Online Edition – Vol. IX, No. 1: March 2003
"Unless the diocesan bishop determines otherwise"
Are there any limits to a bishop’s authority to change liturgical rules?
by Helen Hull Hitchcock
Several bishops have issued new directives, recently, concerning the
people’s posture and/or gestures at Mass. Some of these are either not
in accordance with the liturgical regulations for the United States, or
interpret them inconsistently.
People are confused. Are all dioceses in a given country supposed to follow the same rules for the celebration of Mass?
With few exceptions, yes — in part to protect the "substantial unity"
of the Roman rite, diocesan bishops are to observe the liturgical
regulations that are adopted by the Conference of Bishops and approved
by the Holy See. Are there limits to the changes in liturgical rules a
bishop may impose within his own diocese?
With the implementation of the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani
and the "American adaptations" last spring, the matter of the authority
of a diocesan bishop to change these rules has taken an unexpected
Explanations for changing the liturgical norms usually stress that
uniformity of gesture or posture is required to express unity; and that
obedience to the bishop supersedes custom and tradition.
Some who depart from approved adaptations for the US — for example, by forbidding kneeling after the Agnus Dei
or requiring all communicants to stand until after the last person has
received Communion — say that the bishop is following the mandate of the
"universal Church", the Holy See, and even the Holy Father himself. A
bulletin insert distributed in the archdiocese of Seattle states
unequivocally that "These changes are happening at the direction of the
Holy Father, Pope John Paul II"; obviously derived from liturgical
instructions distributed by the Worship Center of the archdiocese of
Minneapolis-Saint Paul, written by Jesuit Father Dennis Smolarski, SJ,
which says, "Ultimately, these changes are happening at the direction of
the Hoy Father" — a misleading statement, at best. The Diocese of Saint
Cloud uses the Minneapolis material. There may be others, as well.
In every diocese where these deviations occur, the response of
Catholics ranges from confusion and distress to anger and distrust.
The question of a diocesan bishop’s power to change the rules
surfaced as an item of lengthy debate at both the June and November 2001
meetings, when the bishops voted on the American adaptations that would
be incorporated into the text of the IGMR. The focus of the dispute was
whether a local bishop may dispense his diocese from observance of the
accepted liturgical norms for the United States, and may, on his own,
choose to follow different rules (presumably, the un-adapted IGMR).
This dispute was not revived in November 2002, however, when the
proposed translation of the IGMR incorporating the adaptations for the
US Church was overwhelmingly — and quickly — approved by the bishops and
forwarded to the Holy See for the necessary recognitio
. (To date
the English translation has not been approved; however, the adaptations
for the Church in the United States that it incorporates were approved a
One thing that is clear, in all the confusion, is that the question
of the limits of a bishop’s authority over the liturgy within his own
diocese is unresolved.
A review of the bishops’ debate on this and related questions
(posture of the people during Mass) may be helpful in clarifying the
position of the Conference — and most bishops. But it is also apparent
that the issue reveals a deep cleavage among the US bishops, and the
dissent of some bishops from the liturgical norms for the whole country
is emerging as a serious pastoral problem in their dioceses.
The context of the discussions about the extent of a diocesan
bishop’s authority, at both the June and November 2001 meetings, was the
adaptations proposed for IGMR 43, on the posture of the people during
the Eucharistic Prayer, kneeling after the Agnus Dei
and after reception of Communion.
The following excerpts from audio-tapes of the discussion and vote on
the Adaptations and related matters that took place June 15, 2001 at
the bishops’ meeting in Atlanta and on November 14, 2001 in Washington,
give a sense of the controversy.
(Note that the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani
, or IGMR,
is referred to variously in the discussion as GIRM, General Instruction,
"general norms", "general law", and "universal norms".)
USCCB – June 15, 2001
The Holy See’s landmark Instruction on translation, Liturgiam authenticam
had been released only a few weeks before the June bishops’ meeting, so
much of the meeting was given to a lengthy discussion of the
significance and implications of that document. [See AB July-August 2001
However, the release of the third typical edition of the Missale Romanum
(Roman Missal), with its revised set of liturgical rules, Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani
issued in Latin in 2000, occasioned proposals for "American
adaptations", or variations for the Church in the United States. A
principal "adaptation" considered was that of the posture of the people
during the Eucharistic Prayer.
Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb
of Mobile, Chairman of the Bishops’
Committee on the Liturgy (BCL) introduced the debate and vote on the
"revision of the Appendix to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal
in the light of the recent revision of the General Instruction which we
have received. It deals primarily with those responsibilities assigned
to Conferences of Bishops by the General Instruction".
The phrase "as specified by the diocesan bishop" was raised in the
preliminary discussion of IGMR 43, concerning posture of the people
Bishop William Weigand
[Sacramento]: The last phrase of that:
is that in the General Instruction? The phrase "as specified by the
diocesan bishop", and if so, what does it modify? To me that’s not very
helpful. Does that modify "other good reason", or does it modify "people
kneeling beginning from…."
: It is not in the text, but it modifies
"some other good reason", so that the bishop specifies what the other
good reason could be. It is not just ad libitum
for any pastor, but —
: But the bishop isn’t going to decide when somebody for "health reasons or lack of space or number people present", so —
: The bishop can make that kind of a rule for his diocese, and that’s his function it seems to me. If he wishes to specify.
: So you want that phrase in there?
: Well, in other words — I’ve never seen
the bishops, you know, objecting to specification on the part of the
diocesan bishop in determining the good order of life in his diocese.
But, for example, that does not just specify reasons of health, lack of
space or number of people present. Those are already approved, that does
not specify those. But like instances that may arise on the part of the
congregation or the part of the pastor. Those are approved in the text.
If there are some other
good reasons, then the bishop has to specify those other good reasons.
: So it wouldn’t — Now, I know there would never
be a mischievous bishop, but wouldn’t this give one or other of us
reason to break the unity in the country about kneeling? I guess that’s —
is this a foot in the door? — which I think we would rather do just up
: We’ll assume a bishop will be
conscientious about observing the rule. "Other good reason" is an
exception: "except when prevented". And there has to be some cause for
an exception, it should not be a general rule.
Archbishop Lipscomb called for a vote on the bishops’ proposed
amendments to the revision. The procedure involves voting on the
acceptance or rejection of these amendments by the Committee on the
Bishop Robert Brom
, of San Diego, began the discussion in the final debate before the vote.
: I’m happy that the amendment as I proposed was
accepted, particularly because it clarifies the question I had yesterday
in reference to the first part: "The faithful kneel" — instead of "may
kneel" — "at the Ecce Agnus Dei
unless the diocesan bishop determines otherwise".
But I have a question now in reference to that phrase: "unless the diocesan bishop determines otherwise".
I presume, after some discussion with brother bishops, that this
means unless the diocesan bishop chooses to follow the "general norm"
[i.e., standing. The IGMR text did not yet include the statement that
kneeling at the Ecce Agnus Dei
is "laudably retained" – Ed.]
: It doesn’t mean that the diocesan bishop may establish a very personal norm?
: No, no.
: It means, unless the diocesan bishop determines to follow the general
norm? Is that what it means?
: Well — Yes, but the "otherwise" obviously
is in light of that norm. If they are not kneeling or sitting or
standing — generally they would be standing, but they can — I suppose
the bishop could say for reason of illness, or for other solid pastoral
reasons they could sit. But basically there are two gestures at that
moment: kneeling or standing.
: So you believe that it’s sufficient to say
"unless the bishop determines otherwise" and, by that, meaning exactly
what you just explained.
: You don’t see that it’s necessary to change this
to, "unless the diocesan bishop determines to follow the general norm in
: No, I don’t think it’s necessary to make it that explicit, highlighting the fact that we are not following the general norm.
: My only question, then, is — if particular norms
are enacted to replace general norms, allowing general norms to be
followed at the discretion of a bishop: Is that good legislation?
: It’s the legislation that’s offered us by
the GIRM, so that particular dispositions in individual churches may be
handled in a pastorally sensitive fashion. It’s not perhaps what you
would require for absolute norms, but liturgy is seldom an absolute art.
: My only question here is whether, as a nation, we
should be following in some dioceses a particular norm, and in other
dioceses the universal, or general, norm. If that’s what we want as a
body of bishops?
: That is what we are doing now, and I do not think this body wishes to say we should decree otherwise.
: Right. I’m only raising that question so that we all know what we’re doing here.
: There still remains some discretion on the part of the diocesan bishop with regard to these matters.
Cardinal Bernard Law
[Boston]: I’m wondering, if we pass
particular norms for this nation, and if they are accepted, don’t they
then become the binding norms for the Roman Missal for this country?
