Producing a missal: can this work?

Some years ago, Liturgical Press advertised an about-to-be-released “Book for the Chair.” This was to be a handy book for the Opening Prayer and Postcommunion Prayer, while the big sacramentary would be used at the altar. I don’t recall whether the Book for the Chair also had General Intercessions including celebrant’s opening and closing parts.

The Holy See got wind of it and put the kibosh on it. No one may produce a new genre of liturgical book for the Roman Rite, the integrity of the sacramentary/missal must be preserved, and so forth. Of course LitPress promptly complied and called the whole thing off.

BTW, Solesmes’s edition of notated Latin prefaces and eucharistic prayers, Ordo Missae in Cantu, for use in conjunction with the Latin missal and approved by the Holy See, can be purchased here. But never mind.

The LitPress episode comes to mind as I think about producing the new English missal in book form. The ruling has come down: everything must be in one volume as in the Latin missal. There may not be a missal for Sundays and a missal for weekdays (like the German-speakers now have), nor may there be a Book for the Chair and an altar missal missing collects and postcommunions. No one may produce a new genre of liturgical book for the Roman Rite, the integrity… and so forth.

Fine. But start counting up the pages. Have you ever seen how huge the 2002 Latin missal is? Then add in all the national propers (Thanksgiving, Independence Day, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton….). Then consider that all 80-plus prefaces have to be notated in the English edition because of the widely varying accent patterns of the English language – unlike Latin, where only some 22 of the prefaces are notated. (Although you can buy a fully notated Latin … oh, never mind.)

Altar servers: start exercising your arm muscles. You’ll need it.

It is technologically possible to produce a book of any size whatever –check out the historic volumes in the Rare Books collection of the nearest university. We can do it, but we might be left with a book that almost no one can carry or hold. Will religious supply stores start advertising big honking missal stands to set next to the presidential chair? That’ll look nice.

Nowadays they make paper which is both strong and thin. (The ELCA Lutherans needed that as their new hymnal got bigger and bigger.) The price goes up, the weight goes down. But the text on the reverse side bleeds through. That looks nice. Or one can use thicker paper. Legibility goes up, and so does the weight. Do you think legibility will be an issue for celebrants trying to proclaim these complicated texts? One can reduce the total weight by reducing the size of the book and shrinking down all the fonts. But do you think celebrants will want to squint at a small text they’re trying to proclaim well? Did I mention that the text is rather complicated? So the choice will be: small enough to lift but too small to read; big enough to read but too heavy to lift.

If anyone out there has technological solutions, please share them.

Meanwhile, here’s what I predict. (Liturgy police, please note: I’m not advocating any of what follows, I’m merely stating what I think will happen.) The missal as we know it will die as a liturgical book. In many places the three-ring binder will take over. People will photocopy and three-hold punch the orations from the 2011 missal. Or from the 1974 sacramentary – it’s so hard to grab the right book from the shelf, did I  grab the wrong one again? Or maybe priests will read prayers from Kindles and palm pilots. Or improvise the orations? Or perhaps they’ll read the orations from a missalette – that’ll look nice.

But at least we will have preserved the integrity of the Roman missal. I expect some folks will be heartened by that.


  1. Hmm. As you describe it, Fr. Ruff, only healthy young men will be strong enough to serve at the altar in English-speaking countries. (Or will young women only be able to serve at Latin Masses, the Latin Missale Romanum being more managable than you expect the new English one to be?) An unexpected side benefit? Or intended?

    Seriously, I wonder what these considerations imply about the possibilities for a complete Latin-English hand missal for pew use.

  2. I’ve got an idea: Let’s get rid of all the options. We’ll have the one Roman Canon; One Penetential Rite with the I confess and Kyrie, the rubric for greeting one another after the Peace will be gone, the Lenten options, one closing versicle, etc. Let’s require everything from the preface to the Great Amen be said in Latin; no need to notate all the prefaces for singing in English. Then we’ll truly have common worship, at least in England and the colonial countries, and a smaller missal.

    In another vein: While rooting around a Cathedral Sacristy, in which they saved everything, I found, on top of various editions of the old Missale Romanum, a stack of thin, beautifully bound books. What were they? The Requiem Mass only. Interesting that they allowed that back in the day. I guess, with as many as six Requiems going on at once, it was more economical to have the smaller books for the side altars, intstead of a big missal for each. But with SP there may again be a place like that. Oh, that I were there.

    1. Plus we’d have this aesthetic gain:
      The very small missals would be proportionate to the very small congregations. 🙂

      1. Fr. Ruff;

        Seriously…do you really think anyone would notice the lack of variety in the Eucharistic Prayers? It’s nice and all, and there are good theological and liturgical reasons for them, but you really think that a single EP would cause a “Mass Exodus” … no pun intended.

