QUAERITUR: The GIRM is silent about a couple things. Fr. Z says “So what?!”

From a reader:

#1: Some persons make the Sign of the Cross when the priest closes the Act of Penitence (‘May Almighty God have mercy on us . . . ‘), but this is not mentioned in the GIRM. Is it inadvisable to do so, or is it permissible piety, or is this one of those instances of ‘this is done in the TLM and the silence of the GIRM on this matter therefore does not exclude it’?

I think it is a great thing to do, advisable indeed.  So what if it is not mentioned in the GIRM? The GIRM is silent about all sorts of things.  Making the Sign of the Cross is a good, pious thing to do.

It makes sense to do it there.  It has always been done there.  And, with the “gravitational pull” exerted again by the Usus Antiquior, let it always be done there.

Reason #2478 for Summorum Pontificum.

#2: Some persons bow profoundly when the Final Blessing is given; again, the GIRM is silent on the matter. Is this appropriate? It would make sense if it is appropriate, as we are sometimes asked to ‘bow down’ for blessings – but this is not prescribed.

Sure.  Go ahead and bow.  As a matter of fact, I’d say go ahead and kneel for the blessing.

Moreover, people are supposed to bow during the Creed, but how many do? It’s right there in the GIRM, right? I say, start kneeling again at “et homo factus est”!

Furthermore, I think it would be great were women to start using chapel veils again and were everyone to come to church in their “Sunday Best”.

And another thing!

Fathers! Just…

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Bea says:

    Right on, Father.
    My husband and I always make the sign of the Cross at the words “May God have mercy on us”
    We also kneel (or attempt to kneel with arthritic knees) at the final blessing, whether it is proscribed or not. (at a private/personal blessing, too)
    It just seems the appropriate thing to do.

  2. The GIRM, as far as I know, also doesn’t say anything either way about holding hands during the Our Father …

  3. dans0622 says:

    I’d also point out that the “GIRM” states, in #275a, that a bow is to be performed whenever the Persons of the Trinity are named together. So, we should all bow at the blessing. Granted, this is only a bow of the head but it’s still a bow nonetheless.


  4. ppb says:

    I don’t see any problem with the faithful doing this – around here many people do. One of my earliest memories from childhood (and I grew up entirely with the OF) is of the people around me making the sign of the cross at the penitential rite, and also during the Sanctus at the words “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord,” so I have always done this. I now attend mostly the EF, but I had no idea until relatively recently that those two gestures weren’t technically part of the OF as well.

  5. mamajen says:

    I’m surprised that #1 is only done by “some persons”. As far as I recall, it’s done at every NO I’ve ever been to. It’s kind of instinctive the way “Amen” is after hearing certain words (even, oops, at times during the readings).

    Bowing, though…that’s really starting to fall by the wayside it seems. In many places nobody, priests and deacons included, bow during the appointed time in the Creed. That really irks me.

  6. Michael Garner says:

    The sign of the cross has never been made at the “Misereatur nostri Omnipotens Deus” prayer but only at the “Indulgentiam absolutionem et remissionem” prayer afterward in the EF Mass. The latter prayer is not in the OF Mass so therefore no sign of the cross should be made at the “Misereatur” in the OF as this is not done in the Usus Antiquior.

  7. TimG says:

    “tie one on”

    Our current priest frequently (but not always) wears one, I have always wondered about it. Thank you for mentioning it Fr. Z, you inspired me to search and find out what they are called. For those like me who didn’t know….it is the maniple.

  8. Bthompson says:

    Why these practices and not others (as RuralVirologist alluded)? I don’t want to stir up trouble, but under what principle do we say “these customs, but not those”? There must be SOME identifiable reason (even if it is a reasoned argument rather than a legal citation), or else we are in breach of Sacrosanctum Concilium 22 just as those who hold hands at the Our Father or neuter God in prayers (albeit in kind, probably not degree).

    To my mind, the 2 questions above are provided for under the notion of “long standing custom” (i.e. centennial or older). These actions are “in our bones” so to speak, like the direction of the Sign of the Cross, venerating blessed objects with a kiss before or after using them, folding hands to pray, or some cultures kissing the hands of priests, etc.

