Over the past few months I have attended a High Mass in Westminster, a Pontifical Mass at Holywell, High Mass at the Dome of Home, New Brighton and a week of High Mass at the St Catherine's Trust Summer School at Pantasaph last week.
One thing that is quite evident is the inconsistency adopted by the laity in their postures during the various parts of the Mass.
Indeed, for example today at the Dome of Home, I stood for the Pater Noster (as per Rev. J. B. O'Connell in the The Celebration of Mass: A Study of the Rubrics of the Roman Liturgy). I was the only person in a large congregation who did. Abandoning O'Connell, and perhaps throwing in the towel to be in with the crowd, I remained kneeling for the Post Communion along with everyone else.
In this blog, it my intention not to solve the puzzle but to give a brief synopsis of the subject and perhaps why there is such inconsistency.
Unlike the Novus Ordo where people’s Mass postures and gestures are detailed within the General Instructions of the Roman Missal, prior to the litugical upheaval of 1970 there was only one rubric that has ever stated what the laity were to do at Mass, and that was to kneel at a Low Mass, except during the Gospel, and say nothing, even during Eastertide.
This is given in paragraph 2, chapter xvii of Rubricæ Generalis Missalis in missals published prior to 1962 and states: “Circumstantes autem in Missis privatis semper genua flectunt, etiam Tempore Paschali, præterquam dum legitur Evangelium” (Those present at Low Mass always kneel, even in Eastertide, except while the Gospel is read). As we know this is what happens at Low Mass today, except we stand and genuflect appropriately if the Credo is said.
But paragraph 2, chapter xvii was not a prescriptive direction and of course people did not have to follow it.
Indeed chapter xvii, last appeared in the 1920 Missal and had been deleted by the time the 1962 Missal was been promulgated and it does not appear in the 1961 Rubrics of the Roman Breviary and Missal, 'Ritus servandus' issued on 25 July 1960.
Perhaps as a sign of the times the suggested prohibition of lay participation was already being questioned?
The situation is further confused when the practises of other countries are added in particularly France and the US.
For Sung or High Mass, Fortescue says that the 1961 General Rubrics give no rules for the laity present either. But we are supposed to take an active part in the ceremony and so it is assumed that, as far as possible, the laity should follow the rules laid down for the clergy when they are present in choir.
In 'The Celebration of Mass: A Study of the Rubrics of the Roman Missal', O’Connell very helpfully lists the rules:
- As the sacred ministers come in procession to the altar, the Introit is sung by all or by the choir. All stand until the ministers have saluted the altar; then kneel (unless they are singing the Introit). Those not singing may say silently the prayers of preparation, or other prayers in keeping with this part of the Mass, or listen to and meditate on the Introit.
- Should the Asperges occur, all stand for it, join in the chant, and sign themselves when sprinkled. In this case the Introit is not sung until the Asperges is over and a suitable processional hymn may be sung as the ministers approach the altar or the organ played.
- When the ministers go up to the altar all stand. They may sit during the incensation of the altar.
- Standing, they sing (or alternate with the choir in singing) Kyrie, eleison and – after it has been intoned by the celebrant – Gloria in excelsis (when it occurs). Should the ministers sit for these chants the people may sit also.
- When the ministers rise to return to the altar, all stand. They sing the responses Et cum spiritu tuo and Amen at the end of the Collect(s).
- They sit for the singing (of Lessons by a lector and) of the Epistle by the subdeacon and listen attentively, and for that of the Gradual, Alleluia verse, Tract or Sequence sung by the choir. If they can sing these they stand to do so.
- When the procession to the place of the Gospel begins to move off, all stand for the singing of the Gospel by the deacon, answer Et cum spiritu tuo and Gloria tibi, Domine, and make the small sign of the cross on the forehead, lips, and breast.
- All sit for the homily, when the ministers sit, and stand when they rise at its close.
- If the Creed occurs, after the celebrant has intoned it, all sing it either entirely or in alternation with the choir. When the ministers genuflect at Et incarnatus in the recitation of the Creed all genuflect; when these words are sung all who are standing genuflect, but all who are sitting bow only.8
- All sing Et cum spiritu tuo and sit after the celebrant has sung Oremus. They listen to the Offertory antiphon sung by the choir or to any Latin motet that may be sung, or they sing these. If the ministers sit for the creed, all may sit, rising when the ministers do.
