The Theological Vision of Sacrosanctum Concilium and the Roman Missal

In order to understand the recent revision of the Roman Missal and the reasons for certain modifications and changes in the General Instruction of the Missale Romanum, editio typica tertia, it is necessary to take as a starting point the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council Sacrosanctum Concilium   In the Apostolic Letter commemorating the twenty fifth anniversary of the promulgation of the Conciliar Constitution His Holiness Pope John Paul II stated that the principles which underlie the Council’s great liturgical charter are of “enduring value” and remain relevant in the development of the Church’s worship (1).

During the years that have elapsed since the last typical edition of the Roman Missal, not only has the Code of Canon Law been promulgated (1983) which of itself would have been sufficient to have brought about modifications in liturgical legislation, (2) but a considerable amount of legislative texts have been promulgated by the Holy See and its Dicasteries (3) and in the measure of its competence the National Conference of Catholic Bishops of the United States of America.

While the reasons for changes in the Instruction Generalis of the Missale Romanum, editio typica tertia, are at one level part of an ongoing process of revision, it is a revision which is faithful to the theological vision and directives of the Council Fathers. If we approach from this theological vantage point, our implementation of this reform will be derived from a liturgical-theological reflection rather than rubrical adjustements or minor modifications. The Instruction Generalis is part of an ongoing process of liturgical renewal and represents an organic continuity with the theological vision of the Council Fathers.

The Instruction itself recalls that the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council were continuing the work begun by Pope Saint Pius V, who in the promulgation of the Roman Missal wrote that its goal was to give to the liturgy the vigor it had in the tradition of the Fathers. The succeeding Roman Pontiffs directed their energies during the subsequent centuries to ensure that the rites and liturgical books were brought up to date and when necessary clarified for example the outstanding work of Pope Benedict XIV.

The twentieth century opened with the establishment of a special Commission for a general reform of the liturgy by Pope Saint. Pius X. Among the areas to which special attention was to be given by this Pontifical Commission were liturgical music, the Calendar, the celebration of Sunday, the reform of the Roman Breviary and changes in Eucharistic discipline.

The work of Pope Pius IX for the revision of the Vulgate text of the Sacred Scriptures is often overshadowed by the liturgical renewal undertaken by his successor Pope Pius XII. The Encyclical Mediator Dei is recognised as the direct precursor of the Constitution on the Liturgy. For the Liturgy of the Hours Pope Pius XII authorised a new version of the Psalter, introduced modifications of the eucharistic fast, introduced the use of vernacular languages in the Roman Ritual and undertook the reform of the Easter Vigil and Holy Week.

During this same period of pre-conciliar liturgical renewal there was a remarkable resurgence of scientific research into patristic and liturgical sources (4). Without an awareness of the historical background and context of liturgical renewal it is not possible to avoid having an incomplete picture of the development of the life of the Church.

The Liturgy has always undergone modifications throughout the centuries, there is only one unchangeable text and that is the text of sacred Scripture.

The Church has undertaken in every age to cloth the liturgy in words and rites which speak the ageless mysteries to their different time (5). Thus in her prayer as in her teaching, the Church fulfills her responsibility as teacher of truth to guard things old, that is, the deposit of tradition; at the same time it fulfills another duty, that of examining and prudently bringing forth things new (see Matthew 13:52).

It is indeed fitting that the work of the revision of the Roman Missal should coincide with the beginning of the new millenium and so that the timeless truths which the Church always seeks to make new for her children can be thrown into ever greater relief in the first years of the twenty-first century.

As Pope John Paul II indicated in Vicesmus quintus annus the principles of the Constitution on the Sacred liturgy “remain fundamental in the task of leading the faithful to an active celebration of the mysteries” (n. 5). The major part of the liturgical renewal authorised by the Second Vatican council has taken place and notwithstanding the human limitations involved in such a work the immensity of the task which has been accomplished could not have been achieved without the power of the Holy Spirit. The work of the Council is not over, and since a generation has now grown up for whom the Council is an historical event it is ever more important to remember that although “the greater part of the liturgical books have been published, translated and brought into use, it is still necessary to keep these principles constantly in mind and to build upon them”. (Vicesmus quintus annus n.5).

With this in mind the following catechesis comments on four fundamental theological truths which were described by the Council Fathers in the second chapter of Sacrosanctum Concilium. They are given here as part of a description of the essential framework of the reform of the liturgy of the Roman rite and trace their influence on these same rites throughout the GIRM. It follows, therefore that by viewing the Missale Romanum and its Instruction Generalis through these theological perspectives it is possible to see the relationship between the Council’s vision of liturgical renewal and the Missale Romanum as it has been given to us today. The rites for the celebration of the Eucharist, like the entire post-conciliar liturgical reform, have been inspired and formed by the theological mandates of Sacrosanctum Concilium and the pastoral needs foreseen by the Council Fathers nearly forty years ago.

The four theological premises we will use as the lens through which to examine the Missale Romanum are that:

  • The Celebration of the Eucharist is First of all Christo-centric;
  • Every Celebration of the Eucharist Requires a Bishop or his Priest;
  • Participation of the Faithful is the Goal to be Considered Before all Others,
  • The Eucharist is the Source and Summit Christian Life.

Theological Premises of the Conciliar Reform of the Liturgy

A. The Celebration of the Eucharist is First of all Christo-centric (see SC 5)

1. Short summary of theological perspectives of the Second Vatican Council
To state that the Eucharist is “Christo-centric” means that Mass is a participation in the action of Christ himself, of his sacrifice for us, of his paschal meal, as shared originally with his apostles, and of his very Passover from death to life. The re-enactment of the Paschal Mystery of Christ in the Liturgy is founded upon the mystery that “it was from the side of Christ as he slept upon the Cross that there issued forth the sublime sacrament of the whole Church” (6). In the eucharist, our participation -- whether as lay or ordained -- is a joining in the death and resurrection of Christ in his unique berakah offered on the night he was betrayed (SC 5).

As John at the Last Supper rested his head against the heart of Jesus (Jn.13.23-25), so too in the same way the Christian seeking to be one with Christ, is celebrating a friendship which is also a call to suffer, die and rise with him to the Father. By sharing in the simplest of everyday foods -- bread and wine -- we are given the means of everlasting life. As the Council teaches in the most contemporary of language, the eucharist is “the sacrament of faithful relationships” (SC 48) -- of a Father who never forgot his Son, of a Son obedient to his Father, and of a Lord who would call us not servants, but friends (Jn.15.15). For whenever we “eat this bread and drink this cup, [we] proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes” (1 Cor. 11.26). By the recalling of Christ’s death and resurrection which happens at the eucharist, the Church finds herself bound to Christ and taken into his death, only to be raised up with him in his resurrection. And in this mysterious bond, we discover, as followers of Jesus, our true identities, as our “inner sel[ves] are filled with grace” (SC 48). In short, the eucharist helps to build not only our relationship with God, but with each other and with our own selves -- a process completed only when, as Council states, we enter again and again “in secret into [our own] chamber to pray to the Father” [cf. Mt.6.6.] (SC 12). To describe this union between ourselves and Christ in the eucharist, the Council cites the prayer over the gifts for Monday within the octave of Pentecost as a model for our understanding of its mystery: “It is on this account that, during the sacrifice of the Mass, we pray the Lord “to receive the offering of the spiritual victim,”“ -- which is ourselves and Christ -- “and then raise “our very selves” to their perfection in becoming “an eternal gift” for himself”“ (SC12). All of this is accomplished through Christ.

There is a further dimension to the Christo-centric quality of the eucharist. Through his mystical body, Christ draws each of us to himself, transforming us to become a part of himself. This has been expressed succinctly by Saint Augustine:

So now, if you want to understand the body of Christ, listen to the Apostle Paul, speaking to the faithful: You are the body of Christ, member for member (1 Cor. 12.27). If you, therefore, are Christ’s body and members, it is your own mystery that is placed on the Lord’s table! It is your own mystery that you are receiving! You are saying “Amen” to what you are -- your response is a personal signature, affirming your faith. When you hear, “The Body of Christ” -- you reply, “Amen.” Be a member of Christ’s body, then, so that your “Amen” may ring true. (7)

To be centered on Christ at the eucharist, then, is not merely to join ourselves with his actions; not only to participate in his self-offering and self-sharing, but indeed it is to become one with Christ, and by extension, with each other.

