Pop Quiz: Are You Smarter Than a Liturgist?
May 13, 2024

Pop Quiz: Are You Smarter Than a Liturgist?

How would you answer these liturgy-related questions? (All of them are typically posed to liturgists.)

  1. How should a minister hold or fold his hands during Mass?
  2. Can a blessed be chosen as a confirmation name? Can a female candidate have a male saint?
  3. What are the norms for confirmation sponsors?
  4. Are paraphrases of psalms an acceptable option for reading at Mass?
  5. What is the difference between Anointing of the Sick and Last Rites?


1. Q: How should a minister hold or fold his hands during Mass?

Catholic liturgy “is woven by signs and symbols” (CCC, 1145) of many kinds: words, actions, objects, vestments, music—and bodily postures. Each of these sacred signs convey hidden realities. Some signs and symbols were authorized by the Lord (e.g., water at baptism, breaking bread at the Mass), while others have been cultivated by the Church over the centuries so that they may manifest as powerfully as possible Christ in our midst.

Even—or perhaps especially—hands communicate unseen truths. Romano Guardini explains the expressive power of hands in his small book Sacred Signs: “Every part of the body is an expressive instrument of the soul. The soul does not inhabit the body as a man inhabits a house. It lives and works in each member, each fiber, and reveals itself in the body’s every line, contour and movement. But the soul’s chief instruments and clearest mirrors are the face and hands.”

Given the sacramental power of hands, the Church gives ritual norms for how a minister uses his hands during the Mass. While in the sanctuary, for example, “Ministers keep their hands joined when walking from place to place or when standing, unless they are holding something” (Ceremonial of Bishops (CB), 107). When seated “and wearing vestments, he places his palms on his knees” (CB, 109). When the cleric blesses another person or object, “he points the little finger at the person or thing to be blessed and in blessing extends the whole right hand with all the fingers joined and fully extended” (CB, 108). And when in the orans position at prayer, “a bishop or presbyter addresses prayers to God while standing and with hands slightly raised and outstretched” (CB, 104).

2. Q: Can a blessed be chosen as a confirmation name? Can a female candidate have a male saint?

The 1885 Baltimore Catechism says that the one being confirmed “may and should add a new name to his own at Confirmation, especially when the name of a saint has not been given in Baptism” (Q. 674). Strictly speaking, this traditional practice of choosing a confirmation name is not part of the Order of Confirmation: after the Homily, “if possible, each of those to be confirmed is called by name and individually approaches the sanctuary” (21). When conferring the anointing with Sacred Chrism, the bishop says: “N., be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit.” Given that the Sacrament of Confirmation is understood to complete the gift of baptismal grace (see CCC, 1285), it stands to reason that the “name” being used to call the candidate forward is his baptismal name. The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes the baptismal name: “In Baptism…the Christian receives his name in the Church. This can be the name of a saint, that is, of a disciple who has lived a life of exemplary fidelity to the Lord. The patron saint provides a model of charity; we are assured of his intercession” (2156). So, just as it is most fitting to choose one’s baptismal godparents to be his confirmation sponsors, so it is appropriate—and some would say, preferred—to be called by one’s baptismal name at Confirmation.

Nevertheless, Catholics have long understood that “any notable change of condition, especially in the spiritual order, [is] often accompanied by the reception of a new name” (The Catholic Encyclopedia, “Christian Names”). It is especially laudable that many who do not receive a Christian name at birth or even at baptism—and this is increasingly the case—desire a chance to adopt a Christian name. While not prescribed in the ritual, the practice of taking a confirmation name is customary in many parts of the Church.

The Archdiocese of Portland advises that “candidates may choose the name of a Christian Saint by which to be called. Candidates should be mindful that this custom places them under the special patronage of the Saint on whose intercession the confirmed Christian will call and who provides a role model for living the Christian life” (Archdiocesan Liturgical Handbook, 9.13.5). Since there are no ecclesiastical documents governing this pious custom of taking a confirmation name, taking the name of a “blessed” is an option for confirmation names, as such men and women are individuals who have been beatified by the Church, are recognized as having lived lives of heroic virtue, and can be invoked publicly in the liturgy (e.g., in a Litany of the Saints). As such, they can serve as models of Christian virtue and (hopefully) as intercessors.

It has long been a practice for Christian men and women in religious life to take names traditionally held by members of the opposite sex. For example, “Sister Joseph Andrew,” or “Father Mary Eugene.” In the context of taking a confirmation name, the intention of taking the name should be the primary factor in deciding whether a particular name is appropriate. If the name is being chosen for an intention contrary to the Church’s teaching on gender ideology, this should be an indication that another name should be chosen.

