In several discussions here on Pray Tell we have debated the maxim “Say the black, do the red.” It has become a rallying cry for the reform-of-the-reform movement. And I believe it is largely meaningless. Those who advocate “Say the black, do the red” seem all too ready to violate it.

What does the slogan purport to mean? Here is a quote from the blog of one of its adherents:

When a priest celebrates the Mass, he is obliged to do as the Church asks. It’s rather simple, really. There’s a book on the altar (called the Roman Missal) that contains all the words he’s supposed to say (without elaboration or embellishment) printed in black, and all the instructions regarding what he’s supposed to do (how to hold his hands, when to make the sign of the cross, what vessels and other holy objects he is to use during the Mass, and how to use them) conveniently printed red. Basically, he can celebrate the Mass very easily by “Saying the Black, and Doing the Red”.

The Faithful in the pews are obliged to do the same thing. There are certain words they are to say, and certain things they are to do at various points in the Mass. This is a part of what provides them with everything necessary to “fully, actively and consciously” participate, just the way Vatican II intended.

The blogger then goes on to critique the laity he sees at Mass:

…during the “Our Father”, I see more and more people recently either holding hands or raising their hands in the same way as the celebrant when the instructions in the rite do not call for it? Why do they then lift their hands (held with others or not) up high at the words, “For thine is the Kingdom”? That’s not in the rite, either. I’ve read a lot of documents, I’ve looked at a lot of different pew resources (hymnals, missalettes). I’ve seen the stuff about striking the breast and bowing, but nothing about holding hands with the person next to you, or in the same way as the priest does.

In brief, we are to do it by the book. Improvisation and embellishment are out.

The problem is that many who trumpet “Say the black, do the red” are themselves willing to improvise and embellish.

First example: the incorporation of Tridentine Mass practices into the normative rite – the maniple, for instance, or the biretta, neither of which is mentioned in the GIRM. Here, some reformers argue that “whatever has not been abrogated is permitted.” Thus in some churches the priest not only wears a maniple but removes it for the homily, apparently to signal that the Mass has been “suspended” at this stage. Some priests wear birettas, popping them on and off throughout the new Mass in accordance with the older rubrics, even though the GIRM and similar documents never mention it.

But what about older practices that are explicitly forbidden in the newer rubrics? What about genuflections before the tabernacle? Let me quote §274 of the GIRM, first in Latin where it is headed De genuflexione et inclinatione:

Genuflexio, quæ fit dextero genu flectendo usque ad terram, adorationem significat; ideoque reservatur Ss.mo Sacramento, et sanctæ Cruci inde a sollemni adoratione in Actione liturgica feriæ VI in Passione Domini usque ad initium Vigiliæ paschalis.

In Missa tres genuflexiones fiunt a sacerdote celebrante, hoc est: post ostensionem hostiæ, post ostensionem calicis et ante Communionem. Peculiari- tates in Missa concelebrata servandæ suis locis notantur (cf. nn. 210-251).

Si vero tabernaculum cum SS.mo Sacramento sit in presbyterio, sacerdos, diaconus et alii ministri genuflectunt, cum ad altare perveniunt et ab eo recedunt, non autem durante ipsa Missæ celebratione.

Secus genuflectunt omnes qui ante Ss.mum Sacramentum transeunt, nisi processionaliter incedant.

Ministri qui crucem processionalem vel cereos deferunt, loco genuflexionis inclinationem capitis faciunt.

In English the section is headed “Genuflections and bows”:

A genuflection, made by bending the right knee to the ground, signifies adoration, and therefore it is reserved for the Most Blessed Sacrament, as well as for the Holy Cross from the solemn adoration during the liturgical celebration on Good Friday until the beginning of the Easter Vigil.
During Mass, three genuflections are made by the priest celebrant: namely, after the showing of the host, after the showing of the chalice, and before Communion. Certain specific features to be observed in a concelebrated Mass are noted in their proper place (cf. nos. 210-251).

