THEIR ORIGIN AND
The general principles of the Roman Rite are what
define the character of this rite as roman
The dominating themes in the Roman world were logic and simplicity.
These same Roman themes can be found to have been impressed upon its
namesake Rite and they differentiate it from the Eastern Rites and
even other Western Rites. These themes find expression
at the following levels:
- Logic: The
principles and rubrics make sense and are not
superfluous actions. The juridical character of the ancient Romans
pervades the Roman Rite.
The various actions are done in a simple, yet profound manner, as
simplicity is beauty in itself. As a result of this spirit, the Romans
were quite practical in their methods. This simplicity is exercised in
various ways within the Roman Rite.
general principles are to rubrics as philosophy is to theology: they
are the foundation for individual rubrics. The general principles are
also simply liturgical common sense
liturgical “rules of the road”; once understood, their application on a
particular basis becomes a fairly simple matter.
general principles can be found innately spread, though not necessarily
systematically, throughout the various liturgical books of the
Roman Rite, namely, the Missale Romanum and the Caeremoniale
Episcoporum. In fact, by examining the various actions
repeatedly dictated by these books for the sacred ministers,
one can ascertain a pattern and thereby the majority of the general
principles. Furthermore, where the liturgical books lack citations of
principles in detail, the Sacred Congregation of Rites (SRC) and
rubricians fill in the gaps, either in the case of the former by
decrees, or in the latter case, by their referential works. In the
case of rubricians though, some list these principles systematically,
while others refer to them in passing (e.g., in the case of
Fortescue, he assumes one already knows these principles);
rubricians agree on these principles.
word to demonstrate the connection of the Roman Rite with Rome herself:
in the past, when a dispute of universal proportion has occurred
regarding a particular action (e.g.,
how the altar is to be incensed), the SRC would usually decide in favor
of the practice as found in the churches of Rome (i.e.,the major
basilicas that have a special link to the Holy See, or
particularly, the Bishop of Rome).
There are unfortunately misconceptions about
rubricans which in turn beget
misconceptions about rubrics themselves. The most common ones are as
- There are so many
- Each says something
different or disagrees with another on how the ceremonies should be
- A rubrican’s word is
simply his own, and therefore his works can be dispensed with.
In answer to these misconceptions:
- Since the 19th
century, there have been roughly about a dozen authors (rubricians) who
have written comprehensive rubrical works, and their works differ
slightly for these reasons:
- The years in which
they were published (or republished): revisions
were necessary either because of reforms made to the Liturgy or
made by the SRC (or other offices of the Curia).
language in which they were written: many rubrical works are written in
Latin, but others are written in the vernacular (e.g., Fortescue was
the first to compose a rubrical book in English).
- The local customs
for the geographical area they treated (e.g.,
Fortescue’s work integrates the local customs of England, while L.
O’Connell’s gives those of the
- The style of
presentation: some are more orderly and easier
to read than others, especially regarding the depth of detail in
outlining how the ceremonies are to be conducted (e.g., in English,
one already knows the general principles and hence does not list them;
J. B. O’Connell gives a few; and L. O’Connell lists almost all of
rubricians agree upon the general principles (as they must); where they
disagree or hold opinions are in matters where such options are
allowed, as the rubrics are either not clear, and/or have not been
definitively decided upon.
- The quote below will
not only define what a rubrician is, but also how
much authority a rubrician’s word has:
- “While the name of certain rubricians carries
great weight,113 [f. 113
Because it is recognized that they have really studied the rubrics
thoroughly —they are not mere copyists or summarists —and their
teaching is found to be strictly accurate] the opinion
of any writer is worth as much as the reasons on
which it is based, and no more.
Hence the more authoritative writers usually give the reasons (rubrics,
decisions of S.R.C., customary law, general principles of ceremonial
—embodied in the rubrics themselves114 [f. 114
Many general laws of ceremonial are given in the first chapter of the Ritus
celebrandi of the Missal and are found
scattered throughout the Caeremoniale Episcoporum.]
or deduced from particular laws —liturgical propriety, or accepted
practice) for their views, especially on points about which there is a
difference of opinion.” .
- An excerpt from the Archconfraternity of Saint Stephen’s second part
of its three-fold
further demonstrates this point:
instructing him in the manner of observing the rites and ceremonies of
Church according to the rubrics and to the decrees of the Sacred
Congregation of Rites and the interpretations of the most generally
accepted authorities…” (The
Altar Servers’ Handbook, pg. 1 in both the original 1962
edition and the Society of St. Pius X’s 2003 reprint of it).
rubrical misconceptions do not simply end with the question of
rubricians. Indeed there are others; here are just a few:
- There are no rules for servers, as they simply
follow local custom.
