Roadmap for Celebrating Mass

The Missal has in the front of it an important document call the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM). Recently I presented a series of workshops entitled “Everything you always wanted to know about the GIRM but were too afraid to ask” (a play on the title of a popular 1969 book by US physician David Reuben and of a 1972 Woody Allen movie based on it).

The sessions outlined the broad content and key features of the General Instruction, highlighted recent changes and explored the practical implementation of the principles and practices it espouses.

When the workshops were being promoted in one parish, someone responded: “So we’re going back to rules, are we?” I found this interesting because it suggests that there is a belief out there that the General Instruction is something new that is being imposed upon the Church and a sign of the Reform of the Reform.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Although the post-Vatican II Roman Missal promulgated in 1969 by Paul VI dispensed with the detailed, elaborate rubrics of the Tridentine Mass, it still contained some rubrics in the body of the Missal and had a “driver’s manual” (General Instruction ) in the front. Without such a guide, it would be like a recipe book with lists of ingredients but without any explanation of what to do with them!

The General Instruction was revised along with the Roman Missal in 2000 and the Australian version was implemented in 2008. Some minor alterations were made to this after the release of the new English-language Missal in 2010. Although the overall content and purpose of the GIRM has not changed with these recent revisions, there are several key aspects which have not yet been implemented fully.

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. It is like a map that guides the celebration of Mass by explaining its structure and the various ministries, furnishings and other requisites involved.

The GIRM provides answers to many of the questions that people ask of Liturgy Brisbane, such as: Can white wine be used for the Eucharist? What is allowed on the altar during Mass? What is wrong with using hosts from the tabernacle for Communion?

It is vital that anyone involved in planning or celebrating liturgy, including presiders, pastoral associates, parish liturgy teams, RE coordinators, those who plan school Masses and liturgical ministers, have a good understanding of this key liturgy document.

In his 2007 Apostolic Exhortation on the Eucharist as the Source and Summit of the Church's Life and Mission, Benedict XVI wrote: “The eucharistic celebration is enhanced when priests and liturgical leaders are committed to making known the current liturgical texts and norms, making available the great riches found in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal and the Order of Readings for Mass. Perhaps we take it for granted that our ecclesial communities already know and appreciate these resources, but this is not always the case. These texts contain riches which have preserved and expressed the faith and experience of the People of God over its two-thousand-year history.” (Sacramentum Caritatis #40)

Elizabeth Harrington