To be Christo-centric at the eucharist means to be ecclesial. It is to realize our fullest membership in the Church; for by our eating and drinking of the Lord’s body and blood, we become, in our union with Christ and each other, what Augustine would stunningly refer to as the “total Christ.” Just as the whole Church “arose from the side of Christ as he slept on the cross” (SC 6), so too do we emerge from every Mass more fully as his own, single and unified body, given for the sake of the world to which each of us is sent in turn.

If we examine some of the great paintings of the Renaissance which depict Jesus with Mary, his mother, and John the Baptist, his cousin, we can discover an aspect of this Christo-centric teaching of the Fathers. In these works we find John the Baptist, whose eyes -- like the eyes of faith -- are firmly fixed on Christ and him alone. Mary, the ever-Virgin Mother of God, whose eyes meet ours, invites us to behold her only Son. Jesus himself, whose eyes are on the Father, tells us as in the gospel: “A son cannot do anything on his own, but only what he sees his father doing” (Jn.5.19). Christ’s gaze is fixed on his Father, who loved him and sent him into the world, only to return carrying with him all who believe. If, therefore, our eucharist is Christo-centric, it is ultimately directed where Christ’s vision is directed: to the Father. As Christ teaches us, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn.14.9). Through him our gaze is turned to the Father; and without Christ, our eyes could never behold the true Father and God of all. Christ’s eyes become ours; his vision, our vision; his Father, our shared “Abba!”

As we enter into the meaning of the Christo-centric quality of the eucharist we come to realise evermore profoundly that Jesus is the way to the Father (Jn.14.6) and that eucharist is a banquet with the divine persons themselves. At the eucharist, we are blest to see Christ who sees his Father, whose Spirit is their mutual gaze, ever given and received. At the eucharist, as within the Trinity, the Father is our host; the Son, our servant, and the Spirit, our eternal welcome. The Christo-centricity of the eucharist, then, is our entrance into the life of God, poured out for us in the blessing of the bread and wine, the body and blood of his son, Jesus.

2. How this is enfleshed in the GIRM
These three themes -- that our actions at Mass are centered on Christ; that we become his living body, and that the Eucharist is a banquet with the Trinity -- are found throughout the General Instruction of the Roman Missal. The Instruction opens with a quotation from the ancient Sacramentary of Verona (Leonine Sacramentary) GIRM (2) which asserts that “as often as the commemoration of this sacrifice is celebrated, the work of our redemption if carried out.” The priest addresses the Father (GIRM 2) to whom the sacrifice of Jesus is directed (GIRM 2) as a way of “bringing about the salvation of the world” (GIRM 2). It is God who accomplishes in Christ the work of our salvation in the eucharist (GIRM 16). Hence, we are reminded that it is the Father who is adored “through Christ, the Son of God, in the Holy Spirit” (GIRM 16). This is brought out clearly in the way in which all presidential prayers are directed to the Father and presented through Christ, expressed in the words: “We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever” (GIRM 54).

In the Eucharistic prayer the relationship between us, Christ, his Spirit and the Father is most evident. For in each anaphora, “in the name of the entire holy people, the priest praises God the Father”(GIRM 79a) and invokes the Spirit upon the gifts offered (GIRM 79c), that they might become the body and blood of Christ himself (GIRM 79d). In a wonderful summary, the GIRM teaches us at once the meaning of the Eucharist as the sacrifice of Jesus and as our own sacrifice as well: “The Church’s intention [at Mass] is that the faithful not only offer this spotless victim but also learn to offer themselves and so day by day to be consumated themselves, through Christ the Mediator, into unity with God and with each other, so that at last God may be all in all” (GIRM 79f). Such learning is accomplished by our own, steady transformation into the Body of Christ through his constant mediation for us with the Father (SC 48). We are, as the followers of Jesus, to be “formed by God’s word” (SC 48) and hence readied for participation in offering the memorial with the priest at the table of the Lord. As the Constitution on the Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council instructs us, all must learn to offer the sacrifice of Christ with and through him, but as well, offering themselves along with Christ to achieve through him the final goal of all liturgy: union with God (SC 48).

In order that the people of God may deepen their understanding of the liturgy there should by frequesnt catechesis on the role of signs and symbols in its celebration.

The celebration of the Eucharist, like the entire liturgy, involves the use of outward signs that foster, strengthen, and express faith. General Instruction on the Roman Missal. (8)

The significance of symbolism can never be separated from the mystery of the Incarnation whereby the invisible God became visible man in Jesus Christ, and so signs and symbols in Christian worship belong to a completely new realm. This is expressed in one of the liturgical texts namely the Preface of Christmas in the words, which refers to Jesus Christ as follows: “In him we see our God made visible” and goes on to express the desire that we may we be drawn by “our God made visible” “to the contemplation and love of things unseen”.

Through the means of signs, symbols and words, through the action of the liturgy, the mystery of God's saving work in Christ is made present. It is the actualization of his saving mysteries for the life of the people of God.

The life of the people of God, who form a society whose task it is to praise, finds expression in worship when the name of God is glorified in the sight of all creation. The liturgy is the worship which the Church renders to the Father through Jesus Christ our High Priest; it is the worship offered by the mystical body, head and members. This society is a structured and hierarchically ordered society. The unity of the Christian community is manifested by the diversity of functions exercised by it members. The ordering of the church, its architecture and sacred symbols are all “...the visible signs which the sacred liturgy uses to signify invisible divine things have been chosen by Christ or by the Church...When the Church prays or sings or acts, the faith of those taking part is nourished, and their minds are raised to God so that they may offer him their spiritual homage and receive his grace more abundantly.” Sacrosanctum Concilium,” article 33:

The Altar

The theology of the Eucharist as both sacrifice and meal is finds clear expression in the General Instruction on the Roman Missal: The altar on which the sacrifice of the Cross is made present under sacramental signs is also the Lord's table which the people are invited to share when they gather together in his name. As the eucharist is the center of the Church's life and worship, so the altar is a sign of the Church, and her two-fold activity of the worship of God and the sanctification of humankind. The altar is the sacred meeting place in the relationship between God and the people redeemed through he blood of Christ.

This teaching is embodied in the prayer which follows the Litany of the Saints in the Rite of the Dedication of an Altar: “May this altar be the place where the great mysteries of redemption are accomplished: a place where your people offer their gifts, unfold their good intentions, pour out their prayers, and echo every meaning of their faith and devotion.”.

Consequently great care must be taken over the design and position of the altar. Every church should have a single, fixed and dedicated altar (303) which “will signify the one Christ and the one Eucharist of the Church” (303) and “represents Christ Jesus, the Living Stone (1 Peter 2:4; see Eph. 2:20) more clearly and permanently” (298) than does a moveable altar.

The Instruction recognises that in the renovation of churches of historical or outstanding artistic merit it can happen that there is an altar which “is so positioned that it makes the participation of the people difficult” (303) and yet to move it would compromise its artistic value and significance. In such instances, another fixed and dedicated altar may be erected. Although the former altar is no longer decorated in a special way and the liturgy is celebrated only on the new fixed altar (303), it should retain something of a dignified appearance.

A new paragraph is added cautioning that nothing should be placed upon the altar except for an indicated list of what is required for the celebration of Mass. (306) Even flowers are to be arranged with moderation around the altar but never on top of it. (305) A paragraph on the arrangement of altar flowers likewise notes that during Lent the use of flowers is prohibited, except on Laetare Sunday, solemnities and feast days. In the same way, a certain moderation is exercised during the Advent Season when altar flowers convey “the character of the season, without expressing prematurely the full joy of the Nativity of the Lord.” (305)

The Altar Cross

Where the previous Instruction spoke only of an altar or processional cross, the revised Instruction speaks always of “a cross with the figure of Christ crucified upon it.” (308, 122) This cross, “positioned either on the altar or near it,” should be clearly visible not only during the liturgy, but at all times recalling “for the faithful the saving passion of the Lord, [and] remain[ing] near the altar even outside of liturgical celebrations.” (308) A liturgical procession is a sign that the peopple of God form the pilgrim church on earth, it is fitting that such processions should be preceded by the Cross.

