Catholic Bishop Roger J Foys of Covington, Kentucky, issued a Decree on November 27 which directed his priests and people on how to best celebrate the Ordinary Form of the Mass according to the real wishes of the Second Vatican Council. In an accompanying pastoral letter, Bishop Foys asked his flock to take to "heart the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, in the decree Sacrosanctum Concilium (The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy), that no one on their own authority, for any reason, may add to, remove or change anything in the Sacred Liturgy." After stating his gratitude for the fact that he has "not observed any serious liturgical abuses" in his Diocese, the Bishop however goes on to mention that "there are some areas that should be addressed and corrected."
It seems that the decree's primary concern is for the liturgical well-being of all Catholics in the Diocese of Covington. Bishop Foys appears to have taken the publication of the new English translation of the third edition of the Roman Missal, which was used throughout the US for the first time last Sunday, as an opportunity to reflect upon the real goals of Sacrosanctum Concilium. He also seems to desire that no-one in his Diocese abuses the liturgy by creating it in their own image - at the expense of the larger Church. In that sense, the Bishop's first direction emphasised that:-
The text of the Roman Missal be used exactly as it is written. As stated in the citation from the Second Vatican Council none of us has the authority to change the text for any reason.
a. This includes altering or changing any of the language contained in the liturgical books of the Church, not only the Roman Missal, but the Lectionary and other ritual books - the responses and prayers of the priest, and also those of the people.
b. Please note that only those texts approved for use in the Dioceses of the United States may be used.
c. Priests and deacons are restricted in their use of the Penitential Act – Form C, to those invocations found in the Order of Mass of the Roman Missal and those in Appendix VI (emphases mine)
It would appear that in some parts of the world it has become all too common for priests and / or "lay clerics" to change the texts of the Mass, or any other Divinely ordained liturgy, as it suits them. One assumes that the reasons they do this are varied: ranging from a genuine (though misguided) desire to be "inclusive" to a more sinister attempt to hijack the Church's liturgy for theologically dubious or egotistical reasons. In seeking some justification for vandalising the Mass, many have often mentioned the Second Vatican Council (or its "spirit") - assuming (wrongly, of course) that Vatican II encouraged mucking about with liturgical texts. As Bishop Roger Foys has now pointed out, though, the Sacred Council's official document on worship and the liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium) specifically bars anyone from making arbitrary changes to the form of the Church's Sacred Liturgy.
In his recent decree, Bishop Foys also directs his flock to ensure that "music used in the Sacred Liturgy be theologically sound and properly composed in accord with the teaching of the Church on Sacred Music." He explained that theologically sound hymns should be used and that "[m]usic for the Ordinary Parts of the Mass (also known as Service Music – e.g. Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, Agnus Dei) must have the approval from the Diocesan Office of Worship and Liturgy." I am sure that the people of Covington already use proper Mass settings, but Foys' decree should now also inspire other bishops to follow suit - ensuring that sacred music wherever the Roman Rite is celebrated leads to fruitful prayer as opposed to mindless entertainment or tediously boring and repetitive singing (so-called folk Masses and the like).
Already, many bloggers and commentators (The Hermeneutic of Continuity and Pray Tell to name but two) have congratulated Bishop Foys for decreeing that from now on all "gestures for the priests, deacons, religious and lay faithful [are to] be strictly carried out in accord with the rubrics of the Roman Missal." The Bishop of Covington also used his decree to remind his people of the need to adhere to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, which, amongst other things, states that "[a] common bodily posture, to be observed by all those taking part [in the Mass], is a sign of the unity of the members of the Christian community gathered together for the Sacred Liturgy, for it expresses the intentions and the spiritual attitude of the participants."
