Since the time of the promulgation of the post-Conciliar liturgical books, the Holy See and the USCCB have issued a number of clarifying statements and guidelines regarding the liturgical celebration of Lent and the Sacred Triduum. These documents include the Congregation for Divine Worship’s Circular Letter Concerning the Preparation and Celebration of the Easter Feasts (1988), the USCCB’s Built of Living Stones (2000), the Third Typical Edition of the Roman Missal (2002), and the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments’ decree on the rite of foot-washing in the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, In Missa in cena Domini (2016). As a service to our readers, several of the principal points in these documents are summarized here:
- Holy Water Fonts – Holy water in fonts should not be drained or replaced with any other substance (e.g., sand) during Lent. Fonts should only be emptied during the Triduum, that is, from after the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday until they are refilled with water blessed at the Easter Vigil (Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, Prot. N. 569/00/L).
- Infant Baptisms during Lent – Nothing prohibits infants from being baptized during Lent. Canon law indicates that “parents are obliged to take care that infants are baptized in the first few weeks after birth,” irrespective of the time of the liturgical year (c. 867).
- Candidates Not Dismissed at Mass – Unlike catechumens, the RCIA does not call for candidates to be dismissed prior to the Liturgy of the Eucharist during their preparation for full initiation (RCIA, 433, 545, 560).
- The Proclamation of the Passion on Palm Sunday and Good Friday – The Circular Letter Concerning the Preparation and Celebration of the Easter Feasts notes, “The Passion narrative occupies a special place. It should be sung or read in the traditional way, that is, by three persons who take the part of Christ, the narrator and the people. The Passion is proclaimed by deacons or priests, or by lay readers; in the latter case, the part of Christ should be reserved to the priest. The proclamation of the Passion should be without candles and incense, the greeting and the sign of the cross on the book are omitted” (33). The insertion of hymn texts, acclamations, or otherwise dividing/altering the reading is not envisioned by the rubrics.
- Holy Thursday – Bells are rung during the Gloria at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday. Afterward, the bells should remain silent until the Gloria at the Easter Vigil.
- Foot-washing – As recently decreed by the Congregation for Divine Worship, the optional foot-washing rite on Holy Thursday is no longer restricted only to male participants. Rather, “pastors may select a small group of the faithful to represent the variety and the unity of each part of the people of God. Such small groups can be made up of men and women, and it is appropriate that they consist of people young and old, healthy and sick, clerics, consecrated men and women and laity” (In Missa in cena Domini). There is no requirement that the group of persons having their feet washed be twelve in number.
- Good Friday – Either a plain cross or a crucifix may be used for the Veneration of the Cross during the Celebration of the Passion of the Lord (Built of Living Stones, 83). Only a single cross or crucifix should be used for veneration in order to underscore the symbolism of the Cross as the sole instrument of humanity’s salvation.
As well, the Roman Missal clarifies that this liturgy “by its very nature may not… be celebrated in the absence of a priest” (“Friday of the Passion of the Lord,” 2).
- Music During Lent and the Triduum – In Lent, the playing of the organ and musical instruments is permitted only in order to support the singing of the congregation (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 313). This same practice is to be observed from the Gloria in the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday through the Gloria at the Easter Vigil. Accordingly, instrumental pieces should not be played during these periods.
- Sacraments During the Triduum – The Sacraments of Penance and the Anointing of the Sick may be celebrated during the Triduum (“Friday of the Passion of the Lord,” Roman Missal, 1). As well, Holy Communion may be given to the sick and homebound throughout the Triduum, but only as Viaticum to the dying on Holy Saturday.
- Faculties for Conferring Confirmation – For those Catholics who have fully participated in the process and catechesis of the RCIA, pastors, administrators, and any priest that a pastor or administrator sub-delegates may confirm when the celebration of Confirmation takes place during a Eucharistic Liturgy in the Easter season in the Archdiocese of New York. To confirm at any other time, delegation must be requested in writing from the Chancery.
- Scheduling the Easter Vigil – On Saturday, April 20, 2019, the end of civil twilight will take place at approximately 8:10pm EDT in the New York area. Inasmuch as the Roman Missal states that the Vigil must begin in true darkness (i.e., “after nightfall”), parishes should not schedule the start of the Easter Vigil until at least 8:30pm this year.
- Readings at the Easter Vigil – The Roman Missal and Lectionary list seven Old Testament readings for the Easter Vigil. These are to be read in their entirety, unless “more serious pastoral circumstances demand” reducing their number (“Easter Vigil,” Roman Missal, 21). At least three of the readings from the Old Testament must be used, always including the reading from Exodus concerning the passing through the Red Sea. In place of the accompanying responsorial psalms, a period of silence may also be observed (23).
- Renewal of Baptismal Promises on Easter Sunday – “On Easter Sunday, the optional nature of the Renewal of Baptismal Promises is emphasized in the rubrics, and the text itself is not included on Easter Sunday. If it is to be used, the text is taken from the appropriate place in the Easter Vigil, and the Creed is omitted. The Penitential Act still takes place as usual” (USCCB Divine Worship Secretariat Newsletter, May 2011).