The Time of the Easter Vigil
During the past thirty years, the BCL Newsletter has addressed the question of the time for the Easter Vigil on several occasions. Each time, the General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Roman Calendar, no.21, has been cited:
"The Easter Vigil, during the holy night when Christ rose from the dead, ranks as the mother of all vigils.' (Augustine, Sermon 219: PL 38, 1088). Keeping watch, the Church awaits Christ's resurrection and celebrates it in the sacraments. Accordingly, the entire celebration of this vigil should take place at night, that is, it should either begin after nightfall or end before the dawn of Sunday."
In 1988, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments addressed this question with greater specificity in its Circular Letter Concerning the Preparation and Celebration of the Easter Feasts. After repeating the rubric cited above, the Congregation noted that "This rule is to be taken according to its strictest sense. Reprehensible are those abuses and practices which have crept in many places in violation of this ruling, whereby the Easter Vigil is celebrated at the time of day that it is customary to celebrate anticipated Masses (no.78)."
The intention of the Missale Romanum is clear: the Easter Vigil is to take place in darkness. Thus the approved translation of post initium noctis is after nightfall, that is, after the time in the evening when daylight is last visible. This time is roughly equivalent to astronomical twilight, which is defined by the Naval Observatory as the time after which "the Sun does not contribute to sky illumination." Tables of sunset and astronomical twilight for each locality in the United States are available at http://aa.usno.navy.mil/data/docs/RS_OneYear.html.
In Washington, DC, by way of example, sunset will take place at 6:45pm on Holy Saturday, April 15, 2001. However, Astronomical Twilight in the nation's capital will not occur until 8:21pm, or 96 minutes later. Likewise, sunset in Los Angeles occurs at 6:25pm, but Astronomical Twilight (when "the Sun does not contribute to sky illumination") occurs at 7:53 pm, about 88 minutes later. While some pastoral flexibility concerning the astronomical mathematics of the question is reasonable, it is clearly the intent of the Church that the Easter Vigil not begin until it is dark.
Meeting of the Committee on the Liturgy on March 19, 2001
The Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy met in Washington, DC on Monday, March 19, 2001 to consider several agenda items which included: (1) requests for changes to the national liturgical calendar for the dioceses of the United States of America; (2) plans and programs for the Secretariat for the Liturgy in the upcoming year; (3) the revision of the ritual Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest, (4) the re-establishment of a standing subcommittee on music for the BCL; and (5) the approval of an article for inclusion in the BCL Newsletter entitled "The Care and Cleansing of Altar Linens," which appears elsewhere in this newsletter.
The task group for Children and the Liturgy will shortly begin its assessment of the Lectionary for Masses with Children. The chair of the Hispanic Liturgy subcommittee reported that the completed text of Exequias Cristianas is now at the publishers and should be available sometime this summer. Once this ritual appears in print, it may be used as early as September 8, 2001 and must be used throughout the dioceses of the United States after November 2, 2001. Finally, an update concerning the pastoral difficulties of persons with celiac-spru or other glutin intolerant conditions was presented to the committee as part of its efforts to provide assistance to dioceses dealing with this sensitive issue.
The Care and Cleansing of Altar Linens
In recent years the Secretariat for the Liturgy has received multiple inquiries concerning the care and cleansing of altar linens. The following article, approved by the Committee on the Liturgy at its March 19,2001 meeting, is provided for the information of those charged with the care of altar linens.
Whatever is set aside for use in the liturgy takes on a certain sacred character both by the blessing it receives and the sacred functions it fulfills. Thus, the cloths used at the altar in the course of the Eucharistic celebration should be treated with the care and respect due to those things used in the preparation and celebration of the sacred mysteries.
This brief statement reflects on the importance of reverently caring for altar linens which, because of their use in the liturgy, are deserving of special respect. These linens should be "beautiful and finely made, though mere lavishness and ostentation must be avoided." Altar cloths, corporals, purificators, lavabo towels and palls should be made of absorbent cloth and never of paper.
Altar linens are appropriately blessed according to the Order for the Blessing of Articles for Liturgical Use. The blessing of a number of such articles for liturgical use may take place "within Mass or in a separate celebration in which the faithful should take part."
Just as the altar is a sign for us of Christ the living stone, altar cloths are used "out of reverence for the celebration of the memorial of the Lord and the banquet that gives us his body and" By their beauty and form they add to the dignity of the altar in much the same way that vestments solemnly ornament the priests and sacred ministers. Such cloths also serve a practical purpose, however, in absorbing whatever may be spilled of the Precious Blood or other sacramental elements. Thus the material of altar cloths should be absorbent and easily laundered.
