A Letter from the Archbishop, Msgr. Nicholas Chia, to Priests in the Archdiocese of Singapore
8th December 2009
Dear brother priests,
The Second Vatican Council taught that the Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life.” In the liturgy, Christ is the celebrant. All of us are privileged to share in the prayer and sacrifice Christ offers to the Father through our baptism, which makes us part of the body of Christ, and through our ordination, which configures us to Christ the High Priest. As the visible body of Christ, the Church hence lays down how liturgy is to be celebrated. Our fidelity to the Church’s norms is a mark of our recognition that the liturgy is not our personal property which we can deal with as we please. Rather, it is a gift. In short, our fidelity to the way in which the Church desires us to celebrate the liturgy, is a mark of our love for God, God who loved us first, who now feeds us and his people with the body and blood of his beloved Son. It is also a sign of our love of the Church and our communion with each other. That is why, even as the Second Vatican Council sought certain liturgical reforms, it emphasised that no-one, not even a priest could alter anything in the liturgy on his own authority.
It is true that we do not like to be told what to do. Our fidelity to the liturgical norms demands something of us, it demands that we leave aside our personal likes and dislikes and do what the Church would have us do. It demands that we die to ourselves and to our thoughts of “improving” the liturgy by ad hoc changes on account of whatever we think best for ourselves or even for others. That demands conversion.
In 2002, the Church published a new General Instruction of the Roman Missal as part of the Third Edition of the post-Second Vatican Council Roman Rite Latin Missal. The General Instruction has been effective in Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei since 1 January 2009. In many respects, it is not too different from the earlier version. Nonetheless, its adoption for our region is an opportunity for liturgical catechesis and for renewing together our commitment to a worthy and dignified celebration of the Mass, as the Church wishes.
In the coming months, the Archdiocesan Liturgical Commission will be publishing a series of catecheses on various aspects of the General Instruction. In this, I would like to underline certain aspects which affect the whole body of the faithful, whenever Mass is celebrated, whether in a parish, school or religious community. I seek your co-operation in implementing these aspects in your respective communities.
[Liturgical Gestures and Posture.]
Liturgical gestures and postures performed by the entire congregation manifest outwardly the unity of the faithful in their baptism. I draw your attention to the following points.
– All are to strike their chest at the words “through my own fault” in the “I Confess” in order to express sorrow for sin.
– During the recitation of the Nicene Creed, all are to bow at the words “By the power of the Holy Spirit, he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man” to show our reverence for the mystery of the Incarnation.
– All are also invited to bow at the holy name of Jesus, for example, during the conclusion of the Opening Prayer of the Mass. In his name, the lame man walked and at his name, every knee shall bow.
– During the Eucharistic Prayer, all, other than the celebrating priest(s), are to kneel from the end of the Holy to the end of the consecration. In places where it remains the custom to kneel throughout the Eucharistic Prayer, this practice is to continue.
– The holding of hands during the Lord’s Prayer is not a recognised liturgical gesture and is not to be encouraged.
– The faithful may receive Holy Communion either kneeling or standing. Each communicant’s choice is to be respected. No-one is to be pressured to adopt one posture or the other. If a person chooses to receive Communion standing, he or she is either to genuflect, or if unable to do so, bow deeply, before receiving the Sacrament in order to express reverence for the Body of Christ.
– The faithful may receive Holy Communion either on the tongue or in the hand. Each communicant’s choice is to be respected. No-one is to be pressured to adopt one posture or the other.
Singing and chanting is another way in which we pray at Mass. There are different roles, each having their part, the priest, the cantor, the choir and the assembly, and these reflect the diversity of roles and gifts in the Church. They are not interchangeable at will. In terms of what is sung, I draw your attention to the following norms of the General Instruction:
– The above norm applies to the text of the Responsorial Psalm, which is to be taken from the Lectionary in the Graduale Romanum or Graduale Simplex. Our fidelity to the liturgy includes fidelity to the approved translations found in the Sacramentary and Lectionary. This applies to Mass celebrated in any language. A song may never be substituted for the Responsorial Psalm.
– Songs and hymns sung at Mass, other than those from the approved Latin chant books, i.e., the Graduale Romanum and Graduale Simplex, are to be approved by the Bishops’ Conference of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei. The Liturgical Commission is working on a list of hymns to be submitted for approval.
– The lay faithful are to learn some common Latin chants in order to foster a common repertoire spanning all cultures, languages and regions. This is especially important given the great diversity of languages in which Sunday Mass is now celebrated in Singapore. We need to find a common repertoire which we can sing together. We should not become a Tower of Babel. If you or your parish choirs need assistance, please contact the Liturgical Music Committee.
– Musical settings for the text of the Mass, such as the Gloria, the Creed, the Holy, the Memorial Acclamation and the Lamb of God, must not deviate from the approved translation of the Order of Mass. Any element of paraphrase disqualifies a composition. A song may never be substituted for any part of the Order of Mass.
Our Lord’s prayer before he suffered was “that they may all be one.” The Church is the bearer of the hope for unity. To be a sign of unity and a beacon in the world, the Church must herself be united and her members united. We are sinners called to holiness and we know too well the effects of sin in our lives. Sometimes the worst quarrels are with those nearest to us, even in the Church. The liturgy can turn into an arena of conflict. But it should not be so, for we risk trampling on the great gift of the Father to us, the gift that makes us one, Jesus Christ, himself present in the liturgy through the Holy Spirit. The liturgy of the People of God is not a canvas for personal opinions, innovations and preferences, in conflict with the norms of liturgy. We should put our desire for unity in the Church into acts that build unity, a unity that is God-given in the first and with which we co-operate by opening ourselves to his grace. The implementation of this new General Instruction is an opportunity for us to respond in unity of gesture and voice, so that our outward actions may incline us more and more to conversion of hearts and a welcoming of God’s grace.
Yours devotedly in Christ,
Abp. Nicholas Chia
-Typed out by Jean Elizabeth Seah-