The responses on the questions were based on the recent guidelines provided in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), the detailed document governing the celebration of the Holy Mass of the ordinary form of the Roman Rite of the Holy Catholic Church as approved by the then Pope Pius VI through the Apostolic Constitution Missale Romanum dated 3rd April 1969 and as declared to be editio typica by the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in accordance to the decrees of the Second Ecumenical Council of Vatican.
SHOULD THE PRIEST CELEBRATE MASS FACING THE PEOPLE (VERSUS POPULUM) OR TOWARDS EAST (AD ORIENTEM)?
First, there is nothing in the Vatican Council II text about turning altars towards the people; but that point is raised only in postconciliar instructions. The most important directive is found in paragraph 262 of the GIRM that says, “It is better for the main altar to be constructed away from the wall so that one can easily walk around the altar and celebrate facing the people (versus populum).” The General Instruction of the Missal issued in 2002 retained this text unaltered except for the addition of the subordinate clause, “which is desirable wherever possible.” Yet, the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, on 25 September 2000, declared that the word expedit (is desirable) did not imply an obligation but only made a suggestion. The physical orientation, the Sacred Congregation states, must be distinguished from the spiritual. Even if a priest celebrates versus populum, he should always be oriented versus Deum per Iesum Christum (towards God through Jesus Christ).
Second, the revised instruction stated six points that the priest should face the people during the celebration of the Mass, as follows:
a. When giving the opening greeting (GIRM124);
b. When giving the invitation to pray, “Orate, fratres” (GIRM 146);
c. When giving the greeting of peace, “Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum” (GIRM 154);
d. When displaying the consecrated Host (or Host and Chalice) before Communion and saying: “Ecce Agnus Dei” (GIRM 157);
e. When inviting to pray (“Oremus”) before the postcommunion prayer (GIRM 165);
f. When giving the final blessing (Ordo Missae141).
NOTE: If the GIRM is really meant to require the priest facing the people, then the above points could have not specified in the guidelines. Simply, in the celebration of the Holy Mass, the priest is not obliged for versus populum and not forbidden for ad orientem.
SHOULD THE FAITHFUL RECEIVE THE CONSECRATED HOST BY HANDS OR DIRECTLY TO THE TONGUE WHILE KNEELING OR STANDING?
The GIRM No. 160 states: “§The priest then takes the paten or ciborium and goes to the communicants, who, as a rule, approach in a procession. §The faithful are not permitted to take the consecrated bread or the sacred chalice by themselves and, still less, to hand them from one to another. The norm for reception of Holy Communion in the dioceses of the United States is standing. Communicants should not be denied Holy Communion because they kneel. Rather, such instances should be addressed pastorally, by providing the faithful with proper catechesis on the reasons for this norm. §When receiving Holy Communion, the communicant bows his or her head before the Sacrament as a gesture of reverence and receives the Body of the Lord from the minister. The consecrated host may be received either on the tongue or in the hand, at the discretion of each communicant. When Holy Communion is received under both kinds, the sign of reverence is also made before receiving the Precious Blood.”
SHOULD THE FAITHFUL EXTEND AND/OR HOLD HANDS DURING THE OUR FATHER?
The GIRM No. 152 states: “After the Eucharistic Prayer is concluded, the priest, with hands joined, says the introduction to the Lord’s Prayer. With hands extended, he then says this prayer together with the people.”
Note that the revised instruction does not require the faithful to also extend hands (orans gesture) when praying the Our Father, which is intended only for the priest. On the other hand, the deacon, whose postures are governed by the rubrics, would not do it. So, if the deacon is not making the same gesture in accordance with the rubrics, why would the laity make the same gesture as the priest which is not in accordance with the rubrics?
In the rubrics, the Orans gesture is asked principally of the Main Celebrant, but on those occasions where either a priestly action is done (Eucharistic Prayer) or prayer in common (Our Father) all the concelebrants do it. It is never done by the Deacon, who does not represent the People before God but assists him who does.
Among the laity this practice began with the charismatic renewal. It is a legitimate gesture to use when praying, as history shows, however, it is a private gesture when used in the Mass and in some cases conflicts with the system of signs which the rubrics are intended to protect. The Mass is not a private or merely human ceremony. The symbology of the actions, including such gestures, is definite and precise, and reflects the sacramental character of the Church’s prayer. As the Holy See has recently pointed out, confusion has entered the Church about the hierarchical nature of her worship, and this gesture certainly contributes to that confusion when it conflicts with the ordered sign language of the Mass.