Sacred Images

The subject of sacred art and images in church was considered quite directly by Pope Pius XII in the Encyclical Mediator Dei. After having given encouragement to the promotion of the dignity and quality of sacred art Pope Pius declared:

If we have previously disapproved of the error of those who would wish to outlaw images from churches on the plea of reviving an ancient tradition, We now deem it Our duty to censure the inconsiderate zeal of those who propose for veneration in the Churches and on the altars, without any just reason, a multitude of sacred images and statues, and also those who display unauthorized relics, those who emphasize special and insignificant practices, neglecting essential and necessary things. They thus bring religion into derision and lessen the dignity of worship. (n. 189)

While the teaching of the General Instruction is not so stringent a new introductory paragraph has been added to the section on sacred images, setting their use in an eschatological frame:

“In the earthly liturgy, the Church participates in a foretaste of the heavenly liturgy, which is celebrated in the holy city Jerusalem, towards which she tends as a pilgrim and where Christ sits at the right hand of God. By so venerating the memory of the saints, the Church hopes for some small part and company with them. (318)”

This is followed by an expanded description of the purpose of these “images of the Lord, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the Saints” which should be “displayed in sacred buildings for veneration by the faithful, and should be arranged so as to usher the faithful toward the mysteries of the faith celebrated there.” (318) While the cautions of the previous document regarding limiting the number and placement of images in churches are retained, their duplication has been prohibited”as a rule.” (318)

The Tabernacle

The tabernacle was first intended for the reservation of the Eucharist in a worthy place so that it could be brought to the sick and those absent, outside of Mass. As faith in the real presence of Christ in his Eucharist deepened, the Church became conscious of the meaning of silent adoration of the Lord present under the Eucharistic species. It is for this reason that the tabernacle should be located in an especially worthy place in the church and should be constructed in such a way that it emphasizes and manifests the truth of the real presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.

The section on the place of reservation of the Blessed Sacrament has been adjusted and expanded. (314-317) It begins by recalling the Instruction Eucharisticum Mysterium 54 with the general statement that “the Most Blessed Sacrament should be reserved in a tabernacle in a part of the church that is truly noble, prominent, readily visible, beautifully decorated and suitable for prayer.” (314) The requirements summarized in the previous Instruction are repeated: that there should be only one tabernacle, which is immovable, solid, unbreakable, locked, and not transparent.

A paragraph on the location of the tabernacle then begins by citing the Eucharisticum Mysterium 55, recalling that “the tabernacle in which the Most Blessed Sacrament is reserved not be on the altar on which Mass is celebrated.” (315) This is immediately followed by a reminder that the location of the tabernacle should always be determined “according to the judgment of the diocesan Bishop.” (315) Two options for such a location follow:

  1. Either in the sanctuary, apart from the altar of celebration, in a form and place more appropriate, not excluding on an old altar no longer used for celebration (cf. no. 303);

  2. Or even in some chapel suitable for the faithful’s private adoration and prayer and organically connected to the church and readily visible to the Christian faithful.
The Sanctuary Lamp is a mark of honour and a reminder of the presence of Christ, a description of the sanctuary lamp (316) is followed by the admonition that “in no way should all the other things prescribed by law concerning the reservation of the Most Holy Eucharist be forgotten.” (317)

B. Every Celebration of the Eucharist Requires the Bishop or his Priest

1. Short summary of theological perspective of the Second Vatican Council
The members of the Church join themselves to Christ’s sacrifice of praise not as individuals but as members of his Body, the Church. It is through the apostles, the conveners of the Church, that such worship is made possible. Without the apostles or their ordained successors, liturgy is not possible, for it is the apostles, “who gathered the Church to “eat the supper of the Lord [and] proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes” and who “continued steadfastly in the teaching of the apostles and in the communion of the breaking of bread and in prayers . . . praising God and being in favor with all the people” (Acts 2:41-47).” (9)

Today, that apostolic ministry is continued through bishops and through their priests.


“it is in the eucharistic cult or in the eucharistic assembly of the faithful (synaxis) that [bishops and their priests] exercise in a supreme degree their sacred functions; there, acting in the person of Christ and proclaiming his mystery, they unite the votive offerings of the faithful to the sacrifice of Christ their head, and in the sacrifice of the Mass they make present again and apply, until the coming of the Lord (cf. 1 Cor. 11:26), the unique sacrifice of the New Testament, that namely of Christ offering himself once for all a spotless victim to the Father (cf. Heb. 9:11-28).” (10)

Through the ministry of the priests, then, “the spiritual sacrifice of the faithful is made perfect in union with the sacrifice of Christ.” (11) This Eucharistic Action, “over which the priest presides, is the very heart of the congregation. So priests must instruct their people to offer to God the Father the Divine Victim in the Sacrifice of the Mass, and to join to it the offering of their own lives.” (12)

Thus normative eucharistic celebration is the Mass celebrated in the local of Church by the Bishop “surrounded by his presbyterate, deacons and lay ministers... in which the holy people of God take full and active part, for herein is the preeminent expression of the Church.” (13)

2. How this is enfleshed in the GIRM

The Bishop
The Constitution on the Liturgy states quite clearly that “the diocesan Bishop is the chief steward of the mysteries of God in the particular church entrusted to his care; he is the moderator, promoter and guardian of its entire liturgical life.”(SC 12). This description has been incorporated into the General Instruction of the Roman Missal n. 22.

As a result of this preeminent role, the Bishop holds a special responsibility to assure that all present “grasp interiorly a genuine sense of the liturgical texts and rites, and thereby are led to an active and fruitful celebration of the Eucharist.” (IBID) This also means that the celebration of the Liturgy in the cathedral church by the bishop should be a model and exemplar for the whole diocese. One might profitably note the process recommended here as well, whereby external participation follows an interior sense of the liturgy and its rites. Thus does the GIRM state unequivocally that “Every authentic celebration of the Eucharist is directed by the Bishop, either in person or through the priests, who are his helpers.”

Because of the preeminent role of the Bishop it is fitting that he himself celebrate the Eucharist whenever he is present (IBID). Likewise, in order to reflect right relationships, he should “associate his priests with himself as concelebrants in the sacred action [in order] to express in a clearer light the mystery of the Church, which is the Sacrament of unity. (IBID)

The revised Instruction introduce two ritual changes affecting the bishop. He now enjoys the option of blessing the people with the Book of the Gospels after its proclamation (175) and more specific wording is provided for the intercession for the bishop in the Eucharistic Prayers (149), including the reminder that while it is appropriate to pray for the co-adjutor and the auxiliary bishops, other bishops who may be present should not be mentioned.

The priesthood of Christ which is fully possessed by the Bishops is also possessed through him by the priest who offers sacrifice in the person of Christ and thus “stands at the head of the faithful people gathered together, presides over its prayer, proclaims the message of salvation, joins the people to himself in offering the sacrifice to God the Father through Christ in the Spirit, gives his brothers and sisters the bread of eternal life, and shares in it with them.” (IG 93) Because of this responsibility, the priest should carry out his function with :dignity and humility” communicating “a sense of the living presence of Christ” by his bearing and by the way he recites the words of the liturgy.. (14)

As the one “who offers the sacrifice in the person of Christ and presides over the assembly of a holy people...[in a] continuation of the power of Christ, High Priest of the New Testament,” (15) he is to “celebrate the Eucharistic sacrifice even daily, whenever possible.” (16) IG 19 even when their presence and participation is not possible, “for by his celebration of the Mass he “fulfills his own principal office and always acts on behalf of the people”s salvation.” IG 19. Likewise, whenever he is present at Mass, the priest should participate as a vested concelebrant, unless excused for a good reason. (114) At the same time, Mass should not be celebrated without at least one other person beside the priest “except for a just and reasonable cause,” in which case all greetings, instructions and the blessing at the end of Mass are omitted.” (254)

Among the most important functions of the priest as described in the General Insturction n. 30 is the proclamation of the Eucharistic Prayer, “the high point of the entire celebration.” “Presiding over the assembly in the person of Christ, [the priest also] addresses [the presidential prayers] to God in the name of the entire holy people and all present...”