: Unless in the process of passing them we give discretion to individual diocesan bishops to make exceptions to them.
: Well, may I ask you then a question with regard
to the preceding [#43, on posture during the Eucharistic Prayer] where
it says: "… or some other good reason as specified by the diocesan
bishop". It isn’t assumed there, is it, that a good reason would be the
bishop’s decision to follow the general norm? He would have to have some
other reason than simply to follow the General Instruction, would he
: I don’t know that we can parse it that
carefully. We assume the bishop has a good reason if he chooses to
follow the general norm. That’s his pastoral discretion. You cannot say:
That’s not a good reason in his diocese. I assume a bishop in all these
instances is dealing with the customs, the needs of his people, the
practice, the catechesis that has resulted in a given liturgical action.
: I think, you know, I — This isn’t, perhaps, the
time to do it, but I would wonder with regard to that norm about the
Eucharistic Prayer, our kneeling from the Sanctus
Amen. If we’re going to have a variety of practice in this country, with
some following the general norm, some following the particular norm, it
seems to me pastorally we would be better served by saying we’ll all
follow the general norm. Because if we don’t, the idea of a rite is
being vitiated. You know, the rite is that we do it the same way.
: Well, the rite would be vitiated unless
the Instruction itself does not permit the kind of flexibility within
the rite to deal with individual churches and their circumstances.
Archbishop William Levada
[San Francisco]: Archbishop,
yesterday when you introduced this matter and there was some discussion —
it was my understanding that you had indicated that the phrase "as
specified by the diocesan bishop" in lines 9 and 10 referred to adding
additional exceptions to those already specified in the General
: — about when people might be impeded from
following the norm that is adopted as a norm in this country. Now today
it seems, in response to Cardinal Law, you have extended that phrase,
"as specified by the diocesan bishop", to suggest that a bishop may
exempt his jurisdiction, or change the general norm of the country for
his jurisdiction. That was not the response you gave yesterday, and I
think that would be a significant change from what this body adopted in
1994, and I think that what you’re suggesting now needs to be clarified
: I can only offer by reason of
clarification the pastoral practice in liturgies since 1994, where
significant numbers of the faithful — whether it would be whole dioceses
or not I am not certain with regard to a survey — but certainly
individual parishes and large numbers of the faithful have been so
catechized by those charged of such exercises that, in good faith, they
now stand. That being the case, the bishops felt unwilling to institute
this kind of a change of necessity, absent the direction of the diocesan
bishop, who himself can make the concrete determination they should
kneel, but [he] may also allow them to stand if that is in keeping
: I apologize, Archbishop, but I really think that
this is the kind of an issue that we need to spend time on, because
nothing is more precious than the celebration of the Eucharist.
Now, my understanding has been that the norm for this country has
been the Appendix, and that we are now creating an Appendix for the new
Roman Missal, and that that will be the norm. If our understanding is
that a local bishop has it within his jurisdiction to set that norm
aside in favor of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal itself —
set the Appendix aside — then I don’t understand the point of the
Appendix, frankly, if we’re not all going to be together in the way we
interpret posture at liturgy.
You know, you say it’s become the custom [to stand]. On what basis
did it become the custom? And not only places at borders have done that.
It’s been midwest; it’s been a lot of places, you know. Now, how does
that happen? What is the basis upon which that decision is made?
If we don’t follow the norm that we enact, then what good is it to
enact a norm? If the posture that we want is either kneeling or
standing, then I would submit what we ought to do is just decide as a
group that we are all going to follow the General Instruction, and we’re
not going to ask for a separate norm for this country. I prefer the
kneeling, but I would rather have standing in conformity with the
general norm, and have us all do the same thing, you know. Why is it
important for border dioceses to be in conformity with Mexico rather
than in conformity with the rest of the nation? Why not be in conformity
with one another or with the Universal Church in this matter?
: I think it’s not a question of conformity
to law. It’s a question of what assists those worshipping in the
exercise of their assistance and celebration, participation in Mass at
that given moment. That’s why the discretion of the diocesan bishop is
: I understand that, Archbishop. A last word, and I
won’t say another thing on the document. But it does seem to me that a
rite is very important, and in our nation, if you have variations of
this kind in the rite, then the rite itself is undermined. And with
instant communication, television, radio, and everything else, we do
better on the essentials of the Eucharist to be together rather than be
separate. Our situations aren’t that different.
