ANIEL CRAIG recently published a landmark article providing important source documents which shed light on how the USCCB regards the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM). Upon reflection, I find several statements disturbing.
A recurring theme appears throughout the USCCB correspondence. Time and again, the requirements of the GIRM are deemed “impossible” to obey. Consider the 2012 statement by Fr. Paul Turner, which the Secretariat of Divine Worship endorsed:
The approval of local bishops in the third and fourth options can be formal, but commonly bishops have given at least tacit approval to the use of songs appearing in published worship aids, if not songs composed by local musicians.
This statement is outrageously incorrect. As Mr. Craig explained in detail, both the “American” GIRM and the “Universal” GIRM specifically require episcopal approval for substitute texts.
Not once does the GIRM speak of “tacit approval.” Moreover, this statement essentially sets up a scenario where people are free to do as they please unless the local bishop hunts them down. That’s totally wrong. I’ve worked at cathedrals and interacted with bishops. Make no mistake: a bishop does care if his name and authority are used without authorization.
Perhaps an illustration will make this clear. More than twenty years ago, a priest in rural Kansas was trying to raise money for a new parish hall. In the parish bulletin, he wrote something to the effect of: “Bishop So-And-So supports our new parish hall and wants you to support it financially.” Somehow, the bishop found out and that priest got in tons of trouble. 1
If a local musician wrote a letter to his bishop saying the following, most bishops would be angry:
Dear Bishop, I’ve been replacing the official texts at Mass by means of your authority. I figured this was okay, since you’ve never specifically told me not to. Recently, someone asked which bishop gave me the required approval for a song text I wrote. I gave them your name, since I had your “tacit” approval—even though we’ve never discussed this.
In that same statement, endorsed by the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy, Fr. Paul Turner made this assertion:
It is hard to imagine a conference of bishops ratifying the contents of a hymnal song by song, culture by culture, but they have the authority to do so.
Do you see what he’s doing? He makes it sound silly to follow the GIRM. He makes it sound like he’s granting a generous concession by admitting that bishops can (technically) approve substitute texts. In fact, it’s not a question of whether Fr. Turner is capable of imagining something; episcopal approval is required. To better illustrate what he’s doing, consider how a similar assertion might have been received in 1970:
Certainly it’s true that Pope Paul VI has promulgated a new Missal, and without question a handful of priests will follow it, but it’s kind of hard to imagine the entire Latin Rite adhering to this new set of rubrics & texts. Most will continue to offer Mass just as they have been—as the Church has done for so many centuries. Those who choose, however, to follow the Novus Ordo should not be persecuted because (technically) they’re not forbidden to do so.
Totally bizarre, right? Yet, 96% of Catholic parishes de facto follow the suggestions of Fr. Paul Turner. Indeed, most have no idea they are violating the GIRM.
I DO NOT BELIEVE IT IS “IMPOSSIBLE” to comply with the GIRM. The assumption seems to be that the official texts—which have remained unchanged for 1500+ years—are somehow defective. Yet, the post-conciliar Gradual gives unprecedented freedom 2 to those selecting music for Mass … to say nothing of the chants in the Graduale Simplex!
When my family visited Malibu, we drove through the mountains, and the roads were sensational. Whoever built those roads did something remarkable, overcoming difficulties many would deem impossible. What does it say about the Catholic Church when we are unwilling to do something extremely easy, viz. obtain permission from the local bishop when we replace the official texts?
I take the completely opposite view from Fr. Paul Turner. I find the current situation absurd, because it allows every man, woman, and child—no matter what they know about the Church’s liturgy—to unilaterally replace what has been assigned by the Church. I have studied the liturgy for years, yet I feel uncomfortable doing this. That is why I always stick with the assigned prayers.
How glorious it is to observe that the Introit we sang yesterday—like every other assigned text—goes back as far as we have manuscript evidence:
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 If I recall correctly, he was removed from his parish—which shocked many of us. (His punishment seemed excessive.)
2 In spite of the fact that the post-conciliar rubrics permit the substitution of an “alius cantus congruus” for any assigned text, the 1974 Graduale constantly and excessively reminds the user that other approved chants may be substituted. For example, when it comes to Ordinary Time: “On weekdays through the year, any one of the thirty-four Masses is able to be said according to the pastoral usefulness of the texts.” The Preface, too, says: “It is permitted to substitute another text for that proper to the day in Masses of the proper of the time.” Moreover, at the various sections (Proprium de Tempore, Communia Sanctorum, Proprium de Sanctis, and so forth) they again make clear that any chant from that section may be substituted for any Mass. Regarding the so-called “Neo-Gregorian” compositions—which were supposed to be eliminated in the post-conciliar reform—they mention several times that these may continue to be used ad libitum. Moreover, when they made radical changes to feasts, such as the Feast of the Holy Family, there’s an Appendix which also gives an “alternate setting” with the original chants!