I would like to comment on my experience this past Sunday at a low Mass in the extraordinary form vis a vis the Second Vatican Council's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.
I am doing something here that is not logical. I am using paragraphs from the Consitution on the Sacred Liturgy to place in a kind of dialogue with my experience of the low Mass in the extraordinary form I celebrated on Sunday. Illogical, because the constitution's main thrust was to call for a reform of the very form of the Mass I celebrated on Sunday.
This is purely a reflection on my own part; a reflection on my actual experience of the Mass. I am offering the questions that my experience raised, especially as that experience relates to nearly my entire Catholic life of having celebrated the Mass as called for in the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council. These are serious questions for me as a Roman Catholic. Again, I am asking for your help as I humbly move through all of this; I want to know how my Catholic brothers and sisters who celebrate the Mass in the extraordinary form address the questions I am raising here.
From Chapter One of the Constitution come the following four paragraphs (or sections thereof).
11. But in order that the liturgy may be able to produce its full effects, it is
necessary that the faithful come to it with proper dispositions, that their
minds should be attuned to their voices, and that they should cooperate with
divine grace lest they receive it in vain. Pastors of souls must therefore realize that, when the
liturgy is celebrated, something more is required than the mere observation of
the laws governing valid and licit celebration; it is their duty also to ensure
that the faithful take part fully aware of what they are doing, actively engaged
in the rite, and enriched by its effects.
It is simply a fact that there was very little about the Mass that called for any active engagement from me. Many have already commented that "active" engagement can mean different things. In a nutshell, the meaning that many would describe about the engagement in the Mass in the extraordinary form is summed up by a few sentences from Bl. Pope John Paul II (from a comment to this blog posted yesterday):
"Yet active participation does not preclude the active passivity of silence, stillness and listening: indeed, it demands it. Worshippers are not passive, for instance, when listening to the readings or the homily, or following the prayers of the celebrant, and the chants and music of the liturgy. These are experiences of silence and stillness, but they are in their own way profoundly active."
At my experience on Sunday, the only words I actually heard were the words of the epistle, the homily, the Latin spoken by the priest when I received Holy Communion, and the prayers that followed the Mass. There was literally nothing else to listen to. I cannot grasp what was calling me into any kind of active engagement.
21. In this restoration, both texts and rites should be drawn up so that they
express more clearly the holy things which they signify; the Christian people,
so far as possible, should be enabled to understand them with ease and to take
part in them fully, actively, and as befits a community.
My experience on Sunday was obviously of a Mass whose "texts and rites" were not touched by the Church following the council. And I guess this is where one of my basic questions arises. The Church clearly stated that what I experienced on Sunday was to be restored in a way to enable an ease of understanding and a taking part in them that would be full and active, "as befits a community." My question: if this was the expressed intent of the Roman Catholic Church, why does what I experienced on Sunday continue to be allowed to be celebrated? This is a very basic disconnect for me, and one with which I have been struggling mightily since Sunday.
30. To promote active participation, the people should be encouraged to take
part by means of acclamations, responses, psalmody, antiphons, and songs, as
well as by actions, gestures, and bodily attitudes. And at the proper times all
should observe a reverent silence.
My experience on Sunday included no taking part in "acclamations, responses, psalmody, antiphons, and songs." As far as actions go, I genuflected before entering the pew. I stood, knelt, and sat when everyone else did. I approached the sanctuary, knelt at the rail, and received the Eucharist. I observed silence for most of the 50 minutes I was in the church. And I did pray the prayers after Mass aloud (at least the ones I knew by memory).
34. The rites should be distinguished by a noble simplicity; they should be
short, clear, and unencumbered by useless repetitions; they should be within the
people's powers of comprehension, and normally should not require much
There was definitely a noble simplicity to the celebration of the Mass, but all the moving around, the very many genuflections by the servers and celebrant, the synchronized bowing by the servers toward the center of the floor; these all seemed to be in contradiction to the call for rites that are "short, clear, and unencumbered by useless repetitions." Again, I have to ask my basic question: if this was the expressed intent of the Roman Catholic Church, why does what I experienced on Sunday continue to be allowed to be celebrated?
There were two men sitting in the front pew of the church. It was obvious that one was very familiar with the Mass in the extraordinary form because, all during the Mass, he was pointing up into the sanctuary and whispering to his companion. I presume from the gestures that he was explaining what was going on. Frankly, there was a part of me that wished I was sitting next to him, so that it could have been explained to me.
35. 1) In sacred celebrations there is to be more reading from holy scripture, and
it is to be more varied and suitable.
The Epistle of Saint James was read at the Mass I attended on Sunday. How does what I experienced fulfill the expressed intent of the Church regarding "more reading from holy scripture?"
Now many of you have said that my experience will be markedly different when I celebrate a high Mass. I would still like to point out that the low Mass I experienced on Sunday is still a valid and licit Mass, allowed for by the Church. I would think that there are those for whom a low Mass is their preferred Mass and, since the restrictions on its celebration were lifted, may be the only Mass celebrated by many people, week after week. Again, I have to ask my basic question: if the reform of this very form of the Mass was the expressed intent of the Roman Catholic Church at the Second Vatican Council, why does what I experienced on Sunday continue to be allowed to be celebrated? This is just a very basic disconnect for me.
I am promising to attend a high Mass in the extraordinary form in the coming weeks. I am traveling quite extensively in the next months, but will revisit these same questions after the new experience.
Thanks for your patience with me.
Gotta sing. Gotta pray.