Monday, October 21, 2013

Mass in the Extraordinary Form

Monday greetings, folks. Hold onto your seats . . . this is a long one.

As many who follow this blog know, I am a Catholic in search of a parish these days.

Yesterday, I decided that, after talking about the pre-Vatican II Mass for years, it might be a good idea to attend a Mass in the extraordinary form, a "Tridentine Mass."

I am going to spend the time on the blog this week talking about my experience. I hope that we can have a civil dialogue about this issue.

The parish's web site described the particular Mass as "Tridentine High Mass (Latin)." I was looking forward to a Mass filled with music and chant and the glorious sounds of the organ and choir.

Apparently, there was a change in the parish schedule and, from all accounts, what I experienced instead was a "Tridentine Low Mass (Latin)."

There were about 150 people in attendance. I would say that perhaps ten people were over 65. The rest were fairly young; people in their 30's, 40's and 50's. I have probably said hundreds of times over the years something like this: "The pre-conciliar liturgy was generally marked by a passivity by the congregation. The priest, for the most part, had his back to the congregation and prayed the Mass in a low voice, inaudible to the people. What was important was going on 'up there' in the sanctuary. People in the pews, for the most part, engaged in private devotions and at the ringing of the bells, knew to look up to see the elevation of host and chalice."

Yesterday's Mass fit my description to a tee, and more. There were two altar servers who assisted the priest at the Mass. They were robotic, mechanical, and militaristic in their movements. Whoever trained them for this trained them quite well. The many movements, all done with the precision of synchronized swimmers at the Olympics, was startling. When the Missal or a framed prayer card had to be moved by these servers from one side of the altar to the other, I sat there wondering why it looked like the changing of the guard at the tomb of the unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery. I know it sounds as if I am poking fun here, but this was so precise and like a military drill each time these servers made a move that it distracted me beyond measure from what I was trying to see going on at the altar. But that was just the strange point about it; I couldn't tell what was going on at the altar. The Mass was being said in a small space "up there." All of the dialogues were between the priest and these two servers. I tried following along in the booklet provided. I could recognize the various parts of the Mass; at least I think I could. But I was guessing and second-guessing throughout, because I couldn't see what the priest was actually doing at the altar, and I couldn't hear a word.

After the priest said the Gospel (I think) at the altar with his back to us, he turned and faced us and approached the ambo. From there he read the Epistle from Saint James in English. He then told a story about a saint and the need for people to sign up for the 40 hours of devotion before our "Eucharistic King."

He then went back to the altar, with his back to us and continued with the Mass. As he began what I knew must have been the words of institution, a man in front of me left his wife and two children and walked to my left. I was distracted because I heard him speaking out loud. When I looked to my left, I realized that he was kneeling at a confessional and going to confession. When he finished, a young boy knelt at the confessional and loudly confessed his sins. This was all occurring as the servers, kneeling behind the celebrant, lifted up the celebrant's chasuble as he elevated first the host, then the chalice, while the bells were rung three times. Confessions continued as the eucharistic prayer went on, both next to me and at a confessional on the other side of the church.

Just before communion, the two servers mechanically approached the altar rail and again, with perfect synchronicity, unfolded several long white cloths that were hung on the inside of the communion rail, then draped them over the top of the communion rail. They then opened the central gate of the communion rail. People went to communion, kneeling at the rail, receiving communion on the tongue. Several young men in cassocks and surplices of lace assisted with the distribution of Holy Communion.

The servers then folded the long white cloths back up behind the communion rail and closed the gate. During communion, no one went through the open gate. After an extended washing of the vessels, the Mass concluded, or so I thought.

Up until this point, the only word I had uttered the entire time was "Amen" when I received communion. As the Mass concluded, the people knelt and were led by the celebrant into praying three Hail Mary's, the Salve Regina in English, another Marian Prayer, and the Prayer to Saint Michael the Archangel. These were the only prayers that the congregation prayed aloud during the entire time we were there.

I left that Church feeling perplexed. I had a much deeper appreciation of why the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council insisted on a reform of the liturgy; less repetition of words; less repetition of ritual movements; a move into the vernacular; a move toward fully conscious and active participation by the people, among other reforms. What I witnessed yesterday was (I think) what the Fathers at the council were asking the Church to reform so that the work of Christ in the liturgy could become intelligible and more fully nurture the hearts of the faithful.

