Re-Reading Sacrosanctum Concilium: Article 31

Vatican Website Translation:

31. The revision of the liturgical books must carefully attend to the provision of rubrics also for the people’s parts.

Latin text:

31. In libris liturgicis recognoscendis, sedulo attendatur ut rubricae etiam partes fidelium praevideant.

Slavishly literal translation:

31. In revising liturgical books, let it be sedulously attended to that rubrics be provided also for the parts of the faithful.

The Council Fathers derive this rather clear directive from what they understand to be the communal nature of the liturgy. As the hierarchic nature of the liturgy demands that rubrics for the gestures and actions of the clergy enrich the liturgical books, so should they for the laity. Pray Tell readers may want to explore how effectively the rubrical directives for the liturgy have taken root in the prayer customs of the faithful over the last fifty years (e.g., bowing at certain texts in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan or Apostles’ Creed). They may also wish to consider the processes by which certain gestures arising from the people (e.g., holding hands during the Lord’s Prayer and/or raising them at the doxology) may enter the official liturgical books.

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40 comments

  1. bowing at certain texts in the … Creed

    I was born in 1981; I seem to recall in all the missalettes at my parish that either at the top of the page with the Creed, or immediately above the particular phrase in the Creed (which was set off from the rest of the creed by extra space), a directive to bow at words “and by the power of the Holy Spirit…”, yet I do not think I ever saw anyone actually bow. I can’t remember if genuflections happened on Christmas and the Annunciation.

    I am less certain about the directive to strike the breast during the Confiteor. I may have seen it. (At my parents’ house we probably still have a 1990’s era missalette. I could check it next time I visit them.)

    It was not until a decade or so ago, when I started reading Church documents such as the GIRM, that I learned of the various gestures or postures the congregation was expected to make that were being regularly omitted.

    I feel these rubrics would have been better received if 1) they were more prominently displayed in liturgical aids, 2) priests and deacons and other liturgical ministers (e.g. cantors and lectors and EMHCs) paid attention to them, and 3) they were part of the liturgical education of the young. “No one ever told me to” is the most likely response to the question to “Why don’t you [make some rubrically designated gesture] during the Mass?”

    1. @Jeffrey Pinyan – comment #1:
      I remember, in the early years of the new missal, being trained to follow the gestures. But the habit of being unregulated that prevailed among my elders (well, there only experience was simply to do what the nuns with clickers told them to do…) meant that young people did not have great models of persisting. There was a greater effort when there were rubrical shifts in the GIRM a decade ago, and some success since then.

    2. @Jeffrey Pinyan – comment #1:
      “I feel these rubrics would have been better received if 1) they were more prominently displayed in liturgical aids, 2) priests and deacons and other liturgical ministers (e.g. cantors and lectors and EMHCs) paid attention to them, and 3) they were part of the liturgical education of the young.”

      Another aspect of this is that there are quite a few parishes that don’t put ‘missalettes’ in the pews, pursuant to a theory (not a wise one, in my view) that worshippers shouldn’t have their noses buried in a book, but should be looking at the priest they’re dialoguing with. Is there a rubric to follow if nobody is able to read it?

  2. It is harder than one might think to make changes to ritual behavior in large groups. The status quo has great inertia, and changing it takes a sustained effort over time, if at all possible. Our 2nd graders are taught to bow before receiving Communion, and they all do it for several weeks at the school Masses. At the weekend Masses, when those around them don’t bow, they quickly drop the bow to conform to the larger group. Especially in our suburban area, where people drift between several parishes, change can be slow, hard, and sometimes just doesn’t take.

    Since we, as pastoral ministers, are in a parish 50+ weeks out of the year, we tend to assume others do the same. Try asking for a show of hands in your congregation of how many people were not here last week, or how many will not be here next week, the result may surprise you. One woman recently said she loves to hear our choir whenever she has the chance–she lives over 1000 miles away and comes here occasionally to visit family. Yet she may be more of a regular here than some of our parishioners who don’t ever attend Sunday Mass or who always attend an earlier/later Mass across town.

  3. I think some background context is important: before this, what the PIPS did was, at best, incidental to what happened in the sanctuary where the servers acted in many respects as the proxy for the PIPS (a mechanism that offered greater assurance that The Rite Be Done Right). After all, since the people did not frequently participate in sacramental communion for over a millennium (in places, the few times they would have communicated would have been right after Confession – right outside the confessional – instead of within Mass).

