The Roman Missal - 8th November 2015

A few weeks ago, I heard a newsreader announce that Russia had started firing missals into Syria. Momentarily I had a vision of Mass books being lobbed at the enemy. Of course, the newsreader meant to say “missiles”.
“Missal” is an odd word really. Only Catholics use the term. It comes from the Latin missalis, concerning the Missa, the Mass.   The Roman Missal is a collection of prayers for the celebration of the Eucharist which are sung or spoken by the priest.

Such books have been in use from about the fifth century, but in the Middle Ages the Missal became a huge volume because to it had been added service books previously used by singers, readers and deacons as the priest had gradually taken over their roles in the Mass.

The Second Vatican Council restored the basic rule that all members of the worshipping community, whether lay or ordained, perform only those parts of the liturgy which rightfully belong to them.  Hence the Missal, usually referred to as the Sacramentary, issued after the Council contained only those parts of the Mass which are said by the priest.

When the third edition of the presider’s book for Mass came into effect in 2011, not only the contents changed but the name of this liturgical book, which was now to be called the “Roman Missal” and not a Sacramentary. While this is technically correct, it causes a deal of confusion.

At a workshop recently I referred to the “General Instruction of the Roman Missal” and said that this important document was to be found in the front of the Missal. One participant has a Sunday Missal and said “It’s not in the front of mine!”

What this lady was looking at was a book called a “Sunday Missal”. There is a similar book for weekdays called a “Weekday Missal”. These Missals contains both the prayers and the scripture readings for Mass. A much better and less confusing name for these books used by members of the assembly would be “Sunday Mass Book” and “Weekday Mass Book”.

The “Roman Missal” contains all of the prayers and rubrics (instructions) for the celebration of Eucharist. It does not contain any readings which are instead in the “Lectionary for Mass”.

The foreword to the previous Roman Missal explained that, partly because of its long tradition of use in the Church, the Missal as a book has symbolic meanings:

“It represents the office of presidency in the prayer of the liturgical assembly – both in the prayers of petition and in the central eucharistic prayer of praise, thanksgiving, and memorial.  Since these prayers articulate the action of the Church in celebrating the sacrifice of the Lord, even the book of prayer is an important sign.  For this reason it is expected to be of sufficiently worthy proportions and artistic design to create respect and reverence for its content.”

All liturgical books used at public worship should be visually attractive and handled with care and respect to indicate clearly to the assembly that the words they contains are important, and that they are signs and symbols of the sacred.


Elizabeth Harrington