    Am I off base? Is there a better way to defend such specific instances of “mutual enrichment” of the forms of the Roman Rite (rather than Summorum Pontificum’s general hope that such enrichment might occur)?

  9. LaxMom25 says:

    Thank you Father Z.
    Our neighborhood parish offers the EF Mass two Fridays per month, so we have a pastor who is friendly to the EF. Generally, our family travels across the county to another parish (where we are registered) for the Sunday High EF where my boys serve and we are very happy. Recently, the pastor in the neighborhood parish, in his weekly column in the bulletin, instructed us that it was improper to make the sign of the cross at the close of the Act of Penance. His explanation was that this was a holdover from the “older form of the Mass” and was no longer part of the Mass. My Catholic sense was surprised by the idea that we should not be doing a good and pious act. Why in the world should we opt *not* to make the sign of the cross? And should I tell my kiddos to stop making the sign?

    I cannot recall which book it was in, but one author noted that in the history of the Mass, over time, elements had been added but not taken away, until the Novus Ordo Mass. The removal of critical parts of the Mass distinguishes the Novus Ordo from previous changes. And if small pious acts can easily be eliminated from the Mass, why not eliminate them entirely? The message in this idea of eliminating/simplifying for your average Catholic is that these small acts of faith just don’t matter. It’s a sad, slippery slope.

  10. Michelle F says:

    I thought that the practice of the congregation of making the sign of the Cross during the general absolution at Mass, whether at the Tridentine or the Novus Ordo, was linked to making the sign of the Cross when one is absolved from his sins during sacramental Confession. The logic being, “If I do it in the confessional, then I should do it here.”

    Even though the prayer “Indulgentiam absolutionem” is not in the Novus Ordo, the prayer “Misereatur nostri omnipotens Deus” is present, and the Daily Roman Missal published by the Midwest Theological Forum identifies it as the “absolution by the priest.” Even though the priest is not instructed to make the sign of the Cross at this point during the Novus Ordo, this is when general absolution is given, so it would be logical for people to make the sign of the Cross at this point – particularly for people who are accustomed to associating the sign of the Cross with absolution given in sacramental Confession.

  11. Patti Day says:

    I see offense being taken at what some perceive as ‘a holdover from the “older form of the Mass”, and although it’s never been mentioned in our bulletin, I’ve felt the eyes on the back of my neck at times. Maybe I’m overly sensitive.

  12. Michael Garner is correct, in the Roman Rite the Sign of the Cross was made at the Absolutionem, not at the Misereatur. And the Absolutionem is not part of the new rite of Mass. I might also add that in the Dominican Rite the Sign of the Cross was not (and is not) made at the Absolutionem during the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar. I was made, however, when the Absolutionem was pronounced as part of the Communion Confiteor ritual, but that was because the priest gave a blessing when pronouncing the Absolutionem at that point.

  13. johnmann says:

    As has been mentioned, the sign of the cross isn’t done at the “May Almighty God have mercy on us” in the EF. The indulgentiam absolutionem was eliminated entirely from the OF so the sign of the cross is a new innovation.

    That’s one valid interpretation. The other is that the indulgentiam absolutionem is a repetition so the absolution remains in the OF and the sign of the cross is appropriate.

  14. Joe in Canada says:

    I like the idea of kneeling during the ‘et homo factus est’. I was chaplain at a Catholic family camp that says the Angelus at noon, and I would kneel at that point. Someone asked me and I explained we always used to do it, and one boy said “then we should do it”! I have been at very high Anglican services where they still kneel at the Last Gospel at those words – I wonder if the Anglican Use or the Ordinariate does it?

  15. Jeannie_C says:

    We were taught to bow as the Gospels are taken up the aisle and pass by us. We bow at every mention of Jesus’ name, as well as the “blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord”, because that refers to Jesus, as well. We bow our heads as the priest walks past us at the end of the mass, not a bow to him, personally, but to his Holy Orders. This was what we were taught to do, and so we continue to do so. We also feel the eyes of the standers boring into us as we kneel during Holy Communion, but so what? We’d rather kneel in Jesus’ presence than offend, and if anyone doesn’t like what they see, they can avert their eyes. Or pluck them out if they offend.

