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The Mass:
What's Ahead

Preview of the Roman Missal's
New Instruction

by James P. Moroney

On Holy Thursday of the Jubilee Year 2000, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments announced that Pope John Paul II had approved a third edition of the Missale Romanum (Roman Missal). The first edition of the Roman Missal, published in 1969 and revised in 1975, introduced the changes to the Mass first envisioned by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council in 1963.

While the full Roman Missal is not expected to be published until sometime early in 2001, the Congregation has given us a preview of what is to come with the advance publication of the Latin edition of the revised General Instruction of the Roman Missal (Institutio Generalis). Once the Roman Missal is issued, the new General Instruction will become the law of the Roman Catholic Church throughout the world. While some changes to the Instruction may be requested by the bishops of the United States next year through a legal exception (known as an "indult"), the advance publication of the Instruction gives us a preview of some of the changes to expect once this important document is included in a new edition of the Missal.

The revised Instruction is best read in the context of Vatican II's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, whose theological principles and norms for reforming the liturgy have guided the liturgical reform for more than 40 years. The Council Fathers insisted that all liturgy be focused on Christ and that the celebration of the Eucharist be experienced as the source and summit of the whole Christian life. Likewise, the Council directed the liturgical reformers to place proper emphasis on the role of the priest in persona Christi (acting in the person of Christ) and to embrace the participation of all the people as "the goal to be considered before all else" (#14).

Bishops, priests and deacons

The new Instruction reminds us that the bishop is "chief steward of the mysteries....moderator, promoter and guardian" of "the entire liturgical life" of his diocese, striving to assure that all "grasp interiorly a genuine sense of the liturgical texts and rites, and thereby are led to an active and fruitful celebration of the Eucharist." His ministry, previously explained by the Ceremonial of Bishops, is perhaps least changed by the Instruction, which notes simply that he may give a blessing with the Book of the Gospels after it has been proclaimed by the deacon.

Because the celebration of the Eucharist is the priest's principal office, he is urged to celebrate the Eucharist every day, even if the people cannot be present. However, he should celebrate completely alone only "for a just and reasonable cause" since the participation of all the ministries is so important.

Not even a priest may add, remove or change anything on his own authority, though he is in charge of the planning of the liturgy by which choices from legitimate options are made in consideration of "the common spiritual good of the people of God, rather than...his own inclinations." The priest is reminded in the Instruction that the homily should be "understood as an integral part of the liturgical action." It is required on Sundays and holy days of obligation and may be eliminated from Mass with a congregation only for a grave reason. The priest may give the homily in a standing position either "at the chair or at the ambo, or, when appropriate, in another suitable place."

The Sign of Peace is described by the new Instruction as the rite "by which the Church asks for peace and unity for herself and for the whole human family, and the faithful offer some sign of their ecclesial communion and mutual love for each other before communicating by receiving the Sacrament." In order to avoid a disruption to the rite, the priest is encouraged to exchange a sign of peace only with others in the sanctuary. As members of the congregation offer each other the sign of peace, they may say, "The peace of the Lord be with you always." The response is, "Amen."

While the new Instruction restricts the purification of sacred vessels and other ancillary functions in the Communion rite to priests, deacons and instituted acolytes, the bishops of the United States are presently considering a request that the Holy See grant an indult, or permission to continue the ministry of extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion in the same way it is observed today.

Greater details are given concerning the ministry of deacon, described as "first among the liturgical ministers, with the exception of the priest." As a rule, the deacon kneels from the epiclesis (after the Holy, Holy) to the elevation of the chalice. For the remainder of the Eucharistic Prayer, the deacon stands near the altar when his ministry involves the chalice and Missal.

Lay liturgical ministers

Lay ministers, chosen by the "pastor or rector of the church," receive their ministry through a liturgical blessing or a temporary deputation. These ministries include extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, readers, acolytes, sacristans, cantors, commentators, collectors and ushers/greeters.

The new Instruction reminds us that "the readings should be delivered by a reader, the Gospel being proclaimed by the deacon or by a priest other than the celebrant." In the presence of a qualified reader or a deacon, no one (even a priest) should usurp their role! When the deacon is not present, the reader may carry the Book of the Gospels in the entrance procession, but the Lectionary is never carried in procession. Such has been the immemorial tradition of the Church that Christ has been honored in the Book of the Gospels in procession, both at the beginning of Mass and in the procession which precedes the proclamation of the Gospel. The division of any readings into parts, except for the Passion, is prohibited by the new Instruction.

Altar servers are instructed that they may carry the cross, candles, ashes, censer, bread, wine and water and that the bishop may issue diocesan norms concerning their function.

Of all the aspects of liturgical participation commented on by the new Instruction, perhaps the most significant is what is said of participation by the faithful, whose gestures, postures and words "allow the whole celebration to shine with dignity and noble simplicity, demonstrating the full and true meaning of each of their diverse parts, while fostering the participation of all."

Great emphasis is placed on common posture and gesture at Mass, which manifest the dignity and simplicity and meaning of liturgical rites and foster the common participation of all. Posture and gesture should never be seen, therefore, as a matter of "personal inclination or arbitrary choice" but as a common action which expresses and fosters the common spiritual dispositions of all who are present at Mass.

Sacred silence is recommended by the revised Instruction, which notes that "even before the celebration itself, it is praiseworthy for silence to be observed in church, in the sacristy and adjacent areas, so that all may dispose themselves for the sacred rites which are to be enacted in a devout and fitting manner." Admonishing that the Liturgy of the Word "must be celebrated in such a way as to promote meditation," the Instruction cautions against "any kind of haste which impedes recollection" and recommends brief moments of silence throughout the liturgy, especially after the readings and the homily so that the word of God may be "taken into the heart by the fostering of the Holy Spirit."

