Bishop Peter Christensen, bishop since 2014 of the statewide Diocese of Boise, Idaho, has issued an instruction to the priests of his diocese (reprinted in the diocesan newspaper). With a view toward unity, the Instruction upholds the universal practice and liturgical discipline of the Catholic Church in matters such as Mass facing facing the people, receiving Communion standing (which is the norm in the U.S.), and not importing elements of the Extraordinary Form (such as ringing bells at the priest’s Communion) into the Ordinary Form. Pray Tell reprints the Instruction below in its entirety. H/T Robert Mickens.
Liturgical Expectations and Clarifications
“The Diocesan Bishop, who is to be regarded as the High Priest of his flock, from whom the life in Christ of his faithful in some sense derives and upon whom it depends, must promote, regulate, and be vigilant over the liturgical life in his diocese.” GIRM #387
Dear Brothers in Christ,
It has come to my attention that matters addressed below may be causing confusion in our Diocese. I would like to provide clarification.
In order to reduce the confusion among the faithful and the increasing disinformation regarding liturgical matters in the Diocese, and to promote harmony and unity that is reflected and strengthened in our Eucharistic celebrations, I am promulgating this Instruction. As bishop, I request that clergy carefully reflect upon and adhere to the following.
1. Priests must take special care in forming the faithful: In general, priests are to refrain from providing the faithful with incorrect information in order to promote a particular approach to worship. Specifically, they must never imply a particular superiority or greater holiness of approach amongst the valid forms of worship in the Roman Catholic Church. In instructing the faithful regarding questions of posture, gensture, reception of Communion, etc., clergy are to refer always to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, the Order of Mass, and other officially promulgated ritual books for the form of liturgy they are celebrating, or to documents propagated by the Holy See or the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and approved by the appropriate authorities. Sources such as independent websites and social media platforms that are unaffiliated with the Holy See or the USCCB are not to be considered trustworthy or appropriate for catechesis. Elements from the Missal used at the Extraordinary Form liturgy are not to be imported into Masses celebrated under the Ordinary Form.
Pastors, whose responsibility is to form the faithful, should undertake this task with utmost seriousness and care. Your authority as shepherds of your flocks – trusted fathers of your faith family – resides in your integrity and humble sincerity in providing the souls in your care with accurate theological, moral, and catechetical guidance to the best of your ability, and should not be undermined by a careless or deliberately misleading approach to formation.
2. Priests in the Diocese of Boise will face the people when presiding at the Ordinary Form of the Mass: Paragraph 299 in the General Instruction to the Roman Missal makes it plain that the universal Church envisions the priest presiding at Mass facing the people. (#299: The altar should be built separate 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 whenever possible.”) This is unambivalent, and I am instructing priests in this diocese to preside facing the people at every celebration of the Ordinary Form of the Mass.
There are priests who prefer ad orientem. I am convinced that they mean well and find it a devout way to pray. But the overwhelming experience worldwide after Vatican II is that the priest faces the people for the Mass, and this has contributed to the sanctification of the people.
There has been an attempt to justify the ad orientem practice because the Order of Mass indicates places when the priest should face the people. (However, it never asks him to turn away, as the preconciliar Missal did.) There are some historical churches with fixed altars where the priest does not have the option of facing the people. I conclude from this that the indications to have his back to the people remain only for those circumstances where the priest presides at historical churches where the main altar or side altars are against a wall. The GIRM presumes that the priest is celebrating Mass at a freestanding altar. It was clearly the mind of the Council that the priest should face the people.
It is most affecting that, during the funeral rite, the Catholic Church maintains that the coffin of a deceased cleric is to be positioned in the way he was in life at Mass: facing the people.
3. Posture at Communion and the use of prie dieus (kneeling bench) or altar rails: I have directed that the posture for receiving Communion in this Diocese is standing, in accord with GIRM #160: “The norm is established for the Dioceses of the United States of America is that Holy Communion is to be received standing, unless an individual member of the faithful wishes to receive Communion while kneeling.” While it is the right of the faithful to kneel to receive, nor may any communicant be denied Communion based on posture, given that the norm in this country is standing. I am instructing that priests do not use furniture or items such as prie dieus or Communion rails, as these may seem to undermine this norm or to imply a preference for kneeling to receive.
4. Celebration of the Extraordinary Form: With the publication of Pope Benedict XVI’s Summorum pontificum, it became permissible for priests to celebrate the Extraordinary Form of the eucharist without applying for permission to their local ordinary. I am requesting, however, that as a matter of courtesy, I am made aware of any such celebrations. As well, this information must be made available to the Holy See in a formal report during each ad limina visit. So, for accurate record-keeping, I request that you report this practice to me, along with frequency and attendance. Remembering always that the Ordinary Form is just that, the ordinary accepted way in which we are to regularly celebrate Mass a faithful Catholics.
5. Priests are not to add elements (words, gestures, actions, etc.) to the liturgy that are not found in the appropriate Missal: No priest should take it upon himself to adapt the liturgy to his particular preferences. Just as he should not insert words such as “God is good…all the time!” into the middle of the Eucharistic Prayer, neither should he insert actions – such as ringing the bells during his own Communion – that are not found in the rubrics of the Missal under which he is celebrating (the Missal of John XXIII for Extraordinary Form; the 3rd edition of the Missal of Paul VI for the Ordinary Form). Liturgy is not an expression of private devotion, as you are all aware.
My Brothers, it is a great trust that I and the Faithful of our Diocese place as you in order to promote the one body in Christ as reflected in our unity and harmony at worship.