General Instruction of the Roman Missal

Concordat cum originali:
+ Gregory M. Aymond
Chairman, USCCB Committee on Divine Worship
after review by Rev. Richard B. Hilgartner
Executive Director, USCCB Secretariat of Divine Worship

The Roman Missal, Third Edition for use in the Dioceses of the United States of America was confirmed by decree of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments on March 26, 2010 (Prot. n. 1464/06/L).  Proper adaptations for the United States were confirmed on July 24, 2010 (Prot. n. 577/10/L).

Excerpts from the English translation of The Roman Missal © 2010 International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation.  All rights reserved.

Particular adaptations for the Dioceses of the United States of America © 2010 United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, DC.  All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2011, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, DC.  All rights reserved.  No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright holder.

Liturgical Questions regarding the General Instruction of the Roman Missal

  • Liturgical Questions regarding the General Instruction of the Roman Missal

Liturgical Questions regarding the General Instruction of the Roman Missal

Is it a matter of personal choice for the priest to wear the stole over the chasuble?

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal, no. 337, describes "the chasuble worn, unless otherwise indicated, over the alb and stole" as the proper vestment for the priest at Mass. No. 209 also notes: "The concelebrants put on in the vesting room, or other suitable place, the sacred vestments they customarily wear when celebrating Mass individually. However, should a just cause arise (e.g., a more considerable number of concelebrants or a lack of vestments), concelebrants other than the principal celebrant may omit the chasuble and simply wear the stole over the alb."

The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, in the Instruction, Redemptionis Sacramentum notes: "Out of necessity the concelebrants other than the principal celebrant may even put on white chasubles. For the rest, the norms of the liturgical books are to be observed" (no. 124). This same Instruction states, "The abuse is reprobated whereby the sacred ministers celebrate Holy Mass or other Rites without sacred vestments or with only a stole over the monastic cowl or the common habit of religious or ordinary clothes, contrary to the prescriptions of the liturgical books, even when there is only one minister participating" (no. 126).

How much beeswax should candles used in the liturgy have?

Prior to the Second Vatican Council altar candles were to be composed primarily or to a significant extent of pure beeswax, with the exact percentage determined by the diocesan bishop. The candle itself was given a mystical meaning: the beeswax symbolized the pure flesh Christ received from his Virgin Mother, the wick symbolized his soul, and the flame his divinity.

However, the current legislation is less specific. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) does not address the composition of altar candles. Conferences of Bishops possess the faculty to determine their make-up, but the USCCB has never employed this faculty to permit materials other than wax in the production of candles, so candles for use in the Mass and other liturgical rites must be made of wax and provide "'a living flame without being smoky or noxious.' To safeguard 'authenticity and the full symbolism of light,' electric lights as a substitute for candles are not permitted" (Built of Living Stones, no. 93). This also applies to the so-called electric vigil lights used for devotional purposes. A bishop would have the authority to make an exception to a living flame in cases of necessity, if, for example, a prison or a hospital had a policy absolutely forbidding open flames.

It should be noted that while an oil lamp may be used to indicate the presence of the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle (see GIRM, no. 316), the U.S. bishops have never given permission for the use of oil lamps at the altar. Candles are symbols of the presence of Christ, the light of the world (Jn 8:12) and of Baptism by which we share in his light (Col 1:12), and are also signs of reverence and festivity.

Where should flags be displayed in the church?

Surprisingly to many, there are no regulations of any kind governing the display of flags in Roman Catholic Churches. Neither the Code of Canon Law, nor the liturgical books of the Roman Rite comment on this practice. As a result, the question of whether and how to display the American flag in a Catholic Church is left up to the judgment of the diocesan bishop, who in turn often delegates this to the discretion of the pastor.

The origin of the display of the American flag in many parishes in the United States appears have its origins in the offering of prayers for those who served during the Second World War (1941-1945). At that time, many bishops and pastors provided a book of remembrance near the American flag, requesting prayers for loved ones – especially those serving their country in the armed forces – as a way of keeping before the attention of the faithful the needs of military families. This practice has since been confirmed in many places during the Korean, Vietnam, Iraqi, Afghan, and other conflicts.

In the past, the Committee on Divine Worship encouraged pastors not to place the flag within the sanctuary itself, in order to reserve that space for the altar, the ambo, the presidential chair and the tabernacle. Instead, the suggestion has been made that the American flag be placed outside the sanctuary, or in the vestibule of the Church together with a book of prayer requests. It remains, however, for the diocesan bishop to determine regulations in this matter.