Dear Parish Family:
Last week, I started a two-part catechetical reflection on “Progressive Solemnity.” If you missed it, I encourage you to go back and read it before reading further. This article builds from that foundation.
Today, I want to reflect on the liturgical practices that the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) gives us, elevating our Mass celebrations. The GIRM tells us how to celebrate the Mass if you are unaware. Not everything in it is black-and-white, but it states: “Attention must therefore be paid to what is determined by this General Instruction and by the traditional practice of the Roman Rite and to what serves the common spiritual good of the People of God, rather than private inclination or arbitrary choice” (GIRM 42).
The GIRM gives us the practices and principles for celebrating the Mass of Vatican II. Practices like incense, chanting, bells, torch-bearers, etc., are all present. Here is one example…
- Thurification or incensation is an expression of reverence and of prayer, as is signified in Sacred Scripture (cf. Ps 140 :2; Rev 8:3). Incense may be used optionally in any form of Mass:
- a) during the Entrance Procession;
- b) at the beginning of Mass, to incense the cross and the altar;
- c) at the procession before the Gospel and the proclamation of the Gospel itself;
- d) after the bread and the chalice have been placed on the altar, to incense the offerings, the cross, and the altar, as well as the Priest and the people;
- e) at the elevation of the host and the chalice after the Consecration.
I’ve added some pictures of Pope Francis’ Masses from St. Peter’s Basilica. Torches and incense are used at both the gospel procession and consecration. GIRM 150 mentions the ringing of bells at the consecration and the incensing of the Blessed Sacrament.
Regarding liturgical music, GIRM 41 tells us: “The main place should be given, all things being equal, to Gregorian chant.” While other forms of music are by no means excluded, there is a proper order of importance beginning with chant tones. GIRM 41 goes on: “Since the faithful from different countries come together ever more frequently, it is desirable that they know how to sing together at least some parts of the Ordinary of the Mass in Latin, especially the Profession of Faith and the Lord’s Prayer, according to the simpler settings.”
Since the GIRM says it is “desirable” to know how to sing “some parts” of the Mass in Latin (meaning here: Gloria, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, etc.), then we should become familiar and comfortable with it. Of course, we do this by practicing it. This is why we have dedicated Advent and Lent to singing the Mass parts in Latin, which also helps us to slow down, inviting us to become more mindful of the text.
That brings us back to the principle of “Progressive Solemnity,” where implementing more practices and options laid out in the GIRM emphasizes the importance of the celebration, especially on Solemnities. If a priest used most options outlined in the GIRM, it would look similar to our Sunday Masses at St. Malachy. In fact, taking all the options for celebrating Sunday Masses is practiced in most seminaries—the places training future priests. When I was in seminary, we even sang the Creed in Latin; I thought it was beautiful.
Why would seminaries do all this? It reminds future priests that the Church views Sundays as Solemnities and shows them how to celebrate the highest form of the Second Vatican Council Mass worthily and well.
The Mass is the source and summit of our Christian lives. Taking our time at weekly celebrations of Sunday Solemnities encourages us to give all praise and glory to God, to offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and to offer our hearts to God as He is at work on us in the liturgy, even when it is uncomfortable or not our preference. God forms us through the Mass to worship Him.
So, my reflection question for us to consider this week is: How can I better appreciate the practices outlined in the GIRM which elevate the celebration of the Mass? How is God forming me through this experience of the Mass?
If it is hard to appreciate these things, ask God to help you. Tell God you believe He has guided the Church to write this GIRM, and He makes all things for our good. That profession of faith can do so much, opening our hearts to what God is doing. For further reflection, consider reading The Spirit of the Liturgy by Cardinal Ratzinger (future Pope Benedict XVI), which helps readers discover the Mass's hidden spiritual wealth and transcendent grandeur.
In Jesus, through Mary and St. Joseph,