Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Mass in the Extraordinary Form and the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy

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 explanation.

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.


FJH 3rd said...

Well, the answer to your question seems pretty simple...the older Mass is allowed because, as early as 1971 Pope Paul VI granted the so-called "Agatha Christie indult" because so many of the faithful were begging to have continued access to the older rite. And John Paul II, with great pastoral care, twice further loosened the reins, and ultimately Benedict completely unshackled it. There are many, old and young, who find the older Mass more spiritually edifying than the Mass of Paul VI. Clearly no one is forced to go to the older Mass, but isn't it reflective of the Church's "big tent" that those of us who wish to are able to do so?

Julie Collorafi said...

Dr. Jerry,

I understand completely your baffled response to your recent experience of the EF Low Mass, and I'd just like to point out that the Popes before the Council were, in their documents, trying to rectify the same situation you encountered.

Permit me this trip down memory lane: Pius X, XI and XII all desired that the people be taught to "sing and say in Latin those parts of the Mass that belong to them."

In other words, they did not want the faithful to be silent and passive at Mass. In fact, here's a list of the phrases these preconciliar Popes used to describe
the faithful who aren't taught to participate actively at Mass, which is very illuminating to say the least:

". . . detached and silent spectators"----Pope Pius XI, Divini cultus

". . . .outsiders or mute onlookers"----Pope Pius XII, Mediator Dei

". . . strangers"----Pope Pius XII, De musica sacra

". . . mute spectators"----Pope Pius XII, De musica sacra

". . . dumb and idle spectators"----Pope Pius XII, Musicae sacrae disciplina

God bless you always,


Scott said...

If I attended a Greek Orthodox Divine Liturgy, I expect I would come away from that first, single experience with a lot of unanswered questions. The more such liturgies I attended, the more answers I would get, and they wouldn't all be in the form of English words or sentences. Some would be deeper, wordless understandings or just resonances. I believe you would have a similar experience with more experiences of the Extraordinary Form.

Scott said...

I know people who attend the Extraordinary Form who feel they deeply participate, and that this does not necessarily happen in the form of saying the prayers aloud or being close to where the priest is.

As a single visit to an Eastern Orthodox liturgy would leave many unanswered questions and some confusion, I think your single experience of Low Mass has done the same. It takes repeated experience to arrive at the answers and inexpressible resonances and understandings that the liturgy holds.

Tom Windsor said...

Thank you for your excellent posts on the Extraordinary form.

You ask "why does what I experienced on Sunday continue to be allowed to be celebrated?"

Perhaps this quote may go in some way to answer the above. "What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful."
Letter of Pope Benedict XVI to the Bishops of the World to Present the "Motu Proprio" on the Use of the Roman Liturgy prior to the Reforms of 1970.

On another point...
Many others have also noted the lack of Scripture in the Extraordinary Form compared to the Ordinary Form.

It should be noted that the EF is closely linked to the Divine Office, which will contain a greater range of Scripture, no doubt at least a few of people in the Congregation would be reading / singing this too during the course of the day.

My Missal (St. Andrew Daily) contains a list of Scripture that is linked to the Mass of the day to be read.

Others may prefer to read one of the commentaries written that explain the EF, 'The Liturgical Year, Gueranger" is a popular one.

Is it better to dwell more deeply on a smaller selection of Scripture or have a greater amount read to us, that we may not have the time to follow so closely?

Sam Schmitt said...

It strikes me that the quotations Julie cites are somewhat anachronistic, since they were from popes who (as far as we know) had no intention to reform the rite of the mass - at least in the way it was done after the Council.

These popes saw the problem of "detached and silent spectators" at the mass, but their solution was much like what the Liturgical Movement was advocating at the time - not so much more outward activity, but a deeper immersion in the mysteries being celebrated.

So the participation they had in mind was certainly possible in the older rite, after all, it was the only one they knew. Forcing a "post-conciliar" understanding of participation (which I think it's safe to say is colored by how things developed historically and how the mass is habitually celebrated today) can get in the way of what these popes were saying.

As I see it, the "easy" part of what the Council asked for - the reform of the books and rubrics and calendar, etc. - has been done. But the more difficult work of liturgical formation called for in SC 14-19 - an interiorization of the rites and their meaning - has barely begun.

Anonymous said...

As far as I know, you are not an ordained priest, so how could you "celebrate" the Mass; you mention this several times.