    The temptation to replace one legalism by its inverse is probably strong. Hence the very unedifying spectacle of reprimanding or chastising people who don’t participate in ways we don’t approve of….

  4. When the “Hands Up” rule came along many were already observing the “Hand Holding” rule during the Lord’s Prayer.

    Some parishes have just not changed and still “Hand Hold”.

    Some people, especially families, still “Hand Hold.” Some were very irate about the “Hands Up” rule.

    Most of the catechesis about “Hands Up” and the “Communion bow” were very practical, i.e. exactly what to do rather than why. That was probably good. Some of these acts are very ritual, i.e. automatic and are easily disrupted. I got so confused once at communion time by the new bow that I actually reached out to take the host after bowing.

    I think trying to choreograph the laity is a little to much. I think its fine if we imitate the ministers as models.

    Personally I am happy that I am enough of a “senior citizen” that I now get away with a lot of self-choreography.

    1. @Jack Rakosky – comment #5:

      When the “Hands Up” rule came along many were already observing the “Hand Holding” rule during the Lord’s Prayer.

      Some parishes have just not changed and still “Hand Hold”.

      Is there, in fact, a prescribed rule for posture of the hands during the Lord’s Prayer?

      I have looked, but never been able to find a clear answer on this.

      1. @Todd Flowerday – comment #14:

        Hello Todd,

        Fear not, my question wasn’t loaded.

        I’ve just observed both variants – hand-holding and the orans – and I was curious where it originated. In most parishes the majority seems to be doing one or the other. I never saw anything about it in the GIRM, but I wondered if it was specified elsewhere. If it wasn’t, I suspected it came out of the charismatic movement…but that’s speculation on my part.

        As for whether any of these gestures are forbidden…my curiousity got the better of me, and I did find this 1997 Instruction on Collaboration, issued, intriguingly, by a whole set of dicasteries, approved by John Paul II in forma specifica:

        6 § 2. To promote the proper identity (of various roles) in this area, those abuses which are contrary to the provisions of canon 907 [i.e., “In the celebration of the Eucharist, deacons and lay persons are not permitted to say the prayers, especially the eucharistic prayer, nor to perform the actions which are proper to the celebrating priest.”] are to be eradicated. In eucharistic celebrations deacons and non-ordained members of the faithful may not pronounce prayers — e.g. especially the eucharistic prayer, with its concluding doxology — or any other parts of the liturgy reserved to the celebrant priest. Neither may deacons or non-ordained members of the faithful use gestures or actions which are proper to the same priest celebrant. It is a grave abuse for any member of the non-ordained faithful to “quasi preside” at the Mass while leaving only that minimal participation to the priest which is necessary to secure validity.

        Now *that* would seem to forbid the orans posture. It wouldn’t seem to forbid hand-holding. Yet the USCCB, when asked, declines to say so: “No position is prescribed in the present Sacramentary for an assembly gesture during the Lord’s Prayer.”

        http://www.usccb.org/liturgy/q&a/mass/orans.shtml

        That would seem to agree with your take.

      2. @Todd Flowerday – comment #14:
        There is no rubrical gesture. Just like the signation at the Gospel for the laity.

        I’m not sure if your second sentence is directly related to the first, but GIRM 134 does direct everyone to make the triple-cross gesture.

  5. FWIW,
    I have observed and concluded the “last 1970 response standing” among roughly half of any given congregation at our joints was “it is right to give Him thanks and praise” mumbled by thie folks, it seems, from mid-nave to the back. We had a vicar who, upon promulgation of MR3, did chant all orations, but he was transferred soon after Advent B.
    Our pastor is in Rome on sabbatical (dumb luck that!) So we have a former vicar who is a chancery official who is over-seeing in the interim, and (wonder of wonders) chants virtually all his orations. So, here’s the pudding proof. When he was here as vicar, he rarely chanted with regularity. And never, ever the Preface dialogues. Now, he’s chanting them (he has a wonderful, pure soft tenor) including the “sursum corda,” and everyong responds back “IT IS RIGHT AND JUST.” I’ve been lobbying out guys for two years, “You wanna solve that dissonance, chant the preface.” It’s nice to be proved right now and then. Sigh…

    1. @Charles Culbreth – comment #6:

      “I have observed and concluded the “last 1970 response standing” among roughly half of any given congregation at our joints was “it is right to give Him thanks and praise” … Now, he’s chanting them (he has a wonderful, pure soft tenor) including the “sursum corda,” and everyone responds back “IT IS RIGHT AND JUST.”

