14/10/07 – Liturgical Myth #4

Myth: We can’t celebrate today’s liturgy in Latin

This is not true, unless of course, the priest and assembly don’t know their Latin well enough!

This is a different matter to “going back to the old (pre-Vatican II) Missal”, which was only published in Latin. The Second Vatican Council made the following statement about introducing vernacular languages (the language(s) of the people):

Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites. But since the use of the mother tongue, whether in the Mass, the administration of the sacraments, or other parts of the liturgy, frequently may be of great advantage to the people, the limits of its employment may be extended. (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, no. 36)

So we were actually meant to preserve Latin, while being allowed to extend our use of English in the liturgy. In fact, the whole Mass, according to the latest liturgical books, can be celebrated completely in Latin if this is what is best for the assembly of the faithful that gathers. It may be appropriate at times to use Latin for specific prayers or chants. At all times, however, the full, conscious and active participation of the people must be encouraged.

Some use of Latin will be necessary, for example, at the liturgies of next year’s World Youth Day. Imagine… hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from across the globe who will not share a common language. This is where having a common language in the Church is a very useful practice. The Our Father is traditionally prayed in Latin at World Youth Day Masses to maximise participation.

Remember also, however, that Latin is not the only language the Church has used. In the earliest years of the Church, the language of the people in a particular place was used, just like today. The Greek text Kyrie eleison and Christe eleison (Lord, have mercy and Christ, have mercy) has been retained in the Latin missals to this day. And let’s not forget that the great Easter acclamation, “Alleluia”, and the most common response in liturgy, “Amen”, both originate from Hebrew.

7/10/07 – Liturgical Myth #3

Our tabernacleMyth: The tabernacle must be in the sanctuary behind the altar

Again, this liturgical myth is a past practice, but not a rule. In fact, the tabernacle does not need to be in the sanctuary of the church at all.

This is because the tabernacle’s purpose is not liturgical. Tabernacles were introduced for the reservation of communion for taking to the sick and housebound. Eucharistic devotions also developed as a result. In the Mass, however, the eucharistic focal point is the altar, upon which the memorial sacrifice of the Mass is offered.

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (no. 315) gives directions as to where the tabernacle can be located:

Consequently, it is preferable that the tabernacle be located, according to the judgment of the diocesan Bishop:

a. 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;

b. Or, likewise, 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.

A separate chapel can give the tabernacle the dignity it would also receive the sanctuary, but make the important distinction between it and the altar; a distinction blurred somewhat by the arrangement of churches prior to the Second Vatican Council when the tabernacle sat on the altar. In some churches, it is not possible to create a suitable chapel without significant remodelling, and a sanctuary position is therefore required.

So there are two possible locations for the tabernacle. In cathedrals, it is a long-held tradition and law that the tabernacle must be located in a separate chapel, as we see in our cathedral in Parramatta. Finally, the Holy Thursday liturgy requires reposition of the eucharist in a tabernacle located outside the main body of the Church. A tabernacle in a separate chapel is such a place.

the link above to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta is a photograph of the Inauguration of the Blessed Sacrament Chapel at the Cathedral’s dedication, 29 November 2003. Other photos are accessible via the St. Patrick’s Cathedral page of the Diocese of Parramatta website

30/9/07 – Liturgical Myth #2

Last week, we explored in our liturgical myths the “smells” of the “bells and smells” era. Now it’s time to focus on the bells.


Myth: Bells need to be rung at the consecration

This is a common debate topic – should we ring bells or not? Legally, bells are optional. The latest General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) makes this statement about ringing bells during the Eucharistic Prayer (“Sanctus bells”):

“A little before the Consecration, when appropriate, a server rings a bell as a signal to the faithful. According to local custom, the server also rings the bell as the priest shows the host and then the chalice.” (GIRM 150, emphasis added)

The use of bells then, is a local decision (usually made by the parish priest) based on need and appropriateness. So when is it appropriate to use bells? Well, this is a more subjective matter.

A search of the Internet reveals the websites that speak most commonly about bells have a particular liturgical viewpoint. One, however, does quote the Vatican (its Congregation for Divine Worship) which, in 1972, sought to clarify the matter of bells somewhat. It says that bells would be unnecessary where the understanding of the people is such that the appropriate attention is already given to the consecration. It goes on to suggest that parish churches may or may not be such places. Remember too, that our parishes have continued to learn and understand more about the liturgy since 1972.

In our community, my experience and observation indicates that our parishioners do not need a bell “as a signal to the faithful”, as they are focussed on the altar at the Eucharistic Prayer. For those who are occasional visitors unfamiliar with our practices, I would have to question how much the ringing of a bell would help them to understand what is occurring. I think the prayerfulness and reverence of those around them is the best indication to them of how much we value the bread and wine becoming “the body and blood… of our Lord Jesus Christ, at whose command we celebrate this eucharist.” (Eucharistic Prayer III)

photo credit: Wikipedia

23/9/07 – Liturgical Myth #1

Last week, I mentioned that, in deepening our understanding of the liturgy and how it is celebrated, we would dispel some of the “myths” surrounding the liturgy. Some of these assumed ideas have once come around since the Second Vatican Council, and we get stuck into one right now.


Myth: The Church got rid of incense after Vatican II

Incense wasn’t officially banned from liturgy any more than Latin was (but that’s for another week). In the first half of last century and before, incense was common in our liturgical celebrations; so much so that people who talked about Catholic liturgy often referred to the “bells and smells”. Today, in some places, the only time incense is used is during a funeral.

Incense is still used in liturgy to give due reverence and acknowledge the sacredness of an object (for example, the bread and wine or the altar) or of people (the assembly at Mass, the deceased at a funeral). What did change was how incense was used. The Council’s call for liturgy to be marked by a “noble simplicity” and to be free of “unnecessary repetition” meant that many of the rules of how many times the thurible (or censer) was swung, and in which directions, were done away with. Generally three swings of the thurible towards a person or object is the common practice today.

Incense is specifically called for on particular occasions, such as at a funeral, on Holy Thursday and the Easter Vigil, and when an altar is dedicated. It can also be used at any other time unless it is specifically excluded (such as on Good Friday). It should, at the very least, be used to provide a greater degree of solemnity on special occasions or at a principal Mass each Sunday (the 9:30 a.m. Sunday Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral is a good example). There’s even a fairly new range of incense made to meet the needs of asthmatics and people with allergies (which I must track down and order).

Despite its former strict usage rules disappearing, incense remains an important way for our liturgies to make use of signs that are “perceptible to the senses”, as was called for in the Second Vatican Council.

Lord, let my prayer rise before you like incense
(Psalm 141)

Photo credit: daneilkedinger