He also gives the instructions provided by the rites (IG 31), these introductions may be adapted by him when the rite so indicates, always respecting “the sense of the introduction given in the liturgical book” (IG 30). The priest also proclaims the word of God and to give the final blessing (IG 30) and at other times, he prays inaudibly in his own name. (33)

The importance of the presidential texts “demands that they be spoken in a loud and clear voice and that everyone present listen with attention.” Thus, when spoken, they are never accompanied by another prayer, song, or even instrumental music in the background. (IG 32)

One of the major responsibilities of priests is leading the preparation of the liturgy. While neither adding, removing nor changing anything on his own authority (24) the priest has “the right of directing everything that pertains to himself.” (111) and is responsible for directing the choice of “liturgical songs, readings, prayers, introductory comments and gestures which may respond better to the needs, degree of preparation and mentality of the participants...” (24) The criterion for such choices is “the common spiritual good of the people of God, rather than...his own inclinations.”(352)

Several aspects of the priest’s role at Mass are described in the revised Instruction. A common confusion is addressed with regard to the Penitential Rite, with the statement that the absolution at the conclusion of this rite “lacks the efficacy of the sacrament of penance.” (51)

When, in the absence of a deacon, a priest proclaims the Gospel in the presence of a bishop, he asks for and receives the blessing in the same manner as would a deacon. (212) “Nevertheless, this should not be done in a Concelebration in which a priest presides.” (212)

To the previous Instruction’s explanation of the homily several sentences are added, describing the homily as a living commentary on the Word of God, to be “understood as an integral part of the liturgical action.” (29) The homily may be given by the priest celebrant, by a concelebrating priest, or even by a deacon, “but never by a lay person.” (66) “In particular cases and with just cause, the homily may even be offered by a Bishop or a priest who is present at the celebration, but cannot concelebrate.” (66) Homilies are required on Sundays and holy days of obligation and may be eliminated from Mass with a congregation only for a grave reason. (66) The priest gives the homily in a standing position either “at the chair or at the ambo, or, when appropriate, in another suitable place.” (136) [no sitting at chair]

The priest celebrant introduces and concludes the intercessions from the chair. He introduces them with hands joined and prays the concluding prayer with hands extended. (138) At the offering of the gifts, the priest may choose to pray the blessing formulas aloud, but only when neither a song is sung nor the organ played. (142)

A significantly expanded description of the sign of peace is included in numbers 82 and 154. The pax is defined as the rite “by which the Church asks for peace and unity for herself and for the whole human family, and the faithful offer some sign of their ecclesial communion and mutual love for each other before communicating by receiving the Sacrament.” (82) The sacred character of the sign of peace must not be undervalued, it is not simply a mark of good will or the expression of good wishes. It is a visible prayer for peace. In order to avoid a disruption to the rite, the priest may exchange a sign of peace only with others in the sanctuary. (154) Similarly the assembly should retain its visible character of being one body in Christ and not be disrupted by excessive movement, “it is suitable that each person offer the sign of peace only to those who are nearest and in a sober manner.” (82) As all in the congregation offer each other the sign of peace, they may say: The peace of the Lord be with you always. The response is: Amen. (154) The form for the sign of peace is left to the decision of individual conferences of bishops.

From the day of Pentecost until now the Church has never ceased to celebrate the one Paschal Mystery. At the Apostle Peter's proclamation of the Word the first members of the Church are baptized and form the first Christian community gathered round the Apostles and the celebration of the Eucharist: “they continued steadfastly in the teaching of the apostles and in the communion of the breaking of bread and in prayers...” (Acts 2:41-47). The section on the Breaking of the Bread is significantly expanded, noting that this rite “signifies that in sharing the one bread of life which is Christ, who died and rose for the salvation of the world, the many faithful are made one body (1 Cor. 10,17).” The gesture of the breaking of the bread is a most important moment in the liturgy, it was in the “breaking of the bread” that the disciples recognised the Lord, consequently this ministerial rite is “reserved to the priest and the deacon;”. While the gesture should be given importance (accompanied by ancient custom of singing of the Lamb of God) care must be taken that it should not “be unnecessarily prolonged, nor should it be accorded undue importance.”(83) It does not pertain to the function of the extraordinary ministers to assist in the breaking of the bread and the filling of chalices with the Precious Blood.

There are several moments during the Eucharist when the sacred species are elevated and care should be taken to ensure that these moments are distinguished one from another. At the moment of Communion the host alone should not be held aloft, but either over the paten (which should not be done at the Doxology), or should be held over the chalice at the words This is the Lamb of God (243, 157).

The Church has also recognised that among those who minister at the altar, after the priest, the first in rank is the deacon, whose order has ever been held in honour from the time of the apostles IG 94. The functions of the deacon at Mass which are summarized in IG 94.

The reading of the Gospel is one of the principal functions of the deacon in the Liturgy of the Word. The sacred character of the Book of the Gospels is shown by the quality of its cover; it should be carried solemnly into the assembly and placed upon the altar by the deacon thus symbolising the unity between the presence of Christ in word and sacrament. When the deacon carries the Book of the Gospels in the entrance procession, the book is “slightly elevated.” (172) When arriving at the altar with the Book of the Gospels, he does not bow, but immediately places the Book of the Gospels on the altar and then kisses the altar at the same time the priest does. (173)

Greater detail is given to the deacon’s role in the proclamation of the Gospel as well. He is to bow when asking for the blessing and when taking the Book of the Gospels from the altar. (175) A description of the optional kissing of the Book of the Gospels by the bishop is likewise included. The deacon may proclaim the readings, but only in the absence of a qualified lector (176) and he proclaims the intentions “normally from the ambo.” (177) The place of the ambo is sacred and is reserved for the proclamation of the Word of God, this includes the responsorial psalm. It may also be used for the homily and the Prayer of the Faithful. It is not to be used as a music stand: the cantor, the conductor of the choir/assembly and the commentator should use a moveable stand or lectern. The ambo is truly regarded as the table of God’s Word in the same way in which the altar is the table of the Lord’s body and blood.

During the Eucharistic Prayer the deacon approaches the altar when his ministry involves the chalice and Missal. Otherwise “the deacon stand back slightly, behind the concelebrating priests.” (215) The deacon “normally” kneels from the epiclesis to the elevation of the chalice. (179).

At Communion, the priest himself gives communion to the deacon under both kinds (182). When Communion is given to the faithful under both kinds, the deacon ministers the chalice. After Communion has been distributed, the deacon, at the altar, reverently consumes any of the Blood of Christ which remains. (182)

In present day society much emphasis is laid upon what is described as “body language”. This is not a new concept for the liturgy which has always seen such signs as bowing, prostration, genuflecting and kneeling, as an integral part of the language of worship. Every effort should be made to ensure that the prescribed gestures are carried out in a dignified and meaningful way. The Instruction draws attention to the bowing head in n. 275: “A bow of the head is made when the three Divine Persons are named together, and at the name of Jesus, of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and of the Saint in whose honor Mass is celebrated.”

In the liturgy the kissing of the altar, the gospel book or a person at the sign of peace, is not merely a human gesture, it is an acknowledgement of the presence of the Holy Spirit. The altar is sacred, it has been anointed with Holy Chrism and consecrated through the invocation of the Holy Spirit. The reverence with which the altar is kissed both proclaims its sacred character and helps to prepare the assembly for the celebration which is about to take place. In the proclamation of the Gospel Christ is present through the power of the Holy Spirit and the kissing of the book shows our faith in this presence of Christ in His Word. As Saint Paul teaches us our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, the signs of peace proclaims the christian belief in the holiness of the body.