  16. CatholicMD says:

    What about making the sign of the cross during the Gloria, Credo, and Sanctus? I used to do this as an Episcopalian but stopped after entering the Church almost 10 years ago.

  17. Legisperitus says:

    Is there a bad time to make the Sign of the Cross??

    “Even in the liturgy, the Church has no wish to impose a rigid uniformity in matters which do not involve the faith or the good of the whole community.” —Sacrosanctum Concilium

  18. As an Eastern Catholic, I can say that we cross ourselves at every blessing as well as make a profound bow at the same time, it’s just part of the corporate ritual piety. We also sign ourselves and bow (the twain almost invariably are found to appear together) as the Priest brings the unconsecrated Gifts around the nave to be venerated prior to the Anaphora and Epiclesis during which they are changed by the words of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, before icons, whenever the Trinity is mentioned, and so on. We generally perform the gesture of signing and bowing more often than in the West, but nevertheless, I would recommend crossing oneself to anyone when receiving a blessing. It identifies oneself with the Great Physician immediately as He is healing and restoring you through the sacred action of the Priest and is a very ‘receptive’ posture to assume, similar to the practice in the Latin Church of kneeling to receive the most pure Body and precious Blood of Christ our God.

  19. Legisperitus says:

    Well, okay, I guess if you’re holding a baby while it’s being baptized, that might not be the best time to make the Sign of the Cross…

  20. Better yet, do the things you do during the EF in the OF, and answer people’s questions about what you are doing with “Oh me? It’s a force of habit. I go to the Latin Mass …. ” and when they think you shouldn’t do that in the OF, say ” … and why not? Pope Benedict made it clear it never went away, and your OF is based on the EF. Plus shouldn’t we show reverence to our Lord and be “actively participating” in the Mass?” I see this as a little nugget of the New Evangelization at work :)

  21. Titus says:

    The sign of the cross has never been made at the ‘Misereatur nostri Omnipotens Deus’ prayer but only at the ‘Indulgentiam absolutionem et remissionem’ prayer afterward in the EF Mass. The latter prayer is not in the OF Mass so therefore no sign of the cross should be made at the ‘Misereatur’ in the OF as this is not done in the Usus Antiquior.

    This is the correct answer. The absolution is clearly not given in the ordinary form of the Mass. Since the act that the sign of the cross in the confiteor signifies is omitted, the sign itself should be omitted as well. To say that the sign of the cross there should be retained after the reason for its presence is removed is to diminish the meaning and significance of sacral acts and signs. We don’t make the sign of the cross just because making the sign of the cross is fun, or good in the abstract. We make the sign of the cross at particular times for particular reasons. What we need are more reasons to make the sign of the cross, not to adopt the habit of making the sign of the cross without a reason.

    I will say that growing up, this question (“why do some people cross themselves here? should I be doing this?”) was both nagging and unresolved. Like so many things, it only became clear when I discovered the usus antiquior. The genesis of the phenomenon is easy to diagnose: people always made the sign of the cross at roughly that point in the confiteor. They continued doing it when the thing got thrown into English in the late 1960s, and then they just kept on doing it at more-or-less-the-same spot when they rolled the whole Missal over in 1972. People without any personal memory of the original practice picked up the practice via observation.

    But the fact remains that there is not a reason to sign oneself at “Misereatur nostri Omnipotens Deus” in the N.O., any more than there is a reason to do so at any other place the priest makes an invocation during the Mass. (Our Eastern brethren, of course, may view “reason to make the sign of the cross” somewhat more expansively, but that’s a horse of a different color.)

  22. Michelle F says:

    Even though the priest does not say the word “absolve” during the Novus Ordo Mass, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal says that the Act of Penitence said during Mass “concludes with the priest’s absolution, which, however, lacks the efficacy of the Sacrament of Penance” (paragraph 51).

    I found it on the Vatican’s website, here:


    How can people say that “the absolution is clearly not given in the ordinary form of the Mass?” If the Vatican says it is an absolution, although not equivalent to absolution in sacramental Confession, the congregation is absolved from sins, true?

