The first revision in 25 years of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal was issued on 28 July by the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments. The new Latin-language instruction introduces numerous minor changes in the way Mass is to be celebrated, many of them clarifying 'problem' areas that have arisen since 1975.
The revised instruction is to accompany the third edition of the Roman Missal and will take effect with its promulgation, expected to be later in the year.
This instruction, which replaces the 1975 edition that set out detailed guidelines for celebrating the Novus Ordo Mass, was approved on Holy Thursday by Pope John Paul II. Most of the new instruction simply repeats the norms and regulations of the earlier one.
Where the new instruction differs, this involves additional language to clarify or spell out more specifically what a rule or statement means. Occasionally, new rules are set out, especially when disputes have occurred over interpretations of the 1975 document. In general, there is a greater emphasis on acknowledging the sacred.
The priest is again reminded - in the words of Vatican II - not to add, remove or change anything "on his own authority" and, in selecting among available options, he should consider "the common spiritual good of the people of God, rather than be concerned about his own inclinations".
The new instruction indicates that it is "desirable whenever possible" for the priest to celebrate Mass facing the people. This is more explicit than the 1975 Instruction, although it simply confirms - without making obligatory - what has become the almost universal practice in the Church.
It also makes it clear that "the priest, deacon and other ministers" on the sanctuary should genuflect towards the tabernacle when they approach or leave the altar, "but not [towards the tabernacle] during the celebration of Mass itself." Others in the body of the church should always genuflect as they "cross before the Most Blessed Sacrament."
The instruction clarifies that communicants are never to receive the sacrament from one another, but only from a priest or another eucharistic minister. And contrary to moves in some dioceses or parishes to have people stand during the consecration, the instruction states that people "should kneel at the consecration, except when prevented by reasons of health, lack of space, the number of people present or some other good reason." Those who are not kneeling "ought to make a profound bow when the priest genuflects after the consecration." A profound bow is a bow of the body from the waist.
Excesses associated with the sign of peace are addressed as follows: "In order to avoid a disruption to the rite, the priest may exchange a sign of peace only with others in the sanctuary". Likewise, for the faithful, "it is suitable that each person offer the sign of peace only to those nearby and in a dignified manner".
The original document's section on sacred silence has been expanded. It includes the recom- mendation that "even before the celebration itself, it is praiseworthy for silence to be observed in the church, in the sacristy and adjacent areas, so that all may dispose themselves for the sacred rites which are to be enacted in a devout and fitting manner". Brief moments of silence are further recommended throughout the liturgy, especially after the readings and homily.
The instruction indicates that there should be normally one fixed altar at which Mass is celebrated, but concedes that when renovations take place in an older church, if an old altar is impossible to move without compromising its artistic value, yet "is so positioned that it makes the participation of the people difficult", another fixed and dedicated altar may be erected. In this case, the old altar is no longer decorated in a special way and the liturgy is celebrated only on the new fixed altar. A cross should be "positioned on the altar or near it" and have "the figure of Christ crucified on it" to remind the faithful of "the saving passion of the Lord."
On the matter of the location of a tabernacle, the instruction Eucharistic Mysterium and 1975 General Instruction are recalled, with the direction given that "the Most Blessed Sacrament should be reserved in a tabernacle in a part of the church which is noble, worthy, conspicuous, well-decorated and suitable for prayer". There should be only one tabernacle, which is immovable, solid, unbreakable, locked and not transparent. The tabernacle in which the Blessed Sacrament is reserved "should not be on the altar on which Mass is celebrated". The location of the tabernacle should always be determined "according to the judgment of the diocesan Bishop."
Options for such location include being in the sanctuary, apart from the altar of celebration, in the most suitable form or place, not excluding on an old altar which is no longer used for celebration. Or, it could be located in another chapel suitable for adoration and the private prayer of the faithful, but "integrally connected with the church" and "conspicuous to the faithful."
The instruction cautions that the liturgy should not be changed in the interest of acculturation unless "a real and certain need of the Church demands it and with all proper care that new forms in some way grow organically from already existing forms." Such acculturation should be tackled with "a necessary amount of time, lest in a hasty and incautious manner the authentic liturgical tradition suffer contamination".