      Charles – that is precisely the experience at our place. I don’t except myself from this general trend 🙁

      (The other holdover I still hear a lot is omitting the “holy” from “… for our good and the good of all his holy church.”)

  6. I arrived in my parish and most people bow. The new students eventually pick it up. The Christmas/Easter rubric is a gimmick, pure and simple. Better to do one thing consistently than stumble twice a year with something different. Good rubrics have to make sense.

    1. @Todd Flowerday – comment #7:

      I agree it should be consistent, but I would prefer if the norm were genuflecting, rather than bowing. Large gestures are so much easier to model and remember.

      For example, it seems to me many more people triple cross them selves for the Gospel, than bow their head at the name of Jesus, Mary and any Saint being celebrated.

      Unless anyone could give another reason why some required gestures are more popular than other required gestures?

      1. @Scott Smith – comment #8:
        Genuflecting might work better. It is a gesture usually reserved for the reserved Sacrament.

        Why are some gestures more “popular”? Look at it from a human perspective. What’s going on at various times to draw attention away? I think it’s less a matter of popularity and more one of training and experience. Brainwashing, if you prefer.

        With a new Nicene Creed, do you think people are paying attention to gestures as they memorize their longest narrative piece in the Mass? Yet I can see some embittered priest or liturgist trying to get people to “do it right.” And failing.

        My sense is that it’s better to do a few things well than to tackle large swaths of gesture that make more sense in a religious community that worships multiple times daily.

      2. @Todd Flowerday – comment #9:
        With a new Nicene Creed, do you think people are paying attention to gestures as they memorize their longest narrative piece in the Mass?

        The new translation aids I’ve seen in pews at churches I’ve been to have the bowing rubric included in the midst of the text. If you’re looking at the card/missalette to help you as you pray the Creed during Mass, then you’d presumably be looking at the rubric too.

  7. The Our Father may be one area where ‘the revision of the liturgical books has not carefully attended to the provision of rubrics to the people’s parts.’

    1. @Jim Pauwels – comment #17:
      I’ve read an argument against even the priest using the Orans posture for the Our Father, since every other place in the Mass where he uses Orans is a prayer which he speaks alone on behalf of the congregation, whereas the Our Father is a prayer spoken by the whole congregation.

  8. Perhaps the orans is the proper posture for the laity, and priests should be forbidden to adopt it. According to the old Catholic Encyclopedia most representations are female, as presumably not clergy.

    I’m inclined to think of it as the posture of prayer, so it is appropriate for all who pray. “With you I am a Christian, for you I am a bishop” as St Augustine said.

  9. Is the orans posture where people hold both of their hands out during the Our Father? I see nothing wrong with it. If you notice, many people do this with enthusiasm. It is one prayer in which everyone seems truly engaged and of one heart and mind. Holding your hands out in that way seems to suggest a desire to receive, it seems to suggest real intent behind the words “give this day our daily bread”, and rightfully anticipates the Eucharist. I think it would be tyrannical to try and eliminate something so small and irrelevant to the flow of the Mass, yet which I think means a great deal to many laity nonetheless.

  10. It is likely that holding hands during the Lord’s Prayer traces its origins to the charismatic renewal and its more exuberant style of worship. Whatever its origins it has become a common practice in parishes across the US. There is certainly no liturgical proscription against its use, unless you believe that something not directed is forbidden. This is the apparent belief of many on the trad side of the conversation. Yet many of them made up from whole cloth the notion that the Oran’s position is what “The Vatican” or “The Bishops” truly desire in order to put an end to holding hands. But the latter gesture is far more natural, so much so that even in parishes led by more traddy priests many people still do it. I was at a funeral in one of our more conservative parishes (I counted 10 candles) recently and noted that not only did many of the people join hands but the teen altar servers did as well. In mentioning this to the pastor he laughed and said he had learned to pick his fights more prudently. Does anyone know who dreamt up the idea that unless something is specifically permitted it is forbidden?

    1. @Jack Feehily – comment #22:

      There is certainly no liturgical proscription against its use, unless you believe that something not directed is forbidden. This is the apparent belief of many on the trad side of the conversation.

      I don’t know about that – I see the second confiteor done too often at TLMs, and sometimes even the pre-1955 Holy Week. I think it’s better to focus on the value and meaning of the rubric in question.

