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The Most Rev. David L. Ricken is the 12th bishop of the Diocese of Green Bay.

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The New Roman Missal

By | May 18, 2011

This first column is my introduction to the series and provides background for a few of the changes I have asked pastors and parish directors to make between now and November. Over the next weeks we’ll also be reflecting on how we can better enter into the Mass and celebrate the dying and the rising of the Lord, using the new Missal.

The Missal: Like all liturgical books, the Missal contains three kinds of texts. The first is the theological introduction to the rite, called a Praenotanda. The second is the set of actual prayers for Mass: the opening prayers or collects, the Prefaces, the Eucharistic Prayers, and Prayers after Communion. Also in the Missal are the rubrics, or directions, for the celebration. They are called “rubrics” from the Latin word for “red” because they are printed in red.

The Praenotanda for the Missal is what we have come to know in recent years as the General Instruction of the Roman Missal or GIRM. The General Instruction presents the liturgical theology of the Mass and also gives specific directions on how to celebrate.

The GIRM for the new edition was released in 2003, even before the Missal was published, so we could study and begin to implement some of the simple changes.

The GIRM changes: Over the next few months you may be seeing a few simple changes in the way Mass is celebrated in your parish. I’ve asked our priests to implement the provisions of the GIRM now so that, with these already in place, it will be easier to adjust to the changes in the texts this November. These changes affect kneeling, the congregation’s posture at the Our Father, and the placement of the tabernacle.

Kneeling: Since 1965, in the United States we have been asked to kneel during the Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass, from the Sanctus through the Great Amen. In recent years the U.S. bishops suggested that it might be appropriate to kneel during the penitential rite in Lent, and the new GIRM specifies kneeling after the Lamb of God. Over the years, a custom of standing during the Eucharistic Prayer arose because a number of parishes removed kneelers when they needed repairs, and some new churches were built without kneelers. However, the official direction continued to be that we kneel during this part of the Mass.

Both Bishop Robert Banks and Bishop David Zubik directed that kneelers be installed when new churches were built and that any renovations would include installing kneelers if they were not already in the church. To ensure that we provide for the specified kneeling posture, I have asked all pastors and parish directors to ensure that kneelers are installed in our churches by this November. A few parishes received an extension of time because of special circumstances, but almost all parishes will have kneelers, and our people will be kneeling during the Eucharistic Prayer unless they are not physically able to do so.

The second change also concerns kneeling. In the 2003 edition of the General Instruction, the prescribed posture after the Lamb of God is kneeling “unless the diocesan bishop determines otherwise.” At that time, Bishop Banks directed that what had been the custom of the parish (kneeling or standing), could continue. I have noticed that as people travel from parish to parish for weddings and funerals and other celebrations, variations in custom make it difficult for people to know what is expected. Therefore, to assist us in unity of practice, after the Lamb of God is sung or recited, the congregation will kneel for “Behold the Lamb of God.”

Our Father: Change number three concerns the Our Father. In 1998, the U.S. bishops submitted a translation of the Missal to the Holy See and requested that the Orans posture (praying with hands extended) for the Our Father, be permitted in the United States. Some parishes and dioceses began to implement that posture in anticipation of the permission. However, shortly after the request, the Holy See released the new edition of the Missal and so the translation process began anew. When the U.S. bishops submitted the revised texts for confirmation in 2007, they DID NOT request permission for the Orans posture. Therefore, the Orans posture was not part of the new Missal for the United States. The posture for the congregation during the Our Father is to pray with hands folded or at one’s side. Because we were accustomed to the other posture, this change will take a bit of “getting used to.” Holding hands or praying with the Orans posture for the Our Father at home, with family, or in prayer groups is fine — just not during the eucharistic liturgy.

The Tabernacle: The final change concerns the location of the tabernacle. The 2003 GIRM directs that the Blessed Sacrament be reserved in the sanctuary of the church, in a central and prominent place. It does allow reservation in a chapel, but that chapel must be visible from the church body and integrally connected to it. Over the next months, a number of our parishes will be moving the tabernacle to a more central place in the sanctuary. Since any change in the church requires a proxy, I will be reviewing and approving all those changes. Again, in a few places, I have granted an exception because of the design of the sanctuary or the church architecture.

Content of the Missal: During his pontificate, Pope John Paul II canonized a number of saints, and the Congregation for Divine Worship approved a number of special Masses in honor of the Blessed Virgin and some new prefaces. The third edition of the Missal contains the prayers and readings for the feasts of the “new” saints, and the additional Mass texts.

One of those new Mass texts is the Mass for Life which the bishops of the United States approved a number of years ago. This will give us a special Mass setting for our January Mass for Life as we commemorate the Supreme Court’s Roe vs. Wade decision and can also be used for any time we wish to pray in support of or for the protection of human life.

New Translation: In addition to the new texts in the Missal, the prayers that were already there have been redone using a different method of translation, so they will sound a bit different. The former method of translation was called “dynamic equivalence” and focused on the way English is spoken. Translators often left out some concepts and shortened sentences to make the text more understandable for those who were hearing it. While there was some value in that, the downside was that often concepts, images from the writings of the church fathers and theological precision were missing. The new method of translation used for this edition of the Missal is called “formal equivalence” and keeps the structure of the prayers from the Latin. That means that sentences will be longer and will contain clauses that often express cause and effect. There will also be a more formal use of terminology to highlight the special nature of our liturgical prayer.

Over the next weeks, Sr. Ann Rehrauer and I will be sharing some specific examples of the upcoming changes and providing background for understanding the newly translated texts. Stay tuned for “the rest of the story.”

In our June 3 issue: “What’s NEW in the New Roman Missal?”

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