The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, says in §11: “But in order that the liturgy may be able to produce its full effects, it is necessary that the faithful come to it with proper dispositions, that their minds should be attuned to their voices, and that they should cooperate with divine grace lest they receive it in vain. Pastors of souls must therefore realize that, when the liturgy is celebrated, something more is required than the mere observation of the laws governing valid and licit celebration; it is their duty also to ensure that the faithful take part fully aware of what they are doing, actively engaged in the rite, and enriched by its effects.”
I want to propose a conversation about some of the implications of this article.
In Chapter III of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, “Duties and Ministries in the Mass” there is a new sentence (new to this edition, that is) at the end of Section 111 (underlined in bold):
108. One and the same Priest must always exercise the presidential function in all of its parts, except for those parts which are proper to a Mass at which the Bishop is present (cf. above no. 92).
109. If there are several present who are able to exercise the same ministry, nothing forbids their distributing among themselves and performing different parts of the same ministry or duty. For example, one Deacon may be assigned to execute the sung parts, another to serve at the altar; if there are several readings, it is well to distribute them among a number of readers, and the same applies for other matters. However, it is not at all appropriate that several persons divide a single element of the celebration among themselves, e.g., that the same reading be proclaimed by two readers, one after the other, with the exception of the Passion of the Lord.
110. If at a Mass with the people only one minister is present, that minister may exercise several different functions.
111. There should be harmony and diligence among all those involved in the effective preparation of each liturgical celebration in accordance with the Missal and other liturgical books, both as regards the rites and as regards the pastoral and musical aspects. This should take place under the direction of the rector of the church and after consultation with the faithful in things that directly pertain to them. However, the Priest who presides at the celebration always retains the right of arranging those things that pertain to him.
This week’s basic question is: What are the responsibilities of the presider? Is it correct to interpret this new sentence as a circumscription of the presider’s power of choice of the Mass and its parts?
There are four other sections from documents that might help us understand this sentence. The first is from the GIRM, Chapter VII, “The Choice of the Mass and Its Parts” [emphasis added]:
352. The pastoral effectiveness of a celebration will be greatly increased if the texts of the readings, the prayers, and the liturgical chants correspond as aptly as possible to the needs, the preparation, and the culture of the participants. This will be achieved by appropriate use of the many possibilities of choice described below.
Hence in arranging the celebration of Mass, the Priest should be attentive rather to the common spiritual good of the People of God than to his own inclinations. He should also remember that choices of this kind are to be made in harmony with those who exercise some part in the celebration, including the faithful, as regards the parts that more directly pertain to them.
Since, indeed, many possibilities are provided for choosing the different parts of the Mass, it is necessary for the Deacon, the readers, the psalmist, the cantor, the commentator, and the choir to know properly before the celebration the texts that concern each and that are to be used, and it is necessary that nothing be in any sense improvised. For harmonious ordering and carrying out of the rites will greatly help in disposing the faithful for participation in the Eucharist.
This passage is echoed in the last paragraph of the GIRM that pertains to parishes:
385. In the arranging and choosing of the variable parts of the Mass for the Dead, especially the Funeral Mass (for example, orations, readings, and the Universal Prayer), pastoral considerations bearing upon the deceased, the family, and those attending should be kept in mind.
Moreover, pastors should take into special account those who are present at a liturgical celebration or who hear the Gospel on the occasion of the funeral and who may be non-Catholics or Catholics who never or hardly ever participate in the Eucharist or who seem even to have lost the faith. For Priests are ministers of Christ’s Gospel for all.
These last two sentences seem to me to be an instance of the greatest principle in Canon Law: Salus animarum suprema lex, found in the last canon of the Code, Canon 1752: “ . . . and the salvation of souls, which must always be the supreme law in the Church, is to be kept before one’s eyes.”
For the sake of completeness I need to cite §78 of the Lectionary for Mass: Introduction [emphasis added]:
The Order of Readings sometimes leaves it to the celebrant to choose between alternative texts or to choose one from the several listed together for the same reading. The option seldom exists on Sundays, solemnities, or feasts, in order not to obscure the character proper to the particular liturgical season or needlessly interrupt the semicontinuous reading of some biblical book. On the other hand, the option is given readily in celebrations of the Saints, in ritual Masses, Masses for various needs and occasions, votive Masses, and Masses for the dead.
These options, together with those indicated in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal and the Ordo cantus Missae, have a pastoral purpose. In arranging the liturgy of the word, then, the priest should “consider the general spiritual good of the congregation rather than his personal outlook. He should be mindful that the choice of texts is to be made in harmony with the ministers and others who have any role in the celebration and should listen to the opinions of the faithful in what concerns them more directly.”
As the Directory for Masses with Children says: “44. In the choice of readings the criterion to be followed is the quality rather than the quantity of the texts from the Scriptures. A shorter reading is not as such always more suited to children than a lengthy reading. Everything depends on the spiritual advantage that the reading can bring to the children” [emphasis added]. For more of the wisdom contained on these matters in the Directory for Masses with Children see §§22 and 23, and 38 through 55 of that document.
Asking again this week’s basic question: What are the responsibilities of the presider? Is it correct to interpret this new sentence as a circumscription of the presider’s power of choice of the Mass and its parts? What are “best practices” in this matter? What ought to be avoided?
With this question I am setting us the task of listing the presider’s rights and responsibilities to arrange those things at Mass that pertain to him. Let’s confine ourselves to Mass, shall we?
Not that everything you add to this list need be supported by reference to documents, let me start us off:
- GIRM 23. Moreover, in order that such a celebration may correspond more fully to the prescriptions and spirit of the Sacred Liturgy, and also in order that its pastoral effectiveness be enhanced, certain accommodations and adaptations are set out in this General Instruction and in the Order of Mass. GIRM 24. These adaptations consist, for the most part, in the choice of certain rites or texts, that is, of the chants, readings, prayers, explanatory interventions, and gestures capable of responding better to the needs, the preparation, and the culture of the participants and which are entrusted to the Priest Celebrant. However, the Priest will remember that he is the servant of the Sacred Liturgy and that he himself is not permitted, on his own initiative, to add, to remove, or to change anything in the celebration of Mass.