      2. Hi Jeffrey – why do you think I think that? I don’t believe I’ve written anything on the topic you’re asking about. Where is this question coming from?

      3. But we won’t be able to attribute the falling attendance to a new translation anymore than we could attribute falling attendance in the 70s to VII implementation. It’s all about societal and cultural changes, after all.

      4. Not quite. The claim is not that nothing causes anything. The claim is that you can’t assume causality just between two things happen in sequence. What we would need is evidence, e.g. survey data. There is evidence, for example, that Humanae vitae caused many to leave the Church or ordained ministry. There isn’t much evidence that the reformed liturgy caused many to leave or stop attending Church. Evidence may show that the new translation doesn’t cause anyone to walk away. Or it may show that it caused some or many to do so. We don’t know yet, and we won’t until we have reliable data.

    2. The Small Requiem Missal was used in my parish in the 1950’s at the main and only altar.

      Since there were many Requiem Masses, I suspect one advantage was in wear and tear. The Requiem Mass pages on the big Missal would have gotten very worn in comparison to the rest of the Missal. My memory of the Requiem Missal was that it was in much poorer condition (probably from its frequent use).

    3. They could at least get rid of penitential rite B. Seriously, has anyone ever heard that one? I’ve lived in four different diocese and never once encountered it. I honestly didn’t even know it existed until rather recently.

      1. I’ve heard it! Maybe only about three times in my life (and once it was preceded by the Confiteor). The Holy Father has also used it (I believe Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul a couple years ago), with the text sung.

      2. I think it is not used much in English because in the current translation it’s opening is indistinguishable from penitential rite C, thus making it confusing to use with a congregation, since it give a misleading cue. The new translation fixes this (as did the 1998 translation), so maybe it will begin to get more use.

  3. Since a new genre of liturgical book can’t be introduced for the Latin Rite, how about trying an old genre? Put all the collects and postcommunions into one volume and call it a Collectar. Such things have been around since, oh, at least the mid-ninth century.

    1. But no, Cody, that implies there’s a history to our rite, including change and development. You got it all wrong. The current books are to be venerated and treasured and idolized because embody the entire tradition. They are universal, eternal, absolute. Haven’t you read Liturgiam? It clarifies this.

      1. Aha… well, what about the 1971 Holy Week Book? That’s a bit more recent… all the rites and prayers and blessings — even the provisional text for the consecration of the chrism — in situ; proper prefaces and all four Eucharistic prayers, and less than 150 pages. Concordat cum originali and confirmed by the Apostolic See; published by a certain central-MN publisher that shall remain nameless, but whose initials are Liturgical Press.

        Yes, I know, it probably should have been destroyed. (I very well may have the only surviving copy.) No evidence, never happened… just like in Orwell’s 1984.

      1. LOL. This is probably the one and only time I want to echo Obama supporters: YES WE CAN! (wish I knew how to do emoticons)

  4. I think Lit. Press has a point, I much prefer to have a ‘book for the chair’ and it has a root on the old libelli that the Church used long time ago…

    Poor altar servers, I need to inform the servers of our diocese regarding their new way of serving the Church, bearers of a bigger missal… 🙂

  5. Looking forward to the iPad app for the new missal. It will render all of this physical what-does-the-book-look-like nonsense moot. Plus the iPad is visually stunning. I’m sure we could find a leather case for it, if someone wants a more classic aesthetic.

    Much easier to update too. New propers? Boom – update pushed.

  6. We have a copy of the Book of the Chair at our parish. I never thought it could sell as a rare book but now I realize it might.

  7. I literally found this “Book for the Chair” in our sacristy yesterday. Didn’t note the publisher. Was going to suggest it be used for weekdays, since the priests like to pray the opening/closing from the altar. Might have to keep it protected now, being so rare!

    Regarding the future, I think Mother Church should look to options that might be more green or more tech friendly. I see nothing wrong with having the entire Missal on cd-rom. It would make days where there are things outside the ordinary much easier (Easter Vigil comes immediately to mind). What is more important? Entering fully into the moment or getting lost in pages of a book?

    1. You’d have to be sure to have a paper copy anyway. You can always find your place in a book, but I can’t imagine how awkward it would be to have the technology go out in the middle of the Easter Vigil without a paper backup on hand.

      I worked in an school environment where technology had to be used extensively. It was a great boon, but you always had to think on your feet and have a “backup plan” since there would always be an error, a malfunction, etc. I don’t think technology is reliable enough *yet* to make such a switch.

