On 4 Points of the Mass

Date: January 21, 2023
Author: Fr. Edward McNamara, LC

Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and sacramental theology and director of the Sacerdos Institute at the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum university.


Question: 1) Is it proper for the priest-celebrant to begin the Introductory Rites on the altar, and not at the chair? (cf. General Instruction of the Roman Missal, Nos. 50, 124, 174, 211, 310). 2) Regarding GIRM No. 90, concerning “Brief Announcements,” how important and concise should they be? Do you think things like giving certificates, singing carols, etc., should be done at this juncture? 3) In GIRM No. 365, on the choice of the four Eucharistic Prayers, are these mere suggestions or an enforced rubric? 4) In a Commentary on the Reformed Ordo Missae by Archbishop Annibale Bugnini, he says one may follow the traditional incensation of the offerings but must omit the traces of crosses and circles as "they smack of magic." A similar question was also posed to Rome (cf. Notitiae 14 (1978): 301–302, n. 2); the answer said that "the many and complex gestures of incensation according to the prescripts of the earlier Missal ... are not to be repeated," and the incensation must be followed according to the GIRM. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, during his pontificate, spoke much about enriching both the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms of the Mass. The question is, in this case, is Rome correct, or should the late Pope Emeritus' recommendations be followed? Why or why not? -- J.A., San Pablo, Philippines


Q: I am presuming that all these questions refer to Mass with the presence of the faithful. In some cases, the answer would be different if Mass is celebrated with only one minister.


With respect to the first question, it would not be proper for the priest to preside over the entire celebration from the altar and not begin from the chair. Apart from the numbers of the GIRM cited by our reader, there is GIRM 306:


“306. For only what is required for the celebration of the Mass may be placed on the altar table: namely, from the beginning of the celebration until the proclamation of the Gospel, the Book of the Gospels; then from the Presentation of the Gifts until the purification of the vessels, the chalice with the paten, a ciborium, if necessary, and, finally, the corporal, the purificator, the pall, and the Missal. In addition, arranged discreetly, there should be whatever may be needed to amplify the Priest’s voice.”


All these numbers make clear that the altar should not be used until the presentation of gifts.


To facilitate this, where no ministers are available, a lectern for the missal and a microphone may be placed near the presider’s chair.


At the same time, what is most seemly may not always be possible, and there may be situations where the structure of the chapel or a particular celebrative situation may leave little option but to celebrate the entire Mass from the altar. A priest who presides from the altar in such situations would not be committing abuse. A similar point could be made regarding placing the sacred vessels on the altar table from the beginning of Mass.


For example, a priest who celebrates in an assisted-living institution may have to celebrate in a space not set aside as a chapel and hence may lack the proper liturgical places.


Concerning question No. 2 on brief announcements: The missal describes normal situations for a regular Sunday Mass. There may be occasional exceptions when some extension is acceptable to all the faithful present -- for example, a special appeal or testimony.


At the same time, however, certain ceremonies should not be joined to Mass. Thus, the instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum states:


“[75.] On account of the theological significance inherent in a particular rite and the Eucharistic Celebration, the liturgical books sometimes prescribe or permit the celebration of Holy Mass to be joined with another rite, especially one of those pertaining to the Sacraments. The Church does not permit such a conjoining in other cases, however, especially when it is a question of trivial matters.”


Therefore, Mass should be concluded before ceremonies such as giving certificates or carol singing begin. Of course, in the time for announcements, it may be said that immediately after Mass, there will be this or that event, and the faithful are invited to remain.


As to GIRM 365, which outlines the guidelines for the use of the four principal Eucharistic Prayers, we can say that they are practical indications except for what is said regarding EP IV. Therefore, prayers I-III may be used on any day of the year although Eucharistic Prayer II is especially recommended for weekdays and, in general, should be avoided on Sundays as its brevity creates a certain imbalance in the two parts of the celebration due to the longer Liturgy of the Word.


As indicated, Eucharistic Prayer IV has an inseparable preface and hence may not be used when an explicit preface of the day is required by the liturgical norms. Note that the preface of the day is not the same as a seasonal preface or a recommended preface. 


Hence Preface IV is only absolutely excluded on major celebrations which have a proper preface of the day. Thus, it may not be used on solemnities such as Christmas, Easter, Sacred Heart, Saints Peter and Paul, or the commemoration of the Faithful Departed. Nor may it be used on days such as the first Sundays of Lent when the preface is based on the Gospel of the day and the fifth week of Lent which has the preface of the Passion of the Lord. It may be used on any weekday or Sunday of Ordinary Time, for memorials and votive Masses, even if those Masses have recommended prefaces.


Concerning the final question, I would disagree with the late Archbishop Bugnini’s opinion that the precise detailed rubrics for incensation in the former Roman Missal smacked of magic. They had and have their own liturgical symbolism within the context of that rite. The current rite, described with most detail in the Ceremonial of Bishops 84-98 and GIRM 277, has greatly simplified the rules for incensing the gifts. To wit:


“The Priest incenses the offerings with three swings of the thurible or by making the Sign of the Cross over the offerings with the thurible before going on to incense the cross and the altar.”


It should be noted that the alternative possibility of making a sign of the cross with the thurible over the gifts was introduced in the 2002 GIRM and was, therefore, not present at the time of Bugnini or the Notitiae response.


While Pope Benedict certainly expressed hope that what he termed the two forms of the Roman rites could mutually enrich each other, he also approved documents that clearly stated that there should be no undue mixing of the two forms. 


Hence any eventual restoration of elements from the former rite would have resulted from studies and decrees of the Holy See after due consultation. It would not result from the initiative of individual priests to arbitrarily reintroduce elements from the 1962 missal into the current liturgical book. Nor, for that matter, to incorporate elements from the new missal into the former.


Therefore, I do not find any opposition in the words and aspirations of the late and great Pope Benedict XVI with the indications of the Dicastery for Divine Worship to respect the liturgical law as currently in force.


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Readers may send questions to Please put the word "Liturgy" in the subject field. The text should include your initials, city, state, province, or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the great number of questions that arrive.

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