  23. Titus says:

    You can say “the absolution is clearly not given in the ordinary form of the Mass” because what the priest says manifestly is not a formula of absolution as that term is used in the English language. What the priest says is merely a prayer of petition: “May almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and bring us to everlasting life.” Cf. “May almighty God grant us good weather this weekend”; “May almighty God have mercy on us, such that the Cardinals win the pennant.”

    St. Ignatius declared that if the Church were authoritatively to declare that black was white and white was black, that he would obey and believe as much.

    So sure, if the Church wants to call what the priest says there an absolution, and if the GIRM is an authoritative prescription of what is, rather than merely a clumsy description of what the Missal says, we’ll say the priest gives an absolution. But we should admit that we’re saying that because the Church says it, not because reason draws one to that conclusion based on a survey of the facts. If the GIRM said “The rite concludes with the priest’s rendition of ‘Yankee Doodle,'” we would be in rather the same position.

  24. I might also add that in the Dominican Rite form of sacramental confession, the Misereatur is part of the formula and comes before the formal absolution (also different from the Roman Rite). The Sign of the Cross is not made at that Misereatur either, although it is made three times during the absolution. Those interested may find the text here: http://media.musicasacra.com/dominican/Texts/forma_absolutionis-Suarez-1949.pdf

    Michelle, don’t think anyone is saying there is no “absolution” in a loose sense in the N.O. What they are saying is that the prayer “Absolutionem” (where the Cross was made) is not in the N.O. Penitential Rite.

  25. There is no need for detailed prescriptive rules as what gestures of reverence the lay person at Mass should make. There were never any such written rules prescribing the behavior of the laity in the TLM. Whatever was done was done by custom, not by written rule. (Statements by individual authors or editors of hand missals or liturgical manuals were merely indications of prevalent current custom.) The imposition and policing of liturgical directives as to lay liturgical behavior is strictly a Novus Ordo innovation.

    No person with a well-formed liturgical sensibility needs to be told how to behavior reverently at Mass. He knows instinctively. For instance, such a person naturally kneels at such times as the Et incarnatus est and the final blessing, and does not hold hands or make the touchdown sign during the Our Father, nor to grip ‘n grin at the sign of peace. All that’s needed is for liturgical busybodies to keep to themselves their opinions as to how others should behave in order not to show the reverence that liturgeists do not themselves feel, and therefore do not want anyone else to feel.

  26. greasemonkey says:

    “So what?” Sounds like Novus Ordo logic to me. The sign of the cross went with the idulgentium prayer, not the miseriatur.
    One has to follow some of this trough…. Why not extend our hands, hold hands, and do this or that?
    If it is not prescribed it may not be permitted.

  27. JKnott says:

    Glad Father Z brought this up. I make the sign at that time as well (and bow for blessings). Wondered if it was ok.
    I actually just finished reading St. Francis de Sales on “The Sign of the Cross”. He quotes the teaching of the Fathers at length on this topic.
    @ Titus says: ” What we need are more reasons to make the sign of the cross, not to adopt the habit of making the sign of the cross without a reason.”
    I think a few of the quotes may answer to your point Titus.

    Tertullian: “At every change of place and movement, every going out and coming in, when dressing, when putting on shoes, at the bath, at the table, when carrying a lamp, upon entering a room, and in every action that life requires….”

    St. Ephraim said: “Weather you sleep or wake, travel or work, eat or drink…..cover yourself with this breastplate, clothe and encircle your limbs with the saving sign and evils will not meet you.”

    St Cyril: “Make this sign eating, drinking, sitting, standing, going outside,, walking, in sum: in all of your affairs.”

  28. Michelle F says:

    Fr. Augustine:

    Thank you for the clarification. I was a bit alarmed because it looked to me like some people were saying that because the word “absolve” isn’t used in the new Mass, absolution isn’t granted during the Mass. I thought I understood what the Church says about the different parts of the Mass and what happens in each part, but then I started to think absolution was one of the things that was thrown out with the post-Vatican II revisions because, after all, the priest doesn’t use the word anymore. (So confusing!)