3. Q: What are the norms for confirmation sponsors?

A summary of requirements for the role of confirmation sponsors is found in the Code of Canon Law. The first thing to note is how closely confirmation sponsors and baptismal godparents resemble one another. In fact, in Latin, there is no linguistic distinction between the two: patrinus (male) and matrina (female) identifies both “sponsor” (Canon 892) and “godparent” (Canon 873). Further, when turning to the section concerning confirmation sponsors, we read, “It is desirable to choose as sponsor the one who undertook the same function in baptism” (Canon 893 §2). Finally, the part of the Code dealing with confirmation doesn’t even list norms but says that in order to “perform the function of sponsor, a person must fulfill the conditions mentioned in can. 874”—that is, the baptism section (Can. 893 §1). When consulting the requirements laid out for baptismal godparents, we find:

“Can. 874 §1. To be permitted to take on the function of sponsor a person must:

1/ be designated by the one to be baptized, by the parents or the person who takes their place, or in their absence by the pastor or minister and have the aptitude and intention of fulfilling this function;

2/ have completed the sixteenth year of age, unless the diocesan bishop has established another age, or the pastor or minister has granted an exception for a just cause;

3/ be a Catholic who has been confirmed and has already received the most holy sacrament of the Eucharist and who leads a life of faith in keeping with the function to be taken on;

4/ not be bound by any canonical penalty legitimately imposed or declared [e.g., excommunicated];

5/ not be the father or mother of the one to be baptized.”

Additionally, “A baptized person who belongs to a non-Catholic ecclesial community is not to participate except together with a Catholic sponsor and then only as a witness of the baptism” (Can. 874 §2). Also, “There is to be only one male sponsor or one female sponsor or one of each” (Can. 873).

4. Q: Are paraphrases of psalms an acceptable option for singing at Mass?

Yes and No. Paraphrases of the Psalms are allowed in the Mass when the paraphrase of the Psalm comes from the Roman Missal itself. For example, the Entrance Antiphon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter is a paraphrase of Psalm 33:5–6. These antiphonal texts, like almost all of the prayers of the Missal, are not meant to be proclamations of the Sacred Scriptures. When the Sacred Scriptures are being proclaimed in the liturgy it is their task to announce God’s Word, that is, the words that God consigned to be written and read in the Sacred Liturgy—“everything and only those things which He wanted” written (Dei Verbum, 11). These words of the Old and New Testament are a description, inspired by God, of what it means to live in covenant union with him. As the General Introduction to the Lectionary says, “In the word of God the divine covenant is announced; in the Eucharist the new and everlasting covenant is renewed (10). Indeed, in this liturgical proclamation “it is He Himself who speaks when the holy scriptures are read in the Church” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 7). Because the faithful are assenting to what God is proposing in the sacred text, the Church has always prohibited non-biblical texts to be read in the Liturgy of the Mass. By definition, a paraphrase is an attempt to render “the meaning” of words “in another form.”

The current General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) says that it is unlawful “to replace the readings and Responsorial Psalm, which contain the Word of God, with other, non-biblical texts” (57). More precisely to the present question, paragraph 61 of the GIRM makes clear, “Songs or hymns may not be used in place of the Responsorial Psalm.” This insistence on not including songs or hymns that might even be based on the Psalms is rooted in a move away from the translation principles proposed by the Consilium in the 1969 Instruction on vernacular translation, Comme le prévoit, which advocated a translation philosophy known as “dynamic equivalence,” in which an idea-for-idea approach is taken. The 2001 Instruction Liturgiam Authenticam opposed such an approach, insisting that “the original text, insofar as possible, must be translated integrally and in the most exact manner, without omissions or additions in terms of their content, and without paraphrases or glosses” (LA, 20).

5. Q: What is the difference between Anointing of the Sick and Last Rites?

Briefly, the sacrament of the anointing of the sick is administered to those who are seriously ill or in danger of death from age or sickness, while last rites centers around the dying’s final reception of the Eucharist as Viaticum.

The ritual book Pastoral Care of the Sick: Rites of Anointing and Viaticum states, “The sacrament of the anointing of the sick should be celebrated at the beginning of a serious illness. Viaticum, celebrated when death is close, will then be better understood as the last sacrament of Christian life” (175).

Elaborating further, the Catechism emphasizes: “The Anointing of the Sick ‘is not a sacrament for those only who are at the point of death. Hence, as soon as anyone of the faithful begins to be in danger of death from sickness or old age, the fitting time for him to receive this sacrament has certainly already arrived’” (1541).

Part of the confusion between anointing of the sick and last rites stems from (incorrectly) reserving anointing—also called “Extreme Unction”—only at the point of death. Also, the ritual book contains a “continuous” rite that involves confession of sins (sacrament of penance), anointing of the sick, followed by viaticum—an association that continues to see anointing with death.

Image Source: AB/Matthias Stom from Wikimedia Comm

The Editors