May 15, 2001

Bishops to "Adapt" Liturgy Rules

Online Edition – Vol. VII, No. 3: May 2001

Bishops to "Adapt" Liturgy Rules

Proposed "American Adaptations" to Holy See’s regulations for Mass to be voted on in June | FDLC and We Believe! | Identical proposals | No "gesture of reverence" | FDLC: White only for funerals, glass chalices | And what became of the PIOM?

Proposed "American Adaptations" to Holy See’s regulations for Mass to be voted on in June

A major item on the agenda of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops at their June meeting in Atlanta will be consideration of US adaptations for the new edition of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM, a/k/a Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani, or IGMR).

The new GIRM was issued by the Holy See last July in advance of the publication of the Roman Missal of which it is a part. The "American adaptations" is an appendix to the GIRM, and consists of modifications and/or further regulations for the Church in the United States.

The new version of the Roman Missal was to have appeared last September, but there have been several delays, and now it seems doubtful that it will be released before the US bishops have a chance to submit "adaptations" to its liturgical instructions, the GIRM. The Holy See approved it for publication in July 2000, and it was released simultaneously with a draft English translation by the Bishops Committee on the Liturgy [BCL]. The GIRM’s regulations, it is now said, become effective only when the entire Missal is officially published. Those who object to the new GIRM, understandably, favor delays.

According to the BCL Newsletter (Dec-Jan), only thirteen of the 300+ US bishops responded to a mailing from the BCL on proposed GIRM adaptations early this year. These 13 bishops have submitted a total of 116 recommendations for adaptations. The BCL has not yet sent the official list of proposals to the bishops.

But two organizations of liturgists have published their own lists of proposed adaptations to the GIRM.

(1/9/03 – for an update on the "American Adaptations", click here).


FDLC and We Believe!

The Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions (FDLC) collected 375 suggestions from diocesan directors of worship, and combined them into 22 recommendations that were submitted to the BCL. The list appeared in the most recent edition of the FDLC Newsletter (Feb-March 2001).

Earlier, We Believe! , an independent liturgists’ group, which compiled a list of changes it favors and published the list on its web site (reported in AB, Feb. 2001).

The new GIRM describes the kinds of adaptations to be made by local bishops and bishops’ conferences and the procedures to be used. These include gestures and postures, the manner of receiving Holy Communion, materials for the altar, furnishings, vessels and vestments (§390). Bishops may also specify Scripture readings to be used for special circumstances and texts for chants to be used at the entrance, offertory and Communion. They are also responsible for approving certain melodies for Mass settings and musical instruments to be used in the Liturgy (§393).

Though details of the proposals are not given, the BCL Newsletter indicates that the proposed US Appendix for the GIRM will contain adaptations for virtually all of these items.

BCL’s published list of the affected paragraphs omits any proposal for the gesture for the sign of peace, which the GIRM leaves to the conferences of bishops to determine "in accord with the culture and customs of the people" (§82). But the BCL’s list includes some items that GIRM does specify as adaptable by conferences. Among these are:

  • that the Apostles’ Creed may be substituted for the Nicene Creed at Mass (§67).
  • that "culturally significant colored cloths" be used for the altar in place of the specified white cloth (§304).
  • that images and crosses be veiled beginning on Saturday of the fourth week of Lent (§318).
  • a proposal concerning the responsorial Psalm (§61) is listed, but not described.

At the June meeting, the bishops will also consider a revision of their 1984 directory, This Holy and Living Sacrifice, which gives rules for Communion under both species. Some of the norms concerning extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist allow them to distribute the consecrated species into smaller vessels and consume the remains of the Precious Blood and cleanse vessels. These practices "depart from practices of the Roman Missal". However, the BCL judges that they are "in keeping with pastoral need and practice" in the US and is proposing that they be continued. These proposals would require a 2/3 vote of the Latin rite bishops and approval of the Holy See.

For follow-ups on the bishops’ meeting, click here.


 Identical proposals

The FDLC and We Believe! proposals for "American adaptations" to the GIRM are given in detail, and each is accompanied by a rationale. The FDLC also states the number of diocesan worship offices submitting each proposal. Most of the FDLC proposals were submitted by fewer than ten dioceses and none by more than 28 out of a total of almost 200 dioceses in the US.

Curiously, although We Believe! and the FDLC are separate organizations, and the FDLC proposals were said to be compiled from hundreds of separate suggestions, the two sets of proposed "adaptations" contain several that are identically worded.

Among these identical proposals is one that would allow standing throughout the Eucharist prayer, allegedly the "universal norm". (The FDLC said 22 dioceses proposed this change.) Kneeling for the consecration, however, is specified in both the 1975 and the 2000 versions of the GIRM (§21 and §43, respectively), but not by either We Believe! or FDLC. The proposals by both organizations use wording identical to an amendment to the Sacramentary that was voted down by the bishops at their June 1995 meeting.

Another proposed "adaptation" containing identical wording in both groups’ lists concerns GIRM’s note that keeping silence in the church before Mass is "praiseworthy". Both We Believe! and FDLC suggest that sometimes "human communication before worship" may be desirable. Their rationales also contain identical passages with one difference: We Believe! asserts that such audible "communication" is a cultural necessity in African-American communities, while the FDLC says that it is Native American communities that require chatting before Mass.


 No "gesture of reverence"

Both groups oppose the new GIRM’s norm that people make a gesture of reverence before receiving Communion (§160). Here, also, the two groups’ rationales contain identical wording: both insist that "different cultures express reverence in different ways" and that the US "is the second most multicultural country in the world" so must allow for diversity. The FDLC said this was suggested by 28 dioceses the highest number for any proposal.

Both groups want to allow for the carrying of the Lectionary in procession in place of the specified Book of Gospels. Both groups state this is a "long-standing practice". Ten dioceses proposed this.

Both groups want to maintain the role of extraordinary ministers in distributing hosts into smaller vessels and in cleansing vessels.


 FDLC: White only for funerals, glass chalices

Although the GIRM specifies black or violet vestments for funerals, the current "American adaptations" permit white as well. But the FDLC proposes a further restriction: only white vestments may be permitted for funerals on the grounds that "violet or black vestments … does [sic] not seem to resonate with the spirit of the Order of Christian Funerals". Only eight diocesan liturgy offices proposed this "adaptation".

The FDLC list proposes that the "noble and durable" materials for altar vessels (e.g., chalices, patens) be amended to include glass, crystal or pottery, arguing that these are "widely used" in the US (submitted by nine dioceses).

At this writing, it is unknown how the BCL’s list of "Adaptations", to be voted on by the bishops in June, may correspond to the FDLC’s proposals.

Most of the proposals of both the FDLC and We Believe! were discussed and/or voted on by the bishops at some point during their years of scrutinizing the revision of the Sacramentary (prayers for Mass) of the Roman Missal including "American Adaptations". During these discussions, the bishops also considered, various "pastoral introductions" to supply further liturgical instructions.

The proposed Sacramentary, sent to the Holy See more than three years ago, has not been approved.

And what became of the PIOM?

The Pastoral Introduction for the Order of Mass (PIOM), which expanded on the GIRM, was approved by the bishops in 1995 and received the Holy See’s approval to publish it last summer. It has yet to been published.

Members of the FDLC vigorously and vocally objected to the publication of the draft translation of the new GIRM last summer and doubtless are as adamantly opposed to publication of the PIOM. They argued that they needed time for "catechesis". Unsurprisingly, in the view of most professional liturgists, ordinary Catholics would be "confused" if these documents are not interpreted for them by liturgists.



The Editors