Say the Black. Do the Red.

Some people like to think it is easy to celebrate the liturgy well - just say the prayers printed in the book and perform the action set out in the rubrics. The liturgy however is not found on the page of a book. The art of celebrating well is one of translating the page to the event.

Take the Communion Rite as an example.

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal promotes good eucharistic practice and strong sacramental signs. The bread should truly have the appearance of food, and be fashioned in such a way that it can be broken into parts for the people (GIRM 321).  Communion under both kinds (bread and wine) is recommended as a fuller sign (GIRM 281).  Thirdly, it is most desirable that the faithful, just as the priest himself is bound to do, receive the Lord’s Body from hosts consecrated at the same Mass (GIRM 85).

The General Instruction describes the breaking of the bread at some length, though of course it should not be unnecessarily prolonged or accorded exaggerated importance (GIRM 83). The communion procession of the people is described, during which the people sing: to express the spiritual union of the communicants by means of the unity of their voices, to show gladness of heart, and to bring out more clearly the ‘communitarian’ character of the procession to receive the Eucharist (GIRM 86).

In a change from earlier editions, the 2006 General Instruction states that lay Communion Ministers should not approach the altar before the priest has received communion, and they are always to receive from the hands of the priest celebrant the vessel containing the species of the most holy Eucharist for distribution to the faithful (GIRM 162).

It also introduced new provisions for the purification of the vessels. Any consecrated wine left over is consumed immediately at the altar by the priest and/or deacon.  Hosts may be consumed or taken to the tabernacle.  The vessels are purified by the priest and/or deacon either at the altar or at the credence table or left on the credence table to be purified after Mass.

Some requirements that are not explicit in the Missal are spelled out in more detail by the 2004 Vatican Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum.  The Breaking of the Bread, for example, is to be done only by the priest or deacon (RS 73).  The most significant clarification however relates to the use of multiple chalices: It is praiseworthy, by reason of the sign value, to use a main chalice of larger dimensions, together with smaller chalices. However, the pouring of the Blood of Christ after the consecration from one vessel to another is completely to be avoided, lest anything should happen that would be to the detriment of so great a mystery. (RS 105). This means in effect that the wine needs to be poured into multiple chalices at the time of the preparation of the gifts and these remain on the altar through the Eucharistic Prayer.

It is possible to follow all these rules and rubrics carefully and reverently without destroying the balance of the rite. See the demonstration film clips at


Elizabeth Harrington