Mutual enrichment: the traditional form of the ablutions

Many good priests of my acquaintance are keen to celebrate Mass in a more traditional way, but do not celebrate the usus antiquior. This may be because of a lack of Latin, because of a fear that the older form is too difficult to learn, or for some other reason. While I would encourage such priests to learn the classical form of our Roman Rite in its entirety, I think that it is also helpful to learn parts of it that can legitimately be used when celebrating the modern rite.

This is in accord with the desire of Pope Benedict, expressed in the letter he wrote to accompany Summorum Pontificum which reassured everyone that the older form of the Mass had not been abrogated and that permission was not needed to celebrate it. The Holy Father spoke of how the two forms of the Roman Rite could be mutually enriching. I wrote about this some time ago and the article is available online if you would like to read it: Mutual Enrichment in Theory and Practice. (Please note prohibition of publishing it elsewhere. The copyright owners take that seriously.)

An article by the excellent priest blogger, Father Jerabek (The Placement of the Corporal – and the Hands) which has some practical indications for mutual enrichment, also drew my attention to a provision in the General Instruction of the (modern rite) Roman Missal that indicates that the practice of using traditional elements in the modern rite is legitimate. Speaking of "Movements and Posture", the GIRM states:
Attention must therefore be paid to what is determined by this General Instruction and by the traditional practice of the Roman Rite and to what serves the common spiritual good of the People of God, rather than private inclination or arbitrary choice. (n.42)
This is a helpful indication that the use of traditional elements is not the same as making up the liturgy as you go along. The more closely we adhere to the established practice of the older form of the Mass, the less room there is for personal idiosyncrasy. When you use traditional practices in the liturgy, you are not exercising private inclination or making an arbitrary choice, but subjecting yourself to a long-established way of doing things.

Paragraph 42 of the GIRM also gives the lie to the argument that was proposed in the past that if something was specified in the older rite and is not specified in the new rite, then it must not be done. This would in fact lead to an absurd conclusion as I pointed out in a blogpost Is your alb back to front?

The ablutions
With the ground cleared in principle, let us look at the rubrics of the modern rite for what the priest should do after Holy Communion for the ablutions (or the “purification.”) The General Instruction of the Roman Missal reads as follows:
The purification of the chalice is done with water alone or with wine and water, which is then drunk by whoever does the purification. The paten is usually wiped clean with the purificator. (279)
and the rubrics say:
When the distribution of Communion is over, the Priest or a Deacon or an acolyte purifies the paten over the chalice and also the chalice itself.
This is a good example of how the modern rite rubrics presume a knowledge of the older form. A priest starting out from scratch would not get much information - he would have to follow what other priests do, or look up older books to see what the tradition was. The GIRM n.42 quoted above certainly comes into play. So let us look at the traditional practice.

Essentially, what the priest does in the traditional form is to hold the chalice out towards his right, for the server to pour into it about the same amount of wine as he consecrated. The priest consumes this and then goes to the side of the altar, where the server pours over his fingers a small amount of wine and a larger quantity of water. The priest then returns to the centre of the altar to consume this ablution and then wipes the chalice dry with the purificator.

Although it would be lawful for a priest to observe a simpler practice than the traditional one (by using only water, for example), it is also perfectly legitimate for a priest to use the traditional procedure when celebrating Mass in the modern rite - it does not contravene the GIRM or the rubric as quoted above.

I have long intended to post something on the ablutions because I have sometimes seen good, devout priests trying to do something traditional but without knowing how priests purified the chalice for centuries before them. I hope that publishing the “method” of the older form will help such priests and indeed contribute a useful element to their experience if they should decide to learn to celebrate the whole Mass according to the older form.

Points to note
1. Notice that in this way of purifying the chalice, we can be morally certain that there is no residue of the Precious Blood left. The first ablution would be enough; the second ablution makes absolutely sure.