- When the deacon comes to incense the clergy in choir, all stand. They bow to the thurifer when he bows to them before and after incensing them and then sit.
- All rise when the celebrant sings the conclusion of the Secret(s); they sing Amen and the responses to the dialogue that introduces the Preface and listen to the Preface. All sing Sanctus-Benedictus and then kneel and pray in silence during the entire Canon.
- At the Consecration all bow but look up at the Host and chalice when elevated.
- After the Consecration all stand and offer with the celebrant (saying the prayer Unde et memores) the sacrifice. At the end of the Canon all chant Amen and stand (if not already standing) for Pater Noster, singing Sed libera, etc., at its close, and Amen and Et cum spiritu tuo in reply to Pax Domini, etc.
- All sing Agnus Dei in its entirety or in alternation with the choir and then kneel to prepare silently for Communion. They may recite the celebrant's prayers of preparation or other suitable prayers.
- When the bell is rung after Agnus Dei as a signal for the communicants to approach the altar; they do so without delay; and when the celebrant turns to them with the Sacred Host they recite aloud with him the triple Domine, non sum dignus.
- If there is no one for Communion, the Communion antiphon is sung while the celebrant receives the Most Holy Sacrament. If there are communicants, it is sung during the distribution of Holy Communion, and it may be prolonged when there are many for Communion by adding verses of an appropriate psalm and repeating the antiphon after each or every two verses. The people join in singing this. When the Communion antiphon is finished a Latin motet suitable for this part of Mass may be sung by all or by the choir, or the organ may be played – except on a day when this is forbidden.
- After the Communion those who have not received may sit during the ablutions, and while the celebrant recites the Communion antiphon.
- All stand for Dominus vobiscum and sing the response and Amen at the end of the Postcommunion (s).
- All sing Et cum spiritu tuo once more, and Deo gratias when the deacon has sung lte, missa est (or Benedicamus Domino), then kneel for the blessing and answer Amen.
- All stand for the last Gospel, during which a recessional hymn may be sung, or the organ played – except on a day when this is forbidden.
It seems that the prevailing practise in England and Wales, can be summarised as:
- As the priest enters, the congregation should kneel.
- From beginning to Gospel kneel
- At the Gospel stand
- At the Credo stand
- During the Offertory sit
- From the Sanctus to the Last Gospel kneel
- At the Last Gospel stand
- Post-Missal prayers and exit of priest kneel
High Mass and Missa Cantata
- During the processional entry stand
- During the Asperges stand
- From beginning to Gloria kneel
- At the intoning of the Gloria, stand. Sit when the clergy do. Stand with the celebrant for Dominus Vobiscum and Collects.
- At the singing of the Epistle sit
- At the singing of the Gospel stand
- At the notices and for the Sermon sit but stand if the Gospel is read in the venacular.
- At the Credo stand, as with the Gloria, sit when the clergy do.
- At the Dominus Vobiscum, Oremus stand
- During the Offertory sit
- Rise when the congregation is incensed and then sit.
- Preface dialogue to Sanctus stand
- Sanctus, Canon, Communion kneel
- Dominus Vobiscum and Post Communion prayer stand
- At the Blessing kneel
- Last Gospel to exit of clergy stand
Some suggest that at High or Low Mass, the triple bell at the celebrant's Domine, non sum dignus should signal for the faithful to approach the altar rails for Holy Communion. Anyone standing in the aisles should kneel for the Ecce Agnus Dei.
Of course some common sense should apply when deciding when to make the approach to altar rail, e.g. how many are communicating? how many present on the sanctuary will receive communion? Consider the Schola, they need to receive first so that they can return to the loft to sing the communion chant, does my physical ability to make the journey along the aisle determine that I ought to go earlier?
And so I could go on, the point of the blog is to give a flavour of why we see non-uniformity and dare I say, confusion on the postures in the Extraordinary Form across all the variants of Holy Mass.