General Instructions and Rubrics

The General Instruction on the Roman Missal 6 April 1969

The next relevant document is the General Instruction on the Roman Missal, published by the Sacred Congregation of Rites on 6 April 1969. N. 262 of this Instruction is identical to n. 91 of Inter oecumenici, with one crucial exception: the words 'praestat ut-----it is better" have been removed so that it reads:

The main altar should be constructed away from the wall so that one can move round it without difficulty and so that it can be used for a celebration facing the people.

A reference is given for this recommendation (and note carefully that it is no more than a recommendation) which is Inter oecumenici, n. 91. However, as we have already noted, the recommendation in Inter oecumenici, "it is better that", is far weaker than that in n. 262 of the General Instruction.

Liturgicae Instaurationes, 5 September 1970

The last document which we need to consider is Liturgicae Instaurationes, the Third Instruction on Implementing the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. N. 10 of this Instruction contains three paragraphs:

a) In applying the liturgical reform, bishops should give special attention to the fixed and dignified arrangement of the sacred place, especially its sanctuary, in accordance with the norms of the General Instruction on the Roman Missal and the Instruction Eucharisticum Mysterium.

These documents do not contain any mandatory legislation requiring any change in the sanctuary whatsoever, only recommendations. Eucharisticum Mysterium has already been discussed and it was noted that it is self-contradictory in places.

b) Temporary arrangements made in recent years should gradually be given final form. Some of these provisory solutions, already disapproved of by the Consilium, are still in use though they are liturgically and artistically unsatisfactory and render difficult the worthy celebration of Mass.

A reference is given to the letter of Cardinal Lercaro published in the September 1965 issue of Notitiae, which has already been cited. Paragraph (b) does not recommend making changes in existing sanctuaries, simply discontinuing temporary arrangements. As Mass does not need to be celebrated facing the people no temporary arrangements need ever have been made.

c) With the help of diocesan committees on the liturgy and sacred art, and after consultation if necessary with other experts and the civil authorities, a detailed study should be made of new building projects, and a review of contemporary arrangements, so that churches may be given a definitive arrangement which respects any artistic monuments, adapting them as far as possible to present day needs.

The Rubrics of the Novus Ordo Missae

There is only one possible conclusion to be drawn from an examination of all the relevant Vatican documents relating to the subject of Mass facing the people, i.e., there is no mandatory legislation imposing the practice or requiring that sanctuaries should be altered to make it possible. This is confirmed by an examination of the rubrics of the New Mass itself. There is not one rubric providing for a celebration versus populum, but an examination of the General Instruction will reveal a number of rubrics instructing the priest to turn to face the congregation and then to turn back to the altar, e.g., numbers 107, 115, 116, 122, 198 and 199. If it had been the mind of the Church that Mass should be celebrated facing the people, this would have been provided for in the rubrics.

A Bishop Speaks

In view of Bishop Lindsay's claim in the July 1981 Northern Cross that the sanctuary changes are obligatory, I wrote to another English bishop who is noted for his knowledge of the liturgy. I asked him whether there is any mandatory legislation requiring that Mass should be celebrated facing the people, and expressed my own view that no obligation exists. He replied: "I would agree with you that there is no mandatory legislation compelling a priest to celebrate Mass facing the people. Moreover, the Church is very anxious re vandalism in its legislation."

The Example of the Oratory

As a final and very pertinent piece of evidence, I would cite the Brompton Oratory in London. This is probably the most beautiful Catholic church in Britain. The Oratorian Fathers were first brought to this country by Cardinal Newman, and have always been distinguished for their knowledge of and celebration of the liturgy. The London Oratory celebrated its centenary in April, 1984, and has just been fully restored and repainted. The Oratorians have implemented all the mandatory liturgical changes imposed since Vatican I, but have made no changes in their sanctuary whatsoever as no mandatory changes have ever been promulgated.


The fact that this pamphlet has needed to be so long, to be so technical, and at times tedious and repetitive, illustrates the difficulties experienced by those who wish to uphold the liturgical traditions of the Roman Rite. I could cite numerous cases of bishops and priests claiming, like Bishop Lindsay, that there is a legal obligation to make changes in our sanctuaries. It is easy to make such a statement, particularly when most Catholics will accept it at face value and, in any case would not have the resources to refute it. But to present the truth requires much time, much effort and much space. If elementary norms of justice were observed in the Church today it would be those who wished to vandalize our sanctuaries who would be required to prove that there was a legal requirement for them to do so but, alas, it is those who oppose the barbarians who are required to prove their case. What is even more unjust is that when we do prove our case, those in authority are not even interested and will press ahead with the changes anyhow. This was the case in Kansas City at the parish of Christ the King; it was the case in Newcastle upon Tyne, England; it was the case in 1983 in the beautiful church of St. Mary's in Belfast, Ireland.

Archbishop R.J. Dwyer stated correctly: the barbarians have taken over, the despisers of culture, and we have lost an entire generation in the process. This final point is of considerable importance. Traditional Catholics are not opposing an ongoing liturgical renewal which has brought enormous pastoral benefits. The liturgical renewal has been a pastoral fiasco, more than a fiasco, a disaster! Seventy two percent of American Catholics went to Mass before the great "renewal", only forty percent do so now. But the liturgical barbarians would not really care if no one went at all. Barbarians are not people who think, they are not people who care, they're people who smash. They have exchanged thuribles for sledge hammers and they find the change exhilarating. Well, they have had their way. They have destroyed a cultural heritage that was beyond price. It can never be replaced. We were not able to stop them; but there is one thing that we must never allow them and that is the satisfaction of claiming that they were acting under orders. Let Mr. Turnball have the last word. In his protest to Bishop Lindsay he sums up everything that I have documented in this pamphlet: "The Catholic authorities are spending a fortune on these changes because they wish to, not because they have to."

See how the holy city is deserted now,
Sion is empty, Jerusalem has been Desolated.
The place where Thou hast dwelt in
Holiness and glory,
Where our fathers sang Thy praises.

From the Rorate Caeli [Advent]

Emphasis in bold, that of the Web Master.

BACK----------Contact Us-----------FORWARD

HOME            |            HOLY EUCHARIST