Cardinal Roger Mahony
[Los Angeles]: I would like to echo what
Cardinal Law has just said…. If you recall, when this came up in 1994
at the Chicago meeting, the Bishops’ Committee was actually going to
propose that we follow the General Instruction, but because of some
other problems with other parts of that document, the Committee withdrew
that, and it was never discussed or voted on. So we just kept it by
It would seem to me, as Cardinal Law has pointed out, we don’t want
this creeping situation across the country where some dioceses are doing
one thing, some are doing another. If all of us would agree to follow
the General Instruction … we would be better off as a nation. Because, I
know in Los Angeles, you celebrate Mass in a parish and you have
two-thirds of the people standing after the Consecration by habit, and
the others are kneeling. It is very, very confusing. So I think Cardinal
Law has got it right. We’d be better off if we all followed this.
Now, obviously I don’t have an amendment submitted, but we can offer
amendments from the floor I suspect. Whether Cardinal Law would be
interested in offering such an amendment to change this language, so
that the posture for the Eucharistic Prayer follows the General
Instruction. That is, kneeling after the Holy, Holy, Holy and standing
after the Consecration.
: Just so that everyone is clear: the general norm is standing — after the Consecration.
: I suggest that the attempt to balance particular
law and general law at the same time becomes increasingly confusing. I
think that we have to be very clear what we’re doing and this
interrelatedness of particular and general with the option of bishops
being able to take exception to what we do as a body. I really believe
it is a disservice to the people.
Cardinal Francis George
[Chicago – current chairman of the
BCL]: Archbishop, could you clarify the position of the Committee, which
distinguishes, as is clear in the document before us, the two cases of
the Canon of the Mass (the Eucharistic Prayer) and the Ecce Agnus Dei
The position of the Liturgy Committee, as I understand it, is to
continue particular law in this country, which is to kneel throughout
the entire Eucharistic Prayer, with the understanding that there may be
an occasion, or even, perhaps, a particular place — but not a whole
diocese — where, for this occasion or because of circumstances, the
pastor of the diocese may say here you may stand. I would say that also,
with the proviso at least to follow the kneeling regulations of the
general norm, which is to kneel through the Consecration.
The second case is the Ecce Agnus Dei
where we did not have a particular law. The universal law said we should stand throughout the Ecce Agnus Dei
In fact, this has not been observed in most parts of the country.
Spontaneously, without instruction, most people continued to kneel. And
therefore, for the first time, unlike the Eucharistic Prayer which has
particular law in place … in this case we’ve all been disobedient to the
general norm and we haven’t had particular law to justify that.
As I understand it, what the Committee is saying is we now have a particular law for the first time on the Ecce Agnus Dei
But recognizing that in good faith, some dioceses as a whole have been
following the general norm, which had never been abrogated until now for
The two instances are very, very different. And I think it helps our
discussion, even our understanding of the relationship between the
universal and particular norm, to make that distinction in the
discussion as it is on paper.
Bishop Sean O’Malley
[then of Fall River, now of Palm Beach]:
Thank you. I’m surprised to hear today there are so many exceptions to
our particular law in the United States.
Practically everywhere where I have celebrated Mass throughout the
country, unless there were no kneelers in the Church, people would kneel
for the entire Canon [Eucharistic Prayer].
I think we have to think long and hard and have very good reasons for
changing something that is in place. We have made so many changes in
the liturgy in the last twenty years. And I think our people are
shell-shocked. We need sort of a moratorium.
In my diocese, and in most dioceses that I know of, the people are kneeling from the Sanctus
the Our Father, and to change to the general norm now is not a very
pastoral idea. Where we have people used to a custom, we should leave it
that way. This is our law and most people are following it. Why change
to the general law just for a few exceptions? The same thing is true of
the prayers; when we have a translation that everyone has memorized, I
don’t think we should be in a hurry to change the translation.
Archbishop Charles Chaput
[Denver]: Archbishop Lipscomb, would
it be possible for us to consider an amendment which would just take
out the part that reads: "or some other good reason as specified by the
It seems like the reasons of health, lack of space, number present
really covers it. And of course if there’s another circumstance the
bishop on his own authority could judge because of pastoral prudence.
But to put that phrase in would give people who want to change this on
principle the grounds in our local law to justify that. And I think
that’s unfortunate, really.
I think if we agree to make kneeling the norm for the United States,
we should just do that, and eliminate this phrase that allows people to
do what they want.