While there may be several altar cloths in the form of drapings or even frontals, their shape, size, and decoration should be in keeping with the design of the altar. Unless the altar cloths have been stained with the Precious Blood, it is not necessary that they be cleaned in the sacrarium. Care should be taken, however, that proper cleaning methods are used to preserve the beauty and life of the altar cloth. It is appropriate for those who care for sacred vessels, cloths and other instrumenta of the liturgy to accompany their work with prayer.
Sacred vessels containing the Body and Blood of the Lord are always placed on top of a corporal.
A corporal is spread by the deacon or another minister in the course of the preparation of the gifts and the altar. When concelebrants receive the Eucharist from the altar, a corporal is placed beneath all chalices or patens. Finally, it is appropriate that a corporal be used on a side table, and placed beneath the sacred vessels which have been left to be purified after Mass.
Because one of the purposes of the corporal is to contain whatever small particles of the consecrated host may be left at the conclusion of Mass, care should be taken that the transferral of consecrated hosts between sacred vessels should always be done over a corporal. The corporal should be white in color and of sufficient dimensions so that at least the main chalice and paten may be placed upon it completely. When necessary, more than one corporal may be used. The material of corporals should be absorbent and easily laundered.
Any apparent particles of the consecrated bread which remain on the corporal after the distribution of Holy Communion should be consumed in the course of the purification of the sacred vessels.
When corporals are cleansed they should first be rinsed in a sacrarium and only afterwards washed with laundry soaps in the customary manner. Corporals should be ironed in such a way that their distinctive manner of folding helps to contain whatever small particles of the consecrated host may remain at the conclusion of the Eucharistic celebration.
Purificators are customarily brought to the altar with chalices and are used to wipe the Precious Blood from the lip of the chalice and to purify sacred vessels. They should be white in color. Whenever the Precious Blood is distributed from the chalice, poured into ancillary vessels or even accidentally spilled, purificators should be used to absorb the spill. The material of purificators should be absorbent and easily laundered. The purificator should never be made of paper or any other disposable material.
Because of their function, purificators regularly become stained with the Precious Blood. It is, therefore, essential that they should first be cleansed in a sacrarium and only afterwards washed with laundry soaps in the customary manner. Purificators should be ironed in such a way that they may be easily used for the wiping of the lip of the chalice.
The Order of Mass calls for the washing of the hands (lavabo) of the priest celebrant in the course of the preparation of the gifts and the altar. Since it is his hands and not only his fingers (as in the former Order of Mass) which are washed at the lavabo, the lavabo towel should be of adequate size and sufficiently absorbent for drying his hands. Neither the color nor the material of the lavabo towel is prescribed, though efforts should be made to avoid the appearance of a "dish towel," "bath towel" or other cloth with a purely secular use.
Other cloths may also be used at Mass. A pall may be used to cover the chalice at Mass in order to protect the Precious Blood from insects or other foreign objects. In order that palls may be kept immaculately clean they should be made with removable covers of a worthy material which may be easily washed in the sacrarium and then laundered. Chalice veils either of the color of the day, or white may be fittingly used to cover the chalice before it is prepared and after it has been purified.
Disposal of Worn Altar Linens
Consistent with the disposal of all things blessed for use in the liturgy, it is appropriate that altar linens, which show signs of wear and can no longer be used, should normally be disposed of either by burial or burning.
The manner in which we treat sacred things (even those of lesser significance than the chalice, paten, liturgical furnishings, etc.) fosters and expresses our openness to the graces God gives to his Church in every celebration of the Eucharist. Thus, by the diligent care of altar linens, the Church expresses her joy at the inestimable gifts she receives from Christ's altar.
Implementation of the Indult for the Transfer of the Solemnity of the Ascension
On November 16, 1998, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, in accord with the provisions of canon 1246 §2, approved a procedure whereby the bishops of each ecclesiastical province would determine whether the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord would be transferred to the Seventh Sunday of Easter in their ecclesiastical province. The decision, confirmed by the Holy See in 1999, has now been acted upon by all ecclesiastical provinces in the United States. The ecclesiastical provinces of Boston, Hartford, New York, Newark, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, DC, Atlanta and Nebraska have retained the celebration of the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord on the proper Thursday, while all other provinces have transferred this celebration to the Seventh Sunday of Easter.