      I now have visions of 30th Century Masses where the “IT Minster” (dressed in ample lace, of course – it’ll have come back in style in a big way) must be called upon to fix the holographic Missal that’s acting up in the middle of Mass. Such Missals will by then be just as much an established tradition as the Papal hover-sedia gestatoria. 🙂

      1. In my example, what I was leaning towards was a binder with the exact script. Simply cut and paste what will be used, include all staging, names, and everyone from the emcee to music director will literally be on the same page as the presider.

        One could see this scenario cutting out gaffs on a near weekly basis.

      2. My guess is that the codex form of the book is retained for liturgical events, if for no other reason than the symbolism it has developed. Think of this in terms of vestments. Not very practical out in the world (probably the same as bound books in a few years), but retained owing to a symbolism which we have inscribed upon them. Eliminating the opening book eliminates the symbol of truth being revealed (even if the content is the same).

  8. I think the “Book for the Chair” was published by LTP. We had one at a parish I was assigned to many, many years ago. It had a kind of brownish/maroon cover. It was very helpful.

  9. In England & Wales / Scotland / Australia, there will be two altar missals. The full-size one will be too heavy to hold up, and will be used on the altar only. The photo-reduced one will be manageable by servers both male and female for use at the chair. Both will contain the full texts.

    Of course, the drawback with this is that parishes will have to purchase two new missals instead of just one. I suspect that a proportion of them will just buy the smaller one….

    It seems probable that there will be an even smaller photo-reduced version for use when travelling. We’ve had this for 35 years, and there seems no reason for it not to happen again.

    1. But Paul, surely, according to the established principles of Liturgiam Authenticam, if such smaller ones don’t exist in the Latin, they may not therefore be produced in the English . . .

  10. Australia also had a book for the chair in the past, I’m sure. Unfortunately, it is out of print like many of our Australian editions of the rites (the original publishing house no longer exists).

    We also have LabOra Worship (which I think is part of Catholic Community Software in the US); the entire Missal, Lectionary and the most commonly used rites on CD for installation on your computer. With products like that around, I think the ring binder is on the money, at least at the chair.

  11. We did have the Book of the Chair for several years in the USA. I used it in my first assignment (1980-85). It was poorly made and fell apart easily and so I had to order a second one within a five year period and it too fell apart rather quickly. It was very expensive too. I got wise and began to use at the chair the smaller version (chapel size) sacramentary which is well constructed. We still use the smaller version of the sacramentary at the chair and the larger one exclusively at the altar. Hopefully we’ll have two sizes of the missal when the new one is published. But then I have a question about wedding and funeral books that are in a three ring binder. These are very common for the priest/deacon and the lector with cards that can be put in and taken out depending on what is chosen. Are these illegal too? It does make celebrating weddings much easier since the current liturgical book for weddings has so many options in diverse places and it is hard to remember what was chosen by the bride. The three ring binder is a great help.

  12. So, if I have this right, instead of the Holy See overseeing the publication of a Book for the Chair that would be appropriate and contain the texts approved for the liturgy, we will have many different chair books being produced in parishes around the country which may or may not include the texts approved for the liturgy. Hmmm….interesting.

  13. “surely, according to the established principles of Liturgiam Authenticam, if such smaller ones don’t exist in the Latin, they may not therefore be produced in the English . . .”

    But, of course, the smaller edition of the Latin MR 2002 does exist:

    Missale Romanum Editio iuxta typicam tertiam Editio a studiis

    Its format is 6.75″x9″, as compared with with 8″x10.5″ for the altar edition.

    Does anyone know anything about plans for Latin-English hnd missals for use in the pews. I know the new English translation will be totally awesome, of course, but I still want at Mass to see for myself the collect, prayer over gifts, post communion, and preface (for instance) in the Latin.

    1. I know the new English translation will be totally awesome, of course

      How do you know if you haven’t seen it?

      I still want at Mass to see for myself the collect, prayer over gifts, post communion, and preface (for instance) in the Latin

      I suppose we all go to Mass for different things.

      (And incidentally, as you’re so keen on the new English translation, you’d better prepare yourself: it has no such thing as “prayer over gifts”)

      1. Why be so snarky when the referenced prayers will now be called “Prayer over the offerings”? It’s not like that portion of Mass has disappeared.

        And lots of folks have seen the new translation of the Ordinary parts of Mass, readily available on the USCCB site. And we presume, based on that exposure, that the propers will be similarly improved.