If, however, the tabernacle with the Most Blessed Sacrament is present in the sanctuary, the priest, the deacon, and the other ministers genuflect when they approach the altar and when they depart from it, but not during the celebration of Mass itself.

Otherwise all who pass before the Most Blessed Sacrament genuflect, unless they are moving in procession. Ministers carrying the processional cross or candles bow their heads instead of genuflecting.

It is not uncommon to see this rule violated in reform-of-the-reform churches. Priests and servers regularly genuflect many times during the Mass, not just when they approach the altar and when they depart. Is this a violation of “say the black, do the red”?

A blog reader put the question to Fr Zuhlsdorf, who not only repeats the maxim constantly on his blog but also sells coffee mugs and water bottles with it, both in English and Latin. Was it wrong for the priest to genuflect so many times? Fr Zuhlsdorf’s response was interesting:

… even though I am a Say The Black and Do The Red sort of guy, I’m all for starting up a contrary custom in accord with canons 25 and 26. After 30 years, we’ll have a legal custom in force.
When I was in my U.S seminary hell-hole, we were instructed on how to establish contra legem custom. We weren’t instructed in this for the sake of detail or mere knowledge. The instruction was for the sake of providing a canonical basisw for abuses (e.g., altar girls – this was before the disastrously bad interpretation of canon 230 of the 1983 Code).

Progressivists consistently broke the law concerning, for example, Communion in the hand and females serving in the sanctuary. They did so long-enough that Rome fecklessly confirmed their abuses. Those were bad years. …

I say genuflect. The Blessed Sacrament is RIGHT THERE! People see that the tabernacle containing the Blessed Sacrament, with presence lamp and/or veil, is RIGHT THERE.

Second example: the varieties of “Anglican use”. From the New Liturgical Movement blog, reporting on Ordinariate Masses held at St Patrick’s, Soho Square, in London, and St Agatha’s, in Portsmouth. Here, improvisation extended even to the texts of the Mass:

At Soho Square, well-known Anglican hymns replaced the Proper of the Mass, and the setting by John Merbecke was used for the Ordinary of the Mass. In Portsmouth hymns were sung, and English plainchant propers were led by the schola. The Ordinary of the Mass was Missa de Angelis set using the traditional language English texts as published by the Plainsong and Medieval Music Society. As is proper to the Anglican tradition, Holy Communion was distributed under both kinds, kneeling at a Communion Rail. Following the example of the Holy Father, a paten (Communion Plate) was used.

Each celebration represented examples of liturgical traditions within High Church Anglicanism, one which looks towards distinctive English ceremony and vesture, the other toward the Roman liturgical tradition as embodied by the likes of the Society of SS Peter and Paul, and the artist Martin Travers.

Third, the example of Fr Allan McDonald, a frequent commenter here. His blog slogan is, “The Ordinary Form of the Mass celebrated extraordinarily!”, and he encourages the Church to “Celebrate all Ordinary Form Masses with more dignity and in an Extraordinary Form sort of way.” If I read his writing correctly, he hopes for an amalgam of the various forms, based on the 1965 Missal and using a vernacular text.

I offer no critique of Fr McDonald, or of the Anglican Ordinariates, or of the priests who add Tridentine ceremonial to the normative rite, even when the GIRM or other Vatican documents say not to do this. When I serve at Mass, I often find myself genuflecting as I pass the tabernacle, in contradiction to the rubric. It seems natural and appropriate. As Fr Zuhlsdorf says, the blessed sacrament is right there…

All these moves are part of a process through which the Church develops and evolves its liturgical practice. As Mgr Harbert recently noted here on Pray Tell and as John Baldovin and Peter Jeffery have shown, such development has been going on for centuries. It slowed a bit after the Council of Trent, though this may have more to do with the printing press than anything else. But it has continued, even in the “unchangeable” Tridentine Mass. Worshipping communities adapt their practices. It is a good thing that they do.

At best, the slogan “Say the black, do the red” is as meaningless as “hermeneutic of continuity.” At worst it is an invitation to hypocrisy.