2. Notice also how in this way of purifying the chalice, the purificator does not touch the chalice until after both ablutions have been consumed and we are already morally certain that it will not be wiping drops of the Precious Blood of Our Lord. Once you are used to this level of care of the chalice, it is very difficult to be reconciled to the common practice of giving Holy Communion under both kinds, where the chalice is wiped with the purificator immediately after each communicant drinks from it, resulting in a Precious-Blood-soaked purificator.

3. The prayer Quod ore sumpsimus which the priest says quietly at the first ablution is the same in both traditional and modern forms. At the second ablution in the classical form, the priest says a second prayer, also quietly:
Corpus tuum, Dómine, quod sumpsi, et Sanguis, quem potávi, adhǽreat viscéribus meis: et præsta; ut in me non remáneat scélerum mácula, quem pura et sancta refecérunt sacraménta: Qui vivis et regnas in sǽcula sæculórum. Amen.

May Thy body, O Lord, which I have received, and Thy Blood, which I have drunk, cleave to mine inmost parts: and do thou grant that no stain of sin remain in me, whom pure and holy mysteries have refreshed. Who livest and reignest world without end. Amen.
Any priest could, of course, say this prayer quietly when celebrating Mass in the modern form.

4. The server should notice that in the first ablution, the priest uses more wine, and in the second ablution only a small amount of wine and more water. He should be attentive to the indication of the priest as to when the right amount of wine or water has been poured (he will lift the chalice or his fingers) so that he does not pour too little or too much.

Full details
I outlined the older practice above in summary form with few details because it can be intimidating to hit the text of Fortescue The Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described or Zualdi Sacred Ceremonies of Low Mass without warning, and I didn’t want to distract from the main point.

I have copied below the full text from Fortescue. Remember that this is not an instruction for priests who are learning from scratch – most of his readers would have served Mass from the age of seven, and had plenty of practice at ceremonies during their time at the seminary. Fortescue’s Ceremonies would have been a reference book, helpful especially for Holy Week or for when the Bishop rocked up. The basic instructions for Low Mass would have been something perhaps to revise conscientiously during the annual retreat so as to iron out any habitual errors. Because everyone was familiar with the ceremonies from constant daily experience, the description of the rites could be terse and filled with detail. So here is the full recipe for doing the ablutions in the traditional way:
If no one but the celebrant has received Communion, as soon as he has drunk the Precious Blood [Ed. or after the distribution of Holy Communion to the people] he holds out the chalice to the server on the epistle side. Meanwhile he lays the left hand, still holding the paten, on the corporal. The server pours wine into the chalice for the ablution. Meanwhile the celebrant says the prayer Quod ore sumpsimus, etc. He may make a sign to the server when enough wine has been poured, by raising the chalice. The quantity of wine at this ablution should be about equal to the amount consecrated. The priest turns the chalice about gently, so that the wine of the ablution should gather up any drops of the consecrated Wine remaining in the chalice. Then he drinks the ablution, using the same side of the chalice from which he received Communion, holding the paten with the left hand under his chin, not making the sign of the cross with the chalice, saying nothing. He lays the paten on the altar, on the gospel side of the corporal, and sets the chalice in the middle. He now puts the thumbs and forefingers of both hands over the cup of the chalice and grasps the cup with the other fingers. He goes to the epistle side, rests the chalice on the altar there, still holding it as before. The server pours first wine, then water, over the celebrant’s fingers into the chalice. More water than wine should be poured. Meanwhile the celebrant says the prayer Corpus tuum Domine, etc. If any other finger has touched the Sanctissimum, this too must be purified by having the wine and water poured over it. The celebrant sets the chalice on the altar, near, but not on, the corporal, on the epistle side, rubs the fingers a little over it, then takes the purificator and dries them. From this moment he no longer holds the thumbs and forefingers joined. He holds the purificator in the left hand under his chin, takes the chalice in the right, and drinks the ablution, saying nothing. He then holds the chalice on the altar outside the corporal, on the gospel side, grasps it by the stem, in the left, and with the right wipes it out thoroughly with the purificator.

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