These are times when many of the clergy have (properly) insisted on returning to a strict following of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM).These instructions are found in two essential places: the instructions at the beginning of the Sacramentary and the red instructions interspersed within the prayers of the Mass. These last instructions are called the rubrics. Fr. Zuhlsdorf is famous for the simple instruction, “Say the black and do the red.” That is to say, the prayers, written in black ought to be said, just as written, and the red instructions are to be followed exactly. To this I say a hearty “Amen.”
However, I would like to point to a step beyond in the celebration of the Mass wherein we celebrants might also re-learn some old habits that lent grace to the Mass, particularly in terms of the movements of the celebrant. While such suggestions are not strictly required, they can lend a real grace to the actions of the celebrant and to the Mass in general.
Helpful norms – I have learned these things largely by saying the Traditional Latin Mass which described the motions of the celebrant in great detail. However, I have also tired to observe what I can in the Ordinary Form of the Mass as well. If matters such as these are observed, though not in a robotic fashion, there can be a greater grace of movement and a deliberateness that lends to the solemnity of the Mass. Here are a few suggestions from the “old days” that can help:
1. When making the sign of the cross upon himself at the beginning of mass the Celebrant uses his right hand. But his left hand should not be left suspended in the air or dangling. He ought to place it on on his chest, just at the bottom of the breast bone as he makes the sign of the cross with his right hand. When finished his hands should be rejoined in the center.
2. The same is true when blessing the people at the end. The celebrant places his left hand at the bottom of his chest and he blesses the people with his right hand: fingers joined and straight. His right and left motions should reach far enough, to his left and right shoulders. Again, when finished, his hands should join in the center.
3. The hands – In general when the celebrant is standing and his hands are not in use they are joined, fingers straight and thumbs crossed at his breast. When the celebrant is seated, his hands should rest, separated, palms down, one on each thigh, near the knee.
4. When the celebrant moves somewhere in the sanctuary, he ought to turn in that direction, hands joined at the chest, prior to moving in that direction. In general simply stepping laterally to the left or right should be avoided.
5. The bowing of the head – It is appropriate at Mass to bow the head at certain times, such as after the priest says, “Let us pray,” or at the name of Jesus. The simple bow of the head is accomplished entirely by the neck. The shoulders do not lunge and the torso does not move at all. The neck is like a hinge and the bow of the head is accomplished entirely at the neck and above.
6. Turning pages – When the priest is at the altar and turns the page of the missal, he does so (usually) with his left hand, while his right hand rests on the altar, not suspended in the air or dangling.
7. Epiclesis – Likewise when the priest makes the sign of the cross over the bread and wine just prior to the consecration he does so with his right hand, while his left hand rests on the altar, just outside the corporal. The left hand is not dangling in the air etc.
Well this is enough, since most of you are not priests. However, it is always good for the laity to encourage those of us who are priests when you observe reverence. We are human and can become forgetful of things in the Mass. Sometimes too we are not aware of how we come across. So, encourage us when you observe devotion and piety. Some years ago it was called to my attention that I tended to fiddle with my glasses a good bit when at the altar and that sometimes my fingers moved a lot when I was praying the Eucharistic prayer. I was unaware of these things and was (kindly) informed by the deacon.
In the end I have found some of the old “rules” helpful. They need to be done with manner that is not robotic or contrived, otherwise they may come across as affectations.
Perhaps you would like to add to the list or raise some concerns of things you have noticed at Mass. Please remember, be kind and constructive in the observations you make. Also, this need not become a post wherein we battle about forms of the Liturgy either. I am trying to emphasize matters that pertain to both forms of the liturgy.
The following video shows a priest making use of some of what we have discussed here. Notice that he places his left hand on his chest while he confers the blessing with his right hand. Though it is not required in the newer liturgy to do the circular action of “gathering” the blessing, it is not forbidden either and, if done well can add solemnity. Note too how he turns fully before he moves to his right. This is more elegant than simply pealing off to his right.