Use of a Hand Missal at Mass

And More on the Doxology

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ROME, OCT. 25, 2011 ( Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: Should the congregation follow the liturgy, including the readings, by using a missal? Some bishops and priests have said that the Word of the Lord is meant to be listened to, not read. Is the missal just for the other parts of the Mass? — M.R., Greenville, Rhode Island

A: Although this is a point that is open to debate, it is true that the general preference is to discourage the use of reading as an aid to participation.

In 1998 the liturgy committee of the U.S. bishops’ conference issued an excellent set of «Guidelines for the Publication of Participation Aids.» With respect to the Liturgy of the Word, it said:

«By means of the word of God proclaimed at Mass, the Holy Spirit ‘makes what we hear outwardly have its effect inwardly’ (GILFM [The General Introduction to the Lectionary for Mass] 8). This, however, can only take place when the readings are proclaimed in ‘a speaking style on the part of the readers that is audible, clear, and intelligent’ (GILFM 14) and when sufficient amplification is provided (GILFM 34).

«It is clearly preferable that the word of God be clearly heard by all who participate in the liturgy, for ‘In the hearing of God’s word the Church is built up and grows’ (GILFM 7). For this reason, the printing of readings and presidential prayers in participation aids is discouraged, unless other circumstances make it impossible for the word to be effectively proclaimed. Even in these instances, however, it is preferable that steps be taken to assure the effective proclamation of the Scriptures rather than resorting to providing a ‘read along’ text to the members of the assembly.»

Therefore, the ideal is to participate by an attentive external and inner listening to the proclamation of God’s Word and to the presidential prayers at Mass, rather than simply reading along with them.

The use of hand missals originally became popular in the early 20th century in order to follow the Mass in what is now called the extraordinary form. In this way their use marked a step forward in the Liturgical Movement as it placed the Latin liturgical texts, along with a vernacular translation, into the hands of the faithful.

The fact that the ordinary form is now usually celebrated audibly in the vernacular does not mean that the missal should be simply left aside. It is an excellent instrument for preparing active participation by meditatively going over the readings and prayers before Mass. It might also be used to grasp the inner logic of longer rites and prayers, thus helping to maintain concentration.

There is also a subjective element involved. Not a few people find difficulty in achieving the ideal of attentive external and inner listening for many justifiable reasons. I would say that if a Catholic finds spiritual profit in using the hand missal during Mass, then he or she is free to do so.

The very fact that the U.S. bishops’ liturgy committee felt the need for these guidelines is proof that they had no desire to merely abolish the use of missals and other participation aids.

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Follow-up: Doxology Grammar; New Missal

We received a few comments regarding the doxology of the new missal (see Oct. 11). A reader from Yorkshire, England, commented, «With reference to today’s question regarding the use of ‘is’ rather than ‘are’ in the doxology, the simplest answer surely is that in the Latin version we have ‘est’ rather than ‘sunt’!»

Actually it is not quite that simple. The «est» in this case can be subject to several possible translations. For example, the Italian translation does not use the verb «to be» at all and translates the «est tibi, Deo Patri omnipotenti» as «to you, Almighty Father, all honor and glory.» In any case, even a literal English translation has to observe the rules of English grammar in order to make sense.

A reader from Denver, Colorado, asked: «Concerning the use of the singular verb ‘is’ with the dual subject ‘glory’ and ‘honor’ — aren’t the words ‘glory’ and ‘honor’ two translations of the Hebrew word ‘kabod,’ which is rich in meaning and incapable of description with one English word? If they are both being used to describe a singular reality, could that justify the singular form of the verb?»

The single Hebrew origin is quite possible. But it would not affect the English translation, which literally follows the Latin «omnis honor et gloria.»

Another question is the difficulty that will inevitably arise due to the coexistence of other ritual books. As one reader points out: «Can the new collects be used when praying the Roman Office and will the dialogue change to ‘And with your Spirit’? It will seem odd (and pastorally difficult) if this is not the case, especially when rites take place within Mass (e.g. the rite of religious profession with a prayer of consecration that begins with the same dialogue as the preface; the anointing of the sick, etc.). Please let us know what should be done.»

I have recently addressed the question of the collects for the Divine Office. I think that the response «And with your spirit» can replace «And also with you» in practically all the rites it is found, even before these liturgical books have been officially updated. This retranslation process will necessarily take several years, but it was necessary to publish the missal first as this is by far the most important liturgical text and is also the source of many texts found in the other rituals.

In my reply I had mentioned an anecdote regarding St. Pio of Pietrelcina being dispensed from celebrating the new Mass. A Washington, D.C., reader pointed out a chronological inconsistency in this: «There was no special permission for Padre Pio to use the old Missal, as he dies in 1968, well before the new Missal was introduced. Perhaps he was dispensed from ‘Tres Abhinc Annos’? That’s the only thing I can see in this case.»

Our reader is correct, of course, although I believe that the saint was dispensed from using the «hybrid» Italian-Latin missals that were in use in the years leading up to the publication of the new missal.

* * *

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

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