What do “ductus” & “ictus” mean?

Yesterday I began addressing a common phenomena I’ve witness, namely the practice of incensing the Blessed Sacrament with three triple swings of the thurible. I’m fairly confident that my last post has shown that there is no way to justify this custom under the current rubrics of the Roman Missal, 3rd. edition. I left unanswered, however, the question of the proper definitions of ductus and ictus. I will answer that question here.

For most people, the English translations by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy, Inc. (ICEL) of the Ceremonial of Bishops (The Liturgical Press, © 1989) and the General Instruction (USCCB, © 2003) are your first, and perhaps, only reference. Unfortunately, neither is particularly helpful in determining the proper meanings of these two words. ICEL’s translation of the GIRM erases any distinction when it translates both ductus and ictus simply as “swings of the thurible.” The translation of the Ceremonial of Bishops (CE) done about a decade earlier does attempt—albeit poorly—to distinguish between the two. It translates these phrases in n. 92 as follows: “The censer is swung back and forth three times for the incensation of […]”; and “The censer is swung back and forth twice for the incensation of […]”. CE n. 93 reads, “The altar is incensed with a series of single swings of the censer […].” While credit should be given for trying to preserve the distinction between two Latin terms, the phrase “back and forth” doesn’t clarify much since all swings go back and forth; the difference is how many times it does.

Since neither the English or Latin versions of the post-Conciliar provide a definition of these two terms, reference has to be made to the pre-Conciliar liturgy, which also used these two words, in the hope that something from the years prior to the Novus Ordo liturgy can answer the question. This is where I’ve run into trouble with people. While the arguments differ slightly, the bottom line always is that the 1962 liturgy has no bearing on the new liturgy.

This is where the 1983 Code of Canon Law is helpful, because it reiterates some general rules that apply to all ecclesiastical laws, and we know that rubrics are liturgical law (see can. 2). Canon 19 directs that holes in the law be resolved in “light of […] the […] practice of the Roman Curia, and the common and constant opinion of learned persons.” (I’ve omitted parts that are not immediately relevant to this discussion.) One could also say, by analogy of law to can. 6, §2, that the new rubrics in so far as they use the same vocabulary should be assessed according to tradition (emphasis mine). All this confirms what the 2000 GIRM says in no. 6 and, in particular, no. 42 which instructs that the gestures and postures of the people, priest, and ministers should be determined in accord with the general instruction and the tradition of the Roman Rite (emphasis mine). The conclusion that the new rubrics on incensation are understood in the light of the pre-Conciliar liturgy is further supported by the fact that the 1984 Ceremonial of Bishops itself directs readers to the pre-Conciliar ceremonial (1886) in footnotes 72-75, concerning the way the thurible is to be held, the way it is to be presented and received back by the thurifer, etc.

The answer, then, to what is the proper meaning of ductus and ictus is found in the pre-Conciliar liturgy. To be specific, the distinction between the two terms is found in three decrees* by the Sacred Congregation of Rites (S.R.C.)—the predecessor to the modern CDW, which from 1588 to 1969 was tasked with resolving rubrical questions. The first decree was given on 22 March 1862 in response to a question submitted by the Archdeacon of the Cathedral Church of San Marco in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. It reads, “Dubium 20: Is the two ductus of the thurible, with which the Deacon ought to incense each Canon in choir, to be understood such that each individual ductus ought to be made by a double swing? — Regarding no. 20: Yes.” (S.R.C. Decree 3110 [5318]). On 24 November 1899 the Congregation replied to Fr. Juan Barber Pons, Rector and Master of Ceremonies of the Cathedral Church of Menorca in Spain. To the question, “Is the incensation of the Most Holy Sacrament to be made with a triple ductus of double swings, even within Solemn Mass, before the Introit and at the Offertory?” the reply was “Yes, according to the Decree under no. 3110 on 22 March 1862, reply to no. 20.” (S.R.C. 4048). Lastly, on 29 May 1900 the Congregation answered in the negative to the query of the Master of Ceremonies of the Cathedral Church of Urgell in Spain asking “Should ductus be made with double swings during the incensation of the Altar […]?” (S.R.C. 4057).