Sacred moments, sacred things

THE ALTAR. The traditional emphasis on the centrality of the one altar is taken up at some length by the new Instruction, which reminds us that the altar "signifies to the assembly of the faithful the one Christ and the one Eucharist of the Church" and "represents Christ Jesus, the Living Stone (1 Pt 2:4; see Eph 2:20) more clearly and permanently."

The Instruction allows, however, for those places where an old altar, impossible to move without compromising its artistic value, "is so positioned that it makes the participation of the people difficult." In such instances, another fixed and dedicated altar may be erected. The old altar is then no longer decorated in a special way and the liturgy is celebrated only on the new fixed altar.

A new paragraph is added cautioning that nothing should be placed upon the altar except for an indicated list of what is required for the celebration of Mass. Even flowers are to be arranged modestly and with moderation around the altar but never on top of it. Where the previous Instruction spoke only of an altar or processional cross, the revised Instruction speaks always of "a cross with the figure of Christ crucified upon it." This cross, "positioned either on the altar or near it," should be clearly visible not only during the liturgy, but at all times recalling "for the faithful the saving passion of the Lord, [and] remain[ing] near the altar even outside of liturgical celebrations."

THE TABERNACLE. The section on the place of reservation of the Blessed Sacrament has been adjusted and expanded. It begins by recalling that "the Most Blessed Sacrament should be reserved in a tabernacle in a part of the church which is noble, worthy, conspicuous, well decorated and suitable for prayer." The requirements summarized in the previous Instruction are repeated: that there should be only one tabernacle, which is immovable, solid, unbreakable, locked and not transparent.

The tabernacle may never be placed on the altar, but it must be located either in the sanctuary or even in another chapel suitable for adoration and the private prayer of the faithful, and which is integrally connected with the church and is conspicuous to the faithful. In any case, the location for the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament should always be determined "according to the judgment of the diocesan Bishop."

COMMUNION UNDER BOTH KINDS. Perhaps the most significant change in the entire document is a broader permission for the distribution of Holy Communion under the form of bread and wine. The limited list of occasions in the previous Instruction was supplemented only when a conference of bishops sought a broader permission through indult. The present Instruction, however, places the decision regarding the distribution of Holy Communion under both species in the hands of the "priest to whom charge of a given community has been entrusted as their own pastor, provided that the faithful have been well instructed and there is no danger of the profanation of the Sacrament or that the rite would be difficult to carry out on account of the number of participants or for some other reason."

SACRED IMAGES. The Instruction expands its treatment of sacred images, adding an introductory paragraph setting the presence of images in an eschatological frame: "In the earthly liturgy, the Church participates in a foretaste of the heavenly liturgy, which is celebrated in the holy city Jerusalem, towards which she tends as a pilgrim and where Christ sits at the right hand of God. By so venerating the memory of the saints, the Church hopes for some small part and company with them. The purpose of such images in Church, therefore, is to guide the faithful to the mysteries of the faith which are celebrated there."

Images of the Lord, the Virgin Mary and the saints may be displayed for veneration, then, but generally only one image per saint is to be used. They are to be placed with concern for beauty and dignity: "Care should be taken that their number not be increased indiscriminately, and that they are situated in such a way that they do not distract the faithful's attention from the celebration."

There is an increased emphasis throughout the revised Instruction on the care of all things destined for liturgical use, including everything associated with the altar, and liturgical books, which should be "revered in the liturgical action as signs and symbols of supernatural things, and hence, retain true dignity, beauty and distinction." Thus the tabernacle, organ, ambo, presidential chair, vestments for priests, deacons and lay ministers, sacred vessels, and all things destined for use in the liturgy should receive the requisite blessing.

Adaptations and inculturation

The roles of those who may adapt or change the Order of Mass have been more clearly spelled out in a totally new chapter on adaptations and inculturation. The diocesan bishop is charged with governing the discipline of concelebration, establishing norms for altar servers, distribution of Holy Communion under both kinds, and the construction and ordering of church buildings.

Conferences of bishops are given the work of preparing and approving a vernacular edition of the Roman Missal, defining the adaptations to the Roman Missal regarding gestures and posture of the faithful, gestures of veneration to the altar and the Book of the Gospels, texts of various chants, readings from sacred Scripture for special circumstances, the form of the gesture of peace, the manner of receiving Holy Communion, material for the altar and the sacred furnishings, especially the sacred vessels, and also materials, form and color of the liturgical vestments, and inclusion in the Missal of Directories or Pastoral Instructions.

The conference of bishops also prepares biblical and liturgical translations and judges which "musical forms, melodies, and musical instruments may be admitted into divine worship, in that they are truly apt for sacred use or can be rendered apt."

More extensive cultural adaptations of the Roman Missal, as envisaged by article 40 of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, may also be proposed by conferences of bishops. These changes, though, must not be allowed to compromise the unity of the Roman Rite (which is uniquely expressed in the Latin typical editions and the approved and confirmed vernacular editions derived from them).

Liturgy of the Roman Rite

The new Instruction closes with a wonderful meditation on the nature of the liturgy of the Roman Rite, noting that inculturation is not aimed at creating new rites, and approved innovations may not be "at variance with the distinctive character of the Roman Rite."

The Instruction closes with a summary description of the Missale Romanum: "Thus the Roman Missal, although in a diversity of languages and in a certain variety of customs, must in the future be maintained as a means to the integrity and unity of the Roman Rite, and as its outstanding sign."

Father James P. Moroney is executive director of the Secretariat for the Liturgy for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Next: The Incarnation of Jesus (by Stephen Doyle, O.F.M.)


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