Friday, September 16, 2011


Seeing the title of my article today, English professors might shudder at my spelling while health care professionals might worry about the latest challenge to public health. Liturgists, however, would know that I am referring to a specific text: the General Instruction for the Roman Missal. The ordinary reaader, I imagine, simply wonders what this is all about.

A bit of history is in order. Between 1962 and 1965, the Bishops of the world gathered for a series of meetings known as the Second Vatican Council. One of their most famous decisions was to reform the liturgy, which had been practically untouched since the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century. A new order of Mass was therefore prepared for Roman Catholics under the direction of Pope Paul VI. The Roman Missal of 1970 contains both the directions for celebrating Mass and the texts do be used during its celebration. Some directions are dispersed throughout the Missal, though many are gathered together in an introduction, the GIRM. It explains in fine detail the actions and postures of the various actors in the liturgy: priests, deacons, acolytes and servers, readers and cantors, and the whole assembly. It also gives pastoral and theological considerations to these roles and to the meaning of their actions. More than a “recipe book” for the Mass, the GIRM is a compendium of wisdom and insight on the meaning and enactment of the central action in the Roman Catholic liturgy.

Forty years after the beginning of the Council, in 2002, a new edition of the GIRM was published coinciding with a final revision of the texts of the Mass. At the same time, the Vatican issued new guidelines to be followed in translating these texts from their original Latin. It took nearly a decade for the English-speaking bishops of the world to direct and approve this translation, which will be implemented in Canada on November 27th of this year, the first Sunday of Advent.

Most Catholics will naturally have enough of a challenge coping with the new translation, which will require relearning the responses to the priest’s greetings and prayers. They will probably not notice the slight changes incorporated in the liturgical action as required by the new GIRM. These changes are meant to foster greater unity throughout the Roman Catholic world; to promote a more meditative and prayerful celebration; to further clarify the various roles in the Mass; and to encourage the full, conscious and active participation of all the faithful in the liturgy.

For example, the new GIRM calls for a moment of silence after each of the readings and after the homily, to give time to ponder and reflect on what has been heard. It stipulates uniformity of posture during the Eucharistic prayer: in Canada, as a rule, we will all kneel during the consecration of the bread and wine. It invites the faithful to make a gesture of respect when approaching communion: in Canada, we will bow our heads before receiving. It emphasizes congregational singing at Sunday Mass. It allows the priest to preach from whichever place in the church is best to be heard and understood. It gives more prominence to the Book of the Gospels.

These are not radical changes, but rather simple adjustments that will help all parishes achieve a common goal: to celebrate the Lord’s death and resurrection in a way that is fitting and worthy, and to so enter more deeply into communion with the Lord of Life.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The C.C.C.B.

Bishops are designated by the diocese entrusted to their care: I am the bishop of Alexandria-Cornwall, my neighbours are the bishops of Valleyfield and Ogdensburg as well as the archbishops of Kingston and Ottawa. However, a bishop’s responsibilities do not end at the borders of his diocese: he also shares in the care of the Church throughout the world. This principle was embodied in a famous passage of the Constitution on the Church promulgated by the Second Vatican Council nearly fifty years ago. It reads: “The individual bishops, who are placed in charge of particular churches, exercise their pastoral government over the portion of the People of God committed to their care, and not over other churches nor over the universal Church. But each of them, as a member of the episcopal college and legitimate successor of the apostles, is obliged by Christ's institution and command to be solicitous for the whole Church”

This care for the broader Church is expressed in a particularly concrete way by the existence of national Episcopal conferences. Major countries with a sufficient numbers of bishops possess such national conferences, Canada being one of them. Smaller countries will join with others to form regional conferences.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops grew out of the Canadian Catholic Conference, established in 1943 and officially recognized by the Holy See in 1948. Its name was changed to the present form in 1977 to better express its reality as an association of bishops. It has no power over its members and individual bishops do not account to it for their work. It is rather an association that allows bishops in a country to collaborate on common issues and to develop shard strategies in view of national realities.

Through the work of its members, the Conference is involved in matters of national and international scope in areas such as ecumenism and interfaith dialogue, theology, social justice, aid to developing countries, the protection of human life, liturgy, communications and Christian education. The Conference also provides the Bishops with a forum where they can share their experience and insights on the life of the Church and the major events that shape our society.

The Plenary Assembly, held once a year and gathering all the bishops of the country, holds supreme authority in the Conference. Every second year, it elects a dozen bishops to form the Permanent Council which governs the Conference between meetings of the Plenary. Four of those bishops form the Executive Committee which is entrusted with directing the ongoing work of the staff. I have been a member of this Executive Committee for the past four years as one of two co-treasurers, and will be presented to the Plenary this October as the nominee for the position of vice-president.

In the Ottawa offices of the CCCB, a staff of about 40 people – laypersons, priests and religious – is at the service of the bishops, while the “Office National de Liturgie de la CECC” is located in Montreal. The staff is supervised by Msgr. Patrick Powers, General Secretary of the CCCB.

In the coming weeks, I will use this space to present in greater detail the organization of the Conference, its concerns and its plans for the future. This will allow readers to have a better understanding of the active presence of the Catholic Church within Canada and the collaborative spirit with which its bishops lead the Church in our country.