Rubrics refer to the red print found in the official liturgical books. Unlike the scripture and prayer texts that are said aloud, rubrics are the instructions on how the rite is to be celebrated. The Scripture and prayer texts are printed in black, and to distinguish them, the rubrics are printed in red (“rubrics” is from a Latin word meaning “red”). Rubricism is a scrupulous regard for following the directives and instructions to the last detail. There is certainly nothing wrong with following instructions and directives precisely, but there is something wrong when obsessive behavior in this regard blinds one to the deeper and more profound meaning of the
Bishop Richard J. Skilba, writing in the Milwaukee Catholic Herald, says that rubricism means “such an obsessive and driven preoccupation with the directives in red print as to risk losing sight of the Eucharist’s main purpose. The primary goal of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist which is the source and summit of the church’s life, is sharing in the death and resurrection of the Lord and in Christ’s praise of the Father which is accomplished in the new creation of God’s people by divine grace and mercy.
“While rubrics are important, they can also become obstacles to God’s grace if taken out of context or given exclusive attention. For that reason the Council also included a solemn warning: ‘Pastors of souls must also realize that, when the liturgy is celebrated, more is required than the mere observance of the laws governing valid and licit celebration. It is their duty also to ensure that the faithful take part knowingly, actively and faithfully.’”
Perhaps our traditional Thanksgiving Day meal is most analogous to the ritual meal of the Eucharist. On Thanksgiving Day we gather as family communities around a table to remember certain important things, to give our heartfelt thanks, and to cherish the relationships that are represented at the table as well as our relationships with those who are not able to be present. There are such things as table manners - rules we follow that help the meal go smoothly and assure that the ritual, handed down by many people before us, will be celebrated now and passed on to future generations substantially unchanged. But imagine if certain individuals became obsessed with correct table manners, to the point that the act of thanksgiving and the solidarity between participants became secondary. The color of the tablecloth, the material from which the cups are fashioned, or who assists in carving the turkey are simply not as important as the common act of thanksgiving and the nourishing of the bonds between the participants at table.
Bishop Skilba concludes, “These things I as a bishop worry about, given today’s increasing focus on correct rubrics as if they were the means to salvation, rather than as an occasion for God’s loving mercy. Keep an eye on the mystery, not merely the pathway to it.”