Rules for the celebration of the Eucharist (Second of two parts)

Rules for the celebration of the Eucharist (Second of two parts)

TIME and again, I have received queries from the faithful regarding the way the Holy Mass is celebrated in their school or parish. The complaints are normally related to specific gestures, changed and unfamiliar formulas, shabby dress and such. A Statement of the 20th National Assembly of Diocesan Directors of Liturgy (Sept 12-16, 2005) comes to mind. Entitled Rubrics in the Celebration of the Eucharist, the statement called on the faithful to “carefully study and observe the rubrics of the Holy Mass…and eliminate in the assembly indecorous movements or bodily gestures…(exhorting) fidelity and loyalty to the liturgical reform of Vatican II.”  After an interruption due to the need to revisit the rules related to the sexual abuse of minors, let us finish our review of the aforementioned document now.


Lex orandi, lex credendi: the importance of the rubrics

Before anything else, we have to clarify that liturgy goes farther than Canon Law. Thus, the Code of Canon Law states: For the most part the Code does not define the rites which are to be observed in celebrating liturgical actions. For this reason current liturgical norms retain their force unless a given liturgical norm is contrary to the canons of the Code (c.2).

Nevertheless, it is also said that that lex orandi, lex credendi—i.e., the rule of prayer is the rule of faith. A person and a community pray according to their belief, such that private prayer and community worship manifest the faith of the individual and the community. The external signs that a person is subjected to, and which are prevalent in a community, have a way of affecting the way a person and a community think or believe. The external signs of respect, reverence and love that a Catholic community gives to the Eucharist—for example—not only manifests its respect, reverence and love for the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ, but ultimately influence its faith in the Real Presence.

Hence, the rubrics. Rubrics are the indications—normally in red print, hence the term (from the Latin rubrum = red)—interspersed in the official liturgical texts that indicate the bodily gestures and postures of the celebrant(s), other ministers and congregation, as well as other material details regarding the conduct of the particular rite or liturgical ceremony. If even in public functions—from a simple flag-raising ceremony to the most elaborate presidential inauguration—there is normally a Master of Ceremonies to make sure the written script and proper protocol are followed, it stands to reason that in the acts of public worship of God (which is what the liturgy is) there be a proportionate concern that the script is followed.


The juridic dimension of public worship

But why take away spontaneity and personal devotion—one might ask—in liturgical celebrations? There is indeed a danger of overdoing the attention to the rubrics—what some have called rubricism—such that the spirit of the liturgy is stifled by rigid observance of the printed procedure. Nevertheless, there is a minimum requirement of standard praxis in liturgy for the sake of public order.

The operative word is public. In the words of Vatican II, in the liturgy full public worship is performed by the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, that is, by the Head and his members (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, 4.XII.1963, n.7). It is not merely an act of private personal devotion or prayer, but rather the act of the whole Church—the Mystical Body of Christ, including Christ the Head and all the faithful as members of the body. In the liturgy—and the Eucharistic celebration is the liturgical act par excellence—it is not just the sacred minister or just any individual faithful who acts, but the whole Church acts.

It is this public nature of the liturgy that gives it a juridic dimension. It forms part of the common good and is worthy of protection by the Law of the Church. As an illustration, a private citizen cannot on his own initiative decide to decorate the street and sidewalk in front of his house with fancy tiles and elaborate grillwork. Since the street and sidewalk are public property, they are subject to the sole jurisdiction of lawfully constituted authority (which is mandated to care for the common good of the community). Only the City Government (or National Government if the road is a national road) can decree modifications on the road.

On the other hand, the Christian faithful have the right to worship God according to the prescriptions of their own rite approved by the legitimate pastors of the Church (c.214)—a right to which corresponds the obligation, on the part of the sacred ministers, to celebrate the liturgy according to the norms established by the legitimate pastors of the Church, as we shall see in c.846, §2 below.


Disposition and supervision of the Sacred Liturgy

Vatican Council II established the following General Norms for the disposition and supervision of the sacred liturgy (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, n.22):

            1) Regulation of the sacred liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church, that is, on the Apostolic See, and, as laws may determine, on the bishop.

            2) In virtue of power conceded by law, the regulation of the liturgy within certain defined limits belongs also to various kinds of bishops’ conferences, legitimately established, with competence in given territories.

            3) Therefore, no other person, not even a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority.


The Code of Canon Law, reflecting the mind of Vatican Council II, has established the competent authority in the following  terms:

            Can. 838 — §1. The supervision of the sacred liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church which resides in the Apostolic See and, in accord with the law, the diocesan bishop.

            — §2. It is for the Apostolic See to order the sacred liturgy of the universal Church, to publish the liturgical books, to review their translations into the vernacular languages and to see that liturgical ordinances are faithfully observed everywhere.

            — §3. It pertains to the conferences of bishops to prepare translations of the liturgical books into the vernacular languages, with the appropriate adaptations within the limits defined in the liturgical books themselves, and to publish them with the prior review by the Holy See.

            — §4. It pertains to the diocesan bishop in the Church entrusted to him, within the limits of his competence, to issue liturgical norms by which all are bound.


Thus, actually very little is left to individual initiative in the matter of the liturgy, as the Code clearly states:

            Can. 846 — §1. The liturgical books approved by the competent authority are to be faithfully observed in the celebration of the sacraments; therefore no one on personal authority may add, remove or change anything in them.

            — §2. The ministers are to celebrate the sacraments according to their own rite.

All these are applicable to each of the sacraments in particular and to sacred liturgy in general. What about the Holy Mass?


The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (G.I.R.M.) and the Roman Missal

On top of dozens of  important documents regarding the Holy Eucharist that have come out after Vatican Council II, the most important single document regarding the celebration of the Holy Mass is the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani—or General Instruction of the Roman Missal (G.I.R.M.)—, by the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship on 26.III.1970, subsequently updated on 27.III.1975 (2nd Edition), and most recently by the Congregation on Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in 2002 (3rd Edition). Together with the Roman Missal itself (also referred to as the Novus Ordo or the Vatican II Mass and published almost simultaneously with the G.I.R.M.), this contains the complete script of the Holy Mass as revised by Vatican II, together with all the possible variations and—this is the bone of contention—the instructions (rubrics) regarding the bodily gestures of celebrant (s), other ministers and congregation and the disposition of the various material elements that go into the Eucharistic celebration.



There are many more details in the G.I.R.M. that need fine-tuning in the Philippines. For starters, however, perhaps we can note the following:

1) There is a need to go back to the rubrics, since the conduct of the Mass is not a matter for the individual tastes of bishops and much less of priests.

2) While admitting the possibility for variations and adaptations to the local Filipino situation (inculturation), such variations cannot be introduced without prior review and approval by the Holy See. A case in point is the so-called Filipino Mass, which has not been approved by the Holy See.

3) Specifically, the points raised by the most recent Instruction from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Redemptionis Sacramentum, On certain matters to be observed or to be avoided regarding the Most Holy Eucharist (19.III.2004), can be given priority.

4) We end with n.18 of the aforementioned Instruction, which quotes St. John Paul II: Christ’s faithful have the right that the ecclesiastical authority fully and efficaciously regulate the Sacred Liturgy lest it should ever seem to be “anyone’s private property, whether of the celebrant or of the community in which the mysteries are celebrated.”