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Expert Answer Forum

by Catherine Frakas 04 Jul 2001

Sung Parts of the Mass QUESTION from Kevin McCarthy October 24, 2000 Hello Father,
Fixed parts of the Mass are usually sung by choirs in these parts (Ontario Canada). Is it permissable to substitute similar songs for these parts as is often done? For example: The Gospel Acclamation is replaced by Seek Ye First, the Memorial Acclamation is replaced by He Is Lord, the Lamb of God is replaced by Behold The Lamb Of God, etc. In your answer, Father, could you please provide me with a reference.
Thanks . . . Kevin McCarthy
ANSWER by Mr. John Miskell on October 24, 2000 Dear Kevin,
I'm not a priest, so Hello John or even Hey You will do just fine.
Thanks for this interesting question. I apologize for the length of my answer but I wish for you to be fully equipped.
As I said in my prior answer about adaptations, minor changes may be made to prayers when they are put to music. Sometimes adaptations are required in order to make it sing correctly, or a refrain, for example, might be repeated several times to make it fit the music. But for the most part it seems that what you are describing is a complete change in the prayers of the Mass and this is strictly forbidden by liturgical law.
The Memorial Acclamation for example is part of the Eucharistic Prayer. There are four proclamations listed in the Sacramentary which are approved for use. The Church frowns on changes to the Eucharistic prayers;
To modify the Eucharistic Prayers approved by the Church or to adopt others privately composed is a most serious abuse. [Inaestimabile Donum (1980) #5] Unauthorized changes to other parts of the Mass are also forbidden. The will of the Church is clear; Regulation of the sacred liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church, that is, on the Apostolic See and, as laws may determine, on the bishop. Therefore no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority. [Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, #22] The faithful have a right to a true liturgy, which means the liturgy desired and laid down by the Church. Undue experimentation, changes and creativity bewilder the faithful. The Second Vatican Council's admonition in this regard must be remembered: 'No person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority'. None of these things (liturgical innovations) can bring good results. The consequences are—and cannot fail to be—the impairing of the unity of faith and worship in the Church, doctrinal uncertainty, scandal, and bewilderment among the People of God, and the near inevitability of violent reactions. [Pope John Paul II, April 17, 1980]
Since liturgical celebrations are not private acts but celebrations of the Church, the 'sacrament of unity,' their regulation is dependent solely upon the hierarchical authority of the Church. The liturgy belongs to the whole body of the Church. It is for this reason that it is not permitted to anyone, even a priest, or any group to add, subtract or change anything whatsoever on their own initiative. Fidelity to the rites and to the authentic texts of the liturgy is a requirement of the lex orandi (law of praying), which must always be in conformity with the lex credendi (law of believing). A lack of fidelity on this point may even affect the very validity of the sacraments. [Pope John Paul II, December 4, 1988]
Some will make the claim that the adaptations you mentioned can be authorized by either the local bishop or by your national conference of bishops. The Vatican has recently released it's update for the General Instruction for the Roman Missal (GIRM). The GIRM carries the force of law and is binding on the Universal Church, including the bishops. Section 'V' of the revised GIRM specifically addresses the areas where individual bishops and bishops' conferences have for making adaptations to the liturgy. The following comes from the English language summary of the 2000 Revision of the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani; V. Adaptations and Inculturation The ninth chapter of the Institutio Generalis summarizes the Adaptations which are the competence of Bishops and Conferences of Bishops. Adaptations in the liturgy are seen as a response to the Council's call to foster that full, conscious and active participation which is required by the nature of the Liturgy itself and to which the faithful, in virtue of their state, have a right and duty. Thus have certain points of accommodation and adaptation been assigned to the judgment either of the diocesan Bishop or of the Conference of Bishops.
The role of the diocesan bishop is then revisited, for from him in some sense the life in Christ of [the] faithful is derived and is dependent. He must, therefore, foster, govern and watch over the liturgical life in his diocese. In addition to his primary task of nourishing all with the spirit of the sacred Liturgy, the Institutio assigns him four actions in adapting the liturgy to the life of his diocese:
1.the governance of the discipline of concelebration; 2.the establishment of norms for altar servers; 3.the establishment of norms for distribution of Holy Communion under both kinds; 4.the establishment of norms for the construction and ordering of church buildings.
