New General Instruction of
the Roman Missal: Part 7
By Bishop Kevin Manning.
IN this article on the new General Instruction, I am able to say a few
things, first of all, about where the General Instruction stands at present.
The Australian Bishops, when in Rome recently, were told that, even though
the US Bishops’ Conference had received an English translation of
the GIRM, it was only provisional, and it would later have to be brought
into conformity with the final translation by the International Committee
for English in the Liturgy (ICEL).
It was suggested to us that the Australian Church wait until the ICEL
has completed its definitive translation before we do anything more about
it. This brings us back to square one where we await the ICEL translation
and then, having made our comments, apply again to the Congregation for
recognition. Despite this setback, I will continue my series using the
Latin original of the General Instruction.
of the Mass
At Mass, we are
called together into one, with the Priest presiding and acting in the
person of Christ, to celebrate the Eucharistic sacrifice. For this reason,
Christ’s promise is applied to such a local gathering of the Church:
“Where two or three gather in my name, there am I in their midst”
The reason is that, in the celebration of the Mass, which re-presents
the sacrifice of the cross, Christ is really present in the assembly gathered
in His name. He is present in the person of the priest, in His word, and,
in a special way, substantially, and continuously, under the Eucharistic
As we well know, the Mass is made up of two parts: the Liturgy of the
Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. These two parts are so closely
interconnected that they form but one single act of worship: where God’s
People are instructed by His Word and fed with the Body of Christ.
of the Mass
1. Reading and
explaining the Word of God
When the Sacred Scriptures are read in the Church, God is speaking to
His people and Christ, present in His own Word, is proclaiming the Gospel.
We must all listen with reverence to the reading of God’s Word because
it is of the greatest importance in the Liturgy. Although the readings
from the Sacred Scripture, i.e. God’s word, addresses all people
of every era and are understandable to them, nevertheless a living commentary
on the Word, that is, the homily as part of liturgical action, fosters
a fuller understanding and effectiveness of the Word, hence the need for
proper preparation by the reader and the Priest.
2. The prayers and other parts assigned to the Priest
In the parts assigned to the Priest the Eucharistic Prayer is pre-eminent;
it is the high point of the entire celebration. Next are the prayers:
collect, prayer over the offerings, and the prayer after Communion. The
Priest who presides over the assembly in the person of Christ addresses
these prayers to God in the name of the entire holy people and all present.
Thus, there is good reason to call them the Presidential Prayers, despite
the objections of some.
The Priest, as part of his presiding office, should offer remarks that
are provided for in the Rite itself. Where indicated in the rubrics, he
is permitted to adapt these remarks to some extent in order that they
correspond to the understanding of those participating.
Nevertheless, he should always take care to preserve the sense of the
remarks given in the Missal, and express them succinctly and clearly.
In addition, he is permitted to give the faithful a very brief introduction
to the Mass of the Day (after the initial greeting and before the act
of penitence), to the liturgy of the Word (before the Readings) and to
the Eucharistic Prayer (before the preface), though never during the Eucharistic
Prayer itself. He may also make comments concluding the entire sacred
action before the dismissal; however, these are not times for preaching
The nature of the “presidential text” demands that it be spoken
in a loud and clear voice, and that everyone listens with attention. Thus,
while the Priest is speaking these texts there should be no other prayers
or singing; the organ and other musical instruments should not be played.
In fact, the Priest, as the one who presides, prays in the name of the
Church and of the community gathered together. At times, however, he prays
in his own name that he may exercise his ministry with greater attention
and devotion. Such prayers, which occur before the reading of the Gospel,
at the preparation of the gifts and also before and after the Communion
of the Priest, are said privately.
3. Other formulas in the celebration
Since by its nature, the celebration of the Mass has a “communitarian”
character, both the dialogues between the Priest and the faithful gathered
together, and the other acclamations take on a special value. In fact,
they are not simply outward signs of celebrating in common, but they encourage
and achieve the community between Priest and people.
The acclamations and the responses point the faithful to the Priest’s
greetings and prayers, create that level of active participation to which
the gathered faithful must contribute in every form of the Mass, so that
the action of the entire community may be clearly expressed and fostered.
There are other parts very useful for expressing and encouraging the active
participation of the faithful, that are assigned to the whole congregation
that is called together: especially the act of penitence, the profession
of faith, the general intercessions and the Lord’s prayer.
4. Vocal expression of the different texts
In the texts that are to be spoken in a loud and clear voice, whether
by the Priest or the Deacon, or by the reader, or by all, the tone of
voice should correspond to the genre of the text itself, that is depending
upon whether it is a reading, a prayer, a remark, an acclamation, or a
sub text; the tone should also be suited to the form of celebration and
to the solemnity of the gathering. Other criteria are the idiom of different
languages and the cultures of the people.
In the rubrics and in the norms that follow, words such as “say”
and “speak” are to be understood of both singing and reciting,
and in accordance with the principles just stated.
5. Importance of singing
The Christian faithful who gather together as one to await the Lord’s
coming are instructed by the Apostle Paul to sing together psalms, hymns
and spiritual songs (Col. 3:16). Singing is a sign of the heart’s
joy (Acts 2:46.) As St Augustine says rightly: “Singing is for lovers.”
There is also the ancient proverb: “One who sings well prays twice.”
For this reason, and with due consideration for the culture of the people
and abilities of each liturgical assembly, great importance should be
attached to the use of singing in the celebration of the Mass. Although
it is not always necessary to sing all the texts that are themselves meant
to be sung (e.g. in weekday Masses) every care must be taken that singing
by the ministers and the people is not absent in celebrations that occur
on Sundays and holy days of obligation.
In choosing the parts that are to be sung, however, preference must be
given to those that are of greater importance and especially to those
to be sung by the Priest or the Deacon or the reader, with the people
responding or with the Priest and people together.
All things being equal, Gregorian chant, which is proper to the Roman
liturgy, has pride of place. Other types of sacred music, polyphony, in
particular, are in no way excluded; provided that they correspond to the
spirit of the liturgical action and that they encourage participation
by all the faithful.
Since in these times the faithful from different countries come together
more frequently it is desirable that the faithful know how to sing together
at least some parts of the Ordinary of the Mass in Latin, especially the
profession of faith and the Lord’s Prayer set to simpler melodies.
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