On Liturgical Arts in the Roman Missal: music, art, vestments, architecture, gesture
Sep 16, 2020

On Liturgical Arts in the Roman Missal: music, art, vestments, architecture, gesture

As we continue our 50-year look at the postconciliar Roman Missal, we turn to the treatment of the Missal’s artistic elements: music, art, architecture, appointments, vestments. Would you describe your parish’s liturgy as beautiful? If not, what accounts for its lack of luster? Whatever its shortcomings, the Missal’s own prescriptions offer a foundation and recovery of liturgical arts. Test your own knowledge of sacred art in the Roman Missal quiz questions that follow.

1. In choosing the parts of the Mass to sing, the Roman Missal sees which of the following as most important?

a. Gospel acclamation.

b. Opening, Offertory, and Closing hymns.

c. Dialogues between ministers and assembly (e.g., V/. The Lord be with you. R/. And with your spirit.).

d. Mass ordinary (e.g., Gloria, Sanctus).

e. Responsorial psalm.

2. Why does the Missal envision a high degree of unity among the people’s postures at Mass in contrast to the Church’s view of personal prayer and private devotions, which allow individuals to choose postures most conducive to their prayer?

3. True or False: because the Roman Missal, like the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy which directed its reform, encourages the Mass and its elements to consider and even adapt to contemporary needs, iPhones and iPads could legitimately substitute for ritual and ceremonial books.

4. What number of candles does the Roman Missal prescribe for the celebration of Mass?

a. 2.

b. 4.

c. 6.

d. 7.

e. Any of the above.

f. None of the above; it gives no direction on number of candles.

5.  What are the two types of altars envisioned by the Roman Missal?

6. Which of the following ways of singing the Entrance Chant are permitted by the Roman Missal?

a. Sung alternately by the choir and the people.

b. Sung alternately by a cantor and the people.

c. Sung entirely by the people.

d. Sung entirely by the choir alone.

e. All of the above.

f. Options a, b, c.

7. True or False: the postconciliar Missal called for church buildings to resemble other modern, contemporary structures.

8. Which style of music does the Roman Missal consider as most appropriate for the celebration of the postconciliar Mass?

a. Polyphony.

b. Glory and praise.

c. Contemporary.

d. Traditional.

e. Gregorian chant.

9. Why does the Roman Missal consider images of angels and saints an essential element of a church building?

10. True or False: glass, crystal, or pottery vessels (i.e., chalices, ciboria, etc.) are permitted by the Roman Missal.

Readers’ Quiz Answers:

1. c or d. Dialogues or acclamations. “[I]n the choosing of the parts actually to be sung, preference is to be given to those that are of greater importance and especially to those which are to be sung by the Priest or the Deacon or a reader, with the people replying, or by the Priest and people together” (GIRM, 40).

2. Beauty, clarity, active participation. “The gestures and bodily posture of both the Priest, the Deacon, and the ministers, and also of the people, must be conducive to making the entire celebration resplendent with beauty and noble simplicity, to making clear the true and full meaning of its different parts, and to fostering the participation of all. Attention must therefore be paid to what is determined by this General Instruction and by the traditional practice of the Roman Rite and to what serves the common spiritual good of the People of God, rather than private inclination or arbitrary choice” (GIRM, 42).

3. False. “Special care must be taken to ensure that the liturgical books, particularly the Book of the Gospels and the Lectionary, which are intended for the proclamation of the Word of God and hence receive special veneration, are to be in a liturgical action truly signs and symbols of higher realities and hence should be truly worthy, dignified, and beautiful” (GIRM, 349). Like all liturgical signs, even books manifest God’s heavenly glory.

4. e. Any of the above. “[O]n or next to the altar are to be placed candlesticks with lighted candles: at least two in any celebration, or even four or six, especially for a Sunday Mass or a Holyday of Obligation, or if the Diocesan Bishop celebrates, then seven candlesticks with lighted candles” (GIRM, 117).

5. Fixed and moveable. “It is desirable that in every church there be a fixed altar, since this more clearly and permanently signifies Christ Jesus, the Living Stone (1 Pt 2:4; cf. Eph 2:20). In other places set aside for sacred celebrations, the altar may be movable. An altar is said to be fixed if it is so constructed as to be attached to the floor and not removable; it is said to be movable if it can be displaced” (GIRM, 298).

6. e. All of the above. “This chant is sung alternately by the choir and the people or similarly by a cantor and the people, or entirely by the people, or by the choir alone” (GIRM, 48).

7. False. “[S]acred buildings and requisites for divine worship should be truly worthy and beautiful and be signs and symbols of heavenly realities” (GIRM, 288). Even though we celebrate an earthly liturgy and include natural, human, and cultural elements, we also “take part in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the holy city of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God, a minister of the holies and of the true tabernacle” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 8).

8. e. Gregorian chant. “The main place should be given, all things being equal, to Gregorian chant, as being proper to the Roman Liturgy. Other kinds of sacred music, in particular polyphony, are in no way excluded, provided that they correspond to the spirit of the liturgical action and that they foster the participation of all the faithful” (GIRM, 41).

9. Angels and saints are an essential part of the liturgy, and thus of the liturgy’s sacramental expression. “In the earthly Liturgy, the Church participates, by a foretaste, in that heavenly Liturgy which is celebrated in the holy city of Jerusalem, toward which she journeys as a pilgrim, and where Christ is seated at the right hand of God; and by venerating the memory of the Saints, she hopes one day to have some share and fellowship with them. Thus, in sacred buildings images of the Lord, of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and of the Saints, in accordance with most ancient tradition of the Church, should be displayed for veneration by the faithful and should be so arranged so as to lead the faithful toward the mysteries of faith celebrated there” (GIRM, 318).

10. False—at least not ideally. “In the Dioceses of the United States of America, sacred vessels may also be made from other solid materials which in the common estimation in each region are considered precious or noble, for example, ebony or other harder woods, provided that such materials are suitable for sacred use. In this case, preference is always to be given to materials that do not easily break or deteriorate” (GIRM, 329; emphasis added).

The Editors