Among the most ancient sacred signs is “the breaking of the bread” - the most ancient name for the Mass. For this reason it is most desirable that the faithful, just as the priest himself is bound to do, receive the Lord’s body from hosts consecrated at the same Mass and that, in the instances when it is permitted, they share in the chalice. Through these signs communion will stand our more clearly as a sharing in the sacrifice actually being offered. (1975, 56 h). IG 85.

Other gestures such as the reverential sign of the Cross, the beating of the breast, the sign of the Cross on the forehead, lips and heart and the gesture of adoration before receiving Holy Communion should not be allowed to fall into disuse.

The seating arrangement of the assembly should help affirm its identity as a community. It should also enable the faithful to perform the gestures which form an important aspect of the manifestation of their participation in the celebration. Benches or chairs should be arranged in such a way as allows the possibility of observing the prescribed postures in the celebration of the liturgy: standing, sitting, kneeling and walking (processions).

C. Participation of the Faithful is the Goal to be Considered Before all Others

1. Short summary of theological perspective of Vatican II
When the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, was promulgated on December 4, 1963, many thought that its call for “full, conscious and active participation” (SC 14) on the part of the faithful was revolutionary. For, immediately prior to the Council, the experience of most members of the laity at Mass was one of apparent passivity, as though they were what the Council called “outsiders or onlookers” (SC 48) to the sacramental mysteries. Liturgy was considered to the responsibility of the ordained clergy who were set aside for sacred functions.

It seemed to have been forgotten that at the beginning of the twentieth century active participation in liturgical worship was proposed by Pope St Pius X at the beginning of his pontificate with his motu proprio for the renewal of Gregorian chant.. The need for active participation was stressed quite clearly by Pope Pius XII in words that preintone passages in the Conciliar Constitution:

Mediator Dei 192. “so that the faithful take a more active part in divine worship, .... it is very necessary that the faithful attend the sacred ceremonies not as if they were outsiders or mute onlookers, but let them fully appreciate the beauty of the liturgy and take part in the sacred ceremonies, alternating their voices with the priest and the choir, according to the prescribed norms. If, please God, this is done, it will not happen that the congregation hardly ever or only in a low murmur answer the prayers in Latin or in the vernacular.” A congregation that is devoutly present at the sacrifice, in which our Saviour together with His children redeemed with His sacred blood sings the nuptial hymn of His immense love, cannot keep silent, for “song befits the lover” and, as the ancient saying has it, “he who sings well prays twice.”

This full, conscious and active participation is founded on theology. It is an essential part of ecclesiology and the theology of the Christian Assembly. Active participation is both a duty and a right of every individual in consequence of baptism. One of the effects of Baptism is to make us members of the People of God, a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people. This text of St Peter (1 Petr 2:9) is read to the newly baptized on Easter Saturday, and is further developed in the ecclesiology of Lumen Gentium nn 9-17: On the People of God.

This active participation of all in the liturgical celebration, is founded on the sacramental structure of the Church and on the Priesthood of Christ. It is guided by liturgical norms which have their roots in theology.

In order that this participation should be seen to as a sign of unity Pope Pius XII pointed out that it is necessary:

“that the clergy and people become one in mind and heart, and that the Christian people take such an active part in the liturgy that it becomes a truly sacred action of due worship to the eternal Lord in which the priest, chiefly responsible for the souls of his parish, and the ordinary faithful are united together”. ( Mediator Dei 199).

Active participation on the part of the faithful in the liturgy must be understood as far more that the distribution of functions and community and responsorial singing. There are a variety of gifts in the Church and it has to be recognised that not all are able to fulfill certain functions no matter how willing they may be. The active participation desired by the Church is not just a matter of roles in a liturgical celebration, but rather a fundamental disposition which flows into a way of life; those who take an active part in the liturgy should go from the assembly conscious of their responsibility to proclaim the message which they have celebrated. The heart and mind must be in harmony with what is proclaimed with the lips. Exterior and interior participation cannot be separated both need to be nourished and developed by reflection and meditation upon the sacred texts which the Church has given us.

True participation, active and interior is dependent upon the liturgical formation of the clergy, bishops, priests and deacons. Those who have a role of presiding and leadership in the liturgical assembly need to be properly prepared and to understand their function of service to the people of God.

Those who exercise such important functions must “observe the liturgical laws”

observing the spirit of the law but not to the detriment of the letter. It is not a question of obeying rubrics but of understanding why the rubrics are there, and why they say what they say. The rubrics are meant to give a structure to the celebration and to underline the theology present in the rite. To ensure a flowing and joyful celebration and to guard against the private peculiarities of individual celebrants “no person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority”. In a world where there is an ever great sensitivity to respecting the rights of individuals and a rejection of discrimination, it is unacceptable that clergy and religious deny the right of the faithful to have the correct rite by their own subjective approach to the liturgy.

The liturgical formation of the Clergy should give them the means of living fully and actively that spiritual life which Christ came to give us in abundance since the liturgy is the celebration and the source of a joyful Christian life.

Bishops and priests are “the servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God” and one of their great responsibilities is to communicate to humanity the mystery of salvation through the Liturgy of the Word and the Sacraments. The priest is a pastor when he celebrates the Liturgy of the Church is the means by which Christ’s saving work reaches the believer. A consequence is that he must teach the faithful how to make their active participation in the liturgy both interior and fruitful. Exterior participation should lead to and include a deep interior participation in the sacramental rites.

Both in parish and Religious communities there is much diversity of capacity and understanding which must be taken into account and discretion exercised. It means that a catechesis should be given before changes are made so that the hearts and minds of all may become open to the grace of Our Lord.

The Teaching of the Council on “Active participation
This understanding of active participation was the mind of the Council Fathers. Working from the Church’s ancient understanding of baptism, whereby those who are baptized into Christ are thereby called to his table (SC 9) and made his children, entitled to eat and drink with the family of the Lord, the Fathers insisted that the purpose of baptized life is participation in the sacrifice of Christ himself (SC 10). Echoing Augustine, the Council thereby teaches that [text from Augustine]. In effect, all who are baptized are made priests, able to offer themselves “as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God” (Rom. 12.1). As a notion both in Judaism and the ancient world generally, self-offering as a “living sacrifice” was unheard of. Christianity was indeed revolutionary in proposing that an entire people, and every member of it, could become priestly through assimilation to Christ in baptism.

As a result, the Christian faithful are shown in the liturgy how “to offer the divine victim to God the Father in the sacrifice of the Mass, and to make the offering of their [own] lives with him” (De Presb Min 5). Such a grasp of the priesthood of the faithful -- and hence of the sacrifice of the faithful, as it were -- had been lost to the liturgical understanding of many before the Second Vatican Council. With the issuance of Sacrosanctum Concilium, it has been restored to us, and with it, a way of understanding the all-important phrase “full, conscious and active participation” (SC 14).

There are several key passages in Sacrosanctum Concilium from which we discover the Council’s meaning in this seminal phrase. The most succinct may be at SC 48 which tells us what both what this participation is not as well as what it is:

And so the church devotes careful efforts to prevent Christian believers from attending this mystery of faith as though they were outsiders or silent onlookers: rather, having a good understanding of this mystery, through the ritual and the prayers, they should share in the worshipping event, aware of what is happening and devoutly involved. They should be formed by God’s word, and refreshed at the table of the Lord’s body; they should give thanks to God; they should learn to offer themselves as they offer the immaculate victim -- not just through the hands of the priest, but also they themselves making the offering together with him; and, as each day goes by, they should be led towards their final goal of unity with God and among themselves through the mediation of Christ, so that finally God may be all in all.

It is worth noting here that the positive expressions of participation which we find elsewhere in Sacrosanctum Concilium are contrasted with the phrase “as though they were outsiders or silent onlookers.” who would not be participating either interiorly nor exteriorly, which means that a lack of engagement by the worshipper in the liturgy is the opposite of “active participation.” What the Council sought was to restore to the baptized their rightful role in the liturgical assembly, whether through song or silence; kneeling or standing; processing or sitting; reading or responding. As a result, there is no one activity which in itself can be defined as “active participation.” Instead, such participation is a constellation of skilled worship acts through which every believer must develop a full engagement with the liturgical action.