Summorum Pontificum, the Motu Proprio allowing priests to celebrate the extraordinary form without having to seek permission from their bishops (as had been the case before this letter), included this statement:  "It is not appropriate to speak of these two versions of the Roman Missal as if they were 'two Rites'. Rather, it is a matter of a twofold use of one and the same rite." What I experienced yesterday just didn't seem like another use of the "same rite," of what I have come to know as the Mass. It seemed like a different rite to me.

I understand that Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI were trying to be pastoral to those people who missed the pre-conciliar liturgy or who had somehow longed for the benefits of that liturgy, including the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X. Benedict was certainly trying his best to bring this group into unity. But 95% of the people at that Mass yesterday had never even experienced the Mass before the Second Vatican Council in their actual lifetimes, including me (at least not in my memory). The Motu Proprio treats this issue: "Afterwards, however, it soon became apparent that a good number of people remained strongly attached to this usage of the Roman Rite, which had been familiar to them from childhood." And again: "Many people who clearly accepted the binding character of the Second Vatican Council, and were faithful to the Pope and the Bishops, nonetheless also desired to recover the form of the sacred liturgy that was dear to them." As I looked around that church yesterday, I wondered how the pre-conciliar rite had "become dear" to these people.

The Motu Proprio addresses this issue: "Immediately after the Second Vatican Council it was presumed that requests for the use of the 1962 Missal would be limited to the older generation which had grown up with it, but in the meantime it has clearly been demonstrated that young persons too have discovered this liturgical form, felt its attraction and found in it a form of encounter with the Mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist, particularly suited to them."

The Motu Proprio continues: "This occurred above all because in many places celebrations were not faithful to the prescriptions of the new Missal, but the latter actually was understood as authorizing or even requiring creativity, which frequently led to deformations of the liturgy which were hard to bear. I am speaking from experience, since I too lived through that period with all its hopes and its confusion. And I have seen how arbitrary deformations of the liturgy caused deep pain to individuals totally rooted in the faith of the Church." I agree with Pope Benedict's assertion and diagnosis that there were certainly places where creativity led to liturgies that lost their way. But I wonder if the expansion of the allowance of the extraordinary form was really an answer to this situation. Surely we have come a long way with the post-conciliar liturgical reform and that these "deformations" have become less and less as the years have gone on.

Benedict draws this conclusion in Summorum Pontificum: "There is no contradiction between the two editions of the Roman Missal. In the history of the liturgy there is growth and progress, but no rupture. 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. It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place. Needless to say, in order to experience full communion, the priests of the communities adhering to the former usage cannot, as a matter of principle, exclude celebrating according to the new books. The total exclusion of the new rite would not in fact be consistent with the recognition of its value and holiness."

As I said above, I left that Mass quite perplexed. It left me empty and full of questions. However, I do believe that the people in that church did find the spiritual nourishment for which they were seeking.

But, what I experienced was something that felt more like a museum piece. Many people around me were sitting there reading devotional material as the Mass unfolded up there. I found it so hard to enter into the experience because what was happening did not involve me at all. And I know there are those who would tell me that my silent assent and attentiveness to the mystery being celebrated is what participation is all about. Frankly, I find that argument to be hollow. I have a Catholic voice; I have a Catholic heart; I have Catholic vocal chords ready to sing God's praise. Unfortunately, yesterday's experience of the extraordinary form of the Mass never engaged this Catholic.

Folks, I would really like to hear from those of you who celebrate in the extraordinary form regularly. I need to hear how that form engages you and lifts your heart. I am desperately trying to understand how what I experienced yesterday is not a separate rite, but instead, as Pope Benedict said, another version of the same rite.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.


Anonymous said...

Perhaps you could give it one more try and go to the 12:30 Tridentine High Mass at St. John Cantius. You happened to end up in a bad situation, but at Cantius you'll find what the rest of us love.

Mr. C said...

Dr. Jerry, you might compare yours to mine.
I'll have another one from another occasion for you when I can reference it.

Charles Culbreth

The Scholar said...

Interesting experience and analysis.

I do not attend the EF regularly, although I have ended up at several over the years, either as a conductor or person in the pews. I have never been to a Low Mass, though.

