Liber XV, also called The Gnostic Mass, is a beautiful and complex ritual. When it comes to its performance, there are several instances where officers must make interpretative choices, and sometimes even go against clear instruction. This is because Crowley probably didn't perform it enough times to "beta test" it to work out the kinks. I myself have worked hard to celebrate Liber XV as close to the text as possible. Since 1997, when I first Priested, I have continually found details in the text that go against how I (and others that I saw) performed it. I'm sure I will continue to find more such details. However, this article is a collection of major (and some minor) performance issues that all Mass officers have to deal with that I have formed opinions on, based both on theory and practice. They are presented without authority, and are simply the opinions of an ordained Priest of Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica.
Well, the first rule is always "Do what thou wilt", and if a congregant doesn't want to communicate, that's the final authority. However, the questions remains, should every congregant communicate? Liber XV answers this clearly: yes! It states: "Those of the people who intend to communicate, and none other should be present, having signified their intention,..." The text does not allow for optional communication, and even suggests that the people should "signify their intent" to communicate before entering the temple (or perhaps the entering of the temple is itself how the intent is signified).
There is three exceptions, of course, where there is no popular communication with the people:
A Gnostic Mass that includes a ceremony of Baptism, where only the newly baptized communicates.
The same but with a ceremony of Confirmation
A "celebratory" Mass, which could include a marriage, memorial, or other special ceremony.
How do the communicants approach?
In short: Liber XV states that the people, one at a time, advance all the way to the altar and communicate as did the Priest.
Liber XV gives the following clear instruction regarding the congregants: "The Deacon marshals them; they advance one by one to the altar." This suggests that each person should climb the steps of the dais, pass the veil, and stand before the altar (i.e. in front of the Priestess). In the initial description, the "Altar" is specifically the piece of furniture that is "7 feet in length, 3 feet in breadth, 44 inches in height." Above it is the Super Altar, below it is the dais of three steps, and it is all enclosed inside the great Veil. The fact that the instruction references the altarâ€”and not the steps, dais, or veilâ€”gives a clear indication of where the congregant is to stand while communicating.
However, there is one other indication given. The instruction states: "The people communicate as did the Priest, uttering the same words in an attitude of Resurrection: â€śThere is no part of me that is not of the Gods.â€ť" Although this line is open to some wiggle room, the Priest clearly does not communicate at the bottom of the steps, but kneeling in front of the Priestess.
One of the arguments against congregants passing the veil is a mystical notion that it symbolizes the zone above the Abyss on the Tree of Life. The first thing to note is that the Tree of Life is not mentioned anywhere in Liber XV, and Crowley left no writings (?) to corroborate this theory. However, for various reasons, it is reasonable to suggest that the veil does symbolize the Abyss, and that much of the Gnostic Mass is a mystery play depicting the Priest working his way up the Tree, wandering through the Abyss (during the mounting of the three steps), and finally passing into the Supernals by piercing and crossing the veil. So, assuming this is valid (and I do), the question remains: should the people be able to follow?
Answer: absolutely! Besides the text that literally instructs the people to approach the altar, there is one other very good reason why the people should do so: they are represented by the Priest. He speaks and acts for them as an avatar. As such, he performs the necessary magical workings so that the people may follow. The priest delivers certain significant lines that make it clear he is speaking for the whole congregation:
The Priest initially declares, "I am a man among men." He is one with the congregation.
"Make open the path of creation and of intelligence between us and our minds. Enlighten our understanding. Encourage our hearts. Let thy light crystallize itself in our blood, fulfilling us of Resurrection."
"Hear ye all, saints of the true church of old time now essentially present, that of ye we claim heirship, with ye we claim communion, from ye we claim benediction in the name of IAO."
"LORD most secret, bless this spiritual food unto our bodies,... "
"O Lion and O Serpent that destroy the destroyer, be mighty among us."
Likewise, there is no hint in the text to suggest that the congregrants lack some significant characteristic that denies them access to the High Altar. At the same time, there are many items in the textâ€”some explicit and others impliedâ€”that suggest strongly that congregants have the right to approach the Priestess to communicate.
NOTE: There is also no instruction in Liber XV to suggest how the people should interact with the Priestess while communicating. When it comes to touching the Priestess, it should be completely up to her. Some want zero physical contact, some are okay with hand holding or touching the knees, and others want full hugs and even kisses. They should be able to establish their own boundaries, according to their comfort level and interpretation of the ritual. It is also noteworthy that the Priest does not touch the Priestess during his communication. The key is clear instruction by the Deacon to the people before entering the temple as to how the Priestess should or should not be interacted with.
There are two good reasons for communicants to each have his/her own cup, as opposed to everyone drinking from the Priestess' Cup (sometimes referred to as the "communal cup").
Liber XV says so: "Those of the people who intend to communicate, and none other should be present, having signified their intention, a whole Cake of Light, and a whole goblet of wine, have been prepared for each one." In other words, everyone gets their own Cake of Light and their own glass of wine.
Health reasons. Having a room full of people drinking from one cup is an invitation to spread colds, the flu, and worse. My very first Mass as Priest taught me this valuable lesson. Although I didn't know it at the time, I had mononucleosis. Surprise! Within the week, several people came down with it. True, we don't know for sure that I was the carrier, but it caused quite a stir in the community, and we switched to individual glasses after that. Don't wait for an epidemic: give everyone their own clean glass.