  14. We already use the three-ring binder for substantial parts of “big” liturgies with lots of options and multiple players to be coordinated. Easter Vigil, of course, but also Anointing of the Sick at Mass, RCIA rites (which aren’t in the sacramentary anyway), Christmas Midnight Mass, etc. I think Fr. Anthony is right, and we’ll see more of this. So I hope there’s a digital version available. It seems like such a waste for hundreds of us to be scanning and OCR-ing pages and pages when it can just be copy-and-paste. Outlawing a digital version won’t stop it, it will just waste parish staff time.

    1. “Outlawing a digital version won’t stop it, it will just waste parish staff time”

      Everyone who wants it has access to the 1998 translation in 4 pdf files that have been doing the rounds for months now. The same will happen with the next, and every subsequent translation.

  15. Yes, Fr., this is really silly. I think I understand what is driving this but such efforts to control publishing and technology are futile. Your prediction about the results is spot on.

  16. So…let me see if I have this right, instead of the Holy See overseeing the publication of a Book for the Chair containing the appropriate texts they have approved for Mass, we will have many parishes across the country producing chair books that may or may not contain the appropriate texts approved by our Bishops and the Holy See. Hmmmm…interesting.

  17. I know the new English translation will be totally awesome, of course.”

    “How do you know if you haven’t seen it?”

    If you were to lighten up a bit, then you might have a better chance of recognizing irony. (That “of course” at the end was supposed to be the clue that no one would miss, in addition to the fact the phrase “totally awesome” itself is literally meaningless in this context.)

    At any rate, I think it would be absurd to expect this translation to be “totally awesome” in any sense other than in comparison with what we’ve endured for the last four decades.

    That’s one reason why I want to see it side by side with the Latin–to see for myself What Does The Prayer Really Say (to coin a phrase).

  18. Jack Wayne :
    I’ve yet to read anything by Chris that isn’t snarky.

    God bless you.

    I suppose if you can’t get me on accuracy, you can always try the ‘snarky’ route.

    The fact is, what I wrote is right, and, further, I wrote it in respone to someone who was being what you might call ‘snarky’ to me about an earlier post of mine!

    Got anything to add to the debate other than having a shot at me?

    1. What I said wasn’t a shot at all, but rather a statement of what I consider to be fact. I was being quite serious – almost everything I’ve read from you since discovering this place is snarky, regardless of whether or not the person you respond to merited it. Rightness or wrongness aside, perhaps you could rethink your abrasive posting style if you want people to come away feeling enlightened by you.

      And as for accuracy – As John said, the new missal *does* have such a thing as the “prayer over the gifts,” but with a different name.

      And God bless you too. I won’t bring this up ever again, as I realize that I’m not the one who decides what is and isn’t appropriate here and that I can be snarky myself once in a while.

      1. Ok, so I shot through the text (Thank you for the link)

        This is greatly depressing. And I mean this. The 1998 text is absolutely gorgeous. Even if you were to dispense with the options (gathering rite), what a magnificent body of work this is.

        It just further shows what POOR work this 2010 translation is. SHAME on someone for screwing this up.

  19. I was an MC for many years in a parish (in Paul Inwood’s diocese) where the PP always used a slip-in book. It had a hard cover so could be held by altar servers, both male and female, although he preferred to hold it himself!. He kept the fixed prayers in the book and before mass every day, either he or I would insert the collect, prayer over the gifts, preface, eucharistic prayer, post communion. It was dignified and practical. The only problem, for him that is, that this was way before PCs and he had to type out those prayers individually.
    Incidentally, and I know this will make some of you shudder, it facilitated the use of other (i.e. not approved!) eucharistic prayers!
    The same book and system was used for Holy Week which meant that on Good Friday we could use alternative sets of Intercessions, such as those written by Oosterhuis or a creation spirituality set written within the parish.
    Happy days.

  20. If we still had the emphasis on memorization of texts that was once common in schools, some people could simply memorize the whole Missal. Boom. Problem solved. I’ll bet there’s precedent for this in the early history of the Church when paper was expensive and people who could read and write were few.

    Whoa, look at the time—I’m getting so tired that I’m becoming delusional. I’d better get to bed lest I think of something else outrageous. History having relevance for today? How embarrassing. I don’t know what I was thinking there . . .

  21. How about just starting mass at the altar, which hopefully can hold the new book, instead of at the chair? That way we don’t have to pretend that the altar doesn’t matter or even, doesn’t exist, until the Liturgy of the Eucharist starts.

    1. The altar is plcaed in the center of the sanctuary. It is alight with candles even before the Mass begins. It is venerated during the entrance procession with a solemn bow and a kiss by the ordained. It may be incensed as part of the entrance rite. The book of the gospels is placed upon it. It is vested in white, and this often along with the color of the day. It is bowed before every time it is passed. It can be decorated with flowers placed near it. What here suggests that the altar doesn’t matter until the Liturgy of the Eucharist?