We ought to either debate the issue here, and as Cardinal Law says,
go in the direction of the general norm, or we ought to really agree to
be brothers in this and really follow the direction of the majority by
not making our own opinion the exception that we can follow.
Cardinal Theodore McCarrick
[Newark]: I have listened with
awe, not untinged with anxiety, to this discussion. I appreciate
Cardinal Law’s intention to bring us all together, but we’re dealing
with something here which really affects the piety of our people. And I
would think that a decision that we would make abruptly at this time,
without any catechesis, without any preparation, would be a very unwise
thing to do….
I think we really need to listen to our people; we really need to
prepare them for any changes we might want to make. This is something
that really affects them very, very deeply and very, very dearly. I just
have a concern that if we do something in the course of fifteen minutes
here at this meeting that could disrupt the prayer life of our people,
liturgical practices of our people, we’d be making a great mistake. So I
hope that we will not pursue any determination to make a change at this
: I think that the results that you have
before you, in the determinations granting a certain degree of
flexibility, is exactly what the Committee considered when they tried to
craft something that would deal with our entire nation — establishing a
norm, giving the possibility as the GIRM itself says that a deviation
from the norm be retained if it is for the good of the people, and
committing [this] to the care and judgment of the diocesan bishop, who
should have a conscience and should be doing something about unity —
without uniformity — but a certain sense of unity for the sake of the
If there is one plea that seems to come again and again from the
people that I have heard it’s: Don’t change more. And that does not
necessarily mean going to the universal law, which would be a
significant change for many people for whom the piety of kneeling
immediate after the Holy, Holy, Holy has been a matter of their growth
from their childhood. For us suddenly to tell them, "Now you have to
stand" is going to say things to them theologically and devotionally
that I don’t think most bishops want to say.
We did consider all of this. It was debated long and loud. We heard
different bishops and especially bishops for whom the standing is also a
norm of sorts, because of the way their parishes have developed. I
expect there are other dioceses in which catechesis has engendered the
standing as a counter-custom or -norm to the particular law of the
United States because it was felt that this was more in keeping with
what the Church Universal wanted.
We are part of the Church Universal, but we are also part of the
Church in the United States, and we are doing our best to establish
norms for the Church in the United States that will most effectively
help our people — and do the least damage — to enable the liturgy to do
what it should.
Near the end of the debate on the "American adaptations", Cardinal
Mahony again asked Archbishop Lipscomb for an interpretation of the
limits of a diocesan bishop’s power to change national norms.
: I would ask for an interpretation of
something that you said, to make sure I got this clear, in our language.
I think you said that a diocesan bishop could not do this for the whole
diocese, but could do it for one parish?
: No, I didn’t say that. I didn’t say that. The reasons would have to be more compelling, obviously, you know, for —
The "discretion of the diocesan bishop" really means that. But it’s
not just whatever the bishop wants. He grows out of a tradition; he
grows out of a rite; he grows out of norms, just like all the rest of
Clarifications to the press
At a press conference at the end of that session, Archbishop Lipscomb gave further clarifications.
(EWTN) asked about postures. He said that it
seems there is no desire to force new postures on people, and he asked
about kneeling for Communion: "even if kneeling is not the norm, will
those who kneel now be left undisturbed?"
responded that there is a need for
"catechesis" on standing. He said to ask those who kneel why they are
doing it, and try to counteract this by explaining why they should
stand. But he stressed that "refusing Communion to those who kneel is a
greater fault than kneeling".
: Does a bishop’s rule take precedence over the customary practice of people?
: [This] would have to be justified. He
cannot just simply say: "Let this happen". He has to give sufficient
pastoral reasons. He has to give the kinds of explanations that would
make it, not only reasonable, but inviting to people, especially if he
is going to change something that already exists. And once that is done,
of course, presumably — This is a kind of catechesis, and that should
take place in such a way that the explanation will prove to be
reasonable. And he should only do it if this is going to assist — as
we’ve said on a number of occasions in different ways this morning — if
it assists in the piety and in the celebration of the Eucharist of those
who are attending.
(Catholic News Service) addressed a question to
Archbishop Lipscomb on the same topic: It’s a two-prong question. First
of all, a clarification on past norms and practice. It’s my
understanding that the introduction of the language, "The posture for
reception of Communion in the dioceses of the United States is
standing", is a new particular norm, and it was neither a general nor a
particular norm before. So my first question is, historically, is that
Secondly, is this decision due to the General Instruction statement
that the Conference of Bishops should decide the posture? Is that the
reason that this norm is now adopted, or is there something else going
on here also?
