New General Instruction of the Roman Missal


Q. Our parish recently made some changes in the celebration of Mass. We were told that we now had to follow a new edition of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal which we could read about in "Catholic Update", a publication from the Diocese of Cincinnati, to which the parish subscribes. We were also told that we could find this new General Instruction on the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
I am wondering why the parish is following an American guide to the liturgy if we have information available showing local (cultural) practices. Do we have a similar publication indicating the current practices for the Brisbane Archdiocese?

A. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal is a bit like a drivers’ manual for a car. It assists those responsible for the celebration of the Eucharist by providing an explanation of the structure of the Order of Mass and the various ministries, furnishings and other requisites involved. But the General Instruction is much more than a set of rules or rubrics; it articulates the doctrinal principles behind how Mass is celebrated and explains why we do the things we do.

The third edition of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) came out in Latin in 2000, but it did not come into force until the new Roman Missal appeared in Latin in 2002.

There is a long process to be gone through before it is applicable in various parts of the Catholic world, including Australia. First the new GIRM had to be translated into English by ICEL, the International Commission on English in the Liturgy. As you can imagine, this took a considerable period of time.

Then the different English speaking Bishops Conferences had to approve the translation. This included checking that the version that came out with the new Missal had not been altered from the 2000 edition.

The next step involves Bishops Conferences considering how the General Instruction will apply in their own regions. A practical document such as this cannot automatically be made apply to places like Australia where the conditions are vastly different from those in Rome, so National Bishops Conferences have the authority to make appropriate adaptations.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has already received confirmation from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments for their translation of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal 2000. The US Conference also received approval for a number of local adaptations envisaged by Chapter IX of the General Instruction.

The version of the General Instruction on the USCCB web site includes these adaptations, which are not applicable to Australia, within the body of the Instruction. Care needs to be taken when using the USA version because it is different from the one being prepared by the Australian Bishops.

The version of the General Instruction approved at the November 2002 meeting of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference is still awaiting confirmation by Rome. When that is received, the Australian Bishops will establish a timetable for its implementation. Then each Bishop will implement it in his own diocese.

It is unwise and confusing for parishes to presume what the outcome will be and to implement changes ahead of the completion of the approval process for an Australian version of the General Instruction.

Elizabeth Harrington