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November 10, 2006



Interesting to note that Canon Law, Church Law, reflects law traditions. Canon Law is the Roman Law tradition. Its approach is not to define everything but to have laws; in fact, to keep laws to a minimum because the law is to be interpreted by practice (by putting it into practice). So, laws are more at a minimum and that way they are more adaptable to different situations and to different cultures. As opposed to the anglo-saxon system of law our country has which tends more towards… that is, takes more the approach that everything has to be defined within the law and every possible situation that one can conceive of, to be treated in the law itself. So, anglo-saxon law tends to be more voluminous.



I'm still wondering if that generalization is accurate when you actually compare the development of Civil Law (based on Roman Law) versus Common Law states and nations. I suspect the story is more complicated.

francis 03

Esau, I'm no legal historian, but my sense is that the common law of England (i.e., judge-made law) has all the characteristics you just ascribed to Roman law. So does the U.S. Constitution, to a lesser extent. It's only STATUTES that tend to be all-inclusive in the English tradition.

Ed Peters

Esau is kinda right, and marie is kinda right, and francis03 is kinda right, and oh, jimmy was almost completely right, especially when he implied i was definitely right.

as an aside, the globilization of instant communication makes these questions unavoidable.
case in point: we can now widely distribute and email Rome a video of a woman in a Satan costume distributing Communion, and any sane person is going to demand that Rome does SOMETHING visible about it; and if they don't, well, we will all know it, and the failure to act has consequences too.

as i say, modern communication makes these wider questions of "context", or whatever one wants to call it, unavoiadale.

Ann Margaret Lewis

This is interesting. The Eastern Church tradition has been known to say that Roman is "too legalistic" in that it must define everything. Who knew that Saxons could be worse?

Dean Steinlage

I wonder if geographic area vs speed of communication doesn't play a role.
The Eastern churches did'nt cover nearly the area the Western church does, so governing for the East could be more hands on.
As Ed pointed out, we have much fast communications now and this can result in faster action by Rome.

Fr. Stephanos, O.S.B.

One of the inconsistencies present at Mass in the U.S. now concerns the posture specified for those who approach the altar to receive communion.

The U.S. bishops now legitimately specify that laypersons are to bow, not genuflect, before receiving.

However, the G.I.R.M. directs the presiding priest to genuflect before he picks up the Body of Christ to say "Behold the Lamb of God" and "Lord, I am not worthy" and then consume the Eucharist. That genuflection is the priest's sign of reverence before he receives Communion. (That is his third genuflection since the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer; after each of their respective institution narratives, he genuflected once to the Body of Christ and a second time to the Blood of Christ.)

Furthermore, if there are concelebrating priests at that Mass, the G.I.R.M. still specifies that they are to genuflect when they approach the altar to receive the Eucharist.

So Rome still requires priests at the altar to genuflect before they receive Holy Communion, but the U.S. tells laypersons in the U.S. to bow only.


Fr. Stephanos,

I'd like clarification on that too. I know about 90% of the folks at my parish genuflect and we're known as the reverent Novus Ordo parish in Kansas City.

And is the bow a profound one, from the waist, or just the head (which when done too quickly looks to me like a "what's up Jesus?" nod).

Roman Sacristan

Well, the U.S. bishops may have specified a certain action (bowing), but Rome also said that kneeling is acceptable and no one should be denied Communion on that reason. So, I would say that in the grand scheme of things, that directive is not something to lose sleep over if people genuflect or kneel or bow.



I was speaking specifically of "Canon Law".

Pick up a copy of Canon Law (which is Church Law) and you'd see that this thing is so small (and, mind you, we're talking about a couple of thousand years) but if you were to go to any state house -- and we have buildings that are nothing but --- I mean, how in the world do you keep it to such a dinky little thing all those 2000 years of Church History? That, to me, shows the presence of the Holy Spirit!

And that's because its approach is not to define everything but to have Laws and, in fact, keep even definitions to a minimum because the law is to be interpreted by practice. So, laws are more at a minimum and that way they're also more adaptable to different situations and to different cultures whereas the Anglo-Saxon system of law -- which our country has -- takes more the approach of everything has to be defined within the Law and every possible situation that one can conceive of, to be treated in the Law itself; so, Anglo-Saxon Law tends to be more voluminous.


I would say that we bow as much as we can get away with, but without disrupting the line or knocking anybody with our head and body. Sooner or later, a consensus will emerge in most parishes on how to do the bowing thing.

(Actually, I'm a lot more worried by bowing to the altar when I'm cantoring. The charming combox commenters pointed out that a profound bow entails pointing your butt at the congregation. As my butt is not small, I suppose this is good for my humility....)

I had a point here, didn't I? Here it is: it's difficult to do a profound bow when you've got a big ol' hymnbook in your hands or your hands are folded in prayer. The Japanese do this sort of thing with arms at their sides, which gives you a lot better balance and control. Thus the bobbing. And really, head-bobbing is a well-established response to royalty by untutored peasants like us, in Anglosphere culture. :)

But nobody's coming to Mass to watch us bow gracefully; they're there for God graciously coming down to us. So there's no real point worrying about it.