: Well, it’s not a brand-new norm in the
sense that the practice is so diverse. In almost all of the dioceses
that I’m familiar with — and bishops travel around quite a bit to public
ceremonies — generally, the norm for receiving Communion is standing.
There can be different circumstances.
Where Communion rails exist in churches that have kept them for good
reason, there you find occasionally people will kneel at the Communion
rail. That’s perfectly acceptable.
So I don’t think it’s a brand new norm. I can only say that I
inherited a diocese in 1980 from Bishop John L May, who was transferred
to Saint Louis. And by the time I arrived on the scene generally the
sense that — and I don’t know whether he expressed this by diocesan
determination, one of those acts of discretion on the part of the bishop
— but by that time almost all Communion generally was being given to
people standing. And I think this takes place — has
taken place — throughout the United States. It can be a new norm, but it does not represent a new practice in the Church.
: Is the reason standing is the norm now the fact that the GIRM says it is for the conference of bishops to decide posture?
: But the reason is because that’s what the
posture is. And it kind of codifies it, and makes it clear to everyone.
This is the expectation, though, as I said, there are areas where it
can be somewhat mitigated for the sake of pastoral reasons.
Revisited: November 14, 2001
It was apparent at the June meeting that there was substantial
disagreement among the bishops on the question of a diocesan bishop’s
right to make changes in liturgical practice. The same issues were
revisited at the November meeting, where the bishops also approved a new
document on Church architecture, Built of Living Stones
Several more amendments to the "American adaptations" had been
proposed, and, notably affecting this process, a letter to the
conference from the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship,
Cardinal Jorge Medina Estévez
commented in some detail on the "American adaptations" that had been
sent to the Holy See after the June meeting. (This letter was dated
October 25, 2001, shortly before the November session. See AB Dec 2001
Liturgy Committee chairman Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb
introduced the amendments that several bishops had proposed and that the
Committee had either accepted or rejected, according to the standard
He noted that the Congregation for Divine Worship had "largely
approved of the work of this Conference" and "has expressed its intent
to issue a decree of confirmation of our Adaptations at the time of the
publication of the Missale Romanum
". (The adaptations were approved and became effective on April 7, 2002.)
observed that "several bishops have
inquired concerning Cardinal Medina’s requirement that mention of the
diocesan bishop be omitted from the adaptation dealing with the posture
of the faithful during the Eucharistic Prayer. I would reiterate the
Cardinal’s own words that ‘mention of the bishop is unnecessary since it
is already implicit in the general law within reasonable limits’".
Bishop John Kinney
(Saint Cloud) was the first to raise the
issue of a diocesan bishop’s authority to make changes in the liturgical
rules, and asked for reconsideration of an amendment he had proposed.
: The import of my amendment was not that it
would revert to the Conference of Bishops, but I believe that in reality
it’s really a matter that should be up to the diocesan
And I am fearful for the kind of ways in which we are limiting the
authority of the diocesan bishop. So my amendment really would be to
substitute "diocesan bishop" and strike "the USCCB Committee on the
Liturgy" in this statement. I realize that that does not jibe then with
the document, but I would like to test the body as to their feelings
about the role of diocesan bishop in this specific amendment.
responded that the BCL had decided "to let the document stand on its own as the ‘Conference of Bishops’".
: This was one of the specific points that
Cardinal Medina noted in his letter to us, and we felt that we ought to
respond to it by honoring it.
The Conference of Bishops can, in its turn, make other provisions for
this once this general norm becomes particular law, and is inserted
into the Missale Romanum.
But for us to try to direct it here? I have a suspicion that if we send it back to Rome they will simply change it on their own.
: Could the Conference of Bishops, in turn, in their understanding of this, allow it to the diocesan bishop?
: In my judgment, the Conference of Bishops
can do anything that the majority would like, subject to higher
approval or rejection.
And as I said in the original presentation, I would hope that when
this passes — assuming it will pass — that the Conference of Bishops
will devise some kind of a mechanism. We had put in at first the
Committee on the Liturgy, but I cannot imagine this Conference of
Bishops dealing with these kinds of provisions for dioceses, which ought
properly to belong to the diocesan bishop, so I think the genius of the
Conference will respond, in time, to that.