Other tasks of adaptation are within the competence of Conferences of Bishops: prepare and approve a complete edition of the Roman Missal in the vernacular language and to submit it for the recognitio of the Apostolic See; define, with the recognitio of the Apostolic See, those adaptations to the Roman Missal which are indicated in the Institutio, such as:
a.gestures and posture of the faithful; b.gestures of veneration to the altar and the Book of the Gospels; c.texts of various chants; d.readings from Sacred Scripture for special circumstances; e.the form of the gesture of peace; f.the manner of receiving Holy Communion; g.material for the altar and the sacred furnishings, especially the sacred vessels, and also materials, form and color of the liturgical vestments; h.inclusion in the Missal of Directories or Pastoral Instructions; (390) carefully prepare translations of biblical texts for use at Mass, in a language which responds to the capacity of the faithful and which is suitable for public proclamation, while maintaining those characteristics that are proper to the different manners of speaking employed in the biblical books; prepare translations of other liturgical texts in such a way that while respecting the nature of each language, the sense of the original Latin text is fully and faithfully rendered. In carrying this out, it is well to keep in mind the different literary genres which are employed in the Missal, such as the presidential orations, the antiphons, accclamations, responses, litanic supplications, and so on. The proclamatory dimension of such texts is not to be neglected, for such texts are destined to be read aloud or sung in the course of a celebration. The language used should be accommodated to the faithful, but should be nevertheless noble and marked by literary quality. approve appropriate melodies for the Mass and to judge which musical forms, melodies, and musical instruments may be admitted into divine worship, in that they are truly apt for sacred use or can be rendered apt. draw up a proper calendar for the country to be approved by the Apostolic See. In such calendars only celebrations of the greatest importance should take precedence over Sunday, and the liturgical year should not be obscured by secondary elements. Similarly, each diocese should have its own calendar and Proper of Masses. propose variants and points of deeper adaptation in order that the sacred celebration facilitate the participation and spiritual good of a people in light of their mentality and customs in accord with article 40 of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. A series of steps to be followed in such proposals are then outlined in keeping with the Holy See's Instruction, Inculturation and the Roman Liturgy. The Institutio then recalls the indispensable need for the instruction of the clergy and faithful in a wise and orderly fashion in preparation for receiving any such adaptations.
The Institutio then cautions that such adaptations not compromise the accord between each particular Church and the Church universal, not only as to the doctrine of the faith and the sacramental signs, but even as to the usages universally admitted by apostolic and unbroken tradition. Such common usages are maintained not only so that errors may be avoided, but even with the purpose of handing on the faith in its integrity.
The Institutio concludes by describing the notable and valuable part of the liturgical treasure and patrimony of the Catholic Church which is the Roman Rite, admonishing that any diminishing of this treasure would gravely harm the universal Church.
Through the centuries, the Roman Rite has not only conserved the liturgical usages that had their origin in the city of Rome, but has also in a deep, organic and harmonious way incorporated into itself certain others, thus acquiring a certain 'supra-regional character.' Both the identity and unity of the Roman Rite are today expressed in the Latin typical editions and the approved and confirmed vernacular editions derived from them.
Thus the Institutio insists that the liturgy should not be changed in the interest of inculturation unless a real and certain need of the Church demands it and with all proper care that new forms in some way grow organically from already existing forms. Thus understood, inculturation requires a necessary amount of time, lest in a hasty and incautious manner the authentic liturgical tradition suffer contamination. Inculturation is not aimed at creating new rites, and approved innovations may not be at variance with the distinctive character of the Roman Rite. The Institutio closes with a summary description of the Missale Romanum: Thus the Roman Missal, although in a diversity of languages and in a certain variety of customs, must in the future be maintained as a means to the integrity and unity of the Roman Rite, and as its outstanding sign.
Note that no authority to add, omit or change any of the prayers of the Mass is granted to individual bishops. Second, adaptations made by the bishop's conference require the approval of the Vatican (recognitio of the Apostolic See) before being implemented.
This topic is very important to the Holy Father. In November 1998 he said to a group of North American bishops;
...[I]t is so important that the liturgical law be respected. The priest, who is the servant of the liturgy, not its inventor or producer, has a particular responsibility in this regard, lest he empty liturgy of its true meaning or obscure its sacred character. I hope this helps you. In Christ, John Miskell
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