an iffy situation, b/c the document you quoted said, “In the absence of a priest or deacon, or if they’re lawfully impeded…” If, as in your reader’s case, the exposition is taking place right after Mass, ordinarily a priest would be present.

thomas May 6, 2011 at 6:40 am

Eucharistic Adoration is usually a lay driven program.
Exposure and Repose are permitted by the laity.
Liturgical clothing is not required.

Jim Arsenault May 6, 2011 at 7:32 am

One thing not addressed here Jimmy is the terms “In the absence of a priest or deacon” and “[extraordinary] minister” the use of laypeople in such conditions is not the norm. The person who wrote this seems to be implying this is a regular duty. We don’t know the whole situation here but I think it is unfair not to note the substancial difference between “Norm and Extraordinary”
Many things are being abused within the church because of this lack of understanding. Just a Thought !!

Kmbold May 6, 2011 at 10:53 am

If there are four priests within a stone’s throw of the sanctuary and deacons falling all over themselves I should think this task could safely stay in the hands of the clergy.

Jimmy May 18, 2011 at 9:57 pm

Mr. Akin,
You wouldn’t happen to know the Latin title for this peculiar text would you? There are a few word arrangements that grate my eyeballs.
I.E. ‘absence’ in similiar documents will often be squared off with ‘impossibility’
I am wondering if this is a case of a legalistic sneaking an excuse for the rich to bring turtledoves to the temple, or ignore their elderly parents.

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