Archbishop Rembert Weakland
, then archbishop of Milwaukee,
raised the issue of whether a local bishop could choose to follow the
"universal" norms (in the original IGMR) instead of those approved by
I don’t know quite how to do this because it doesn’t seem to be a
part of what we’re at. That is, the question of the posture was left to
the decision of the bishop if there were to be any exceptions during the
Eucharistic Prayer. But no amendment really deals with that. The
diocesan bishop was simply dropped. And you said because this is in the
general norms. But at the same time you said that the Cardinal has
conceded that these would be inserted into the general norms, where it’s
stated — but now it won’t be stated, because we don’t want it stated.
I’m just totally confused as to why that is being dropped, because
you’re also dropping the general norms for the Universal Church, and
only the amendments appear in the document. Isn’t that correct?
: Oh no, no. The general norms will be part
of the document that is published in the Roman Missal. These
[adaptations] will be inserted into the general norms as particular law
for the United States.
Questions about the final printed form of the IGMR resurfaced
throughout the discussion. The original unamended IGMR would no longer
be published separately in its entirety in the new Missal, with the
"American appendix" appearing at the end, as at present. Some bishops
apparently feared that incorporating the American adaptations seamlessly
into the IGMR text would make it more difficult for a bishop who would
rather follow the "universal" or "general norms" than the rules for the
Cardinal Francis George
[Chicago; US Representative to ICEL
Board, consultant to the Liturgy Committee (now chairman)] asked for a
clarification about the format.
: Now, I don’t have the GIRM for the Universal
Church in front of me, but my understanding of it was that [the
adaptation] is interpolated right after the paragraph that says you
stand through the Eucharistic Prayer except for the words of
institution, the Consecration, where you should kneel; using our
terminology after that. It [the IGMR] also says, this time around, where
it is the custom the people may kneel throughout the Canon of the Mass,
the Eucharistic Prayer. Then we interpolate "in the dioceses of the
United States of America…" this is, in fact, the particular [US] law —
with exceptions that the general law gives us. Will it appear that way
: That’s my understanding of it. That was the way it was presented to us in the Cardinal’s letter.
Archbishop Charles Chaput
[Denver] asked for clarification on an amendment proposed by Bishop Edward Clark
[Aux. Los Angeles] that after reception of Communion all are to remain standing until the last person has received.
: It’s not my amendment, it’s Bishop Clark’s.
The Committee says it has been accepted, or subsumed into amendment 2,
but I don’t think it has been. Because number 2 says, "The faithful may
kneel or sit during the period of religious silence after Communion".
And Bishop Clark is suggesting that no one sit or kneel till everyone
receives, so it really isn’t — I mean it’s kind of ignoring the
question, and for clarity I would just ask, I wanted to know, why does
the Committee think it really is answering his question with the wording
of number 2?
: Well, I [reads] "They may kneel or sit
following the reception of Holy Communion", and instead say: "They
should sit during the readings before the Gospel", and so forth, "and if
this seems helpful, they may sit or kneel during the period of
religious silence after Communion".
: And what Bishop Clark is suggesting is that
nobody sit or kneel until everybody receives; and then they can. So
they’re not really the same issue it seems.
: Well, again, if that was the bishop’s
intention I don’t think we would accept that as practice for the United
States — until everybody goes to Communion then you either sit or kneel,
that everybody remains standing until then. I just don’t think that
follows the practice of most of our churches in the United States.
: See, I agree with you, but I thought this
was confusing so I was just asking for a clarification. So the period of
silence can begin as soon as you receive, if you want to go back and
sit down, or kneel.
: You can sit down, or you can kneel — or you can stand. That’s included previously.
We thought the bishop’s point was about standing
: that they be permitted to stand
And the standing is permitted in the preceding paragraph where it deals
with posture, and standing is the general rule for the universal
At the time Archbishop Lipscomb made this response, that the "general
rule for the universal Church" is standing, he had not seen the final
version of the IGMR, which added a clause to §43, stating explicitly
that where kneeling is the custom, it is "laudably retained".
At the end of the November 2001 meeting, the bishops voted to remand
the text of the IGMR to the International Commission on English in the
Liturgy (ICEL) for review of the translation in light of Liturgiam authenticam
. The English translation has not yet been approved.
Can a bishop change to the "general norm" if he wishes?
