On Sunday, Nov. 27, Roman Catholic parishes across the United States and much of the English-speaking world officially began using the newest translation of the Roman Missal — the sacred text for the Mass. In Alaska, those linguistic modifications were coupled with several posture changes for the faithful and other instructions regarding the celebration of Mass.
Most noticeable is that parishioners are now asked to kneel or sit immediately following the Lamb of God prayer and again after receiving Holy Communion.
The changes are two of several guidelines instituted in the Anchorage Archdiocese by Archbishop Roger Schwietz. Similar changes are being implemented in the Dioceses of Fairbanks and Juneau.
A Nov. 17 document sent to pastors and parish leaders across the Anchorage Archdiocese details many of the instructions.
The decision to ask the faithful to kneel or sit after receiving Holy Communion reverses a 2005 instruction by Archbishop Schwietz in which he asked the faithful to stand after Communion.
At that time, the decision was met with mixed reception and some confusion. A number of parishioners preferred to kneel in prayer after Communion and many visitors to Alaska were confused about the standing posture, which is not the norm in most of the rest of the United States.
Archbishop Schwietz said the decision to return to kneeling after Communion is an effort to bring Alaska into greater conformity with how the liturgy is celebrated across most of the United States.
“The other problem is that we have so many visitors to Alaska, especially in the summer,” Archbishop Schwietz told the Catholic Anchor. “It is confusing for the visitors also. The three bishops from Alaska have been looking at the most common practices around the country to help reduce the confusion.”
Another reason for the changes is to respect the elderly and others who find it difficult to stand for long periods, Archbishop Schwietz said.
It has been decided that each of the three dioceses within Alaska will have its own guidelines but that they will all be similar.
In addition to kneeling after the Lamb of God prayer and after receiving Communion, the faithful are also being asked to respect the simplicity and reverence of the Mass.
“For example, during the sign of peace, we are asking people to simply wish peace to one another in their vicinity so that it does not become a sort of timeout for the Mass with people wandering around,” Archbishop Schwietz affirmed. “We want to retain the dignity of the Mass at that time.”
In particular the instruction notes that the sign of peace should “be shared in a solemn manner” including a handshake, embrace, a slight bow or in the words, “Peace be with you.”
“We also are asking that there not be additional rites added to the Mass,” Archbishop Schwietz added.
He noted, for instance, that in some places there has been a desire to add some of the older prayers from the pre-Vatican II form of the Mass into the ordinary form of the Mass.
“The problem is that there is a specific exclusion of mixing the rites from the directives of the church,” Archbishop Schwietz explained. “We are trying to remind people of that also.”
“Basically, we are trying to put into practice three main principles of our tradition in the Latin rite,” he said, “dignity, simplicity and unity. We want to have unity in which we can worship together without confusion, simplicity which the Roman rite is noted for without adding a lot of additions, and we want to preserve the dignity that is due the sacred moment of the church’s worship.”
Other elements in the recent instructions address items such as appropriate attire for Mass, noting that clothing is “an outward sign of reverence for this sacred gathering.”
The instructions also urge parishes to provide instruction on the eucharistic fast, which the faithful should observe one hour before receiving Communion.
For the reception of the Holy Eucharist, the guidelines explain that those receiving the consecrated host on the tongue should do so with “mouth open, tongue outstretched and head still: not with the lips.”
For those receiving Communion in the hand, the document states that the “dominant hand should be placed under the receiving hand with the palm open wide facing upwards.” It also states that after receiving the Eucharist, the communicant should “consume it immediately” to avoid the risk of “dropping the host.”
The document also explains the duties and preparations for deacons, lay liturgical ministers, lectors, altar servers, greeters and musicians during Mass.
In a section on the appropriate postures and actions while in the church building, the document states, “As the faithful enter or leave their pews, they should genuflect in the direction of the tabernacle (if the tabernacle is located in the sanctuary).”
Additionally, the document explains that before Mass, the faithful should “recollect themselves in preparation for the celebration and not disturb those already in prayer.”
It further notes, “If the tabernacle is not in the sanctuary but in a separate chapel, the faithful, upon entering or leaving the sanctuary should bow towards the altar as a gesture of reverence to Christ.”
Among other items addressed are the construction, treatment and care of the altar, and sacred vessels.
Printed with permission from the Catholic Anchor, newspaper for the Archdiocese of Anchorage, Alaska.