‘Devotion is a matter of taking pains.’ – Father Frank C. Irvin, SSC
So let’s get fussy. Here is a collection of liturgical mistakes of various kinds and in no particular order. Some are my pet peeves, some are clearly wrong, some are fussy, some are relatively important. But here’s my list. It could easily be expanded, so feel free to suggest additions. Elsewhere in this blog is a post on (mis)pronunciations.
Layreaders should announce the lessons correctly. ‘Correctly’ means as the Morning Prayer rubric clearly directs. In the 1928 American prayer book the rubric is on the bottom of page 9.
In addition to the clear violation of the rubrical form for announcing lessons, a second error is less obvious and more forgivable. That is that the name of the Biblical book from which the lesson is taken, and which the reader announces with chapter and verse number, should not be made up or guessed at by the reader, but instead should be the name given in the Authorized (or ‘King James’) Version of the Bible. There are, in the Authorized Version no ‘books’ in the New Testament: only four gospels according to an evangelist, one Acts of the Apostles, epistles (or ‘epistles general’) of various apostles, and one Revelation. There are ‘books’ in the Old Testament, but not all of the books of the Old Testament are formally titled as such. For example, none of the Minor Prophets is a ‘book’: they are just ‘Micah’ or ‘Nahum’, not ‘The Prophet Micah’. In contrast, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel all are ‘The book of the prophet N.’. The name of the books of the Pentateuch and the historical books often are not as simple as one might think. The reader should check the correct names and use them in his announcement of the readings and not make something up.
The last book of the New Testament is ‘The Revelation of St. John the Divine’: ‘Revelation’ is in the singular, not ‘Revelations’ in the plural. ‘Revelations’ is a howler that will justly bring disdain from those who know better.
The Gloria Patri, which is a little Trinitarian hymn, is never added to the Te Deum, which is a long Trinitarian hymn. When the Gloria Patri is added to a psalm or to part of a psalm or to an Office canticle, it is simply treated as two additional verses added to whatever text it concludes. If the psalm (or whatever) is said in unison, then so are the two verses of the Gloria Patri. If the psalm (or whatever) is said antiphonally, then the first half of the Gloria Patri is treated as one verse and its second half is treated as the next verse. There is no authority, beyond faulty parochial custom, for taking the two verses that are formed by the Gloria Patri as a separate text, the first part of which is only to be uttered by the officiant.
In liturgical processions it usually is best if about six feet is allowed between each person or pair of persons. There is a tendency to bunch up or straggle. If a conscious attempt is made to keep a uniform space, the procession will be more seemly and uniform.
In the traditional Anglican Offices there is no authority for responding to the First or Second Lesson with ‘Thanks be to God’. Such a response is authorized for the epistle lection at Mass and in some other Churches’ Offices, but not in traditional Prayer Book Mattins or Evensong. In the traditional Offices, the lector ends a lesson by saying, ‘Here endeth the first [or second] lesson,’ to which no response whatsoever is made.
Altar guilds and sacristans, if they unfold the corporal, should place its front edge an inch or so back from the front of the altar, so that the celebrant can kiss the altar, not the corporal.
The burse, after the corporal is removed, is placed to the left of the corporal. The burse can be leaned against the gradine, which gets it out of the way, or it can lie flat on the altar. In either case, its opening should face towards the center of the altar and the chalice. As the opening always faces the center, the priest after Mass does not need to fumble to find the opening, but already knows where it is.
If the chalice starts on the altar (as at a Simple High Mass or a bishop’s Low Mass), then the missal is opened. If the chalice is brought to the altar at the offertory, as when in a Solemn High Mass the Foremass is read at the sedilia, then the missal and its stand are brought to the altar when the chalice is brought. If the chalice is carried to the altar at the beginning of the Mass, as at a priest’s Low Mass, then the missal begins closed on its stand at the altar. It is only opened after the priest spreads the corporal and puts the chalice on it.
At a Solemn High Mass if there is a procession, the subdeacon is the crucifer. If the celebrant’s cope is held by the deacon on one side, then the Master of Ceremonies holds the cope on the celebrant’s left while the subdeacon serves as crucifer.
In parishes using the authorized missals, the collect ‘Of the saints’ is often used in the seasonal commemorations, particularly in Trinitytide. In this collect the saints invoked conclude with ‘of thy holy apostles Peter and Paul, of blessed N., and of all thy saints’. The inserted name is not that of the feast or of day, but rather is that of the patron of the church or chapel. The celebrant defers to the place where he is celebrating.
The server who moves the missal to the gospel side after the epistle should begin to move to the foot of the altar on the epistle side as soon as the epistle is finished. In most parishes a gradual verse or gradual hymn will follow the epistle. The server should be stationed at the epistle side by the end of the gradual and should be ready to ascend to the predella to take up the missal and its stand as soon as the celebrant leaves the missal for the center of the altar.
The reader of the gospel at Mass does not separate his hands when he says ‘The Lord be with you’ before announcing and reading the gospel. Almost always that salutation is properly accompanied by separating the hands, but not before the gospel (or the Last Gospel).
A processional cross does not accompany a gospel procession. Torches, thurible, subdeacon, and master of ceremonies might accompany the procession at a Solemn High Mass, but not a crucifer.
When there is no gospel procession, after the announcement of the gospel the server should remain at the foot of the altar on the gospel side facing the missal until the name ‘Jesus’ has been read at the beginning of the gospel lection – as will usually be the case. On the few occasions when our Lord’s name does not occur at the very beginning of the lesson, the server may move a moment or two after the lection has begun.