A couple of thoughts based on your analysis:

First, it seemed museum-like to you. However, I would argue that you approached it with a museum mentality - a certain detachment, in order to see what the EF is like. I don't think you can judge spiritual engagement and value, when you are unused to the ritual form and an outsider. The question is not so much how much it engages YOU on first experience, but how much it means to/engages those who attend every week or every day. Thanks for noting that and asking for input. I will just mention the only thing that would tempt me towards the EF: stability. In the EF, the liturgy is pretty much just done as in the book; the Proper is sung, and you can attend Mass without worrying about odd musical or liturgical practices. I think many people who attend the EF do so simply so they can attend Mass without worrying what will happen THIS week musically or liturgically. There is a stability and a coherence to the EF that is often missing in the OF. For example, traditional opening hymn, Hass or Haugen for the Ordinary, a piano-based Offertory, a chant at communion - the 'hodge-podge' approach found at so many parishes. OR at so many parishes traditional music is banned outright. I know people who attend the EF without a particular affinity for the ritual structure, but simply to avoid musical/liturgical practices they find grating and not conducive to prayer and worship.

Second point, you attended a Low Mass, which is essentially a private Mass said by the priest while people are present. In this mentality, there really does not need to be much attention given to those present. Ironically, this is where vernacular hymnody had its home before the council - vernacular could be used precisely because the congregation was not actually singing the Mass; merely singing while the liturgy went on in the sanctuary. The Low Mass was the subject of much criticism from the Liturgical Movement. Many figures in the LM argued that the High Mass was the solution, rather than some new reformed Missal. And in the High Mass, since everything is sung, there is a more public character throughout. In addition, a big push from the LM and church documents even before V2 was to have the congregation sing during High Mass - especially the Mass Ordinary. So a HM done this way would have a more public, communal, engaging character by far, as well as involving the assembly in sung dialogues and the Ordinary chants. A whole different world. Unfortunately, few EF parishes aspire to this goal, as was the problem before the council as well. Or at some of the famous EF parishes you often find the entire Ordinary and Proper sung by the choir - a practice frowned upon in Musicam Sacram. So it is very difficult to find an EF High Mass that also approaches the reform goal of active interior and exterior congregational participation.

Julie Collorafi said...

Dr. Jerry,

My first experience of a TLM was at a silent Low Mass with three wiggly little boys. After many pointed glares and frowns from a number of pious congregants, I took the hint and brought the baby to the vestibule, where from behind a closed door I watched the rest of the Mass, vowing never to return.

However, we went to a Missa Cantata the sung High Mass) several years later and I was won over by the experience. What helped most was my own study of the liturgical documents, esp. the teaching of the preconciliar Popes and the high level of congregational participation they desired at the Latin Mass which was never fully realized (at least not in the U.S.---in France and Poland and other parts of Europe, yes.)

Now my husband and I are part of the music team at a weekly Missa Cantata where we are fortunate to have the support of a pastor who shares our vision of a "populist" model of the Latin Mass.

We sing vernacular hymns (from the Anglican hymnal) at the procession and recession, our mixed schola sings the propers and we encourage the congregation to sing the Introit and Communio with us. We sing a different Mass from the Kyriale every month and teach it to the people before Mass.

I also spend a great deal of time every week preparing a handout which enables the people to follow along with the music and readings as much as possible.

I have to say this model of the traditional Latin Mass provides just as much IF NOT MORE participation on the part of the people than the Novus Ordo Missae.

There are different paradigms of the Latin Mass, obviously, but teaching the people to participate by singing and saying the parts of the Mass that pertain to them was the ardent desire of the preconciliar Popes.

Check out this beautiful High Mass at St. Nicolas du Chardonnet in Paris if you want to experience, vicariously at least, a truly enlightened model of the traditional Latin Mass:

FJH 3rd said...

Jerry, as you know I've been following your blog for sometime now, when all the talk was the new translation of the Missal. I must say I was a bit amused to learn this was your first Extraordinary Form Mass. A few years ago, maybe ten now, I sought out Mass in the older form because I was exceedingly frustrated by the poor "ars celebrandi" of the Mass of Paul VI at my parish. Unlike you, I had vague childhood memories of the "Tridentine Mass", and was pre-disposed to receive it in a positive light. My first experience was a bit like yours - low Mass - but I truly appreciated the silence and reverence. The "mechanical" movements of the servers did not bother me in the least, being a welcome contrast to the sloppy, untrained movements of the kids serving at my parish.