Classical rubricians, in listing the general principles of ceremonies,
customarily mention those for inferior ministers first, then within the
instructions for solemn Mass give those applicable for the sacred
ministers. So, with the exception of a few specific differences for the
sacred ministers (due to the dignity of their office), the general
principles also apply to the inferior ministers. Furthermore, all
rubricans give some sort of instructions for the inferior ministers,
whether detailed or in general. Finally, the actions of the servers are
actually more frequent
and therefore more visible
(and thereby more liable to cause either edification or distraction for
the faithful); hence their actions must be regulated by some type of
- We have our own customs or traditions in our
church that we have been practicing for many years. Contra:
many “customs” are unfortunately abuses, and therefore are not customs
at all, but rather, practices that should be done away with in favor of
the Church’s legislation, or her true intent. Hence, in every church
where the Roman Rite is used, proper customs that conform with the
general principles and the
authentic rubrics should be eagerly adopted and practiced. This truly
is the spirit of romanitas
and of the Roman Liturgy (i.e., to conform
ourselves with churches in Rome, the seat of the Church).
- Rubrics have no meaning (argument of
APPLICATION OF GENERAL PRINCIPLES AND CUSTOMARY
- General Principles
(universal to Roman Rite).
- National and
regional customs (i.e., legitimate local customs; not abuses which are
against liturgical law).
congregational customs (e.g.,
the Society of St. Pius X’s retention of reciting the Confiteor before
distributing Communion during Mass and of various minor items from
pre-1955 Holy Week ceremonial).
AMERICAN (NATIONAL) CUSTOMS
particular customs listed below that are generally practiced within the
dioceses of the United States of America were for the most part derived
from Roman and English liturgical practices.
- Ac2 switching book
- Do not assist with removing the chalice veil
before the Offertory
nor in re-assembling the chalice by assisting with veil and burse after
(English custom not to touch at all)
- Presentation of cruets
(Ac1 holds towel)
- Use of bells (Hanc Igitur, Consecration action
- Incensing from where Gospel was read
during Solemn High Mass
- Use of crossbearer (and boatbearer by
application) at High and Solemn Mass
- Use of thurible with blessed incense for Processional / Recessional at
High and Solemn Mass
As the inferior ministers
(i.e., servers) are fulfilling a liturgical office (which “normally”
would be executed by the appropriate ranks of clerics), they
should endeavor to perform only those various reverences and actions as
prescribed by the general principles, rubrics, etc.
Therefore, within the ceremonies, nothing but the authentic liturgical
gestures as described in the liturgical books, and as expounded upon by
the recognized authorities, should be performed by laymen when serving
the sacred ceremonies. All private acts of devotion should be omitted
while serving, as the official prayer of the Church does not consist of
For instance, the Dominican Rite, though a variation of the Roman Rite,
has its own set of ceremonial principles, the majority of which are in
conjunction with the Roman Rite, while a few are not. E.g.,
the Sedilia is considered in
the Dominican Rite to be out of the view of the Altar,
whereas in the Roman Rite it is not.
 Here is one practical application
of this type of Roman thought: If items are not being used, they should
be put away (e.g., bells and prayer
cards should not be stored on the first Altar step during Mass
or outside of Mass; their proper place is on the Credence when they are
not being used by the Acolyte). Of course, one
could also conclude that this simply makes sense (i.e.,
it is logical).
 J.B. O’Connell, The
Celebration of Mass, 1962; V. Rubricians, pg. 24.
altar servers’ guild is noteworthy for its insistence on high standards
on serving correctly. It was first erected at Westminister Cathedral
in London, England in 1905, and just a few short months later was
given a perpetual blessing by Pope St. Pius X in his
own handwriting. St. Pius X further extended its privileges and later
the confraternity was canonically expanded into an archconfraternity.
Msgr. Joseph Collins (the noted prefect of ceremonies at Westminster
during the period that it enjoyed the reputation of executing the
ceremonies of the Roman Rite more accurately than in Rome) edited the
serving rubrics in the first edition (1907) of the guild’s Handbook (as noted
in the editor’s Acknowledgements of the first edition). Msgr. Collins
also edited the first edition (1917) of Fr. Adrian Fortescue’s book, The Ceremonies of the Roman Rite
Described, as acknowledged within his first edition; Fortescue
himself was also involved with the Guild, having composed or compiled
the various prayers that are specific to it (also attested within the
Acknowledgements section of the first edition of the Handbook).
should be noted that for religious orders
such as the Franciscans, though they follow
the Roman Rite, they have their own usage of it
(though this does not consist of a separate
rite as occurs with the Dominicans and Benedictines, i.e., the Monastic
and consequently their own books which include those particular rubrics
and practices common to the religious order in question. Such usages
have precedence over national and regional customs.
Many of these retentions had been retained in many places throughout
the world where the Roman Rite was observed even after various
hence, these are not simply related to the Society of St. Pius X
itself, as many others who observe the traditional Roman Liturgy also
observe these particulars.
2007. Louis J. Tofari. All rights reserved.