About John Lilburne



GIRM 1969-2002: A Commentary

Dennis Smolarski, S.J. has written an excellent book: "The General Instruction of the Roman Missal 1969-2002: A Commentary."

Particularly impressive is the way he looks at the history of the Roman Missal. He describes the changes that have been made, particularly between 2000 and 2002.

He is prepared to look at flaws in the Roman Missal, but putting them in perspective. On page 3 he wrote:

“Because documents, even ecclesiastical documents, are created by fallible and sinful human beings, they will always be less than ideal and will usually have come about as a result of a compromise between vision and inertia.”

I think he challenges the Vatican to improve its clarifications on liturgical questions. For example on page 33:

“The 2002 GIRM states that it is desirable to celebrate Mass facing the people whenever possible (no. 299).

Footnote 4: The seemingly absolute statement of the 2002 GIRM was clarified by an interpretation issued by the Congregation of Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments on 25 September 2000. This clarification states that, although facing the people is desirable, the phrase “whenever possible (ubicumque possible sit)”  means that celebrating Mass facing the apse is “not excluded.””

Those implementing the changes for the Catholic Mass will find his summary in the appendix of Major Rubrical Changes very helpful.

But I think there are shortcomings with regard to his philosophy of implementation.

He noted that a change has been made that “the section on posture now says that the assembly stands before they give their response to the Pray, brethren.” (page 36)

But in a footnote to this he wrote:

“But it is usually difficult  for any large group to begin reciting a common text after changing posture without someone to lead them. Thus, in practice, in some places it may happen that the priest may gesture to the assembly to stand before he begins the invitation to prayer (so they can begin their response immediately without a change in posture) or the assembly may continue the current practice of changing posture only after they have finished their response.”

It seems to me that here he is giving his blessing to ignoring the change. In practice, in some places, many things happen that should not. Doing the correct thing can be difficult. Adam ate the forbidden fruit. People lie, murder and steal. But this should be opposed, not encouraged.

The last chapter, Final Reflections, begins:

“One reaction to the third edition of the Roman Missal and the revised 2002 GIRM is to change established practices quickly based on a private interpretation of liturgical norms or on personal piety and without the guidance from those more knowledgeable or those in authority. Such an approach is fraught with danger.” (p. 65)

But I think there is a greater danger that the established practices will not be changed. Ideally those with knowledge and authority should have provided guidance for the changes. But where they did not there is an individual requirement to make private interpretations.

Another shortcoming acknowledged at the front of the book is that when it was released to the printer in March 2003 there was not yet an officially approved English translation of the 2002 GIRM. Now that there is one those using this commentary would do well to refer to it, since the quotations used are sometimes different. 

Generally I think instituted ministers are neglected, if not opposed. That the instituted lector's role should be respected is not emphasised, despite the added emphasis of the 2002 GIRM:

101. In the absence of an instituted lector, other laypersons may be commissioned to proclaim the readings from Sacred Scripture.

The 2002 GIRM emphasised the instituted acolyte's role in purifying the vessels (eg. n. 191- 192). It did not refer to other extraordinary communion ministers doing this. The U.S. bishop asked for a dispensation which was granted on 22 March 2002:

"... for grave pastoral reasons, the faculty may be given by the diocesan Bishop to the priest celebrant to use the assistance, when necessary, even of extraordinary ministers in the cleansing of sacred vessels after the distribution of Communion has been completed in the celebration of Mass. This faculty is conceded for a period of three years as a dispensation from the norm of the Institutio Generalis, edito typica tertia of the Roman Missal. ..."

But Dennis Smolarski does not mention that it expires on 22 March 2005 or that it requires the approval of the diocesan bishop.  He argues that the indult was unnecessary on pages 51 and 66.

Despite these shortcomings I think it is an excellent book, providing an affordable 76 page summary of complex material. I see the primary audience is Catholics with particular roles in the Mass, particularly the clergy and seminarians. But it also could be used in a broader way. It is by a professor of mathematics and computer science. It is about communication in a range of languages and there is plenty of history in the text. It could also be viewed from a philosophical, ethical and sociological perspective.

By J.R. Lilburne, 10 September 2003. I give what I have written on this page to the public domain. 

Other sites:

The book at amazon.com

Website of Dennis Smolarski, S.J.