I went a few more times, knowing that it was unfamiliar enough that I shouldn't judge the old rite on my first exposure in decades. The next few experiences were beautifully sung Missa Cantata, and that is when my affection for the older Mass really caught fire. I got myself a hand missal and learned to follow along. I thoroughly appreciated the opportunity to receive Holy Communion kneeling at a rail.

Fortunately at my home parish, a change of pastors ushered in a new era of attentiveness to the rubrics of the Ordinary Form Mass. Then, we were graced with a newly ordained parochial vicar who knows how to celebrate the older Mass, as do many of his young contemporaries. Now, many parishes in our Diocese are blessed with well celebrated Ordinary Form Masses, and much more numerous opportunities to attend the older Mass.

I echo the first commenter's recommendation...go to a High Mass at St. John Cantius. I have been there and it is beautiful.

You might ask could it be that for some 1500+ years the ancient form of the Mass nourished the lives of innumerable Saints who we now venerate and emulate. It could not possibly have been as terrible an experience of worship as today's "enlightened" liturgists would have us think.

Pope-Emeritus Benedict exhibited sheer pastoral and liturgical genius when he released the restraints on the older Mass, and for that alone I shall always feel gratitude. said...

Jerry-as you know-I(Cousin Elaine) am not a Catholic, nor do I understand your Masses...I only know that I feel that I can go into any Christ believing church or in my Home or anywhere and feel God's presence. You should be able too. I know that in my church-you would certainly be able to hear what was being said from the pulpit, and encouraged to participate with a few Hallelujas and Amens! LOL! I am sorry you are having a hard time finding a place of worship that you feel comfortable in and I will keep you in my prayers that you will find such a place... If the Catholic churches don't satisfy-try the Pentecostals!!! Just a suggestion. I know you won't, as you are Catholic through and through...but remember this God is not in what the Priest says, or does he is in your heart, mind and soul!!!! Love you!!!

Brigid said...

I had a similar reaction the first time I went to the EF Mass. Before I went, I was sure that I would love it. Then while I was experiencing it, I thought - - I have no idea what is going on (this was during Sunday High Mass). I tried in vain to follow along in the little red booklet. All I knew was that the chanting was done supremely well, and that the priest's homily was fantastic.

I have gone a few more times since then, and it has become a little less mystifying now. I let it wash over me, without trying to follow along word for word. Last time I went, I was extremely moved when the choir sang the Gloria - - I actually sat there and wept. Our former pastor had often used that chant setting for regular OF Mass, and it hit me how much I missed him, and the style of liturgy he celebrated.
I did feel that it was powerful to me, to see how most Christians worshiped for centuries. It sounds like there were several things you found disarming - - just imagine how one of the great saints would feel at an OF Mass!
I hope you make it to a High Mass sometime, and that you experience it several times, and let it soak into your soul.
Thanks for your comments and your insight!

Anonymous said...

Hi Jerry,

Thanks for sharing your honest and frank thoughts. You might be interested to read a series of articles on the NLM about this very subject - how people are drawn to the EF and have their faith deepened or have a profound conversion experience because of the old Mass.

I'd also recommend attending a high Mass; the low Mass can sometimes be disorienting for a newcomer. I had a similar experience my first few times at the EF, but I've learned to love it and have grown in my faith tremendously because of it. Give it a shot for at least a few more times after talking with someone who loves it. I promise you won't regret it.

A Latin Mass Loving Young Adult

Anonymous said...

Low Masses seem to vary wildly from parish to parish. I know of some that have "silent" Low Masses, which I don't much care for - I think the congregation should be able to follow along.

The Low Masses at my usual church are celebrated audibly and have hymns and the readings in English. However, I vastly prefer High Mass and think you should give one a try. I second attending St John Cantius if you are nearby, I've been there a handful of times and was impressed.

Anonymous said...

The 'silence' of the low Mass is something that requires effort and preparation. We're not used to such things any more. The Mass of Paul VI - even in a non-sung form - has near constant noise.
The method of execution of Low Mass can vary now. We have readings only in the vernacular and the congregation respond with the servers. I would consider that this is the most 'accessible' form of this Mass.
It seems that, where you went, it was toward the more 'private' end of the scale. It's not surprising that you were a bit bewildered.
I would encourage you to try again, perhaps with a Missa Cantata, which will seem more familiar. The you can return to the Missa Lecta at a later date, if you fancy a bit of peace and quiet.

