Saturday, May 13, 2006

What about the Traditional form of Mass?

There's been a lot of buzz lately, in certain circles, over whether the holy father will give a new, broader permission to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in the mode that prevailed up until the Second Vatican Council.

Some seem mainly interested in participating in that rite; many are fed up with what they experience in their own parishes, and/or suppose is happening elsewhere.

Others believe a wider use of the Tridentine Rite will exert an influence on the celebration of Mass per the Rite of Paul VI (see below for why I don't call it Novus Ordo). I think this is probably true, although some may overestimate either the wideness, or alacrity, of this influence.

I have yet--in a mere three years, I acknowledge--to have anyone request my celebration of, or participation in, the Mass per the Missal of Pius V. Twice, prior to my ordination, I attended such a Mass, in the "low" form, and while I had no doubt about the dignity or holiness of the Mass, I did not find it especially nourishing or appealing. (I don't mean I had any objection to it; but some promote the Tridentine Mass experience as a eye-opening experience.) I found myself not noting the differences, but the continuity, which I found affirming in my faith.

Meanwhile, I am noticing a little more attention paid to the options, within the current norms for the celebration of the Mass according to the current sacramentary/missal (for some reason, some object to the term "sacramentary," I don't know why), that -- when pursued -- seem to resolve the concerns many have about the negative effects of the revisions that followed Vatican II.

They note, of course, that the current rite of the Mass may be celebrated entirely in Latin, for which no permission is needed (although in a parish setting, prudence should be consulted!). In my parish, we use some Latin, and I think the Archbishop would be irritated if I wrote or called him to ask if I could use more--i.e., why am I bothering him with something that is within my purview?

Also, the question of ad orientem seems to be an open one; certainly, our holy father seems to think so, as he wrote a book several years ago, saying so. (Ad orientem refers to the priest, through much of the Mass, facing the same direction as the people, literally, "eastward"--i.e., toward the Dawn of our salvation, the Risen Crucified One.)

There are many other things that can and should be done to ensure that the celebration of the Mass has appropriate dignity and conveys its true nature as a transcendent event (listed in no significant order):

1. attention to the architecture, arrangement, and decoration of the church, particularly the sanctuary;

2. attention to selection of music, including the text for the psalm, when sung;

3. assisting and encouraging singing by everyone (I don't mean slavishly);

4. the selection and training of those who take particularly prominent roles in the Mass: servers, readers, ushers, sacristans, and extraordinary ministers of holy communion;

5. an effort by the pastor to assure some consistency, and to protect the celebration of the sacred liturgy from excessive intrusions (why that phrasing? Because there are many things that can happen at Sunday Mass that are "intrusive" even though they aren't forbidden, and which it would be terribly unrealistic to exclude altogether, but should be exceptional and be experienced as such).

6. the vestments and vessels used in Mass;

7. a sense of appropriate quiet and reverence before, during and after the liturgy;

8. the priest's own deportment, approach to celebrating the liturgy, and his prayerfulness and preparation.

Clearly, in some cases, you face limits: unless a parish has several hundred-thousand or million dollars lying around, and your pastor lacks enough to do, you aren't going to make major changes to the basic structure of the church. But one can make the most of what one has.

In my case, I am blessed to have a beautiful church, well maintained. But after arriving, I found a bunch of little-used candlesticks and thought they could be put to more use. I change the altar cloths with the seasons, and make sure we use our nicest vessels. I made a few other, subtle, changes, that have a positive effect.

Of these, all take some effort, more than many realize. It takes tremendous effort and time to coordinate a lot of people: you simply can't get them all at one, or even several, meetings, and when you change what people are used to doing, some get flustered, some forget, and some have their own, unexpected interpretation on what you ask for. And some changes, if everyone isn't aware of them, cause confusion: "what are you doing? No, that's not how we do it! What? When did that happen--oh, they keep changing everything..."

I find it challenging to cultivate quiet in the sacristy just before Mass. Oh, I can think of ways to do it, and I'll get to it in time; but the sacristy is a place of work, and a certain amount of craziness is going to happen. Like it or not, servers won't always show up on time, same with readers and sacristans...and priests! People will stop by to say "hi!"

Also, given what I said above about changing what a group does applies all the more to the entire assembly: so any changes in music take even more time, even where your music director is totally on board (of course, if he is not, that's a problem of a different order. My music director and I get along well, and I'm very grateful for him.)