  29. Lin says:

    I always make the Sign of the Cross during the prayer “May Almighty GOD have mercy on us”. And my husband as a convert follows my lead. About half the parish does it. Most do it out of piety. And it appears to annoy our progressive pastor.

  30. jeff says:

    CatholicMD : they’re done in the Trad mass, the Ordinariate mass so keep doing ’em for the NO if you want!

    I believe that GIRM says somewhere that gestures should follow the traditional form of the Roman Rite, kind of implying that lacunae should be filled from the TLM

  31. rbbadger says:

    I’m not exactly sure why the liturgical reformers couldn’t stand any repetition. After all, in the Byzantine Rite, the sign of the cross is made many, many times. Nobody is exactly calling for that rite to be eviscerated.

    As for Christian Unity, I don’t think many Catholics really appreciate just how scandalous the current state of Roman liturgy is to Orthodox Christians. The idea that scholars could come in and redo everything is utterly abhorrent to them.

  32. Fr AJ says:

    The Absolutionem was for centuries the same words used to absolve in Confession. So it was a general absolution but I believe the laity understood it was for less serious sins only. I understand it developed in the monastery, monks would confess some time before Mass and receive their Absolution right here at the beginning of Mass. What’s very interesting is everyone was absolved except the celebrant! Also, as it developed (pre 1962) the first Confiteor was for the priest and servers, the second before Holy Communion was for the laity.

  33. THREEHEARTS says:

    Let us recall what we used to do at mass before vatican 2
    We never blessed ourselves at the miseratur but at the following praayer Indulgentionem. This is where we were taught all venial sins were forgiven. The only time where the mass forgave sins. What else is missing in the mass today. We blessed ourselves at every mention of the Trinity 33 times I think. At every have mercy on us we beat our breasts. Even during the first part of the Litanies. We beat our breast also at the Nobis Quoque peccatoribus, at the thrice said domine non sum dignus. We also made the sign of the cross in the rite of the catechumens. We blessed ourselves at every glory be. We blessed ourselves at may his soul and the the souls of the faithul departed through the mercy of God rest in peace amen. The virtues of religion and piety were commonplace in those days and IT IS NOT SO TODAY

  34. MarkG says:

    I rarely go to the new Masses, usually only when photographing weddings. There is a lot of variation in the new Masses, so I’m not sure it would matter who does what when.

    A lot of priest have added in parts they have made up, and when permanent Deacons do a wedding by themselves, you never know what’s coming next, as they seem to just write their own service.

    The weirdest thing I ever saw was a permanent Deacon who performed a wedding by himself and let the couple do a Hawaiian sand ceremony where they mixed sand in glasses on the altar instead of wedding vows and had a prayer that was written for a Hawaiian god but altered to make it fit Jesus. I just thought it was out of place for a Catholic Church.

    I don’t really know all the ins and outs of the civil laws on marriage, but I would think not having spoken vows would invalidate the civil marriage, even if the Sacramental Marriage is still valid from the sand ceremony.

  35. THREEHEARTS says:

    I forgot to say the Church taught pre vat 2 that the mass does not forgive sins but venial sins were it is only venial sins that were forgiven by the Indulgentionam. When we got the novus ordust we were given the penitential rite, substituted for the mass of the catechumens whereby we confess our sins and yet never ask for forgiveness and neglect those good works of atonement and reparation. A dreadful error I think. Then it became a sort of dismissive reply to say the Body of Christ forgives sins. 2000 years of teaching destroyed over night in a wretched inferior sacrifice [?!?] given to us by a priest who was sent by JP2 to a place where he could neither speak the common language or understand the locals.
    Is it any wonder that the confessionals are no longer in use after all we can just go to mass and just by being there and presenting ourselves at the altar we receive salvation without the good works of atonement and reparation. How disgusting is this?
    Then I see the talk of general absolution raises its head. I think father you should tell us about general absolution and what I think is JP2″s admonition of its malevolent application.

    [What I will say is that calling Mass according to the Novus Ordo, validly celebrated, a “wretched inferior sacrifice” is something I hope never to see here again. There is one SACRIFICE, that of Christ, regardless of the rite of Mass used or the flaws of the priest.]

