V Liturgical tinkering

A lady in my congregation objects to the use of incense. Her latest tactic is to say that the new legislation which will ban smoking in bars will also apply to incense in churches. Is she right? And what does the law have to say about decisions which a parish priest may wish to make about liturgy? Do I need the PCC’s agreement if, for example, I wish to celebrate Mass facing east rather than west, or west rather than east?

The burning of incense is not within the definition of smoking in the new legislation (‘smoking tobacco or anything which contains tobacco, or smoking any other substance’) and so its use is not prohibited by it. Whether or not incense is used and how it is used is a matter for the parish priest, since he has the control of all ceremonial (i.e. gestures or acts in the liturgy) as distinct from the rite (i.e. the words used). So you would not need the PCC’s agreement to face east or west as this is a ceremonial matter. However, if such a change necessitated moving an altar or other furniture a faculty might be required. You may not change the form of vesture without ascertaining, by consultation with the PCC, that such a change would be acceptable. This applies to all officiating ministers, so it is not in order for a visiting priest, covering for you during your holiday, to decide that he will wear surplice and stole when the established custom of the parish is to wear alb, stole and chasuble.

As regards the rite used, the Canons provide that decisions as to forms of service are to be taken jointly between the priest and the PCC. They go on to say what happens when there is disagreement between priest and PCC. But once the rite has been decided, the priest alone decides which alternatives within the rite are to be used. So, for example, if it is decided that Common Worship Order One is to be used it is the priest who decides which eucharistic prayer will be used on any particular occasion. The PCC may make requests or suggestions, but it cannot direct him or her.

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