Managing a Large Missal

And More on the Breviary

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ROME, NOV. 2, 2011 ( Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: It has been brought to my attention that, with the introduction of the new English translation of the Roman Missal, many priests will need the missal open and in front of them for the entire introductory rites of the Mass until these texts become more familiar and can be prayed from memory. This presents a problem in some places where the new missal might be very large and heavy and yet the servers might be very small. It might be difficult for the server to stand in place holding the book for that amount of time. Do you have any suggestions? Would it be appropriate to conduct these Introductory Rites at the altar with the missal placed upon it? Should a simple yet dignified podium be placed at the chair in front of the priest? Or is there another solution? — A.S., Marquette, Michigan

A: This is a problem that has already existed in Italy for some time since the most popular altar edition of the missal was of significant weight. It is also a problem for those who use the Vatican edition of the new Latin Missal, which is a hefty tome even for adult servers. 

I believe the difficulty is not only the length of time that is required but that such heavy books are also more prone to cause accidents when held by hand.

In Italy two solutions have been popular. One is the use of a discreet portable podium placed beside the chair. This is often a fairly permanent fixture, since many priests use it for daily Mass as altar servers are not usually available.

Another solution is to use two missals: an «altar edition» from the offertory on, and a smaller «chapel edition» for the prayers at the chair. Both missals have the same text and similar binding. The difference is in the print size.

From what I have been able to see, there are currently seven publishers in the United States offering different versions of the new Roman Missal. The altar editions weigh about 8 to 10 pounds, the chapel ones hover around 5 and a half. The latter are also smaller (9 by 7 inches instead of 11 by 9) and significantly cheaper.

I personally think that, whenever necessary, the second solution is the most dignified and consonant with the liturgy. Even when the priest has become familiar with the formulas of the first part of the Mass, I believe that it is a good thing not to dispense with the missal during the introductory rites.

The missal contains several alternative formulas, and relying on memory easily leads to becoming accustomed to using the same one on all occasions. Likewise, having the rubrics before our eyes reminds the priest of elements such as moments of silence that help him to avoid routine.

Of course, the server can always withdraw and take a rest, so to speak, whenever any part of the introductory rites are sung by assembly or choir. This is often the case of the «Lord, have mercy» and the Gloria.

I do not think it is a valid option to begin the Mass at the altar. The norms for the ordinary form of the Roman rite distinguish the various moments of the Mass, and they are quite insistent regarding the preference that the altar should not be used until after the Liturgy of the Word.

The aforementioned use of the portable podium at the chair came into use precisely in order to avoid using the altar until the appropriate moment.

* * *

Follow-up: Breviary and the New Missal Translation

Related to recent replies to questions on the Liturgy of the Hours (see Oct. 18) was one regarding the psalm prayer. 

A reader wrote: «In the English-language version of the Liturgy of the Hours used in the United States, there is often a psalm prayer added prior to the repetition of an antiphon. My question is whether the saying of this psalm prayer is obligatory. I’ve traveled to a number of other countries and do not find these psalm prayers in their editions. My second question regards the opening verse: ‘O God come to my assistance.’ In a number of our communities in the United States it has become the practice of saying, ‘O God come to our assistance.’ Can this practice be justified? Does the singular form ‘my assistance’ pertain only to the individual recitation of the office?»

The question of the psalm prayer is addressed in the Introduction to the Liturgy of the Hours under the heading «Antiphons and Other Aids to Praying the Psalms.» To wit:

«112. Psalm-prayers for each psalm are given in the supplement to The Liturgy of the Hours as an aid to understanding them in a predominantly Christian way. An ancient tradition provides a model for their use: after the psalm a period of silence is observed, then the prayer gives a resume and resolution of the thoughts and aspirations of those praying the psalms.»

The key expression here is «in the supplement.» They are thus optional aids that may be used in praying the psalms. As far as I know, the U.S. edition is the only one in any language to print them after each psalm and not as a supplement. The other major English-language edition does not even include them as an appendix within the book itself.

Which approach is better is subject to debate. The fact that they are printed after each psalm can induce people to believe they are obligatory. On the other hand, omitting them entirely deprives the community of any benefits their use might bring.

With respect to the opening verses of the Office, the introduction says: 

«34. The whole office begins as a rule with an invitatory. This consists in the verse, Lord, open my lips. And my mouth will proclaim your praise, and Ps 95. This psalm invites the faithful each day to sing God’s praise and to listen to his voice and draws them to hope for ‘the Lord’s rest.’

«41. Morning prayer and evening prayer begin with the introductory verse, God come to my assistance. Lord, make haste to help me. There follows the Glory to the Father, with As it was in the beginning and Alleluia (omitted in Lent). This introduction is omitted at morning prayer when the invitatory immediately precedes it.»

Thus, there is no provision for a plural form of these expressions. Indeed, there has never been such a provision even when, in early monastic rules, it was presumed that the office be sung in common.

One reason is because these verses are themselves taken from Scripture. The invocation: «Lord, come to my assistance!» is based on the beginning of Psalm 70. It was in common use since earliest times. The holy monk John Cassian (360-430) praised it highly and said it was in common use among the Egyptian Desert Fathers as a means of fostering the spirit of prayer. St. Benedict (480-547) adopted it as the opening phrase for most offices from whence our present custom derives.

For the office of readings (matins), however, St. Benedict chose the phrase: «Lord, open my lips» from Psalm 51:15. Since matins opened the day, this expression formed a parallel to a verse of Psalm 141:3-4 which at that time closed the office of compline: «Lord, set a guard at my mouth ….» With this verse the monk entered into the strict nocturnal silence until once again he appealed to the Lord to open his lips so as to praise God.

I believe that this brief historical sketch helps us to understand that even apparently minor details can be significant and why unauthorized changes to the liturgy often lead to the loss of these deeper meanings.

* * * 

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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