From the Pastor: Still more on gestures and postures at Mass
I left off last week explaining some of the gestures the congregation makes at Mass. Continuing along this line of helpful suggestions (again, very little is actually mandated by the rubrics, but there are traditional customs to follow). I already mentioned following the altar boys’ gestures of making the sign of the cross and beating the breast. You may also follow them when they, using the right thumb and with an open palm, make three small crosses, one each on their forehead, lips and breast before the Gospels are proclaimed. (I mention Gospels in the plural, since there is the one read shortly after the Epistle as well as what is called the Final Gospel at the end of Mass. In addition, in most parishes you may hear the priest read both the Epistle and Gospel a second time in the vernacular language, during which the postures and gestures are the same as when they were first read in Latin.) It is also quite appropriate for the congregation to join the priest and servers with head bows at the Holy Names of Jesus, Mary and the Saint(s) of the day. If there is an Asperges before the Missa Cantata, the people stand and, bowing, make the sign of the cross as they are sprinkled. Another place for standing and bowing is during the incensations. When the thurifer approaches and bows, you bow in return and then sit after you he incenses you.
Our parish’s local tradition is that at the low Mass, nobody in the congregation says a word throughout the entire Mass. Not a peep. Not even an “amen” at communion (there is no “amen” at this point in the high Mass, either). They do not join in the prayers at the foot of the altar before Mass but they do join in the prayers after Mass (Hail Mary, Saint Michael, etc.). Most, but not all, parishes will have such silent low Masses. Some, though, will have what they call a “dialogue” Mass, where the people answer the priest along with the altar boys. That is why you will occasionally hear a visitor blurt out “Ad Deum qui laetificat iuventutem meam” before realizing that nobody else is joining in with them. If they came with a large family, it may take a few responses before they finally figure out that it is only their own voices they hear! Even though they normally will remain silent after that, they may, out of sheer habit, still not be able to hold back an occasional “Et cum spiritu tuo” to my “Dominus vobiscum.”
This is good for you to know because we do the opposite at our sung Masses, where the people are welcome to sing/chant along with the schola if they are capable of doing so. That is not the case everywhere, so you may be the visitor chanting the Kyrie before you realize that the rest of the congregation is silent, and only the schola and you are chanting! Now, before you start singing along with our schola, please note that good manners are essential for congregational singing. Those who sing should show restraint in volume, and not sing over the choir. If you sing, you must be confident enough to literally stand out in a crowd. Last week I mentioned that those who join in the singing/chanting of the Mass remain standing while they sing, even if the priest, servers and their spouse kneel or sit. (Remember what I wrote about genuflecting at the Creed?) For instance, if you are singing the Sanctus along with the choir, you remain standing while you sing, even though your wife and kids may be kneeling. (And, yes, I assumed that the man was the one singing, as traditionally all Catholic choirs were composed of males only, often separated into boys choirs and men's choirs. Guys, it is manly to chant the Mass!) Singers, whether in choir or not, do not normally kneel while singing the Mass. Uniformity? Who said we need complete uniformity?
Less often, there are times when the congregation will kneel and kiss objects. There are two days--Candlemas and Palm Sunday--when the faithful may be invited forth to receive candles and palms, respectively, at the altar rail, where they will kneel as when receiving Holy Communion. When the priest gives them the candle or palm they kiss his hand before receiving the object, then kiss the object, much like the servers do at a high Mass when exchanging sacred objects with the priest. Then they stand and return to their pew in anticipation of the procession. Also, at the mid afternoon service on Good Friday, the people will come forward and reverence the Cross with a genuflection and kiss. If there are other days like this, they escape me at present.
That’s it for this bulletin. More to come next week about the correct posture for receiving Holy Communion.
With prayers for your holiness,
Fr. Edwin Palka