He only shuts up when he is writing!
Last week I answered a simple question about why there are no responses at the Low Mass. (If you missed it, you can always go to our parish website and find past bulletin articles.) This week I want to answer questions about which postures of the congregation (when to sit, stand, and kneel, for instance, or when to make the sign of the cross or genuflect) at both the Low and High Masses. Notice, though, that I wrote, “I want to answer” rather than writing, “I will answer” such questions. This is something you must--absolutely must!--get used to when reading these bulletin articles, namely, reading very carefully what I write. I have been known, in the not-so-distant-past in a not-so-distant-parish to write all sorts of outlandish stories, which, if one or two lines were overlooked by a casual reader, might lead one to believe some very outlandish tales.
Now, back to the question at hand. What postures does a congregant make at Mass? For those who attend the “ordinary form” Mass, it should be but isn’t, clear. The “rubrics” or instructions clearly spell out what the congregation does and when they do it. For instance, at the beginning of Mass everyone stands for the procession and make the sign of the cross over themselves when the priest does so while he says aloud, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” The congregation, along with the priest, strikes their breast if the confiteor is said, at the words, “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.” All that is very clear in the rubrics. Less clear, and not even thought of by most people, I believe, is how to hold the hand when making these gestures. When you cross yourself the normal way of doing so for a Roman Catholic, at least, is to hold your hand flat open with the fingers together and gently touch your forehead, your breast and your shoulders, left one first, then the right. But do you have to touch the front of your forehead or, if you are follicularly challenged like I am, does touching further up on your baldpate “count” as touching your forehead? Do you touch your shoulders on the top, on the outside, or where they meet the torso at the joint? At the confiteor the old books state that we are to gently strike our breast three times using the same open palm and only allowing our fingertips to actually come in contact with our clothing. But is it wrong to use a closed fist and “thump” your chest? It is not spelled out quite so clearly in the rubrics, so you will see various authors now allowing for, or even encouraging, variations on the posture.
But the question at hand was for the Traditional Latin Mass, for which the answer is even more elusive. For, unlike the copious rubrics for both clergy and congregation at the ordinary form Mass, most of the rubrics of the TLM are for the clergy only and not for the people. So the people in the pew can, within good taste and decorum, reverently take just about any posture the others in the congregation will allow. Various “experts” suggest various postures and customs vary from parish to parish, from diocese to diocese, from religious order to religious order and from country to country. The suggested postures in the much used little red books are different from those in the larger hardcover missals, which vary from those which come with the Baronious Press missals, which are not the same as... well, you get the picture.
Now perhaps it is dawning on you why I used the phrase, “I want to” rather than “I will” answer the question on postures. Eventually (soon?) there will be a standard for our parish. But right now I simply do not have the time to do it justice. I do not plan to reinvent the wheel. I will simply, I think, say, “please follow such and such an authority” and give you his suggestions. Until then, don’t look askance at those who do things a bit different than you are used to.
With prayers for your holiness,
Fr. Edwin Palka