      I took a cue from canonist Ed Peters’ discussion of the orans issue (http://www.canonlaw.info/liturgysacraments_orans.htm) to ask: “What is the orans for, exactly?” It’s interesting to see that Peters seems to line up with Jim McKay in suggesting that perhaps it’s inappropriate for the priest to be engaged in the orans.”…[I]t seems that the rubric calling for the priest to assume the orans position during the Our Father, in which prayer he joins the people instead of offering it on their behalf, is at least anomalous, and possibly inconsistent with the presidential symbolism suggested today by the orans position elsewhere in the Mass.”

      Personally, I don’t really care for it, and regard virtually all liturgical change as something to be block-tackled, frisked, and watched in close custody for a few presidential terms before entertaining further…but that’s just me. I’m still not sure that there’s a positive theological reason to halt it, which in any case would be very difficult to implement, given how widespread it is. In any event, it at least does not impose the kind of invasion of personal space that holding hands does (keep it in the family, folks), so it seems to me the lesser evil, if indeed it be evil at all.

      1. @Richard Malcolm – comment #24:

        The issue with the Orans is its potential to confuse the priesthood of the ordained and the laity, and in doing so (in my view) devaluing the role of the laity (i.e. we are lesser if we do not mimic the priest).

    2. @Jack Feehily – comment #22:
      Fr. Feehily – just finished O’Malley’s book on Trent. He answers your question by outlining the *myths* of the council of Trent…in fact, much of what we ascribe to the council of Trent did not happen until 25-50 years later when the papacy and its curia controlled the interpretation of Trent; the practical implementation, rubrics, etc.
      Thus, O’Malley posits a distinction between the council of Trent and Trent (all too often consisting of myths).

      So, some examples to expand on your last question:
      – Trent myth – forbid vernacular (the council did not; it merely said latin was legitimate….after the end of the council, no bishop/cardinal pushed for vernacular except Germans. But within 25 years, latin became an identification and marker of catholicism vs. protestantism. But, a negative impact was that catholics stopped reading the bible – they could not be in the vernacular and this legacy lasted 300 years.
      – Trent myth – forbid eucharistic cup (the council did not; it did leave this decision to the pope who granted permission to German lands – again, by 1621, this permission ended via lack of papal support and, as above, bread alone became identified with catholics – a marker to set us apart from protestants
      – Trent myth – reception of eucharist. The council encouraged frequent (without clarifying this) reception. The myth and subsequent practice was that reception gradually became rare; and had to be legislated at least once a year at Easter.
      – Trent myth – laid out a specific Tridentine mass. Again, it did not; like VII and Consilium, the council of Trent left this up to the pope and curia. Within 50 years, the curia developed rubrics, rules, interpretations that had little connection to what the council of Trent did. Some interesting rubrics – after the council end…..Charles Borremeo in his Acta laid out rules for building confessionals (did not exist at the council); rules to place the tabernacle in the middle of the altar; rules that insisted that the priest face the people; that churchs be built facing east, etc. These rules and interpretations became inscribed as if no changes could be tolerated; that rubrics were written in stone, etc. thus, no liturgical changes/development for almost 400 years. (again, a myth – the council did not do this)
      The later 17th/18th century struggles between Jansenists and the orders (esp. Jesuits) also solidified precise and minute legal prescriptions.
      Would suggest that thus starts the idea that unless something is specifically permitted, it is forbidden.

      1. @Bill deHaas – comment #27:

        But, a negative impact was that Catholics stopped reading the bible – they could not be in the vernacular and this legacy lasted 300 years.

        If I were to be cynical, I might day: when did they *start* reading the Bible before that?

        Obviously, there were authorized vernacular bibles before and after Trent (Lefevre d’Etaples, Dietenberger, Calmet, Uelenberg, Douai-Rheims) so I’m assuming you referring to widespread lay access or encouragement to read same, at least in the first century or two after Trent.