From these three dubia it becomes clear that a ductus is composed of two swings and that an ictus is composed of one swing. This same understanding was reiterated in all the English-language commentaries on the pre-Conciliar liturgical rites. Canon J.B. O’Connell, for example, in his major work The Celebration of Mass: A Study of the Rubrics of the Roman Missal (Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Company, in 5 editions © 1940-1962) gives a detailed description of the double swing of the ductus, and regarding the ictus he writes, “In incensing an altar […] the thurible is raised to the height of the breast, swung out towards the object or person and then lowered. In other words the act of incensation is a simple ictus” (p. 490). Similar descriptions can be found in commentaries by Adrian Fortescue and others.

This finally puts to rest the question of how one properly incenses the Blessed Sacrament, the priest, the people, and so on in the Mass of Pope Paul VI.. Number. 277 of the 2000 GIRM and 1984 CE nn. 92 and 93 (and even temporary provisions from 1978) were written using the vocabulary inherited from the pre-Conciliar mass and, thus, the definitions of these words as established in the late 19th. cent .by the Holy See for the pre-Conciliar mass still hold true for the current Ordinary Form of the mass.

* It is interesting to note for liturgical scholars that the distinction between these two words grew out of centuries of liturgical practice, and was not formally recognized by the Holy See till 1862 long after the Tridentine liturgical books were first implemented. It would be indeed interesting to investigate how these two words were understood when they were first written into the rubrics.

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Triple swings of the Thurible?

I’m continually amazed at how frequently I encounter the practice of using three triple swings of the thurible to incense the Blessed Sacrament. This was the case just a few days ago at Benediction in a local parish. Despite years of searching, the best explanation I’ve found is that it’s either a complete invention or a mistaken interpretation of the governing documents (Caeremoniale Episcoporum (1984), nn. 92-93; Institutio generalis Missalis romani (2000), n. 277). I’m still convinced there is no way to justify the practice according to the current liturgical law.

The Mass of Paul VI is governed primarily by the Institutio generalis Missalis romani, usually referred to by its English name General Instruction on the Roman Missal (GIRM). For our purposes, the 1975 and 2000 versions are most relevant. All the editions of the GIRM prior to 2000 did not contain any instructions on how incensations were to be carried out. A temporary solution was given by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacramentes (CDW) in 1978 (Notitiae 14 (1978), 301–302, n. 2.). The first clear legislation in this regard was the 1984 Ceremonial of Bishops (CE) typical edition (nn. 92 and 93). The 2000 Latin typical edition of the GIRM adopted CE nn. 92 and 93 verbatim with only two minor editions (cf. 2000 GIRM 277) indicated below by underlining. It reads (emphasis mine):

[92] Tribus ductibus thuribuli incensantur: Ss.mum Sacramentum, […] oblata, crux altaris, […] presbyter celebrans, […] et populus […]. Duobus ductibus incensantur reliquiae et imagines Sanctorum publicae venerationi expositae[, et quidem initio tantum celebrationis cum incensatur altare].
[93] Altare incensatur singulis ictibus thuribuli, […]. Oblata thurificantur [incensat sacerdos tribus ductibus thuribuli], ante incensationem altaris et crucis[, vel signum crucis super oblata thuribulo producens].

Even if one does not understand the distinction between the Latin wrods ductus and ictus, it is immediately evident that whatever three ductus (tribus ductibus) means, the Blessed Sacrament (Ss.mum Sacramentum) along with the priest (presbyter celebrans), the cross (crux altaris), and the people (populus) all get the same incensation. Nowhere in the lists for two ductus (duobus ductibus) or single icutus (singulis ictibus) does one find the words for the Blessed Sacrament, the cross, the priest, or the people. There is nothing in the 1984 CE or the 2000 GIRM to justify giving the Blessed Sacrament a different incensation than the priest, cross, or people.

I’ll address how we can definitively conclude what ductus and ictus each mean in a subsequent post.