A discussion ensued about whether a bishop may determine that the people
are to stand during the Eucharistic Prayer, although the adaptation
calls for kneeling throughout (from the end of the Sanctus
to the end of the Amen).
wondered if the un-adapted IGMR were not
printed in full, that is, if it is altered by incorporating the US
adaptations into it, could a bishop substitute the "general norm" for
the "particular" (i.e., US). Later he said that his concern was only the bishop
, not a parish priest, could deviate from the US rules.
Several bishops said that while a diocesan bishop might deviate from
the US norms for special circumstances, this should not imply that he
can change them permanently, or for the entire diocese.
Bishop Robert Banks
(Green Bay) proposed a clarifying
amendment: I think what the majority of the bishops are trying to avoid
is a situation in which either a bishop or a pastor will interpret "some
other good reason" to be something like: "Resurrection spirituality is a
good reason for us to be standing at all times during the Eucharistic
I think that’s what we are trying to avoid. Personally, I don’t think
either accepting or rejecting Archbishop Weakland’s amendment is going
to attend to that particular concern. I think it could be attended to by
adding: "except when prevented on occasion
by reasons of health, lack of space, the large number of people present or some other good reason".
The words "on occasion" says that this is not to be a general
practice because of "Resurrection spirituality" or some other view of
The bishops accepted Bishop Banks’s solution, limiting changes by adding "on occasion", by a vote of 181-31.
And the revised American adaptations to the IGMR were approved by an
overwhelming majority: 207-7; and they subsequently received the Holy
See’s required recognitio
But even though very few bishops dissented from the majority, at
present there is considerable variation in the way the rules are being
Some bishops are "strict constructionists", directing that standing
is the only posture to receive Communion; while others are more
permissive, especially where kneeling to receive has been an established
Some bishops have ruled that only
a "simple bow" to the
Blessed Sacrament is permitted; but others are not restrictive
concerning the gestures of reverence people offer.
Some bishops have decided to eliminate all kneeling after
the Eucharistic Prayer, and have issued edicts that their people may no longer kneel after the Agnus Dei
immediately after receiving Communion (an almost universal practice in
the United States) despite the fact that these periods of kneeling have
been strongly encouraged both by the Holy See and by the conference of
It is significant here that IGMR 42 stresses that the movements and
postures of all — clergy and laity — should combine beauty and "noble
simplicity" so that the "full meaning" of the Mass is conveyed and the
"spiritual good of the people" considered.
42 The external actions, movements, and posture of the priest, the
deacon and the ministers, as well as of the people ought to draw things
together in such a way that the entire celebration shines with beauty
and noble simplicity, that the true and full meaning of the different
parts of the celebration is perceived, and that the participation of all
is encouraged. Therefore, attention must be paid to what is determined
by this Institutio Generalis
and by the traditional practice of
the Roman Rite, and to what pertains to the common spiritual good of the
people of God, rather than to personal inclination or arbitrary choice.
Traditional practices are to be respected and fostered — and "personal inclination" or "arbitrary choice" is not to be imposed.
Adoremus has received dozens of communications from people who have
been forbidden customary practices of Catholic piety — and sometimes
publicly reprimanded. As yet there has not been a single report of
anyone being scolded for not bowing before receiving Communion, or for
standing when most others are kneeling.
A Matter Unresolved
If a bishop objects to Catholic traditional piety, is he free to impose
his views on his diocese? Can he pick which of the liturgical norms he
will observe or which traditions he will forbid? What effects will this
The Eucharist is the sign of unity of the entire
past, present and future — and of the one Christ. The bishop is
responsible for the integrity of the Liturgy within his own diocese. But
the Mass is public worship; it does not belong to the bishop alone.
Do bishops, as well as clergy and laity, have obligations of obedience to the rules? Obligations of charity to their people?
So far, this matter — acknowledged by several bishops during their discussions of the IGMR and adaptations — remains unresolved.
Recently, we have received reports from several dioceses that their
bishops have been very rigorous in eradicating periods of kneeling
during Mass, apparently convinced, as some liturgists insist, that
kneeling is a "medievalism" that desperately needs drubbing out of the
To say that this is creating anguish and resentment among the people
affected by such actions of bishops is to understate the situation.
Ironically, though logically, it is precisely those Catholics who
most strongly affirm a bishop’s authority and take the concept of
obedience to the bishop seriously, that are the most likely to kneel at
Their distress is genuine; and concern about what these liturgical divisions portend for the future seems justified.