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The World We Live In

Bishop Wilton Gregory

. . . In the best of all possible worlds, the celebration of the Church's liturgy would always be celebrated with the utmost attention to each detail. Every priest would be well prepared. Every lector would proclaim the Word of God with clarity and conviction. Every church would have perfect acoustics. And, of course, all God's People would see and hear and respond with perfect understanding . . . in the best of all possible worlds.

Bishop Gregory Most of us realized long ago that we do not live in such a world. Liturgical details are overlooked; priests are sometimes ill-prepared; lectors do make mistakes; and in addition to poor acoustics, some of us do have to contend with failing eyesight, poor hearing, and misunderstanding. But these limitations do not immobilize us. The Church's liturgy is not for the best of all possible worlds but for our own world with all its imperfections.

Missalettes Serve A Purpose . . .

A sure sign of the imperfection of the world in which we live is the need to employ printed matter to aid us in our worship. Would that we all knew the liturgy well enough to worship spontaneously, from the heart. Would that the Word were proclaimed with such clarity and force that all eyes and ears would be upon the Living Word as proclaimed. But we do need aids.

We all need assistance. Many need the help of printed matter. While constantly keeping the ideal before us, we need to admit that not everyone sees or hears or reads perfectly. And to avoid having anyone deprived of the nourishment of the Sacred Word, missalettes, such as the Leaflet Missal, do serve a purpose.

A generation ago, Catholics were told that the more perfect way to participate in the liturgy was to follow along with the priest in their missals. It was avant-garde to read the prayers of the Mass silently, in translation. It was even better to respond to the priest, aloud in Latin. All this was made possible through the convenience of the vernacular missals that were once very popular. Now, these same people are being told that the use of the missalette is backward, retrogressive, and not in keeping with the spirit of the renewed liturgy. Many people are confused. After hearing for years that the use of the missal was a sound practice, now people are being told that the missalette, the postconciliar successor to many missals, is not a help to participation.

. . . To Foster Participation

The truth is that the missalette itself may not be the problem. It is the inappropriate use of the missalette that causes the difficulty. The missalette was never intended to become an impediment to active participation in the liturgy.

Missalettes are not published to inhibit participation. Missalettes are not published to get people to rivet their attention on the printed page. Furthermore, missalettes are not published as answer forms to correct mispronounced words or to occasion a less than charitable correction for the errors of lectors, deacons, or priests. Instead, missalettes are meant to insure that all God's People can follow the prayer of the Church as completely and accurately as possible. Like all missalettes, your Leaflet Missal is meant to foster participation and understanding.

Lectionary & Sacramentary

Lectionary Picture Above all, missalettes are not meant to be substitutes for the sacred books of the liturgy. On the one hand, missalettes are dispensable. When they are worn or outdated, they are discarded. On the other hand, the sacred books of the liturgy should never be so casually treated. The Gospel Book is carried in the entrance procession, placed upon the altar, incensed before the proclamation of the Gospel, and ideally given a place of honor in the sanctuary. The Lectionary is also a liturgical book from which the Living Word is proclaimed; as such, the Lectionary deserves the reverence due God's Word. The book should be carefully preserved and embellished with fine, artistic binding.

The Sacramentary, although less ritually honored than the Lectionary, is nonetheless the book of the Church's prayers and the liturgical rites for the Eucharist. This book too deserves respect and reverence and should always be maintained in an appropriate manner.

The priest who uses a missalette in the public celebration of the Church's liturgy can give the impression that the rites of the Church are as dispensable as the materials he uses. Lectors and priests, who use the missalette to prepare the readings or to plan the liturgy, should remember that preparation is one thing and the actual liturgy quite another. We should always avoid giving the impression that God's Word is dispensable or that the liturgy is unimportant.

As a help in preparation, lectors should be provided with copies of the readings that correspond to the translations in the Lectionary from which they will proclaim the Word. This preparation will avoid the anxiety of practicing a text in one translation and then proclaiming a different translation, with different expressions.

Are Missalettes A Stop-Gap?

Priests and those who assist with the liturgy are occasionally reluctant to purchase quality copies of the liturgical books because they fear that a new edition will be issued soon after such an investment is made. However, because of the increased use and handling of the liturgical books, signs of wear appear much more rapidly than ever before. So, in an attempt to wait for the final definitive text, we sometimes allow the Church's liturgy to be celebrated with shabby materials.

Such an approach is not necessary. New editions and corrected printings will always be a part of our church's liturgical tradition. Pope John XXIII

The Tridentine Roman Missal of St. Pius V (1560) underwent no less than eight editions during its period of use; it was amended and altered as late as 1961 by Pope John XXIII. Thus, to imagine that we will soon possess new, permanent liturgical books does not correspond to our liturgical history. There will never be a final, unchangeable edition.


In any event, the missalette was never intended to be a substitute for quality liturgical books or as a stop-gap measure until finalized books are available. Missalettes are an aid to worship--no more, no less. In the best of all possible worlds, we might not have need for missalettes; but in the world in which we live, let us at least make the best possible use of the missalettes that we do have.


(Reprinted from Parish Liturgy, April, 1981, pp. 4-6)


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