      2. @Richard Malcolm – comment #34:
        Yes – again, citing from O’Malley – it is a generalization based upon his research. The council did pass one reform – bible translations and printing required episcopal approval and permission.
        The other interesting topic debated at the council of Trent was the Vulgate. By the time of the council, philology had become accepted and introduced in the Jesuit Humanist schools and by folks such as Erasmus. Ressourcing Greek and Aramaic, theologians realized that Jerome’s Vulgate was filled with errors in translation, meanings, etc. The council could not resolve this debate but left it to the papacy to address – took 25 years but a new Vulgate was produced with more than 3,000 errors corrected (per O”Malley, these errors were substantive – not typos, mispellings, etc.)
        So much for the *original* latin. Interesting how certain themes at the council of Trent mirror themes/developments at VII; for example:
        – philology and historical critical scripture research/methods which created a much more educated and insightful church. Both councils had their own versions of ressourcement
        – celibacy (pushed hard by some in both councils to address issues – seen as reform) …..in both cases, shunted to the papacy (Council of Trent voted this way; Paul VI required this for VII)
        – Clerical sexual abuses (Trent Council pushed hard to reform the prevalent pattern of concubinage leading to hypocrisy, etc……unfortunately, VII happened before the current crisis of sexual abuse and cover-ups creating demands for reform)
        There are many more,

  11. Is there an assumption that the Orans posture is reserved for the priest since it is prescribed for him in the rubrics? If so, it would seem that joining one’s hands is also reserved to the priest, since this too is occasionally prescribed for the priest.

  12. The question seems to come down to “where did this come from?” Those who judge it as the laity imitating the priest raise the question of confusing priestly and lay roles. Others who see it coming from the laity encourage it and try to spread it to other places. I am inclined to see it as coming from the Charismatic movement, ir originating among the laity.

    The rubric has the priest praying together with the people, without specifying what the people are doing. That “together” justifies everyone, priest and people, adopting the same gesture, which has to be the one prescribed for the priest IMO. It teaches us that we all pray, not just the priest, hopefully strengthening prayer away from the liturgy.

    1. @Jim McKay – comment #31:
      I think the raising of hands does come from the charismatic movement. In my previous parish where there was a large group from a covenant community, they would often raise their arms high, not in the more subtle way we see people doing so today for the Our Father, but I think others got this from the charismatics and simply made it a bit more modest. The high raising of arms during Mass and only from the charismatics was a bit divisive and certainly distracting as they would do it during the Gloria and other hymns when standing. I’m not opposed to people doing the modified version of it during the Our Father or even holding hands if they do it amongst family and friends, what bothers me is when someone asks them to do it from the altar whether that be a deacon, priest or lay person or they foist hand holding on those who don’t want to do it.

      1. @Fr. Allan J. McDonald – comment #32:

        …what bothers me is when someone asks them to do it from the altar whether that be a deacon, priest or lay person or they foist hand holding on those who don’t want to do it.

        Both, alas, have happened too often in my experience.

      2. Fr Allan and Richard,

        Would you feel the same way if it were a rubric in the missal?
        What does this say about SC 31’s request for rubrics for laypeople?
        How should laity be informed of rubrics if they are not reading a missal?

      3. @Jim McKay – comment #36:
        If it is rubrical, it should be explained, even hand-holding. At our mixed Masses for weddings and funerals, where often the majority are not Catholic, I do ask them to stand, and sit, but when it comes to kneeling, I make it optional for those who are not Catholic, with words like, “please kneel or sit according to your religious custom” or something like that. (Keep in mind, even for the EF prior to Vatican II in the USA, there were rubrics for the laity in terms of standing and sitting and kneeling and slightly different for them in the High Mass). I don’t think Europeans, though, had the same regimentation as we did.

        In terms of the other written rubrics for the laity, I think it would be wise to instruct them on these, such as the strike of the breast at the Confiteor or the bow during the Creed. I always tell the congregation about the genuflections at Christmas and Annunciation for the Creed, prior to the recitation or singing of it.
        For the most part, though, in my parish, there isn’t any big problem with what the laity do, although some do the “orans” for the Lord’s Prayer, some do hold hands, but everything else seems to be unified. We do have a “rubric” in the missallette that says, “In the USA standing is the the norm for receiving Holy Communion, kneeling is the exception, both are allowed, the choice is yours.”
        Kneelers are provided for those who choose to kneel.

  13. Joining hands is not reserved only to the priest since the Ceremonial of Bishops states that all ministers when walking or standing and not holding anything have hands joined.

  14. Interesting. It was OK for the CDW to impose LA on the church and OK for them to foist the new English translation on all English speaking Catholics. But not OK for a priest to invite people to join hands for the Lord’s Prayer? OK for the decision makers of the church to close and consolidate countless parishes by foisting upon us the notion that priests must be celibate and full time? C’mon, let’s get real.

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