Needed: A New Book on Ceremonies

Author: Sacred Music


Volume 117, Number 1, Spring 1990 From The Editors


"Adrian, thou shouldst be living at this hour; thy Church hath need of thee..." With due apologies to Wordsworth, every master of ceremonies whose native language is English must at some time or other since 1969 have echoed those sentiments as he attempts to bring into reality the "new" Mass of the post-Vatican period.

Pope Paul VI insisted that the Mass of the Roman rite as it was reformed by order of the Vatican Council is the same Mass as existed before the council. One might say that the Mass as reformed by the Council of Trent was the same Mass as that which existed before that council ordered its reforms. Surely the essence of the Mass and all its essential parts go back through history to the Last Supper Jesus celebrated with his apostles and at which He instituted the Holy Eucharist. During the subsequent centuries many ceremonies evolved to enhance the celebration; many prayers and actions have come and gone as the Church lived through succeeding generations. One might note, however, that the Sarum missal, about 250 years before Trent, shows an astounding similarity as regards the ordinary of the Mass, and particularly the canon, to the missal of 1962.

But through all the changes brought about by decree and by practice, a tradition has always endured, marking the Roman rite, carrying on the essential details and clearly identifying the Roman liturgy.

The texts themselves have the largest role to play in guaranteeing a continuing tradition, and the Roman rite is noble in the antiquity of its texts. But likewise important are the directions given for the performance of the actions, called the rubrics. The word means "red" and describes the directions which were printed in red ink. In the past twenty years rubrics have come to be almost dispised and the word itself impugned because it destroyed a liberty that liturgists wished to exercise on their own, often even contrary to the clear statements of the official liturgical books. As a result, the Roman rite no longer enjoys a unity of performance even within a diocese, let alone throughout the whole world, as once was its boast. It is in somewhat the same state the divine office fell into in the nineteenth century.

Granted, of course, that local and ethnic reasons have introduced varients, but the essential framework and structure of the Roman rite should remain. It is only through the faithful use of the official texts and the careful observance of the rubrical directions that a recognizable unity can be achieved. The reasons for such unity are clear: the world is constantly becoming smaller as even inter-continental travel becomes more commonplace; international pilgrimages; exchange of students and cultural programs; international societies for all human needs and learning. The increasing unity of the human family needs a unified expression of worship, familiar and easily recognized. With the unity provided by the Latin language no longer to be found, there is all the more need for a liturgy with common actions to exist all over the globe.

The rubrics of the missal of Pope Paul VI are considerably limited in detail, leaving considerable "lacunae" in the description of the actions of the celebrant. When this is a true freedom, there is then no real complaint, as the celebrant may determine his procedure based on former practice and his own experience. But when the absence of direction only complicates the confusion of the priest who may not have any former instruction or tradition to fall back on, then the need for further directives is keenly felt.

An example of this is available in the simple action of incensation. The 1962 missal kept the 1570 instructions for incensing the altar--clearly expressed and very detailed. In 1978, an inquiry was addressed to the Congregation for Divine Worship ("Notitiae," Vol. 14, Nos. 6-7, p. 201) as to whether this mode of incensing should still be followed. The congregation in its reply said in effect, "Where the rubrics of the Paul VI missal say nothing or only a little, it is not therefore to be inferred that it serves to keep the old rite." The response then goes on to give directions for incensing the offerings (as the deacon does at the gospel), and then, for incensing the altar, takes account only of a free standing altar, with no adequate direction to replace "the old rite." How many masters of ceremonies must have felt, "Heu, quid agam?"

What is needed is a book about the ceremonies, especially if the idea of more rubrics is not welcomed in many circles today. Granted that such a book of directions is personal opinion, but the quality and weight of such opinion rests on the writer who is presumed to be learned in the history and traditions of the Roman rite and surely more knowledgable than most celebrants. In the past one could turn to Fortescue, O'Connell or Wappelhorst or any number of even greater rubricists and ceremonialists who knew the Roman rite in its origin and development. But no one has come forward to produce a book detailing the proper performance of the "Novus Ordo Missae." H. H.