Two further essential ideas which illuminate the notion of “active participation” urged by the Council are given in Sacrosanctum Concilium nn. 11 and 14. The first is that such participation is never successful unless it is prepared for “with the dispositions of a suitable heart and mind. What [worshippers] think and feel must be at one with what they say; they must do their part in the working of grace that comes from above if they are not to have received it in vain” (SC 11). But how is this preparation to be guided and promoted ? By those “whose responsibility it is to lead worship” (SC 11), who must take care that all celebrations are validly and licitly observed, and that participation is knowing (scienter), active (actuose) and fruitful (fructose).” These are immense duties for both the faithful and those charged with the diverse leadership of the liturgy -- the bishop, priest - celebrant, deacon, lector, acolyte, cantor and others. The counterpart to this is also sobering: that a failure in the leadership of the liturgy can just as surely impede the “full, conscious and active participation” of all in the liturgical assembly. To guard the importance of this responsibility, all are charged with a reminder unlike most in the Conciliar documents: “This full and active sharing on the part of the people is of paramount concern in the process of renewing the liturgy and helping it to grow, because such sharing is the first, and necessary, source from which believers can imbibe the true Christian spirit” (SC 14).

2. How this is enfleshed in the GIRM
In the GIRM, this notion of participation taken from the Council is evident in many places as the undergirding of ritual action. Often, when the GIRM mentions the participation of the faithful, it does so by linking a ritual action to the baptismal theology which grounds it, as in the offering of the general intercessions (69), in which “the people respond in some way to the Word of God which they have welcomed in faith, and exercise the office of their baptismal priesthood, offering prayers to God for the salvation of all.” The same can be true even of the smallest rubric, in which lay, baptismal participation is clearly understood and respected, as in the act of incensation (75) at the preparation of the gifts: “Next, the priest, on account of his sacred ministry, and the people because of their baptismal dignity, may be incensed by the deacon or another lay minister.”

But more broadly, the GIRM often speaks of full participation by the faithful as the motive and goal for the revision of various parts of the Roman rite. For example, the GIRM (5) insists that certain parts of the eucharistic celebration which have fallen into disuse or neglect should be restored, since these belong to the laity “in virtue of the name of each within the People of God.” The use of the vernacular itself (GIRM, 12), the reception of communion under both kinds (GIRM, 13-14), the introduction of Masses for various needs and occasions (GIRM 15), the involvement of the laity in the planning of liturgical celebrations (GIRM 18), the adaptation of gestures within the rites (GIRM 24), and the renewed forms specifically of celebrating the penitential rites, the profession of faith, the general intercessions and the Lord’s Prayer (GIRM 36) are all to be understood as fostering increased participation, demanded by “the nature of the celebration...and for the Christian people, [they are] a right and duty they have by reason of their baptism” (GIRM 19). Perhaps nowhere is this theology of participation more dramatically stated than in GIRM 78, describing the eucharistic prayer: “The meaning of the prayer is that the entire congregation of the faithful should join itself with Christ in confessing the great deed God has done and in the offering of sacrifice.”

The revised GIRM can be seen to have embraced and even more, developed thoroughly the implications of the Conciliar restoration of a theology of lay participation in the liturgy. In turn, this theology is based upon a retrieval of the best of the Christian tradition on the meaning of sacrifice as a function of the baptized. As with the entire renewal of the liturgy, this re-emphasis has been introduced in order that the texts and rites “more clearly express the holy things which they represent, and so that thus the Christian people, in so far as this is possible, will be able to understand these things easily, and to enter into them through a celebration that is expressive of their full meaning, is effective, involving , and the community’s own” (SC 21).

Specific examples
The unity of the assembly is among the primary concerns of the IG. They are to become “one body” (IG 96) in listening to the word of God, in prayer, in song and “above all by offering the sacrifice together and sharing together in the Lord's table.”

A particular manifestation of this unity is found in the faithful’s uniformity in gesture and posture. (IG 96) Not only do gesture and posture manifest the dignity and simplicity and meaning of liturgical rites (42), they foster the common participation of all. Posture and gesture should never be seen, therefore, as a matter of “personal inclination or arbitrary choice” (42) by a common action which expresses and fosters the common spiritual dispositions of all who are present. (42)

Thus common postures are precisely described by IG 43. These universal gestures and postures may, however, adapted by Conference of Bishops “to the customs and reasonable traditions of the people,” provided that “such adaptations correspond to the meaning and character of each part of the celebration.” The revised Instruction recalls the USA adaptation of kneeling throughout the preponderance of the Eucharistic Prayer “laudable.” (43) So important is the unity of gesture and posture that everyone is directed to follow the directions given by the deacon, lay person or priest according to whatever is indicated in the liturgical books.

The liturgical functions which are not proper to the priest or the deacon, and which are listed above (nos. 100-106), may be entrusted to suitable laity chosen by the pastor or rector of the church through a liturgical blessing or a temporary deputation. The function of altar servers is regulated by the norms established by the Bishop for his diocese.

Extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion may be called forward by the priest only when a sufficient number of priests or deacons is not present. (162) First among those to be called forward are instituted acolytes, then those who have been commissioned as extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, and last of all, those commissioned for the occasion. (162)

The Instruction describes in detail the way in which such extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion exercise their ministry. At Mass, they assist only with the distribution of Holy Communion. Extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion come to the altar only after the priest has received Communion (162) and always receive from the priest the vessel which contains the Blessed Sacrament which they will distribute, this gesture indicates that they are serving the community. (162) The distribution of consecrated hosts and the Precious Blood to sacred vessels is reserved to the priest or deacon.

After Communion, the remaining consecrated wine is consumed by the deacon, or in his absence, by the priest. (163) The deacon or priest or instituted acolyte are likewise charged with the purification of sacred vessels immediately after Mass. (279)

The duties of the instituted lector are to read the Scriptures in the liturgy with the exception of the gospel, in the absence of a cantor intone the responsorial psalm and announce the intentions of the Prayer of the Faithful in the absence of a deacon (cf 99). The instituted Lector has a special responsibility to prepare others of the faithful who are temporarily appointed to read in the liturgy. In order to fulfill the function more perfectly the Lector should seek to acquire a thorough and vital understanding of Scripture

In the absence of an instituted lector, other truly qualified people may proclaim the scriptures, provided they have been carefully prepared. (101) The functions of the master of ceremonies (106), musicians, (103), sacristan (105) commentator (105), collectors and ushers/greeters (105) are likewise described.

An expansion of the roles relating to the Word of God recalls that because the office of reading the Scriptures is a ministerial, not a presidential function, “the readings, therefore, should be delivered by a lector, and the Gospel by a deacon, or in his absence, a priest other than the celebrant.” (59)

In the absence of a deacon, the lector, “wearing approved attire, may carry the Book of the Gospels, which is slightly elevated” in the entrance procession. (194) Upon entering the sanctuary, he places the Book of the Gospels on the altar. Then, he takes up his position in the sanctuary with the other ministers. (195) The Lectionary, however, is never carried in procession. (120)

The instituted acolyte has “special duties” (98) which he alone ought to perform and which should ideally be distributed among several acolytes. (187) If an instituted acolyte is present, he should perform the most important functions, while the others may be distributed among several ministers. (187) These “special duties” are described in detail in 187-193, many of which are exercised only in the absence of a deacon, and include incensation of the priest and people at the preparation of the gifts (190), and administration of the chalice at communion.(191) Unlike other extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, the instituted acolyte may help the priest or deacon cleanse the sacred vessels at a side table. (192) In the absence of an instituted acolyte, lay ministers may serve at the altar, assisting the priest or deacon. “They may carry the cross, candles, ashes, censer, bread, wine and water” or serve as extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion. (100) The Bishop may issue norms concerning the function of such altar servers. (107)

D. The Eucharist is the Source and Summit Christian Life (Sacrosanctum Concilium 11-13, 14)

These articles express the classical thesis of St Thomas Aquinas. They underline the need both for a right disposition in receiving the Sacraments, and a right expression of personal devotion outside of liturgical celebration. One danger to be avoided is to concentrate exclusively on rubrics in order to ensure a correct form of celebration. The celebration of the Liturgy is meant to be fruitful (cf n. 9). On the other hand nn.. 7 and 10 point to the communal celebration of the Liturgy as the summit of the spiritual life of the individual. Nevertheless it is the duty of the Christian to pray always. The celebration of the Liturgy which assembles the People of God can only be intermittent. Individual prayer apart is necessary in order to unite the periods of Liturgical celebration, and the Christian’s duty of conversation in private with his Father in heaven. Added to personal prayer is the practice of mortification. The celebration of the Eucharist sacrifice can become a hollow ritual unless we are prepared to take serious Romans 12, 1.