Good luck.

Ben Dunlap said...

Lot of great comments here. I would only add that the inclination toward "low" liturgy has been a bone of contention in the Roman Rite for many many centuries. St. Hugh of Lincoln was unusual for his insistence on full solemnity under any circumstances... in the 12th century.

Among lovers of the EF, some people much prefer a spoken mass, period. Others think it should go away never to return. Others prefer it in some circumstances and not in others.

For whatever reason the Eastern Churches don't seem to have this problem. Divine Liturgy may be simpler and briefer in a parish than in a monastery or cathedral, but it's always sung, all the way through.

I personally think that low mass is a subtle but lovely spiritual gem, a gift of God to the West. But it's probably not for everyone and it's certainly not for all situations. And I don't care for mechanistic/militaristic server motion either -- that's definitely *not* universal in the EF.

In any case it seems good for liturgy professionals to be comfortably familiar with all the forms of Catholic worship in current use, both Eastern and Western, high and low. Keep at it!

Adeodatus said...

Sir, the Tridentine Mass is very Hebrew... it is centered on God and not on the congregation (i.e. it is not centered on you). You say that the priest had his back to you; that is incorrect. The priest was facing God.

Your site is called "Gotta Sing Gotta Pray" so I think this is going to be hard for you. You do know that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the unbloody representation of the Sacrifice of Calvary, do you not? That is a solemn occasion.

So many people nowadays (and for the last 50 years) want the Mass to be a folk music concert. That is not what it is. The Mass is not a revival, a concert or a party. It is the work of salvation and it is very serious.

I too am on the younger side (I just turned 40). Why do I love the Tridentine Mass? Because it actually seems to be a Mass. It actually aligns with the theology of the Church. It actually seems to be a solemn and reverent work of worship.

Mass is not about you or me. It is not about our feelings. It is about Almighty God and the graces He bestows upon us. It is about His Holy Sacrifice. It should not be a clown circus or a hootenanny.

I sought out the Mass of All Ages because I was tired of seeing God insulted in His own church. I can never go back.

John Nolan said...

The Classic Roman Rite and the Novus Ordo Missae are effectively different rites, although the latter in its most solemn form (sung in Latin, with the Propers taken from the Graduale Romanum) outwardly resembles the former quite closely, particularly when celebrated ad apsidem. However, to acknowledge this might confuse the faithful, which is why B XVI coined the novel terms OF and EF.

As a child I was taught to follow the Low Mass in a bi-lingual missal, flicking from the Ordinary to the Proper. After a while the Ordinary became so familiar that I now only use the missal for the Proper. I also served Mass from the age of eight, which requires learning the responses and paying attention to what the celebrant is doing.

The "dialogue Mass", where the people respond with the server, came in just before the Council (although it had been common for years in parts of continental Europe). However, the prayers at the foot of the altar, including the whole of Ps 42 and the long Roman Confiteor, were never intended as a dialogue between priest and people, and the effect, particularly in a large church, was far from satisfactory. The Novus Ordo circumvents this by providing an introductory rite which is indeed a dialogue between priest and people and which can, and indeed should be, sung.

Simon said...

Jerry, I agree with—or am at least sympathetic to—a number of your points. There's no doubt in my mind that the greatest tragedy of the postconciliar era was the Holy See's decision to ignore the Council's call for reform of the Mass and to instead promulgate a new Mass, leaving us with anger, division, and two liturgies in need of reform.

But I don't think you can be surprised that young people are fleeing to the usus antiquior. I do, too, sometimes, when I can't take any more of the banality with which the usus modernus is so often celebrated. The Church looks very different today than it did two generations ago; today, when people aren't serious about being Catholics, they leave. Most of the young people who remain are serious about their religion, and if the only place they can find a Mass celebrated with the sobriety and dignity that they know is proper to it is in the usus antiquior (or, in due course, the usus anglicanus), that's where they're going to go, even if what they would really like is a reverently-celebrated usus modernus. What choice do they have when the liturgical gatekeepers in so many parishes thwart every attempt to pare postconciliar silliness from legitimate postconciliar reform?

Anonymous said...

A main reason many people attend EF Masses is because they don't have to deal with profane and secular music in the most solemn worship of God.