Here in London, it is often the case that at least one or two members of any given congregation take it upon themselves to stand throughout the Eucharistic Prayer or after the Agnus Dei. Many are young and healthy, with no excuses to stand at these sacred moments when the rest of the congregation is corporally kneeling. Such egotism can be quite distracting (hence Evelyn Waugh's famous remark that Mass had become an occasion of sin for him!), and just goes to show how little respect some Catholics have for the Real Presence as well as their fellow believers. Thankfully, then, Bishop Foys' decree points out that in his diocese: -
Special note should be made concerning the proper posture during the Eucharistic Prayer. In the United States the lay faithful are instructed to kneel from the end of the Sanctus through the end of the Great Amen (see GIRM 43). Deacons kneel from the epiclesis through the showing of the chalice. Priests remain standing. In addition, "the faithful kneel after the Agnus Dei unless the diocesan Bishop determines otherwise" (GIRM 43). (emphases mine - these rules, as far as I know, generally apply to all Catholics of the Latin Rite) It seems that the Bishop of Covington's instructions on how to pray the Lord's Prayer during Mass has already caused quite a stir - with some dissenters warning of their intention to rebel! In his decree, Bishop Foys had this to say regarding the Pater Noster: -
Special note should also be made concerning the gesture for the Our Father. Only the priest is given the instruction to “extend” his hands. Neither the deacon nor the lay faithful are instructed to do this. No gesture is prescribed for the lay faithful in the Roman Missal; nor the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, therefore the extending or holding of hands by the faithful should not be performed. (emphasis mine)
In other words, the Bishop has definitively banned - within the Diocese of Covington - the liturgical abuse of holding hands during the Our Father - a relatively common practice in the US and parts of the UK. Whilst many think that holding hands during the Lord's Prayer is somehow a sign of community spirit or parochial bonding, the truth of the matter is that many, many people feel uncomfortable in being pressured into performing "party game" liturgical gestures. This is why the Church does not sanction them - for everyone should be made to feel welcome at Mass, including those who take their faith seriously, who do not like acting in an immature way, or who suffer from autism or social-phobia, etc.
Ironically, whenever I have found myself at a Mass where the congregation is told to hold hands during the Pater Noster, the intention behind this innovation seems to be a desire to be "inclusive" or to make everyone "feel welcome". The truth is, though, that the Mass is not about corporate group bonding games or hippyish "feel good" gestures. Also, it is a reality - and one that seems lost on "liturgical innovators" - that many people feel very uncomfortable (and therefore unwelcome) when having to engage in 1970's cult-like rituals or anti-liturgical mass hand-holding sessions. People with autism or Aspergers' syndrome as well as many others (anxiety sufferers, etc) who live in a liturgically abusive - "all are welcome" - parish must find attending Mass a complete nightmare!
Bishop Roger Foys also directed his flock to observe a Sacred Silence in "churches prior to the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy to allow the clergy and the faithful to properly prepare and dispose themselves for the Sacred Mysteries to which they are about to participate." He also suggested that this holy silence should continue after Mass, "for those who might want to remain in the church to pray." I would add that silence should be generally observed at all times during the Sacrifice of the Mass, for it seems that in some places people are allowed to chat and mingle throughout the Liturgy. Hard as it is to believe, it now appears that even some people who attend the Brompton Oratory are beginning to give themselves over to mindless and distracting chatter during the Sacred Mysteries! (I am not talking about children here, of course, as I am sure that no-one would have a problem with babies and toddlers being a bit disruptive - as is in their nature to be!).
The priests and people of Covington are blessed to have such a wise and concerned bishop, who is willing to implement the actual documents of Vatican II in his diocese. For all too long now, many western Catholics have been fed a lie when it comes to the Second Vatican Council - especially when it comes to the Council's teachings on the liturgy. The reality of the matter is that the so-called "spirit" of Vatican II (which has led to many liturgical abuses) has practically nothing in common with the texts produced by the Council Fathers. It is also a sad fact that many who think they are making the Mass more "accessible" and "friendly" have, in reality, made it less attractive and welcoming. A Modernist version of the Novus Ordo Mass can often be a scary place, especially for fragile or introverted souls. And no-one -especially the vulnerable - should ever be made to feel unwelcome or distracted at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which is why Bishop Foy's Decree is very welcome indeed!