ROME, NOV. 2, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: It has been brought to my attention that, with the introduction of the new English translation of the Roman Missal, many priests will need the missal open and in front of them for the entire introductory rites of the Mass until these texts become more familiar and can be prayed from memory. This presents a problem in some places where the new missal might be very large and heavy and yet the servers might be very small. It might be difficult for the server to stand in place holding the book for that amount of time. Do you have any suggestions? Would it be appropriate to conduct these Introductory Rites at the altar with the missal placed upon it? Should a simple yet dignified podium be placed at the chair in front of the priest? Or is there another solution? — A.S., Marquette, Michigan
A: This is a problem that has already existed in Italy for some time since the most popular altar edition of the missal was of significant weight. It is also a problem for those who use the Vatican edition of the new Latin Missal, which is a hefty tome even for adult servers.
I believe the difficulty is not only the length of time that is required but that such heavy books are also more prone to cause accidents when held by hand.
In Italy two solutions have been popular. One is the use of a discreet portable podium placed beside the chair. This is often a fairly permanent fixture, since many priests use it for daily Mass as altar servers are not usually available.
Another solution is to use two missals: an "altar edition" from the offertory on, and a smaller "chapel edition" for the prayers at the chair. Both missals have the same text and similar binding. The difference is in the print size.
From what I have been able to see, there are currently seven publishers in the United States offering different versions of the new Roman Missal. The altar editions weigh about 8 to 10 pounds, the chapel ones hover around 5 and a half. The latter are also smaller (9 by 7 inches instead of 11 by 9) and significantly cheaper.
I personally think that, whenever necessary, the second solution is the most dignified and consonant with the liturgy. Even when the priest has become familiar with the formulas of the first part of the Mass, I believe that it is a good thing not to dispense with the missal during the introductory rites.
The missal contains several alternative formulas, and relying on memory easily leads to becoming accustomed to using the same one on all occasions. Likewise, having the rubrics before our eyes reminds the priest of elements such as moments of silence that help him to avoid routine.
Of course, the server can always withdraw and take a rest, so to speak, whenever any part of the introductory rites are sung by assembly or choir. This is often the case of the "Lord, have mercy" and the Gloria.
I do not think it is a valid option to begin the Mass at the altar. The norms for the ordinary form of the Roman rite distinguish the various moments of the Mass, and they are quite insistent regarding the preference that the altar should not be used until after the Liturgy of the Word.
The aforementioned use of the portable podium at the chair came into use precisely in order to avoid using the altar until the appropriate moment.
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Follow-up: Managing a Large Missal [11-15-2011]
In the wake of our recommendation on the use of a portable "podium" beside the chair to take the weight of the new missal (see Nov. 2), a reader whimsically commented: "Always scrolling first to your both scholarly and pastoral responses, there is my curiosity about how a temporary, portable podium would help. Would not a small, unobtrusive, but tall enough lectern be much more serviceable? (Tongue in cheek and feet on the floor, because a podium is a platform to stand on, airline gate waiting announcements and many other occurrences notwithstanding.)"
Our reader is quite correct, and I thank him. I used "podium" because it was in the original question, but the proper term is, of course, "lectern."