"Celebrating the Mass" - Review

I thought it would be of interest to readers to publish here my review of the document of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales "Celebrating the Mass. A Pastoral Introduction."

Celebrating the Mass (CTM) is “recommended reading for all liturgical ministers – clergy, liturgy preparation teams, musicians…” The intention is that it should serve as a pastoral guide to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) simultaneously published in the edition for England and Wales. Coming from the Bishops’ Conference, it carries a certain weight but its authority is uncertain. It is not, for example, an official interpretation with a recognitio from the Congregation for Divine Worship. It therefore seems legitimate to examine the document critically.

It is to be welcomed that attention is paid to the liturgy of the Mass so that it can be celebrated “more faithfully, reverently and fruitfully.” (CTM Foreword) It is good to see that CTM gives “pride of place” to Gregorian chant, (81) that it gives priority to the priest saying the “prayers over the gifts” quietly and it recommends an organ voluntary rather than a “final hymn” at the end of Mass. CTM 114 also gives a reminder that only genuine wax candles should be used at Mass and not fake “candles” with inserts.

However, CTM has throughout a flavour of “liturgical correctness” by which I mean those fastidious, almost scrupulous unofficial rubrics that are not part of the GIRM or the Missal itself. Thus, for example, “Vessels for the body of Christ preferably have the form of plates or shallow bowls rather than of chalices or reliquaries.” (CTM 109) I am not sure what kinds of vessels are commonly in use that look like reliquaries but the chalice-shaped ciborium with a lid is often used conveniently for the distribution of Holy Communion to large numbers of people. The GIRM does not in any way limit the use of such vessels and refers usually to the “ciborium” whilst accepting that a “large paten” may appropriately be used.

Another example is the recommendation that a large jug and basin with “generous quantities of water” and a towel be used for the lavabo. (CTM 110) This recommendation is nowhere to be found in the GIRM or the Roman Missal and we may feel that such exaggerated theatrical symbolism is more appropriate to the school assembly than the celebration of Mass.

CTM recommends two new pauses for silence in the Mass; after the Orate fratres (CTM 185) and after the end of the Eucharistic Prayer before what it calls the “breaking and sharing.” (CTM 199) We can easily imagine the didactic emphasis that will be given in some places to these separations of the different parts of the Mass. Again, this is a purely local innovation with no basis in any of the liturgical documents.

There is a hint (CTM 173) that the Hail Mary should be dropped from the Bidding Prayers (“the Roman Rite does not envisage the inclusion of devotional prayers in the Prayer of the Faithful”.) In a document produced specifically for England and Wales it would be more appropriate to recall that the Bishop Wheeler encouraged the Hierarchy of England and Wales in 1965 to include the Hail Mary in the newly restored “Prayer of the Faithful.” He referred to the ancient custom in England of the Bidding Prayers where the Hail Mary was included because of England’s notable devotion to Mary and her privilege of being the Dowry of Mary. It seems a shame to discourage this tradition based on genuine and ancient local custom.

In fact, the emphasis given to different parts of the Mass and even their interpretation is in many cases not supported by the official liturgical books. One could be forgiven for thinking that the most important parts of the Mass are the Bidding Prayers, the Offertory Procession and the Fraction.

On the fraction, there is the inevitable recommendation for the use of “larger breads” so that everyone receives a fragment of the one large Host. (CTM 206) No mention is made of the provision of GIRM 321 that small hosts are “in no way ruled out” (minime excluduntur)

Alongside the many “liturgically correct” additions, there are some important omissions which tend to reinforce the particular “style of liturgy” that is promoted by CTM. The GIRM refers to “sacred vessels” and “sacred garments”: CTM speaks of “vessels” and “garments.” Nothing is said of the sanctuary lamp. (Cf. GIRM 316, CTM 100) The communion plate is not mentioned in CTM: Redemptionis Sacramentum 93 says that it “should be retained.” The GIRM (118) says that it is praiseworthy to cover the chalice with a veil: CTM ignores this. Perhaps it will be said that these are relatively minor matters and that CTM cannot cover everything.

A more important omission relates to the consecration at the Mass. Describing the various rituals in the Eucharistic Prayer, no mention is made of the bell and the use of incense at the consecration. (Mentioned in GIRM 150) The use of the bell and incense do, of course, emphasise the “moment of consecration.” So also does the GIRM’s instruction for concelebrants which states that they should speak “in a very low voice” (submissa voce in the original) “especially the words of consecration.”

CTM 194 undermines this focus on the words of consecration when it says of the institution narrative. “This narrative is an integral part of the one continuous prayer of thanksgiving and blessing. It should be proclaimed in a manner which does not separate it from its context of praise and thanksgiving.” The rubric of the Roman Missal before the consecration in English states “The words of the Lord in the following formulas should be spoken clearly and distinctly, as their meaning demands.” The Latin text has “prouti natura eorundem verborum requirit” or literally “according as the nature of the same words requires.”

In fact, this rubric has a history of its own. When the Rite of Mass was being finalised, Pope Paul VI gave an audience to Fr Bugnini on 22 January 1968 in which he gave his written comments on the proposed Mass including “As already noted, the words of consecration are not to be recited simply as a narrative but with the special, conscious emphasis given them by a celebrant who knows he is speaking and acting ‘in the person of Christ.’” This was the reason for the insertion of the rubric we have mentioned. Its precise purpose is therefore to encourage the priest to do exactly the opposite of what CTM 194 enjoins.

There is a most unfortunate expression concerning the people’s Amen at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer. CTM 198 says that the Eucharistic Prayer is “ratified” by the people’s Amen and that the Amen should be sung or spoken loudly in order to emphasise “the assembly’s ratification and acclamation.” (CTM 199) The GIRM simply says that the final doxology is concluded and confirmed by the people’s Amen. We must hope that it is simply a confusion or looseness of terminology in CTM since Pope Pius XII in Mediator Dei spoke of those who “go so far as to hold that the people must confirm and ratify the sacrifice if it is to have its proper force and value.” and said “it is in no wise required that the people ratify what the sacred minister has done.”

The GIRM stipulates that “The faithful communicate either kneeling or standing, as determined by the Conference of Bishops” (GIRM 160) It then recommends that if they receive standing, an appropriate act of reverence, “as determined by the same norms” should be made before receiving the sacrament. Many good Catholics bow reverently or genuflect before receiving Holy Communion. There seems no good reason to discourage this devotion which is entirely in accord with the obvious meaning of the GIRM. However, CTM 210 says that in England and Wales the faithful make their act of reverence through the “action of walking solemnly in procession.” Not wishing to be impolite, I have to say that this idea is so far-fetched that I fear I must have misunderstood it.

Redemptionis Sacramentum 90 lays down that the determination of the Bishops’ Conference regarding the method of receiving Holy Communion should receive the recognitio of the Apostolic See. One can only hope that the proposal that walking up to receive Communion is itself an act of reverence is submitted to the Congregation for Divine Worship for their consideration.

Many of the emphases of CTM remind one of the observation of Cardinal Ratzinger at the 2001 Fontgombault conference, that new liturgical practices tend to be observed “with a degree of conformity which has long ceased to exist where the norms of ecclesiastical authority are concerned.” Given that since the publication of CTM he has now been elected Pope, it is perhaps more likely that the debate on the new liturgical movement which he eloquently promoted in The Spirit of the Liturgy may receive a spur. In the meantime one would have to offer the opinion that the pastoral priest should have no scruples in deciding which elements of CTM genuinely serve the devotion and spiritual life of the people who participate in the sacred liturgy, and which are simply an unfortunate genuflection to liturgical fashion.

(Published in Faith Magazine)

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