Each issue carries an
Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
Changes in the Mass:
The New General Instruction
A number of changes in the celebration of the Mass
are being introduced in Catholic parishes. The reason is a new edition
of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, published
in Latin in 2001. Now translated into English and other languages,
it has been slightly adapted for various cultures and is now working
its way into our parishes.
This document, which forms the preface to the Roman
Missal, contains the rules and rubrics for the celebration of the
Eucharist. Beyond listing the rules, however, the General Instruction
also expresses an understanding of the Mass. The directions given
reflect various theological perspectives. Because the document was
created by several different committees at different times, it contains
perspectives that sometimes seem to conflict with one another.
The General Instruction was first issued in
the late 1960s and has been revised several times since then. In
addition to the revisions made at the Vatican, the document is also
adapted by the bishops of each country. Recent decisions made by
the U. S. bishops are included in the version of the General
Instruction that is now in use in the United States.
Recent revisions to the General Instruction
often reflect different perspectives from those that shaped the
original text itself. A good way to understand the revised document
is to look at it as a search for balance. No single viewpoint can
adequately express the full mystery of the Eucharist, so varying
viewpoints can give us a broader and deeper understanding of the
The implementation of this latest version of the
General Instruction offers all Catholics a good opportunity
to deepen their understanding of the Mass. It also offers parishes
an impetus to evaluate their usual patterns of worship and to improve
areas that do not reflect the basic vision of the General Instruction.
One of the concerns reflected in the recent revisions
is a desire to clarify the roles of various participants in the
liturgy. Some actions that have commonly been done by extraordinary
ministers of Communion, for example, are now designated as tasks
proper to the priest or a deacon. If you look only at these changes,
they seem to be an attempt to highlight the differences between
ordained ministers (bishops, priests and deacons) and non-ordained
liturgical ministers (lectors, Communion ministers, servers, etc.)
It is important to view these revisions, however,
in the context of the whole document. The General Instruction
takes great pains to encourage the full participation of the whole
assembly in the celebration of the liturgy. While some rubrics stress
the role of the clergy, others strongly emphasize the proper and
indispensable role of the whole body of Christ gathered for worship.
It is therefore of the greatest importance that
the celebration of the Massthat is, the Lord's Supperbe
so arranged that sacred ministers and the faithful taking part
in it, according to the proper state of each, may derive from
it more abundantly those fruits—.This will be best accomplished
if, with due regard for the nature and the particular circumstances
of each liturgical assembly, the entire celebration is planned
in such a way that it leads to a conscious, active and full participation
of the faithful both in body and in mind, a participation burning
with faith, hope , and charity, of the sort which is desired by
the Church and demanded by the very nature of the celebration,
and to which the Christian people have a right and duty by reason
of their Baptism. (GIRM, #17-18)
The goal is not, then, to return to the era when
we thought of the Mass as something the priest did while everyone
else watched and prayed their own prayers. The Mass is the action
of the whole body of Christ, which is formed by all the members
of the assembly, including the priest and other special liturgical
ministers. Only when everyone does his or her part fully will we
create liturgy that is truly worthy of the God we worship.
The implementation of these latest changes, then,
is a good time for all of us to deepen our understanding of the
importance of our own roles in the liturgy. The balance we seek
does not exalt any one role above the others but values the diversity
of roles in the liturgy and treasures each as an irreplaceable part
of the community at worship.
and Be Quiet
—Another emphasis that recurs frequently in the revised
text of the General Instruction is the importance of singing
in the liturgy. Many Catholics remember a time when singing by the
assembly was not part of our Sunday experience, and many still see
such musical prayer as an optional element for those who like to
The General Instruction reveals a very different
view of things:
Singing is the sign of the heart's joy (cf. Acts 2:46). Thus St. Augustine says rightly, "Singing is for one who loves." There is also the ancient proverb, "One who sings well prays twice."
Great importance should therefore be attached to
the use of singing in the celebration of the Mass, with due consideration
for the culture of the people and abilities of each liturgical
assembly. Although it is not always necessary (e.g. in weekday
Masses) to sing al the texts that are of themselves meant to be
sung, every care should be taken that singing by the ministers
and the people is not absent in celebrations that occur on Sundays
and on holy days of obligation. (#39-40)
Notice that this passage assumes that some parts
of the Mass are meant to be sung by their very nature. Just as reciting
—Happy Birthday— at a party rather than singing it makes little
sense, so, too with reciting elements like the Holy, Holy or the
Great Amen. Some things are just meant to be sung. Notice, too,
that the text recognizes that the assembly at a weekday Mass might
not sing all the parts that are normally sung, but it presumes that
some singing will be part of every Mass. On Sundays and holy days,
this is really obligatory. Notice finally that the text speaks of
singing rather than of instrumental music. Even when a trained musician
is not present, the assembly of the faithful can and should sing
some parts of the Mass. All it takes is one person with some sense
of music to start the singing (or perhaps to strike one key on a
piano or organ to get the right note on which to start).
Singing is important for a sense of celebration. As
the document notes, it expresses the heart—s joy. Singing lifts
up the words we use and gives them a heightened dignity and beauty,
often making them more memorable in the process. Singing also expresses
and fosters the sense of unity among those gathered for worship,
since all sing the same words at the same time on (at least roughly)
the same notes. Singing is the primary way that a group of people
can speak with one voice.
A balance to this emphasis on singing in the General
Instruction is found in the document—s attention to silence
in the liturgy.
Sacred silence also, as part of the celebration,
is to be observed at the designated times. Its purpose, however,
depends on the time it occurs in each part of the celebration.
Thus within the Act of Penitence and again after the invitation
to pray, all recollect themselves; but at the conclusion of a
reading or the homily, all meditate briefly on what has been heard;
then after Communion, they praise and pray to God in their hearts.
