On the Use of Liturgical Books
Part 1: See America First; Chapter 19
“Very nice indeed,” said the Liturgiologist, picking up a new sick call ritual which lay on the Antiquary’s desk. “Compendious, convenient, very well printed and presumably accurate.”
“I like it very much,” replied the Antiquary. “The type is a joy and it slips into one’s pocket easily. For once Catalogus has done a good thing in getting out such a book.”
“As a rule,” remarked the Liturgiologist, “I deprecate the use of excerpts from the official formularies of the Church. For sick calls it is convenient to have such a volume, but I cannot help feeling that for other occasions the Priest will do better to make use of the authentic volumes.”
“You mean—” hazarded the Antiquary, a bit at sea.
“I mean, for example, at funerals,” said the Liturgiologist, figuratively mounting an imaginary rostrum. “There are a number of sacristy manuals, so-called, in use and thus far I have failed to find one which really gives the authentic text of the new Rituale for funeral services. Indeed, most of the Clergy seem unaware that the funeral rite of the Catholic Church has, in recent years, been changed materially. Both the Missal and the Rituale note these changes, but the Clergy who habitually make use of a manual go on burying people with a Rite which is only in part that of the Catholic Church.”
“Explica per partes,” begged the Antiquary, whose conscience began to trouble him because he was one of those to whom the Liturgiologist referred.
“Well, to begin with,” continued the Liturgiologist, “many priests ignore the direction of the Rituale that the Celebrant of the obsequies shall accompany the corpse from the house of death to the church. To be sure, this cannot always be done, but the Rite prescribes it. That, however, is not the point I wish to stress now, but rather the abuse of perhaps the majority of the Clergy in reciting the prayers proper to the house of death in the church. De profundis with its antiphon are set out in the Rite to be recited at the house, Miserere with its antiphon to be sung when the Corpse is carried from the house, and as the casket is carried into the church the anthem Subvenite is to be sung.”
“But some omit these ceremonies altogether,” remarked the Antiquary. “The funeral procession simply enters the church, and when the casket is in placed before the altar, the Priest comes in and begins Mass.”
“While others meet the corpse at the church door,” assented the Liturgiologist, “and precede it to the altar singing De Profundis or Miserere, usually without the antiphon. They use a sacristy ritual, with its confusing and often vague English rubrics, or blindly follow an incorrect custom without taking the trouble to read the official rubrics of the Rituale and the Missal. But it is after Mass that most mistakes are made. Examples may be local, but some of them are well-nigh universal in this country, so I give several of ‘em!”
“The Libera is often begun before the Celebrant has gone to the sacristy to take off his chasuble and maniple and assume the cope. Of course he has no business running out of the church that way! The rubric of the Missal distinctly states that he changes his garments in the sanctuary, and every ‘Approved Author’ direct that this be done at the Epistle side, either at the bench (preferably) or in plano. In no liturgical book that I am acquainted with is there any direction for him to go to the sacristy to change, yet the majority do so.”
“Next, there is the prayer Non inters to be said before the Libera begins, and the rubric is explicit on this also. Owing to the vagueness of the unofficial rubric in some sacristy manuals, many Celebrants sing the Kyrie before putting the incense in the censer. Two errors here, as the most cursory consultation of the official rubrics, to say nothing of the ‘Approved Authors,’ would show. The incense is to be put in the censer towards the end of the Libera, and the Celebrant does not sing the Kyrie, but it is chanted by the choir.”
“You seem to have the goods on us,” put in the Antiquary, dryly.
“Not I, Pere,” was the Liturgiologist’s reply. “Not I, but the Church! Whatever may be said regarding the directive and perceptive rubrics, there can be no question that these directions in the Funeral Rite of the church are clear and concise, and Cap. 1, Tit. VI, of the Rituale warns us that they are binding and the Priest ought to observe them with the greatest care.”
“But to continue: The text of the Rituale indicates that the Sign of the Cross is to be made above the corpse at the words ut non tradas in the Oratio, Deus, cui Proprium. If the ceremony is performed without the corpse being present, as after a Month’s Mind or other Requiem, there is no direction to make the Sign of the Cross during this prayer, but it is then to be made at the final Requiem aeternam. This may seem a bit confused, until you remember that the Rite as given in the Missal is not the funeral Rite, but an abridgment of it to be performed over the catafalque. For the complete Rite you must consult the Rituale, where you will find that it goes on at some length after the conclusion of the usual Libera ceremony.”
“That is to say at the grave?” ask the Antiquary.
“At the grave, or, if the corpse is not taken to the grave immediately, then the final parts of the Rite may be said in the church, as is evident from rubric 11 in the Rituale Tit. VI, cap. 3. After the Oratio, which concludes the Libera ceremony, the antiphon In paradisum is intoned and then, arrived at the grave, or otherwise in the church, Ego sum and the Benedictus. The rubric (14) says that this numquam omittitur, and this rubric covers not only the recitation of Benedictus, but the Kyrie (this time said by the Priest), the Pater noster, the sprinkling of the corpse, the versicles and responses which follow and the prayer Fac, quaesumus, the final Sign of the Cross, with the versicles and responses.
All this, I fear, is more honored in the breach than in the observance, though it is an integral part of the Rite and should no more be omitted than the Libera with its ceremonies. But this does not end the funeral. Having finished the ceremonies at the grave, or at the church door, as the case may be, the procession of clergy, etc., returns to the church, and there, or in the sacristy, the De Profundis is said, with its antiphon, followed by several responds and an Oratio, and then, and not till then, is the funeral Rite of the Catholic Church completed.”
“But this final ceremony is not given in my sacristy manual,” said the Antiquary.
“I know it,” snapped the Liturgiologist. “That’s why I’m urging you to use the official liturgical books of the Church, the Rituale and the Missal at funerals.”
Rituale Romanum editions currently available
The Roman Ritual: Christian Burial; Vol. 2 (Fr. Philip Weller, 1952)
2 A reference to the 1925 edition of which a digitized version can be found here.
3 Latin for “explain by parts” or better “in detail”.
4 Here in the United States, due to the laws requiring the use of a funeral home service for transporting the corpse, it is usually impossible to carry out the “house of death” portion of the ritual at a home.
5 Latin for “on the floor”.
6 That is, the ancient English custom of offering a Mass and remembrance meal for the deceased a month after their death.
7 “Never omitted”.