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Introducing a New Series on the Priest’s “Art of Celebrating”

Liturgy is likened to a work of art, and the celebrant’s craft to an ars celebrandi, an “art of celebration.” Ars celebrandi, Pope Benedict says, is “the fruit of faithful adherence to the liturgical norms in all their richness” and “the primary way to foster the participation of the People of God in the sacred rite” (Sacramentum Caritatis, 38). It denotes the skill and care with which the celebrant directs the liturgical celebration, for it is through the medium of the liturgy’s beautifully-executed signs and symbols that the saving person and work of Jesus shines forth.

Father Dennis Gill, Director of the Office for Divine Worship in Philadelphia and Rector of the Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul, presents here the inaugural article in a series explaining the craft of the presider’s art. Future entries will appear in the Bulletin and on the Adoremus website, www.adoremus.org.

 To Begin in the Beginning…

“Good morning, and let us begin our prayer, ‘In the name of the Father….”

At times even with the most solemn of celebrations of the Eucharist, once the priest celebrant arrives at the chair, he first addresses the assembly with a friendly “Good morning!” Sometimes, he follows this with an introductory phrase to the Sign of the Cross, “Let us begin our prayer, ‘In the name of the Father….’” Most priests and most people may wonder why there is any question about the use of these two phrases. The more important question, however, is what does the celebration of Mass expect at this point that renders both phrases out of order?

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (hereafter GIRM), the front matter that introduces the Roman Missal and directs the celebration of Mass, provides a theological description of the Introductory Rites—the Entrance Chant, the Greeting, the Penitential Act, the Kyrie, the Gloria, and the Collect. “Their purpose is to ensure that the faithful who come together as one, establish communion and dispose themselves properly to listen to the word of God and to celebrate the Eucharist worthily” (GIRM 46). All of the several elements of the Introductory Rites just listed act together to achieve this purpose. From the Entrance Chant through to the Collect, each element combines, one flowing into the next, to give this part of the Mass “the character of a beginning, an introduction and a preparation” (see GIRM 46).

For the priest celebrant to announce his “Good morning!” after the Entrance Chant is to puncture artificially what has already begun as far as the celebration of the Mass is concerned. The Entrance Chant reminds us that Christ assembles us—priest and people—to celebrate the Sacred Mysteries. All the faithful are united in some way with the priest as he reverences and venerates the altar, the centerpiece of the Eucharist, and incenses of the signs of Christ’s Sacrifice, the altar and the cross, when this takes place. By this time, the beginning of the Mass is well underway; the preparation for the Word and Sacrifice has commenced.

What comes next does not allow for the “Good morning!” interruption, something colloquial or pedestrian, no matter how friendly or sincere. Rather, what comes next is our declaration of our baptismal prerogative to celebrate the Eucharist: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” This is immediately followed by the greeting, “The Lord be with you. /And with your spirit,” or one of the other options, where “the mystery of the Church gathered together is made manifest (see GIRM 50).

So is there a fitting moment to say “Good morning!” to those assembled for Mass? For the priest celebrant, perhaps not “Good morning!”, but after the liturgical greeting and before the Penitential Act, a brief introduction to the Mass of the day is possible which can include a word of welcome to all (see GIRM 50 and Order of Mass 3).

The second part in this series is available by clicking here.

Father Dennis Gill

Father Dennis Gill

Father Dennis Gill is Rector and Pastor of the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Philadelphia and the Director of the Office for Divine Worship for the Archdiocese. Father Gill completed his graduate studies in Sacred Liturgy at the Catholic University of America in Washington DC and the Pontifical Liturgical Institute of Saint Anselmo in Rome. In addition to multiple parish assignments, Father Gill served a five-year term as the Director of Liturgy at the Pontifical North American College in Rome. He is professor of Sacred Liturgy at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary and lectures on the sacred liturgy throughout the country. Father Gill is author of Music in Catholic Liturgy: A Pastoral and Theological Companion to Sing to the Lord and the forthcoming book, Ars Celebrandi: An Artful and Careful Celebration of the Eucharist, both available from Hillenbrand Books.