The rite calls for silence during the penitential
rite, before the opening prayer, before the first reading, after
the first and second reading, after the homily and after all have
received Communion. Taking these directives seriously and allowing
enough time for real silence to take hold would do much to help
the assembly experience a deeper sense of prayer and a greater awareness
of the divine mystery. The General Instruction stresses this
goal in speaking of the Liturgy of the Word:
The Liturgy of the Word must be celebrated
in such a way as to promote meditation. For this reason, any
sort of haste that hinders recollection must be clearly avoided.
The General Instruction also encourages silence
before Mass begins, which may seem at odds with the need to foster
hospitality at worship and to connect with those who are assembling
to worship together. Both values can be preserved if hospitality
is encouraged as people gather, with a few moments set aside before
the opening hymn during which people are invited to enter into reflection
as the liturgy begins.
The liturgy described by the General Instruction
maintains a balance between singing and other verbal participation
and times of silence and reflection. For too long, many Catholics
have seen these components of the liturgy as opposed to one another.
Properly celebrated, silence complements and supports the other
elements of worship. The need for some silence within the liturgy
should not lead to less active participation. Singing is essential
at its proper times, spoken responses are integral to the liturgy,
and silence also deserves its place.
of Christ for the Body of Christ
Some of the more obvious changes in the revised General
Instruction concern the Communion rite. Extraordinary ministers
are no longer supposed to help break the bread or pour the cups
for distribution. Communion under both species of bread and wine
is strongly encouraged. The document also strengthens the long-standing
insistence that Communion is to be shared from the altar of sacrifice
rather than from the tabernacle. Obviously exceptions can be made
if distributors run short of bread, but normally the Eucharist reserved
in the tabernacle is intended for the sick and for other occasions
where Communion may be distributed outside of Mass. During Mass
all are supposed to receive the Lord—s Body and Blood from the actual
so that even by means of the signs Communion
will stand out more clearly as a participation in the sacrifice
actually being celebrated. (# 85)
All communicants are now supposed to make a bow of
the head as a sign of reverence before receiving the Body and the
Blood of Christ. In the past, our bishops decided that no special
act of reverence would be used at the reception of Communion. Now
they have specified that this simple bow will be the proper gesture
of reverence. Those who have been kneeling, genuflecting or making
the sign of the cross should now join the rest of the assembly in
expressing reverence in the same way.
Another dimension of the Communion rite is not new
to the General Instruction, but it has often been ignored
in practice. The ritual indicates that the assembly is to remain
standing throughout the Communion procession. Local bishops have
been given leeway, however to permit kneeling or sitting after a
person has received Communion.
The general U.S. norm is for kneeling after the Lamb
of God (for praying "Lord I am Not Worthy"), though local
bishops can indicate otherwise. Then all should stand as the Communion
procession forms. Maintaining a common posture while the whole assembly
shares in Communion expresses with our bodies the unity that Communion
creates among us. For the same reason, the General Instruction
notes that the Communion song should begin when the priest receives
Communion and continue until all have received. Here again singing
expresses and fosters our unity at this moment of our deepest communion
with one another in Christ.
These changes in the Communion rite provide a balance
in our awareness of the Body of Christ. Some of them remind us of
the reverence that is appropriate toward the sacramental elements
of bread and wine transformed into the Body and Blood of the Lord.
Others remind us that Communion unites us not only with Christ but
also with all the members of his mystical body, the Church. Some
people want to concentrate only on Communion as a time of connection
between the individual and Christ. Others may focus too exclusively
on their union with other members of the worshiping assembly. It
is never adequate to focus on only one of these dual dimensions
of Communion. Proper understanding and appreciation of the Eucharist
maintains the clear connection between our union with Christ and
our union with the other members of his body, between the sacramental
Body of Christ and his mystical body.
Finding Balance in the Parish
The balance of complementary emphases in the General
Instruction of the Roman Missal suggests a healthy approach
for all members of the church who gather to worship together. It
is no secret that there are many different opinions and attitudes
toward the liturgy in the Church today. Often disagreements over
parish liturgy lead to harsh words and alienation among parishioners
or even splits in the parish membership.
The liturgy should be the place where all come together
rather than a cause of disunity. Differing opinions and attitudes
are not likely to disappear soon, nor is it reasonable to assume
that they will ever be absent from Church life. Every family has
its arguments and varying perspectives. There is no reason to think
the Church family should be any different. The challenge is for
us to find a way to worship together and embrace our unity in Christ
despite our differences and disagreements.
When we come to worship, we are all required to put
aside our own preferences and wishes in order to enter into the
worship that Christ himself offers to the Father. Every one of us
must surrender to the requirements of the liturgy itself. Here Christ
invites us to set aside whatever divides us in order to unite with
him in offering his sacrifice to the Father. Here those who hold
opposing viewpoints must rediscover what they hold in common if
they are to take part in this sacred action.
The Catholic Church has always sought to be broad
enough to encompass people of —every race, language and way of life—
(see Eucharistic Prayer for Reconciliation, II). It is a Church
that embraces a wide variety of styles and spiritualities and customs
and opinions. No matter what our background or preferences, the
liturgy is the place where we must be able to embrace one another.
If we keep our focus on the real meaning of the Eucharist, no matter
what— differing perspectives may exist among us, we will find the
way to be one body.
Lawrence E. Mick is a priest of the Archdiocese
of Cincinnati. He holds a master—s degree in liturgical studies
from the University of Notre Dame. He is author of over 500 articles
in various publications. His latest books are Forming the Assembly to Celebrate Sacraments and Forming the Assembly to Celebrate Sacraments (Liturgy Training Publications).
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