At a Simple High Mass or a Sung Mass with a master of ceremonies, the celebrant does not himself move the missal and stand from the gospel horn to the center of the altar by the corporal after the gospel lection. Either the master of ceremonies or the deacon moves the missal and stand at that point.
At a sung Mass, the celebrant quietly says the Sanctus while it is sung. The bells are rung at the very beginning of the Sanctus, as the celebrant says it quietly, not as it is sung by the choir or by the people. The purpose of the bells originally was to inform the congregation at a Latin Mass with a silent Canon that the celebrant was saying the Sanctus. The congregation did and does not need to be alerted to the singing of the Sanctus, which is quite apparent.
The Agnus Dei is not a dialogue between priest and congregation. Either it is sung in unison or the priest begins it by saying ‘O Lamb of God’ and then everything else is said by all present in unison.
The striking of the breast (as at ‘Lord, I am not worthy’ or ‘by my fault’) should never be audible. It is a symbolic gesture of penitence, not CPR. Nobody wants to hear the priest pounding his chest.
And in general, most manual acts should be modest, restrained, and not apt to draw much attention to themselves. For example, bowing at the name of ‘Jesus’, which both older Roman authorities and Anglican canons direct, should be a gentle inclination of the head, not a wild bobbing or a bend from the waist.
And such bows are not made when one is already kneeling, only when standing or sitting. Kneeling is itself an attitude of worship and devotion and requires, on most occasions, no further gesture of humility or devotion.
Layreaders and clergy alike should understand the difference between second person and third person subjects and should use correctly the verb endings appropriate in older English: ‘-est’ (2nd person singular) and ‘-eth’ (3rd person singular) are NOT the same. In the Anglican Missal the termination is always clear from the end of the collect (or postcommunion). If after the body of the text the missal reads ‘Through.’, then the termination is ‘Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, one God world without end.’ That is, ‘Through.’ indicates that the prayer is addressed to the Father, and therefore in the collect termination the Son is referred to in the third person (‘liveth and reigneth’). In the relatively rare cases where the prayer is addressed to the Son, the Anglican Missal will not conclude the prayer with ‘Through.’ but with the verbs written out in full in the second person (‘Who livest and reignest…’). The simple rule when using the missal is to look for the last word. If it the prayer ends ‘Through’ then one adds ‘liveth and reigneth’ etc. If ‘livest and reignest’ is correct, that will be written out for the priest.
It is not necessary or appropriate for priests to throw in a ‘Let us pray’ in order to make the people kneel when neither the Prayer Book nor an authorized missal directs. Parish custom may involve more kneeling than Prayer Book rubrics apparently envision, but priests should not make up text that is supported by no authority. If celebrants want people to kneel where they are not instructed to kneel by rubric, they should have a notice put in a bulletin or, perhaps, should say, ‘Please kneel now.’
In general, however, announcements of that sort along with announcements of page numbers and similar information intrude into the flow of the liturgy and should be held to a minimum.
In the orans position the person praying holds his hands apart about the width of his shoulders, not at an overly dramatic and flamboyant cruciform width.
There is no authority for rotating the chalice when administering Holy Communion. The scruples of germ-concerned laymen are less important than the difficulty in properly purifying the chalice if its entire inner surface has been touched by the consecrated Element. Every surface of the chalice that has been touched by the Precious Blood is supposed to be abluted with plain wine after communion. Such a thorough ablution is very difficult if the minister of the chalice has been rotating the chalice during its administration.
Laymen should be instructed not to grab the Host or, indeed, even to touch it with their fingers, if they do not receive on the tongue. This handling of the Host is an irreverent modern Roman Catholic innovation to be discouraged. Communicants also should be instructed not to move from the altar rail until the person next to them has received the chalice, lest an arm be jostled. Women wearing lipstick should blot it well before receiving the chalice. Women wearing veils should, of course, lift or remove them before communion. Women wearing gloves should receive the Host directly on the tongue or, at least, must remove the glove before receiving the Host on the hand.
At the ablutions, the server holding the wine cruet only pours a little wine in the chalice (and into any other vessel to be purified) and then returns to the footpace, where he takes up the water cruet also for the next ablution. If there are two servers assisting at the ablutions, the server with the wine cruet goes to the altar first, then returns to the footpace until the minister(s) come back to the epistle horn for the ablution of the fingers, at which point the other server will also go with him to the altar with the other cruet. In other words, the server with the water cruet does not come to the altar until after the first purification of the vessel(s) with wine only.
Torchbearers and crucifers do not genuflect when holding their implements, but simply bow.
The affectation of an accent by either layreader or clergyman is ridiculous and should be gently but firmly put down by those in authority. If those in authority fail to do their job in this matter, gentle ridicule from others is in order.
Whenever the Gloria in excelsis is assigned to be said in the Mass of the day, the dismissal is ‘Depart in peace’. Whenever the Gloria in excelsis is not assigned, the dismissal is ‘Let us bless the Lord’, except at requiems. Whenever the Gloria in excelsis is assigned to be said in the Mass of the day, the second canticle at Mattins is the Te Deum. Whenever the Gloria in excelsis is not assigned, the second canticle at Mattins is not the Te Deum.
Before the Dismissal at a sung Mass, the priest says, ‘The Lord be with you’, even if a deacon is present to sing the dismissal itself. At Low Mass, the dismissal ‘Depart in peace’ is said facing the congregation. The dismissal ‘Let us bless the Lord’ is said facing the altar.
At a sung Mass, the tone for the dismissal itself is the same as that used for the Kyrie.