And really, head-bobbing is a well-established response to royalty by untutored peasants like us, in Anglosphere culture. :)

Geessshhhh... You say a few bits regarding "Canon Law" and the whole world is offended! ;^)

Incidentally, the views I just voiced are the very ones of a Bishop (who I have the utmost respect for -- very Orthodox, and, in fact, studied at the Pontifical Gregorian University) who happened to serve at one time or another as an Assistant at the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura at Rome, was once a Tribunal judge, and an Adjutant Judicial Vicar, among other things.

I don't even think he, himself, meant any insult as far as the remarks concerning Anglo-Saxon Law.

Fr. Stephanos, O.S.B.


Here's what the G.I.R.M. says.

160. The priest then takes the paten or ciborium and goes to the communicants, who, as a rule, approach in a procession. The faithful are not permitted to take the consecrated bread or the sacred chalice by themselves and, still less, to hand them from one to another. The norm for reception of Holy Communion in the dioceses of the United States is standing. Communicants should not be denied Holy Communion because they kneel. Rather, such instances should be addressed pastorally, by providing the faithful with proper catechesis on the reasons for this norm. When receiving Holy Communion, the communicant bows his or her head before the Sacrament as a gesture of reverence and receives the Body of the Lord from the minister. The consecrated host may be received either on the tongue or in the hand, at the discretion of each communicant. When Holy Communion is received under both kinds, the sign of reverence is also made before receiving the Precious Blood.

My Opinion.

Since it says "Communicants should not be denied Holy Communion because they kneel", I would venture accordingly that they should not be denied if they choose to genuflect instead of bowing. The Holy See has said about as much.

In my own opinion, a mere bow of the head is insufficient. A profound bow (i.e., bending at the waist) is the least we should offer.


"So as long as the laity are in the pews and relatively calm and not shouting or brandishing pitchforks, Rome doesn't so much mind if they're not all in the same posture."


So much for the planned unveiling of my new pitchfork this Sunday.


Okay, well here's one I've seen debated and I would like to know what category it fits in.

Liturgical law would seem to insist that the sacred vessels should not be made of glass, but rather of precious materials.

Could a reasonable argument be made that vessels such as those used in Los Angeles are "crystal" rather than mere glass and thus possibly within the ambit of "precious" according to the rubrics?

Might it be that Rome kinda thinks that sort of thing is okay, do you think?

(I say this as someone who loathes glass vessels and the whole Mahony liturgical ethos but who wants to be fair...)


Esau, I wasn't offended. I think it's a pretty fun way of looking at it. (And believe me, when I have to go to 8 AM Mass, I'm perfectly happy not to have to think too much or do anything too complicated.)

Re: crystal

Jeff, that's exactly the argument that Mahony and my own bishop use -- that crystal is precious. (Although this seems to turn into "I say they're crystal, but everybody else says they're just thick clear glass wineglasses from Pier One".)

The problem is that crystal, though somewhat tougher than regular glass, still looks like glass and still shatters when dropped. Also, I don't see how there's any way on Earth that calling a crystal punchbowl a ciborium makes it one. (I've seen this at several churches in my area.)

However, there's no way around it -- it's tacky to scoop around in a crystal punchbowl with a smaller ciborium, scooping up Our Lord. Especially since the priest's microphone routinely picks up the scooping sounds, and has to be covered by music. Scooping around in a metal ciborium is also tacky, but at least I don't have to see it. It's a lot better when the priest uses his hands. But it still seems a lot messier and louder process than when I was a kid.

Matt McDonald

I think that the point may be being missed. Redemptionis Sacramentum, along with the other liturgical documents are addressed to the bishops, priests, and those involved with liturgical activity. These instructions tell them how the celebrant and his assistants are to behave, and organize the mass. There are guidelines for the laity, on which they should be instructed, but not with any sort of heavy hand.

When a bishop, priest, or liturgist violates the rubric in any way, it IS a serious matter because it disrupts the whole congregation. When a laity violates the rubric, it is not a serious matter, unless it disrupts the whole congregation, or is disrespectful, or sacrilegious.

The other problem, is that the norms which are in the jurisdiction of the bishops, or council of bishops should be oriented at teaching the laity about the truth of the mass, that Christ is truly present, and that the sacrifice of calvary is truly re-presented there. They should orient the people to sincere piety, not a party. On this most of the bishops have seriously failed.



Esau, I wasn't offended. I think it's a pretty fun way of looking at it. (And believe me, when I have to go to 8 AM Mass, I'm perfectly happy not to have to think too much or do anything too complicated.)

I know ;^)

God bless, Maureen!


Let's add another level to this: if the Church is "gesturing in a given direction," it would seemingly behoove us to follow the gesture. And what about simply trying to improve ourselves?
I have nothing against "On Eagle's Wings," for example, but I'd appreciate it if liturgists understood that there's *better* sacred music out there that they *could* be using, and that there are objective reasons which make that music better.


Jeff makes a good point.

Let's say that I commission a one-of-a-kind crystal chalice by a great artist. Is it therefore inherently inferior and less worthy of the liturgy than a cheap mass-produced gold-plated chalice I purchase at the local religious goods store?

Let's say the crystal chalice shatters when dropped, and the Precious Blood spills all over. How is that different from dropping the cheap mass-produced gold-plated chalice? The Precious Blood is still spilled, and the chalice gets dented and the cup probably falls off the base.

Seems to me the hard-and-fast, no-exceptions Anglo-Saxon way of looking at this guideline are no match for the Roman approach, which allows exceptions within the spirit of the law.

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