HE COMMITTEE which worked for five years to produce the Saint Jean de Brébeuf Hymnal was quite a diverse group. Some were laymen, others were priests—and most of our time was spent examining hymn texts and tunes. One of the members discovered an intriguing rubric that was still “on the books” much later most authors realize. As late as 1957, the Roman Missal contained this rubric:
Minister autem dextera manu tenens
vas cum vino et aqua, sinistra vero mappulam,
aliquanto post Sacerdotem eis porrigit purificationem,
et mappulam ad os abstergendum.
The Server, however, holding in his right hand
a vessel with wine and water, and in his left a napkin,
a little behind the Priest proffers them
[i.e. the communicants] the purification,
and the napkin to wipe their mouths.
That’s correct: An altar boy followed the priest, giving water and wine to those who have just received Holy Communion.
The member of our committee who discovered this is very smart and very honest. Nevertheless, you can verify the truth of his discovery by a Google search. (Don’t look in the 1962 edition, because this rubric was removed.) I know many liturgical blogs, but I am not aware of any author who has spoken about this rubric. However, Fr. Herbert Thurston (d. 1939)—a friend of Fr. Adrian Fortescue—was certainly aware of this rubric. His 1911 article is encyclopedic:
* * PDF Download • Article by Fr. Herbert Thurston, SJ (1911)
Here’s an excerpt from his article:
An article from 1943 rightly says:
The Ritus Servandus, we may here remind ourselves, still preserves the medieval direction that the server follow the priest, as he distributes Communion, in order to give each communicant a sip of wine and water. How surprised people would be next Sunday to see the direction being carried out!
Please read two pages from an 1883 article by Fr. James O’Kane:
* * PDF Download • Article by Fr. James O’Kane (1883)
Fr. O’Kane explores whether the rubric can lawfully be ignored. He also discusses where the practice has fallen into disuse and where it has not—giving the following reasons for why it became unpopular:
“…the danger of effusion, the poverty of the churches, the difficulty of presenting it to each when there is a crowd of communicants, the nausea some would feel, and so on.”
I mentioned how a member of the Brébeuf committee made this discovery. He told me that he saw this practice observed when he was ordained.
We must be very careful when it comes to the Sanctissimum. For many years, I have encouraged my choir members to drink water after receiving Holy Communion, although the current rubrics only require the celebrant to do so. In very old Catholic Churches (going 1,000+ years) there are fountains near the front which used to be filled with water, so the faithful could drink immediately after receiving Holy Communion. Nevertheless, Fr. Herbert Thurston was probably correct to write, in 1911:
“Nay more, I will go so far as to say that if any priest did carry out the rubric in question, he would—at an early date—have his attention called to the matter by his Bishop, and would be reminded that it was not for private individuals to revive obsolete observances, when they have been suffered to fall into desuetude by a Church fully competent to enforce her own enactments if she wishes to do so.”
UPDATE: We have been notified that three (3) days after our discovery, the blog of the Church Music Association of America has written an article commenting on this discovery.
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 We desire to thank Berthold Kress, who found the image (see above) and posted it as part of a magnificent collection.