ARE DANCES PERMITTED DURING MASS?
The GIRM states no provisions for liturgical dances but an article, appeared in the 1975 Notitiae II (202-205) and labeled as “an authoritative point of reference for every discussion on the matter” by the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, provides the following:
“§The dance has never been made an integral part of the official worship of the Latin Church. §If local churches have accepted the dance, sometimes even in the church building, that was on the occasion of feasts in order to manifest sentiments of joy and devotion. But that always took place outside of liturgical services. §Conciliar decisions have often condemned the religious dance because it conduces little to worship and because it could degenerate into disorders.”
SHOULD THE FAITHFUL CLAP AFTER THE MASS?
The GIRM does not require the faithful to clap after the celebration of the Holy Mass but Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI stated that “Wherever applause breaks out in the liturgy because of some human achievement, it is a sure sign that the essence of liturgy has totally disappeared and been replaced by a kind of religious entertainment” (The Spirit of Liturgy).
CAN A MASS BE CELEBRATED OUTSIDE THE CATHOLIC CHURCH?
The GIRM No. 288 specifies that “For the celebration of the Eucharist, the people of God normally are gathered together in a church or, if there is no church or if it is too small, then in another respectable place that is nonetheless worthy of so great a mystery. Churches, therefore, and other places should be suitable for carrying out the sacred action and for ensuring the active participation of the faithful. Sacred buildings and requisites for divine worship should, moreover, be truly worthy and beautiful and be signs and symbols of heavenly realities.” Furthermore, the Code of Canon Law provides the norms:
Canon 931 — “The celebration and distribution of the Eucharist can be done at any day and hour except those which the liturgical norms exclude.”
Canon 932 — “§1. The eucharistic celebration is to be carried out in a sacred place unless in a particular case necessity requires otherwise; in such a case the celebration must be done in a decent place.”
“§2. The eucharistic sacrifice must be carried out on a dedicated or blessed altar; outside a sacred place a suitable table can be used, always with a cloth and a corporal.”
Canon 933 — “For a just cause and with the express permission of the local ordinary, a priest is permitted to celebrate the Eucharist in the place of worship of some Church or ecclesial community which does not have full communion with the Catholic Church so long as there is no scandal.”
CAN THE PRIEST REMOVE OR ADD TEXTS IN THE LITURGY?
The Holy See’s 2004 disciplinary document, Redemptionis Sacramentum, states very emphatically:
“The reprobated practice by which priests, deacons or the faithful here and there alter or vary at will the texts of the Sacred Liturgy that they are charged to pronounce, must cease. For in doing thus, they render the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy unstable, and not infrequently distort the authentic meaning of the Liturgy” (No. 59).
The GIRM No. 24 also states that “Nevertheless, the priest must remember that he is the servant of the Sacred Liturgy and that he himself is not permitted, on his own initiative, to add, to remove, or to change anything in the celebration of Mass.” In addition, Redemptionis Sacramentum (No. 51), states:
“Only those Eucharistic Prayers are to be used which are found in the Roman Missal or are legitimately approved by the Apostolic See, and according to the manner and the terms set forth by it. ‘It is not to be tolerated that some priests take upon themselves the right to compose their own Eucharistic Prayers’ [Pope John Paul II, Vicesimus quintus annus, no. 13] or to change the same texts approved by the Church, or to introduce others composed by private individuals [Instruction Inaestimabile donum, no. 5].”
CLEARLY, the GIRM, quoting the Vatican II Constitution on the Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, 22.3:
“Therefore no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the Liturgy on his own authority.”
Nevertheless, the Lay Catholics are also not exempt from the responsibility to assure the proper celebration of the Sacred Liturgy, as Redemptionis Sacramentum clearly states, in a section on Complaints Regarding Abuses in Liturgical Matters:
“In an altogether particular manner, let everyone do all that is in their power to ensure that the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist will be protected from any and every irreverence or distortion and that all abuses be thoroughly corrected. This is a most serious duty incumbent upon each and every one, and all are bound to carry it out without any favoritism” (No. 183).
“Any Catholic, whether priest or deacon or lay member of Christ’s faithful, has the right to lodge a complaint regarding a liturgical abuse to the diocesan Bishop or the competent Ordinary equivalent to him in law, or to the Apostolic See on account of the primacy of the Roman Pontiff. It is fitting, however, insofar as possible, that the report or complaint be submitted first to the diocesan Bishop. This is naturally to be done in truth and charity” (No. 184).