Feast of an Oratory’s namesake

I recently came across the question of what is the proper grade of feast (i.e. optional memorial, memorial, feast, or solemnity) for the saint after whom an oratory is named. The oratory in question is a part of a seminary building and is named after a rather obscure saint, but one who is listed on the general calendar as an optional memorial. The seminary itself has a properly constituted patron different from the one after whom the oratory is named. We know from looking at the Table of Liturgical Days given in the Universal Norms on the Liturgical Year and Calendar that a titular feast of a church is a solemnity (Table of Liturgical Days I, 4, c). Can. 1218 stipulates that each church is to have its own title, which cannot be changed. Clearly, if we were talking about a parish church named after, say, St. Norbert, there would be no question that his feast day (June 6) would be a solemnity within the parish bounds, and an obligatory memorial in all the neighboring parishes. The question is how do we treat an oratory’s titular saint, when the Universal Norms don’t say anything about it. There are seemingly two ways to go about it, each resulting in a very different answer.

The Code distinguishes between three types of sacred places: church (can. 1214), oratory (can. 1223), and private chapel (can. 1226). (For our purposes only the first two are relevant.) Places become sacred when they are dedicated or blessed using the proper liturgical books (can. 1205). Churches should be dedicated (can. 1217) and have a title (can. 1218). It is fitting, on the other hand, to bless oratories (can. 1229). This is where the two ways I mentioned above split. How does one interpret the lack of a requirement for a title for oratories and the fact that oratories are blessed rather than dedicated?

1) One way is to take the non-requirement for a title as a statement that oratories don’t have titles because they are not dedicated… at least not titles that matter for liturgical law. If this is so, then the feast day of the oratory’s namesake is not altered and the grade which it is given by the General Calendar is followed. In the case at hand, this means the feast of the saint after whom the oratory is named would, for liturgical purposes, remain an optional memorial. Since the oratory is part of a seminary, one could claim the oratory’s namesake as a secondary patron of the seminary. It would seem, however, that according to the CDW’s Norms concerning the Constituting of Patrons, the saint would need to be constituted as such. Assuming it is constituted as such, the saint’s feast would then be accorded the level of obligatory memorial (Norms concerning the Constituting of Patrons, no. 14, CDW, 19 Mar 1973 in AAS 65[1973], 276-279).

2) The other way to read this omission is to understand it as saying that oratories can have titles, but that they are not required to, unlike churches which must. Given the lack of a clear answer in the code, citation in support of oratories having titles can be made to the 1960 rubrics incorporated by Bl. John XXIII into the 1962 Roman Missal. Speaking of churches, public oratories, and semi-public oratories*, no. 45, b mentions that the titular feast of an oratory is a first class feast (equivalent to solemnities in the revised calendar) provided that it has been solemnly blessed or consecrated. Even if one accepts this second line of thought, there is still the question of why the Universal Norms make no mention of oratories in no. 52, c or in the Table of Liturgical Days. The omission could be significant; then again, the liturgical norms following the reforms of Pope Paul VI were not always written to cover every possible situation. This is evident in several places. Understanding the new norms for the calendar in continuity with the past, one could argue the omission in the Universal Norms is not an absolute prohibition but a recognition that the majority of Christians will experience the liturgy in a parish church. Thus, in this particular case where there seemingly is a hole in the liturgical law, one may draw from the principles of the Church’s traditional usage to fill the hole. Doing so means that oratories in the CIC/83 are—at least in some cases—a parallel situation to churches and, consequently, can celebrate their titular’s feast as a solemnity under I, 4, c of the Table of Liturgical Days.

An optional memorial or a solemnity… indeed to very different results. Determining the best solution would require one do some research into the drafting of the new norms of the liturgical calendar to find out if there is a specific reason why oratories are not included in the norms. Likewise, studies would have to be made to see what can be gleaned from the drafting process of cann. 1205 – 1229 with regard to the essential differences between churches and oratories. Unfortunately, the question is not important enough to drive me to do either of these.

* The categories in the 1917 CIC were church, public oratory, semi-public oratory, and private oratory. The 1983 CIC collapsed public oratories into the church category, renamed semi-public oratories to simply oratories, and designated private oratories as private chapels.