  36. Fr AJ says:

    Threehearts, calling NO a “wretched inferior sacrifice” is absurd. The silly externals brought in to the Mass by some doesn’t make the Mass somehow wretched or inferior. As to your post, the Penitential Rite does not replace the Mass of the Catechumens. The Mass of the Catechumens today is made up of the Introductory Rites which include the Penitential Act and the Liturgy of the Word.

  37. teaguytom says:

    In regards to bowing during the Final Blessing, it is just like the bowing during the creed. In the TLM, both moments are marked by the kneeling rather than bowing. However, I never quite understood why the order of the Ite Missa Est and blessing is flipped in the NO. In the TLM, the priest says/chants Ite Missa Est, then we all kneel. In the NO, the priest will give the blessing (with almost everyone standing, maybe a couple bowing ) then say The Mass has ended.

  38. Andrew says:

    Crebro signaculo crucis munias frontem tuam, ne exterminator Aegypti in te locum reperiat. (S. Hieronymus)

  39. I am cloudowl says:

    I like to bow at the Priest as he processes (because he is in persona) and bow at the name of Jesus.

    It’s very reasurring indeed to hear that I haven’t just made this up, because I am often the only person that does this.

    I would also like to try kneeling at the et Homo factus est and when I’m about the receive, but kneeling is a bit more overt than bowing, and I wonder – is there are risk that such behaviour might be ostentatious and/or put others off their devotions?

  40. John Nolan says:

    At an NO Mass I bow at the Incarnatus since the rubric enjoins it (except at Christmas and the Annunciation). I do, however, bow slightly at ‘simul adoratur’ and cross myself at ‘et vitam venturi’ since there is nothing in the rubrics to say one shouldn’t. The NO rubrics don’t say one should beat the breast three times at the ‘mea culpa’ although most people do, although hardly anyone bows at the Confiteor.

    Some old (wrong) habits still persist, such as beating the breast thrice at ‘O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary’!

  41. Siculum says:

    Just thought I’d point out, also, to reiterate what Father Z says in his Sept. 19, 2011, post, that in the Ordinary Form we only genuflect in the Creed during the Annunciation, Easter Triduum and Christmas (Right?). Raised in the Ordinary Form, as a youngster I always wondered why at those times these words of the Creed are suddenly so important that we kneel for them, like we just noticed they were there, but the rest of the year, it’s just “Yeah, yeah, born of the Virgin Mary, and became man, so what, whatever, mumble mumble. I hope the Prayers of the Faithful aren’t too long. I’m hungry.”

    Going to the Extraordinary Form, the genuflection at “Et incarnatus est” might be the Church’s way of saying, “Hey! Listen up! Important info for ya!”

    Inexpert though I am, I categorize this…er, discontinuity along with the current Ordinary Form’s location of the Sign of Peace.

  42. robtbrown says:


    Let us recall what we used to do at mass before vatican 2
    We never blessed ourselves at the miseratur but at the following praayer Indulgentionem. This is where we were taught all venial sins were forgiven. The only time where the mass forgave sins.

    I can’t buy that “all” venial sins were forgiven, but rather that the Eucharist has the power to forgive venial sins. The Indulgentiam prayer was not intended to be a minor league version of Sacramental Absolutiona: Ex opere operato applies to the latter, not to the former.

    Eucharist has the power to forgive venial sins. In so far as the heart of the Sacrament is the Sacrifice and Communion, forgiveness of venial sin should primarily be attributed to them.

  43. jbas says:

    The GIRM does require a bow of the head when the Divine Persons are named together, such as at the blessing at the end of Mass.
    As for other gestures and postures, no. 42 of the GIRM says, “attention should be paid to what is determined by this General Instruction and the traditional practice of the Roman Rite”.

  44. Fr AJ says:

    teaguytom, the Ite Missa Est was the original end of Mass. Later the blessing got tacked on (and then later the Last Gospel). The cut and paste liturgical reformers wanted to make it more logical so they took the blessing from the end and put it right before saying the Mass was over. To them saying “Mass is ended you can go home but hold on and wait a minute for the blessing” was out of order.

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