1. Short summary of theological perspective of the Second Vatican Council
Sacrosanctum Concilium n. 7.

To accomplish so great a work, Christ is always present in his Church, especially in its liturgical celebrations. He is present in the sacrifice of the Mass, not only in the person of his minister, “the same now offering, through the ministry of priests, who formerly offered himself on the cross,”(13) but especially under the eucharistic elements. By his power he is present in the sacraments, so that when a man baptizes it is really Christ himself who baptizes. (14) He is present in his word, since it is he himself who speaks when the holy Scriptures are read in the Church. He is present, lastly, when the Church prays and sings, for he promised: “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them (Matthew 18:20). Christ always truly associates the Church with himself in this great work wherein God is perfectly glorified and the recipients made holy. The Church is the Lord's beloved Bride who calls to him and through him offers worship to the eternal Father. Rightly, then, the liturgy is considered as an exercise of the priestly office of Jesus Christ. In the liturgy, by means of signs perceptible to the senses, human sanctification is signified and brought about in ways proper to each of these signs; in the liturgy the whole public worship is performed by the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, that is, by the Head and his members. From this it follows that every liturgical celebration, because it is an action of Christ the Priest and of his Body which is the Church, is a sacred action surpassing all others; no other action of the Church can equal its effectiveness by the same title and to the same degree.

“Christ is always present in His Church, especially in her liturgical celebrations” In this solemn declaration concerning the presence of Christ in the Liturgy, there is both old and new. The declaration itself is based on St. Augustine, the chapter of the Council of Trent on the Eucharist, the encyclicals Mystici Corporis and Mediator Dei. What is new is the declaration of the active dynamic presence of Christ which needs to be well understood.

Christ assists his Church through her liturgy.

  1. Before his presence in the Eucharist, Christ is first of all present in the person of the minister.
  2. The sacraments are acts of Christ.
  3. There is a real, active, personal presence of Christ in the proclamation of the Word of God: It is Christ himself who is speaking.
  4. The citation of Mt 18, 20 proclaims the presence of Christ in the Christian Assembly, in the Community at prayer. It should be well understood also that it is Christ who always acts first, and “who associated the Church with himself”.
This principle is reiterated in SC n. 83 concerning the Divine Office/Liturgy of the Hours. The analogy used is the biblical one of Christ and his Church: the Bridegroom and the Bride, who calls to her Lord, and through him offers worship to the Eternal Father.

The definition of the Liturgy which concluded this paragraph is important: it is the exercise of the priestly office of Jesus Christ.

“the liturgy is the exercise of the priestly office of Jesus Christ. In the liturgy the sanctification is signified by signs perceptible to the senses, and is effected in a way which corresponds with each of these signs; in the liturgy the whole public worship is performed by the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, that is, by the Head and His members”.

This priestly function of Christ is twofold:

  1. Sanctification

  2. The public worship of God by the whole Church the Body of Christ. The sanctification is signified by signs, signs which can be seen, and should be seen. This places the sacraments in an important place in doctrinal theology. The Sacraments are first of all signs. This goes back to St. Thomas Aquinas, and bypasses the sacramental theology of the Counter-Reformation. A further implication of this paragraph is that the faithful have the right and the duty of participating in the celebration in the Liturgy. (cf par. 14), and this participation in the Liturgy should be active and conscious. This means that the sacramental signs are such that they can be recognized: if they cannot be recognized they are no longer signs. The sacramental signs are to be made more easily recognizable: if the signs cannot be read they no longer fill their function. This will be the concern of the on-going liturgical formation of the faithful.
The principles of signs and symbols has been incorporated into the Code of Canon Law, canon 834:

“The Church carries out its office of sanctifying in a special way in the sacred liturgy, which is an exercise of the priestly office of Jesus Christ. In the liturgy, 'by the use of signs perceptible to the senses, our sanctification is symbolized and, in a manner appropriate to each sign, is brought about.' Through the liturgy a complete public worship is offered to God by the head and members of the mystical body of Christ.”

which is the same theme in “Sacrosanctum Concilium,” article 33:

“...the visible signs which the sacred liturgy uses to signify invisible divine things have been chosen by Christ or by the Church...When the Church prays or sings or acts, the faith of those taking part is nourished, and their minds are raised to God so that they may offer him their spiritual homage and receive his grace more abundantly.”

GIRM 16 The celebration of Mass, the action of Christ and the people of God arrayed hierarchically, is for the Church universal and local as well as for each of the faithful the center of the whole Christian life. (17) In the Mass we have the high point of the work that in Christ God accomplishes to sanctify us and the high point of the worship that the human race offers to the Father, whom we adore through Christ, the Son of God, in the Holy Spirit. (18) During the cycle of the year, moreover, the mysteries of redemption are recalled in the Mass in such a way that they are somehow made present. (19) All other liturgical rites and all the works of the Christian life are linked with the Eucharistic celebration, flow from it, and have it as their end. (20)

2. How this is enfleshed in the GIRM

Liturgy of the Word
Several articles from the recently revised introduction to the Lectionary for Mass have been added, including the insistence that the order of readings be strictly adhered to (357) and that non-biblical texts never be substituted for the Lectionary text. (57) The division of any readings into parts, except for the Passion, is prohibited by the new Instruction. (109) The readings are always given from the ambo in Masses with a congregation. (58) While the new Instruction recommends the singing of the Responsorial psalm (61), it notes that “if the psalm cannot be sung, then it should be recited in a way more suited to fostering meditation on the word of God.” (61) The homily is an integral part of all liturgical celebrations. It has a special role in the liturgy, to explain the Word of God, to which the People of God have listened and to help the Word of God to germinate in the hearts of those who have received it.

The profession of faith is described by the revised Instruction as “that the whole gathered people may respond to the word of God” by which “they may also call to mind and confess the great mysteries of faith.” (67) Likewise, the General Intercessions are seen as a response to the Word of God by the faithful who, “exercising the office of their baptismal priesthood, offer prayers to God for the salvation of all.” (69) To the prior descriptions of this prayer is added the recommendation that the intentions be sober, be composed freely but prudently, “expressing the needs of the whole community.” (71)

The Instruction’s section on sacred silence has been expanded, recommending that “even before the celebration itself, it is commendable that silence to be observed in the church, in the sacristy, in the vesting room, and in adjacent areas, so that all may dispose themselves to carry out the sacred action in a devout and fitting manner.” (45) Admonishing that the Liturgy of the Word “must be celebrated in such a way as to promote meditation,” (56) the Instruction cautions against “any kind of haste which impedes recollection” and recommends brief moments of silence throughout the liturgy, especially after the readings and the homily so that the word of God may be “taken into the heart by the fostering of the Holy Spirit.” (56)

Following an introduction almost identical to the 1975 edition which commends and contextualizes sacred music at Mass, (40) the new Instruction recalls that liturgical law requires the use of music on Sundays and Holy Days of obligation, but the complete absence of singing on weekdays should be guarded against. (40) A re-emphasis on the privileged place of Gregorian chant as “more proper to the Roman liturgy” is included, though “other types of sacred music, in particular polyphony are in no way excluded, provided that they correspond to the spirit of the liturgical action and that they foster the participation of all the faithful.” (41)

A preference for singing many parts of the Mass is expressed in the new Instruction by the introduction of the phrase “is either sung or recited” at the profession of faith (137), the Lamb of God (155), Preface (216), the Kyrie (125) and the Gloria. (126) The priest should be ready to sing those parts of the liturgy that pertain to him.

