Pastoral Letter
on the General Instruction
of the Roman Missal

My dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Nothing that we do as Catholics is more important than the worthy celebration of the Sacred Liturgy. Not long ago the Holy Father and his advisors on liturgical matters gave the Universal Church a new set of directions for the celebration of Mass. It is called the General Instruction of the Roman Missal. Here in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe we will be implementing the new General Instruction on the first Sunday of Advent. We have had meetings with our priests, deacons, and extraordinary ministers of Communion to prepare carefully for the implementation of the Instruction. There have also been other efforts to prepare the faithful for the modest changes that are involved. We have produced a video modeling some of the changes for liturgical ministers. Also weekly bulletin inserts and articles in the People of God have been prepared for you to read.

The purpose of this letter being read at all Masses this Saturday and Sunday is to let you know several important things having to do with the General Instruction. One of the most important goals of the document is to develop a greater sense of mystery, and reverence and a richer sense of the sacred as we celebrate our Mass together. In some places there can indeed be a more reverent and sacred attitude towards the Holy Mysteries we celebrate at Mass.

The liturgical documents call for the full, conscience and active participation of all the people attending the Eucharist. The Liturgy is, as we know, the source and summit of Christian life.

I urge you to listen carefully to the scripture readings, the prayers and especially the Eucharist Prayer during which the consecration of the bread and wine take place. I have reminded our priests of how important it is to follow carefully the liturgical norms and to be faithful to the exact wording of the Eucharistic Prayer. While the celebrant is allowed to adapt pastorally some of the introductory parts, no priest or bishop is allowed to change the words of the Eucharistic Prayers or the prayers that are central to the Mass.

One of the decisions made by the Bishops of the United States and approved by Rome is that we should kneel beginning after the Holy, Holy, Holy, until after the Amen of the Eucharistic Prayer. There would be exceptions for reasons of health, lack of space or some other good reason. A few of our churches are built without kneelers and it may be very difficult to install them. Those who do not kneel ought to make a profound bow when the priest genuflects after the consecration. Later in the Mass the faithful also kneel after the Lamb of God. Another decision that is included in the General Instruction is that the proper posture for receiving Holy Communion is standing. The faithful are asked to show a sign of reverence as they approach Holy Communion. The sign of reverence determined by the Bishops and approved by Rome is that of a simple bow of the head prior to receiving the Sacred Host and the Blood of Christ from the Chalice. We should not kneel or genuflect for Holy Communion as this is not the sign of reverence indicated by the norms. The bow prior to receiving Communion could be given the moment that the Minister of Communion presents the Sacred Host or the Chalice. It is important that our sign of reverence not delay the distribution of Holy Communion.

The document points out that it is important for us to be united in the gestures and postures that we use during the Mass. It is also important to genuflect reverently to the Tabernacle when we enter the Church and when we leave, provided that the Tabernacle is visible within the Church. The genuflection is the appropriate sign of reverence at that time and expresses our belief in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, present under the appearance of the Sacred Host in the Tabernacle. Someone who has difficulty genuflecting may make a profound and reverent bow instead. If the Tabernacle is not present we reverently bow to the altar, an ancient symbol of Christ.

The General Instruction also points out that care should be taken to distinguish the roles of the priest, deacon, and extraordinary minister of Communion so that there will be no confusion about the responsibilities of each.

Sacred music has an important part to play in the celebration of the Liturgy. It is important for the choir to lead the people in singing and to sing hymns that are known or have been rehearsed before Mass. The choir is not there to entertain us but rather to help us to sing and to pray more fervently.

You will be receiving further instruction from your pastor regarding these and other practical changes that may be required in your parish. Please know that your pastor has my full authorization in the implementation of the General Instruction.

Let us pray that the approved norms will be followed faithfully in every parish throughout the Archdiocese. Let us also ask God that through our devout celebration of Mass we may draw closer to Christ our King and seek to follow Him and serve Him more faithfully.

Sincerely yours in the Risen Lord,
Most Rev. Michael J. Sheehan
Archbishop of Santa Fe