Missal brings greater appreciation of liturgy

By  Fr. Gilles Mongeau, S.J.
  • November 16, 2011

TORONTO - I’ve come to know, over the last few years of teaching at Regis College in Toronto, that if I want to understand something well, my best strategy is to teach it. And so, about a year ago, as we in the Canadian Church began to receive reports of the progress of the Canadian edition of the new Roman Missal while it went through the approval process, I proposed a six-week continuing education course to the college administration as a support to the efforts of the archdiocese of Toronto to prepare for the arrival of the new Missal.

Through the months of research and teaching — I’ve now taught the course in the six-week format, as an online course and in a one-day workshop form — I’ve realized that what excites my students is not so much the English translation we will receive on the first Sunday of Advent, but rather some key developments in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal. I am convinced that these developments are the most important treasure of the new Missal.

What I find genuinely exciting about them is they can foster a deeper appropriation, on the part of local parish communities, of the renewed liturgy.

The first development has to do with the theological commentary on each of the rites. This is mainly to be found in chapter two of the General Instruction. The comments are short but very rich, and they can form the basis of a renewed catechesis on the liturgy in the parish. At the same time, they foster a deeper understanding of what we are doing in the Mass’ teaching moment, so that it becomes much more difficult to take a “rubricist” or “legalistic” attitude to how we celebrate together.

As a priest, I find that this chapter refreshes my desire to celebrate the Mass intentionally and prayerfully, as I am reminded of the meaningfulness of the rites and actions in the liturgy.

The second development has to do with what I would call a “double shift” in the rubrics: there is a shift away from “priestly appropriation” of the variety of ministries in the liturgy, as well as a shift away from practices that might tend to “muddy” the relationship between the presidential role and other ministries in the Mass. By articulating for the first time the tasks and responsibilities of the deacon and of other ministers in the Mass in their own right, and making it clear that the presider should not take on these roles himself except as a last resort, the new General Instruction promotes a new understanding of the Mass as a kind of “symphony of service” where a large number of ministries are performed together to contribute to the fullness of the celebration.

In this context, the presider is like the conductor of an orchestra, called to make each ministry shine even as he co-ordinates them for the good order of the whole worship. In this light, I think, we can best understand the insistence that certain tasks belong to the priest alone; it is not a question of shutting others out of a particular ministry, but rather of making more clear the mutuality that makes the whole symphony richer.

Finally, the new General Instruction insists on the importance of the ministry of the assembled community and on the significance of the real presence of Christ in His assembled Body. The community’s singing, its enthusiastic responses, its postures and gestures are understood as contributions to the fullness of the liturgy. We have here a genuine occasion to reflect as Church communities on what full, conscious and active participation in the liturgy means. The sections on liturgical singing are particularly interesting here, and I think we would do well to explore them at length.

It’s clear to me that the full appropriation and implementation of the new Missal is only beginning and that we have in it a resource for furthering the liturgical renewal that began in 1908, flourished at the Second Vatican Council and continues unfinished today.

The third edition of the new Missal is an opportunity to refresh our celebration of the Eucharist, and I look forward to taking part in that process.

(Mongeau is an associate professor of systematic theology at Regis College in Toronto.)

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