Songs or hymns may never be substituted for either the Agnus Dei or the other chants of the Mass. (366) Finally, more specific direction for the use of the organ during Advent (used with moderation) and Lent (permitted for accompanying sustained singing) is included. (313)

Liturgy of the Eucharist
The sections of the Instruction recommending the reception by the faithful of Communion consecrated at that Mass “just as the priest himself is bound to do,” (85) on the reciting of the Communion antiphon “either by the faithful, or by a group of them, or by a lector” (87) and care for providing for the reception of Communion by cantors (86) have been slightly expanded.

Communion under both kinds
In the light of the significant growth of the practice of the reception of the Eucharist under both kinds, the new Instruction has restructured and expanded this section. The occasions on which Communion under both kinds may be permitted, in addition to those found in the ritual books, now include:

  1. for priests who are not able to celebrate or concelebrate;
  2. for the deacon and others who perform some role at Mass;
  3. for community members at their conventual Mass or what in some places is known as the “community” Mass, for seminarians, for all who are engaged in spiritual exercises or are participating in a spiritual or pastoral conference. (283)
In addition, the bishop may establish norms for the distribution of Communion under both kinds for his own diocese “which must be observed even in the churches of religious orders and in celebrations with small groups.” (283) A broader authority is also given to the diocesan Bishop to permit Communion under both kinds “whenever it may seem appropriate to the priest to whom, as its own shepherd, a community has been entrusted, provided that the faithful have been well instructed and there is no danger of profanation of the Sacrament or of the rite’s becoming difficult because of the large number of participants or some other reason.” (283) Norms established by a Conference of Bishops in regard to how the Eucharist is distributed to the faithful are to be confirmed by the Apostolic See. (283)

Sacred Things
The sanctuary is defined as “the place where the altar stands, the word of God is proclaimed, where the priest, the deacon, and the other ministers exercise their offices.” (295)

The sanctuary is a sacred place because of the presence of the altar, around which the whole worshipping community is gathered. It is only correct to speak of the sanctuary as a place set apart when this is understood as set apart for the altar and not set apart from the people. The sanctuary is not just a defined space in which the altar, ambo and chair are placed in some symmetrical pattern. It is the place where the mysteries of salvation are actualised for the life of the people of God. The sanctuary is a place of mystery, a place of action, a place of life.

Sacred Vessels
The paragraphs on sacred vessels (327-333) have been rewritten, with a stronger emphasis on the character of sacred vessels as “clearly distinguishable from those [vessels] intended for every day use.” (332) Described as holding a place of honor at the eucharistic celebration, these vessels “in which the bread and wine are offered, and consecrated and from which they are consumed,” (327) are to be made “from noble metal.” (328) If the metal is of a lesser quality or produces rust, the interior is to be fully gold-plated. (328) It is only following a formal action of the Conference of Bishops and confirmation by the Apostolic See that “other solid materials that, according to the common estimation in each region, are precious” (329) may be used. Preference “is always to be given to materials that do not easily break or detriorate.” (329)

Many seem to think that Incense has been dispensed with. This is not so. To burn incense is a beautiful and symbolic act of worship. It is sufficiently clear and expressive in itself. The symbolic effect uniting both the senses of sight and smell and the not undrammatic effect of the rising incense smoke should not be underestimated. It is not surprising, therefore, that incense is explained at greater length in the new Instruction, observing that “incensation is an expression of reverence and prayer as signified in the Sacred Scriptures (cf. Ps. 140:2; Rev. 8:3).” (276) After placing incense in the censer, the priest blesses the incense with a silent sign of the cross (277) and makes a profound bow before and after incensing a person or thing, (277)

Blessing of Sacred Things
There is an increased emphasis throughout the revised Instruction on the care of all things destined for liturgical use, including everything associated with the altar (350), and liturgical books, which should be “worthy and suitable to that particular purpose.” (350) Thus the tabernacle (314), organ (313), ambo (309), presidential chair (310), vestments for priests deacons and lay ministers (335), sacred vessels (333), and all things destined for use in the liturgy should receive the requisite blessing.


The whole People of God desire that what is true and beautiful should find an important place in liturgical worship, there is still a need for what is sometimes poetically described as the “splendor of worship”. There is still a place in worship for evoking in the individual a sense of wonderment which is one of the first steps on the road towards contemplative prayer. Many, especially young people want to learn of the Church’s tradition of contemplative prayer, a prayer nourished by the Liturgy.

It would be short sighted to see in the revised General Instruction of the Roman Missal a mere concern for externals. A mere formal correctness has little value if not accompanied by internal dispositions. It is however rare to find that where externals are neglected, interior dispositions are well cultivated. External discipline is a support and a safeguard for interior dispositions.

In the very first days of the implementation of liturgical renewal Pope Paul VI drew attention to the need

“to achieve simultaneously two spiritual acts: a genuine, personal participation in the rite, with all its implications of the essential in religion; communion with the assembly of the faithful, with the Ecclesia. The first of these acts is bent upon love for God; the second, upon love for neighbour. Thus the Gospel of love becomes a reality in the souls of our time. Therein truly lies something beautiful, new, great, full of light and hope”.(Discourse, 17 March 1965)

The revised General Instruction of the Roman Missal is part of the ongoing task of liturgical renewal in continuity with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, the subsequent teaching of the Church and the directives of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of the United States of America. It will contribute to “building up the Body of Christ” and assist every individual “to grow to full maturity, into the fulness of the stature of Christ” on the threshold of the new millennium.


  1. Vicesimus quintus annus On the xxv anniversary of the promulgation of the Conciliar Constitution on the sacred liturgy “2.

  2. SC pro Sacramentis et Cultu Divino, Variationes in novas editiones librorum liturgicorum ad normam Codicis Iuris Canonici nuper promulgati introducendae (12-ix-1983): NOT 19 (1983) 541-555).

  3. To mention but the most important, the Apostolic Letter “Dominicae Cenae” ad universos Ecclesiae Episcopos de SS. Eucharistiae mysterio et cultu (24-ii- 1980): AAS 72 (1980) 113-148; NOT 16 (1980) 125-154; the Instruction of the Congregation for Sacraments and Divine Worship “Inaestimabile donum” de quibusdam normis circa cultum mysterii eucharistici (3-iv-1980): AAS 72 (1980) 331-343; NOT 16 (1980) 287-296; Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments Fourth Instruction on Inculturation (25-i- 1994); Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments Fifth Instruction for the right implementation of the constitution on the sacred liturgy of the second Vatican Council (Sacrosanctum Concilium, art. 36) Liturgiam authenticam on the use of vernacular languages in the publication of the books of the Roman liturgy .

  4. IG 8 and 9

  5. IG 10

  6. Second Vatican Council, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, 5

  7. PL 38:1246-1248; tr. by Nathan Mitchell in Your Own Mystery, Assembly 23 (1997) 14

  8. GIRM n. 5.

  9. SC 6; From that time onward the Church has never failed to come together to celebrate the paschal mystery: reading those things “which were in all the Scriptures concerning him' (Luke 24:27); celebrating the Eucharist, in which “the victory and triumph of his death are again made present”; and at the same time giving thanks to God for his inexpressible gift” (2 Corinthians 9:15) in Christ Jesus, “in praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:12), through the power of the Holy Spirit.

  10. LG 28

  11. LG 2

  12. LG 5

  13. SC 112

  14. IG 93

  15. IG 4

  16. i.. See PO, no. 13; Codex Iuris Canonici, (CIC) can. 904.

  17. ii.. See SC, art. 41; see LG, no. 11; see PO, nos. 2, 5, 6; see Vatican Council II, Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops Christus Dominus, 28 October 1965, (hereafter, CD), no. 30; see Vatican Council II, Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis redintegratio, 21 November 1964, no. 15; see EuchMyst, nos. 3e, 6: AAS 59 (1967), pp. 542, 544-545.

  18. iii.. See SC, art. 10.

  19. iv.. See SC, art. 102.

  20. v.. See PO, no. 5; see SC, art. 10.