I recall an illustration from political history. (Someone else deserves credit for noting this contrast, but I don't recall who.) There are two usages of the word "revolution," deriving from two models: the British/American model, and the French/Russian model. The former was a more gradual process, a development and a shifting -- a relatively more serene process, akin to the astronomic use of "revolution." The latter is a sudden, abrupt change, in which the spilling of blood is a regrettable, but necessary, even salutary, aspect.

Well, which sort of model do you want to see, if your pastor or parish introduces change? I admit, it has a lot to do with what's going on now; but I think unless you face really a truly horrible situation, the more serene and gradual process makes more sense. Let me know what you think.

So--what about the "new, old" Rite? And why don't I like the term "Novus Ordo"? Alas, I have run out of time for now! More later, God willing!


Fred said...

I grew up singing in a choir that sang Latin responses for the Eucharistic Prayer, Latin hymns, motets, etc, but also good English hymns (which included Gift of Finest Wheat), so I am sympathetic to expanded use of Latin.

My experience this past Lent in my current parish was disappointing. At Mass, both the Sanctus and the Agnus Dei were sung in Latin, but the cantors/ musicians never bothered to teach the responses to the people. The numbers did appear on the hymnal sign, but few people use that for the responses (and reading does not necessarily help one pronounce or sing the words).

Also, I've been impressed with a limited use of the Ad orientem - namely during the Penitential Rite, kneeling on the stairs of the Sanctuary: it was clear to me (before having read Ratzinger) that the priest was including himself in the penance even as he was representing and leading the people.

So, baby steps, explaining things, and practicing things are quite important. Our current pastor took time out to ask us to bow during the creed (also to kneel at Christmas, Annunciation). People may not realize what is expected unless it is periodically taught.

Anonymous said...

Dear Fr.

Any action that represents the Sacrifice of Calvary and makes present the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, the 2nd Person of the Blessed Trinity, the God of the Universe - seems to me to be infinitely good and amazing. I don't know how to compare infinites. What I do know how to compare is how well the action presents that reality to the people attending and helps them be more aware of the magnificent sacrifce Jesus did for us and the sacrament He left for us. So - how do these compare:

I have never been to the Tridintine Mass - though have seen them on TV/tapes - of course the High Mass then. What I liked about it (that I think is not as prevelent in the Paul VI Mass) is the awe inspiring, big, beautiful, mysterious aspects of it. I think when the Mass was said prior to 1965, the emphasis was on the rubrics and therefore, there was much less of an opportunity or imclination to have liturgical abuses - small or large. Clearly large abuses cause much harm - (balloon Masses, changing the words of Consecration, etc.) but the small changes and differences cause a constant buzz everytime you go to Mass. (Was that 'allowed' or 'wrong', why? What did that mean?) There is an important aspect of sameness that is comforting (think the Rosary) that allows me to concentrate on the important aspects of the Mass. Changes just distract me - I can either worship or analyse.

I think that it would be wise to provide a general indult for every priest to be able to say the Pius V Mass - primarily because it would remove a fight that just doesn't need to be. For priests and laity that want it - fabulous - for those that don't - go to the Paul VI Mass and let's all move on.

I do think, that we need a Reform of the Reform BUT it must be done slowly (not 20 years - think 3-5 years) with lots of education - starting with What is the Mass and going into the changes. My list would be add Latin for those parts that don't change - Gloria, Confiteor, Creed, etc. Those things that change, the readings, etc. in the vernacular. (Traveling internationally for my job, I have gone to Mass in Asia, South America and all over Europe - to be able to 'actively participate' in the liturgy would be a marvoulous thing and would emphasis that the Church is really and truely One.)I would also like to be led in prayer by my Father - so I would have the priest facing east with the congregation at the appropriate times. (It also reduces the inclination for a performance as opposed to In Persona Christi)

Finally, I can't agree more that the behavior of the congregation before, during and after Mass is of huge importance but it will be primariy determined by the behavior and expectations of the pastor - our spiritual father. If Dad is reverent at Mass and in church - always geneuflecting before Our Lord in the Tabernacle, speaking very quietly in the Church or deferring conversations to outside, slowing down running children and preaching about the proper behavior and dress in Church - then the attitude at Mass and in Church will change. Children (and adults) notice the priest and sister's behavior - even when they don't say they notice. (Clearly making the Chruch beautiful - vestments, chalices, monstrances, flowers, music, etc. also convey - this place is different and calls for different behavior than the football field or the rec room.)

God Bless you Fr. and so - why DON'T you call it the Novos Ordo Mass?

Fr Martin Fox said...


About the term "novus ordo," see my subsequent post, just uploaded...