So that you can see I don't exaggerate when I say it is a thorough book, I reproduce here its table of contents. It has particular instructions for: Assembly, Celebrant, Concelebrants, Deacon, Acolyte, Lector, Psalmist, Musicians, Master of Ceremonies, and Sacristan; it also contains a chart for progressive solemnity, a section on the Liturgy of the Hours, and, in closing, some spiritual and ecclesiological perspectives.
Naturally, most of those parts don't apply to me. But I thought it only fair to read the bit on the Assembly, since I was given a copy, and I do form part of the assembly. Most things I read were familiar enough, but the last bit of the "Sign of the Cross" section quite upset me:
Note that the General Instruction provides for no Sign of the Cross during the formula following the Act of Penitence. The priest's absolution in this instance "lacks the efficacy of the Sacrament of Penance." (Liturgiae Celebratio, p8, cf. GIRM 51)
I was absolutely floored by this! Sure, I could see that it'd be important to train devotional habits out of future priests, who will be in the sanctuary, easily visible by all, and an acute symbol of Christ the Head. But me!? Why couldn't I be that little lady who sits in the congregation with her old-fashioned piety and worships Our Lord in her own little way, without detracting from the Holy Sacrifice taking place at the altar?
Some semblance of decorum prevailed, however, and so I refrained from making a noticeable sign of the cross at this point. Not quite what's asked of me, I confess, but I have a strong attachment to this pious act, learned in childhood at my parents' fairly typical Catholic parish, an act which now reminds me of the EF liturgy that I hold so dear. It's difficult to let go of a beloved tradition when a non-binding rule asks you to without explanation.
When Fr Martis first mentioned in class that we're supposed to shun all displays of individualism in the liturgy, I was taken aback. I immediately considered defensively the hardly-discernible devotional actions I make during Mass, and the prayers from other liturgical traditions that I have incorporated into my private preparation for the Eucharist. Then I recalled a more reliable source than my own sentiments: our holy father. He explicitly commends beating the breast at the Agnus Dei (not a prescribed action!), to keep in mind the sacrifice of the Lamb Who was slain for our sins (cf. Spirit of the Liturgy, p207).
The subject fell to the back burner, but Fr Martis mentioned again at the Triduum conference yesterday that we are not present at the sacred liturgy to pray how we want to pray but how God wants us to pray (my paraphrase, his ideas). This does make sense - the whole reason we have rubrics to follow is because the liturgy is not our own creation but something that Our Lord has handed on to us, something that we must do in a certain way simply because He has asked us to.
Not that I ever doubted Fr Martis's scholarship, but a rule feels more binding if you see it in print yourself. And sure enough, clearly stated in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal:
The faithful [. . .] are to shun any appearance of individualism or division, keeping before their eyes that they have only one Father in heaven and accordingly are all brothers and sisters to each other. (GIRM 95)
Shun is a very strong word for the Magisterium to use in a document. Have you ever noticed that Rome kind of stays away from particularly strong words, that every Decree ends with the phrase, "Everything to the contrary notwithstanding", that most scheduled events can be pushed to a different time if pastoral judgment requires it to be so? And yet here, Holy Mother Church asks us to shun individualism, and anything that might even look like individualism, in the context of the liturgy.
That's a big deal.
I should be so united with the rest of the congregation in my liturgical prayer that you would hardly be able to pick me out from the crowd.
Certainly, our hearts should all be upon the Paschal Mystery, upon the sacrifice taking place at that altar. And it is perfectly understandable that our bodies should show a certain degree of uniformity. For we are not acting as individuals in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass; rather, we are entering into the Body of Christ and speaking with one voice as His Bride. Still, because the liturgy is my nuptial union with my divine Bridegroom, I want to have a satisfying emotional experience. Oops.
The deeper in I get to the Roman liturgy, the more deeply I notice its essential differences from the liturgies of our Eastern brethren (in this case: the demanded uniformity of the faithful's exterior participation).
And the more I wonder how much of my attachment to various liturgical forms is due to devotional piety, rather than to that piety proper to the sacred liturgy. Expect more on this in the weeks to come. It scares me.