I am a member of a consultative body for our parish. During a lively (for lack of a less-positive term) discussion at a recent meeting we were told by our pastor that the GIRM is, in essence, a set of recommendations for the pastor to consider when overseeing the Mass and liturgical celebrations in our parish. Further, the Pastor has wide latitude (my words) in interpretation.
My question is, in a nutshell, how should we read the General Instructions of the Roman Missal and how should its tenets be applied?
Ahhhh, the old “cookbook theory”. The nemesis of the faithful far and wide.
Back in the dark liturgical ages that were the 1980’s, in many places there was a line trumpeted by our mainline liturgist overlords. That is… The Sacramentary is not so much a set of ‘rigid’ rules to be strictly followed. It’s more like a cookbook. Good cooks know, almost instinctively, when to follow the recipe and when to make adaptations. The soup calls for a tablespoon of garlic, but the garlic on hand is older and less potent. Besides the family likes garlic, so the cook tosses in two tablespoons. The pound cake recipe is good, but adding a tablespoon of almond extract will make it taste that much better.
So too liturgy, according to this theory.
The good “presider” knows when to adapt certain words, phrases, and gestures to make the liturgy more meaningful for the congregation. That is… Hey! It’s Lent. We want to emphasize penance, so let’s lengthen the penitential rite, maybe parade about blowing a Jewish shofar to highlight the concept of atonement. Now it’s Easter! :et’s emphasize the resurrection by doing away with the penitential rite altogether. This congregation doesn’t have any connection to the saints listed in the Roman Canon, so lets substitute that with a list of famous social activists and notable founding parishioners. The local sports team is in a national contest! Let’s drape the altar with blue and green bunting to show our support.
It quickly gets absurd.
The Ordinary Form of Holy Mass offers the priest celebrant some latitude, some options at certain points (not all the time and in everything). For example, the priest can choose from several forms for the penitential rite and he can legitimately include or exclude the Sign of Peace. Rubrics of the previous editions of the Missal were studded with the dread phrase, “in these or similar words, the priest…”. The cookbook attitude was exacerbated by these ill-advised optative rubrics. Most of these rubrics are gone from the current edition. The priest is simply given the words he is to say.
Creating options where there are not options in the rubrics is … what’s the word…. wrong.
The General Institution of the Roman Missal is law. It has full legal force. It is as much binding law as the Code of Canon Law is. They are both on the same legal plane. Canon 2 of the Code of Canon Law states that, for the most part, liturgical law is outside the Code. It’s in the rubrics and the General Instruction.
Rubrics are laws, not suggestions. Purposely violating the law is a serious matter.