A Change of Rubrics

The Church teaches that the faithful have the right to the liturgy celebrated according to its laws — according to the rubrics — for they express the mind of the Church and are a guarantee of the catholicity of our worship. Sometimes, we witness — let’s call them “variations” — on what the Church intends. These can provoke frustration and anger from those who just want things to be done by the book.

There can also be a temptation in these cases to think badly of the priest or other minister who is the occasion for the variation. But here is where we must exercise some caution. On the one hand, there is the possibility of a mistake: maybe the priest had a “senior moment”, simply forgot to do something, got distracted, or whatever. But there is another possibility that I do not get the sense many people think about — one which affected me recently. There is a possibility of a change in rubrics that the minister did not learn about.

In fact, recently, it came to my attention that there was a change in rubrics in 2011 for how the Offertory is handled (here I am talking about the Novus Ordo). That was the year the new English translation went into effect — so a new Missal was published, along with a new General Instruction of the Roman Missal. Now I studied that document in seminary, having also learned to celebrate according to the old translation. When the new translation came out, there were some workshops offered (though I remember a criticism many of us had at the time was that they weren’t really hands-on enough, and were mostly focused on trying to convince those who didn’t want a new translation that it was a good idea) and some other publications put out, but it was mostly left up to us to “figure it out”. Not that the changes were earth-shattering; but there were some.

The change had to do with when the priest may say the offertory prayers (offering up the bread and the wine) aloud. As I recall, we learned that this was up to the priest’s discretion. Indeed, in the 1975 General Instruction, which was the one that we studied, it said very little about how these prayers were to be done — nothing, in fact, about when it would be more opportune or correct to do them quietly rather than in a full voice. So this is the habit I formed, and I had more or less arbitrary “guidelines” on when I said those prayers out loud: in general, I preferred to do them quietly, especially at Daily Mass, and on Sundays there was often music anyhow during that time. But occasionally, either when the music had stopped or there was none to begin with, I would say them aloud.

The new General Instruction of 2011 is far more specific. On this point, it says:

141. The Priest accepts the paten with the bread at the altar, holds it slightly raised above the altar with both hands and says quietly, Benedictus es, Domine (Blessed are you, Lord God). Then he places the paten with the bread on the corporal.

142. After this, as the minister presents the cruets, the Priest stands at the side of the altar and pours wine and a little water into the chalice, saying quietly, Per huius aquae (By the mystery of this water). He returns to the middle of the altar and with both hands raises the chalice a little, and says quietly, Benedictus es, Domine (Blessed are you, Lord God). Then he places the chalice on the corporal and, if appropriate, covers it with a pall.

If, however, there is no Offertory Chant and the organ is not played, in the presentation of the bread and wine the Priest may say the formulas of blessing aloud and the people acclaim, Blessed be God for ever.

So the change is that if there is no music during the time of the offertory, the priest may say these prayers aloud. He may always say them in a low voice (quietly). And if there is music, then he should say them quietly.

This is a lot more clarity. And I had missed this point. So on some occasions, if the hymn finished early, I started saying the prayers aloud – again, following the arbitrary criteria I had fixed in my mind, per my original training.

The lesson for me and hopefully for other priests is that we have to keep studying, and sometimes have to go back and re-study what we think we already know. (I know one priest who told me that he re-reads the General Instruction on a yearly basis to make sure he stays fresh on what the Church expects in our celebration of Holy Mass.)

The lesson, hopefully for all, is that if a priest does something incorrectly at Mass or one of the Church’s other liturgies, try to give the benefit of the doubt: he may have forgotten, or simply failed to “get the memo” to begin with! Also: pray for priests!

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Check out a previous post I did, HERE, on the spirituality of the offertory.

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