    2. Not a very good idea to use the altar as a bookstand. Nor, come to that, to use it as a sideboard where things can just be parked – eg. priest’s spectacle case, cruets, zuchetto, any other paraphernalia….

      1. Enthroning the Book of the Gospels on the Altar is hardly using the altar as a bookstand, Sebastian. And it is an ancient practice. As far the rest of those items, agreed.

      2. +JMJ+

        Michael, I’m pretty sure Sebastian is referring to having the priest pray the Collect at the altar, presumably with the Missal on the altar, as in the E.F. That is what he meant by treating the altar as a bookstand, if I read him correctly.

      3. Oh, my mistake. I can see that now. Sorry about that, Sebastian! And thanks, Jeffrey! Have a great Sunday, both of you, and God bless.

  22. Reminds me of the brilliant article by Yves Congar on church architecture in “L’Art Sacré” (1947), “L’Église, maison du peuple de Dieu”, in which he says the altar should be placed away from the walls: “it’s not a sideboard but a table”.

  23. I think the design of an altar in relationship to its surroundings is more important than whether it is freestanding or up against the wall. Does the art around the altar, as well as the lines of the building, lead one’s eye to it? Is the altar well proportioned to the space and made of materials that don’t just blend in with the background? While some older altars can be dwarfed by a massive reredos, often times the reredos and lines of the building could act as a beautiful way to frame the altar and lead one’s eye towards it – emphasizing it. Conversely, a lot of the freestanding altars that were put into older churches can seem insignificant since they don’t relate to their surroundings or fight with the lines of the building.

    If an altar seems unimportant, its because the architects and decorators didn’t do a well enough job using the principles of design to make it important.

    1. Here’s what the Church said in the GIRM:

      299. The altar should be built apart from the wall, in such a way that it is possible to walk around it easily and that Mass can be celebrated at it facing the people, which is desirable wherever possible. The altar should, moreover, be so placed as to be truly the center toward which the attention of the whole congregation of the faithful naturally turns. The altar is usually fixed and is dedicated.
      303. In building new churches, it is preferable to erect a single altar which in the gathering of the faithful will signify the one Christ and the one Eucharist of the Church. In already existing churches, however, when the old altar is positioned so that it makes the people’s participation difficult but cannot be moved without damage to its artistic value, another fixed altar, of artistic merit and duly dedicated, should be erected and sacred rites celebrated on it alone. In order not to distract the attention of the faithful from the new altar, the old altar should not be decorated in any special way.

      1. I’ve read this many times and realize that freestanding altars are given preference at the moment. However, I was talking more about the visual presence of an altar – which is something doesn’t exactly relate to whether it conforms to the present GIRM. A freestanding altar may be preferred, but it isn’t by its very nature “better” than a “wall altar” might be in terms of having aesthetic presence within a church space.

        I was asserting that a well-designed “sideboard” altar can look more appropriately like an altar (and demand attention) than a poorly designed freestanding altar.

  24. I was not talking about the altar’s placement or the candles on/around it, or the fact that it might be incensed (on rare occasion), or that maybe a Gospel book is placed on it till needed at the reading of the Gospel.

    I am talking about the fact that in modern liturgical life, in the majority of parishes, the altar is treated as if it is not needed except as a table to hold the bread and wine (before the Eucharistic prayer)/Blessed Sacrament (after the Eucharistic prayer). That the presider’s chair is the important place. Watching him lead the opening and closing of Mass from there reduces the symbolic importance of the gathered community around the altar for Mass, not just one part of Mass, but for Mass.

    If anyone thinks that saying the prayers of the opening and closing of Mass from the altar is “using the altar as a bookstand,” then maybe the server should be holding the book for the presider during the liturgy of the Eucharist as well.

    1. “Watching him lead the opening and closing of Mass from there reduces the symbolic importance of the gathered community around the altar for Mass, not just one part of Mass, but for Mass.”

      Well, if the optimal reverence due the altar is observed, the authentic symbolism of the altar in relation to the gathered community is preserved. Neither the chair nor the ambo, nor even the community itself, need necessarily detract from the importance of the altar. Of course, as you describe it, yes, the necessary balance is indeed mitigated in an unfortunate manner. But that does not seem to me to be the fault of the liturgical norms, nor of the order of liturgy itself, but rather of the manner in which the Church’s norms are being ignored by those responsible for preparing and celebrating the sacred liturgy.

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