Revised Roman Missal, Pt. 5

(Editor's Note: This is the fifth in a five-part series on the Revised General Instruction of the Roman Missal. Click here to read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.)

Where does the new General Instruction come from?

After the Second Vatican Council, the revision of the liturgy resulted in the publication of the first edition of the Roman Missal in 1970. In 1975, the second edition was published. This is the edition that is in use for Mass today. After nearly 36 years, the third edition of the Roman Missal was published as part of the celebrations of the Great Jubilee of 2000. The General Instruction is the beginning part of the Roman Missal. The General Instruction contains directives governing the celebration of the Mass. These directives are practical expressions of the theological vision of the liturgy espoused and promoted by the Second Vatican Council.

What is the liturgy?

Essentially, the liturgy is the public worship of the Church. The term “liturgy” encompasses the Church’s official prayer (the Liturgy of the Hours), her celebration of the sacraments, and especially the celebration of the Eucharist (the Mass). The revised General Instruction of the Roman Missal governs how the Mass is to be celebrated; the other sacraments and the Liturgy of the Hours have their own rituals and their own proper introductions.

Why do we need a new General Instruction?

In every age, the Church has undertaken to celebrate the liturgy in words and rites that express the mysteries that lie at the heart of the Church’s prayer. The Roman Missal promulgated by Pope St. Pius V, after the Council of Trent, was a conscious effort to give to the liturgy the vigor it had in the tradition of the Fathers of the Church. In the twentieth century, Pope St. Pius X reformed liturgical music and the liturgical calendar. Pope Pius XII modified the Eucharistic fast, introduced the use of vernacular languages in the Roman Ritual, and undertook the reform of the Easter Vigil and the ceremonies of Holy Week. In the years since 1975, the new Code of Canon Law has been promulgated (in 1983) and a considerable amount of legislative texts have been issued by the Holy See and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The General Instruction was revised so that the celebration of the Mass would conform to these new documents in full orthodoxy and in harmony with tradition.

How will the new General Instruction affect us when we go to Mass? Will we be doing anything different than what we have always done?

In several places, the General Instruction addresses the role that the faithful have when they come together to celebrate and take their part in the Mass. Perhaps the most noticeable change will come at the Preparation of the Gifts (or Offertory), when the priest says, “Pray, brethren, that this our sacrifice may be acceptable to God the Father Almighty.” Currently, the faithful respond while seated. As of the First Sunday of Advent (Dec. 1, 2002), however, the faithful are now to stand after the priest’s invitation and before making their response, “May the Lord accept this sacrifice…”

You may notice other differences as well. For example, during the Profession of Faith, we are to bow at the words referring to the Incarnation: “By the power of the Holy Spirit, he was born of the Virgin Mary and became man.” On March 25 (the Annunciation) and Dec. 25 (Christmas), however, we genuflect at these words. A bow of the head should be made when any of the three Persons of the Trinity are named, at the name of Jesus, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the name of the saint in whose honor the Mass is celebrated.

What of other roles at Mass? Are readers, for instance, to do anything differently?

The role of a reader is to proclaim the Scriptures in the liturgy, with the exception of the Gospel. If there is no cantor, a reader may also lead the responsorial psalm (which may not be replaced by songs or hymns) and announce the intentions of the Prayer of the Faithful in the absence of a deacon. Further, if there is no deacon, the reader may carry the Book of the Gospels in the entrance procession and place it upon the altar. The Lectionary, however, is never to be carried in procession. Also, with the exception of the Passion of the Lord, the readings may not be divided into parts, and in all Masses with a congregation, the readings are always to be read from the ambo (pulpit).

(Fr. deLadurantaye is director of the Office of Sacred Liturgy, secretary for diocesan religious education and in residence at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington, Virginia. This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)

What may extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion do at Mass?

Extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion may be called forward by the priest celebrant of the Mass only when a sufficient number of ordinary ministers (bishops, priests, deacons) are not present. First among those to be called forward are instituted acolytes, then those who have been commissioned as extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, and last of all, in case of necessity, those who may be appointed for the occasion by the priest celebrant himself.

At Mass, extraordinary ministers assist only with the distribution of Holy Communion. They should come to altar when the priest has received Communion, and they always receive from the priest (or deacon) the vessels containing the Blessed Sacrament. The distribution of consecrated hosts (or the Precious Blood) from one vessel to other vessels is reserved to the priest or deacon. Following the distribution of Holy Communion, extraordinary ministers may assist in purifying the sacred vessels, and, if Communion is given under both species, they may consume what remains of the Precious Blood in their chalices. The practice of extraordinary ministers waiting to receive Holy Communion until after the faithful have received is not in accord with liturgical law.

How should Holy Communion be received?

Number 160, paragraph 2 of the General Instruction, as adapted by the bishops of the United States, reads: “The faithful are not permitted to take up the consecrated bread or the sacred chalice themselves, and still less, hand them on to one another. The norm for reception of Holy Communion in the dioceses of the United States is standing. Communicants should not be denied Holy Communion because they kneel. Rather, such instances should be addressed pastorally, by providing the faithful with proper catechesis on the reasons for this norm. When receiving Holy Communion in the hand, the communicant bows his or her head before the sacrament as a gesture of reverence and receives the Body of the Lord from the minister. The consecrated host may be received either on the tongue or in the hand at the discretion of each communicant. When Holy Communion is received under both kinds, the sign of reverence is also made before receiving the Precious Blood.”

When should the faithful kneel during Mass?

In the dioceses of the United States, the faithful kneel from the end of the Sanctus (Holy, holy, holy) until the end of the Amen of the Eucharistic Prayer, unless prevented on occasion by some good reason. Those who do not kneel ought to make a profound bow when the priest genuflects after the consecration. They should also kneel after the singing or recitation of the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) unless the diocesan bishop determines otherwise. Following the reception of Holy Communion, they may either kneel or sit for a period of meditation.

When should announcements be made?

Announcements are to be made following the Prayer after Communion and before the final blessing; they are not to be made at any other time.

How should the altar be decorated?

Since the altar is the place on which the sacrifice of the Cross is made present under sacramental signs, nothing should be placed upon the altar except what is required for the celebration of Mass. Flowers, for example, may be arranged around the altar but never on top of it. The altar is also to be covered with at least one white cloth; in the dioceses of the United States, cloths of other colors may be used provided that the uppermost cloth covering the top of the altar is always white. Candles are to be placed either on or near the altar, and the altar cross is to have the figure of Christ crucified on it.

What else does the new General Instruction cover?

The new General Instruction addresses many other elements of the Mass and forms of its celebration. For instance, it speaks of the need for sacred silence to be observed at various times during the Mass and even before the Mass begins; it speaks of the importance of singing; and it speaks of the blessing that those things needed for the celebration of the Mass should receive. The General Instruction addresses the postures and gestures of the faithful, the arrangement of the sanctuary for the Mass, the offices and ministries within the Mass, and the adaptations that can be made by the different episcopal conferences of the world. In short, the General Instruction addresses nearly everything that has to do with the Mass, reminding us all that when the Church gathers for the celebration of the Eucharist we participate by means of sacred signs and symbols in the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection, and we are nourished and strengthened to go into the world, bearing witness to Jesus Christ.

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