Saint Joseph’s :: Resources :: GIRM

The sanctuary at Saint Joseph's at Easter.

GIRM Introduction

The Church earnestly desires that all the faithful be led to that full, conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations called for by the very nature of the liturgy.

Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (14)

More often than not, when people are gathered together facing the same direction, it’s because they are there to be entertained. It might be because they are at the cinema, or watching a play, or because they are at a concert. Even if we are a scattered audience, sitting in our own homes in front of the TV, we generally expect to be entertained. It’s such a large part of our lives that when we come to mass we can, consciously or unconsciously, come with the same expectation. And yet, even if the priest often tells a funny joke during the homily; even if we enjoy the singing; if we come to mass expecting to be entertained, we will always be disappointed. The purpose of the mass is both different and more important.

     The mass is a ritual. Before saying more about what that means for us, it might be useful to look at a quite different kind of ritual. For british football fans, supporting a local team brings a certain amount of ritual. For them, Saturdays during the football season are identical; week in, week out; year in, year out. Match day begins with breakfast - at the same time as every other match day. Next, put on football shirt and scarf and go to the pub - same pub as every week, same time as every week, to meet the same people as every week. Once at the pub, talk will be about one thing: the match. At this point many will pray for their team to win. Next, at the same time as every week, leave the pub and walk to the football ground. If a fan ever buys a programme, she/he will always buy a programme. Once in the stadium, sit in the same part of it with the same people as every week.

It is of the greatest importance that the celebration of the Mass ... be so arranged that [all] may derive from it more abundantly those fruits for the sake of which Christ the Lord instituted the Eucharistic Sacrifice.

General Instruction of the Roman Missal (17)

     By the time the match starts, the amount of energy spent making decisions is nil - everything has been saved for the passion of the game. And that really is the point. Reacting to new situations requires effort. Rituals and structures leave us free to focus on what’s really important. In most situations familiarity with the routines and rituals we have mean that we can switch off. In the mass that, of course, is also possible. However, we’re equally free to choose to actively participate - and that is what the Church calls us to do. If we learn to let the ritual of the mass help us to participate, the concept of going home disappointed disappears.

     It’s important to stress that the structure of the mass isn’t an end in itself. It has been altered in the past, and as the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit in the future, it may be altered again. However, whatever changes are made must always help us to better reach back to the Last Supper. To Jesus sharing a meal with his friends; to Jesus giving himself to his friends.

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