Celebrating Mass, beautifully or "badly"
  • G
    Posts: 1,397
    I thought in light of the occasional discussions here of why, when Latin, or chant, or the EF, are introduced to a community it is ESSENTIAL that it be done well, this blog posting might be of interest:

    A Sub-par Extraordinary Experience

    (Warning: Catholic inside baseball ahead.)

    This weekend we had to attend Mass at a different time than usual. Our options were a) the Spanish Mariachi-flavored Mass, or b) the Extraordinary Form down at the Cathedral. Now, Darwin's Hispanic heritage does not extend to the more vernacular forms of Mexican musical expression, and neither do I love me some mariachi, so we opted for b. As we were driving down to the Cathedral, Darwin said, "I feel like we should go down to the Tridentine Mass every so often because I keep thinking that it will get better."

    "What's the definition of insanity?" I asked.

    Both Darwin and I are of a traditional bent of mind. We've read the 1962 Missal, and we appreciate the richness of the language and the clarity of the rubrics. We love Gregorian chant and own a Graduale. Both of us learned basic Latin responses such as "Et cum spiritu tuo" from our parents, who remembered saying them at Mass as children. So we're predisposed to like the Extraordinary Form. We want to like the Extraordinary Form. And yet every EF Mass we've ever been to has left us wondering, "Is this really what it's all about? Why is anyone attached to this?"

    Our Sunday Mass was completely in keeping with our experience of the past five years. It began with a hymn, not the introit (Holy God, We Praise Thy Name -- which I don't have to go to an EF to hear done well on a regular basis), and then... what? I was unclear where exactly the Mass started, since the Mass booklet provided wasn't exactly clear either. Since the vintage priest was inaudible and absolutely unintelligible (in Latin and in English) there was no way of following where he was in the Mass. Nor was it possible to match up his postures to the little pictures in the missal, the which I assume were included to orient those who had no way of following the Latin. We knelt for a long silent stretch, enough time to read several pages several times over while still being unclear what was going on. Darwin, in back with the baby, assured me that faintly through the speakers came the sound of the priest saying the first words of the Confiteor. I thought I heard "Gloria". The children, who had nothing either visual or aural to focus them, began to wiggle and squirm.

    There was very little clear consensus on which parts were to be said by the people. Some congregants responded to some things, some to others, some said nothing at all throughout the Mass. The responses that were said were mumbled in such a low and disorganized fashion that I had trouble recognizing them. The sound system had been turned so low that even the readings, read at the lectern, were extremely difficult to follow. (This must be a choice made by the mass group, because at other Masses at the Cathedral we've been able to hear just fine.) During the long sermon I couldn't hear, due to the under-utilized sound system, I pondered the stereotype of the little old lady who said her rosary during Mass and realized that had I a rosary upon me, I would be that lady. At least then I'd have some knowledge of what prayer I was supposed to be saying when.

    There is a certain desperation in attending some ritual event or ceremony in which everything seems slightly off-kilter. The sense of a familiar routine being altered in some subtle way that you can't understand or follow becomes disorienting and eventually suffocating. The girls gradually abandoned their efforts to be still and quiet when it seemed like nothing was happening, and I couldn't even show them in the missal where we were and what was going on, since I was floundering myself. Between the deteriorating behavior (which crossed the line, as children's behavior always seems to, right before communion) and my increasing frustration with being unable to align myself with what was going on, we had to drag everyone out directly after Communion -- something we have seldom ever done. (Everyone under seven promptly received a lecture and spanking, from daddy, in the car.)

    On the way home, we shook our heads once again over the definition of insanity: doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result.

    When the Motu Proprio was issued, we were excited. Pope Benedict's encouragement of one great sacred tradition of the Church inspired us to delve into other traditional forms of worship. Darwin worked hard to form a group to say Vespers, bought books himself, and even typed up one page sheets for each day of the week when the books proved difficult for beginners to navigate. I accosted our associate pastor on his first Sunday at our parish and asked him to use his experience with chant and sacred music to found a schola. We followed blogs and websites devoted to the "reform of the reform", which were bursting with avid devotees of the Extraordinary Form all extolling the pre-Vatican II Mass as the pinnacle of Catholic worship, and triumphantly predicting that as more people experienced the riches of the old Mass, there would be an upsurge in demand for it.

    And yet... every time we actually attend the Extraordinary Form we're underwhelmed and disappointed. Perhaps we expect too much, but our expectations are based on the text itself of the 1962 missal. The text suggests an inherent drama and beauty to this form of the Mass that has not been born out by any of our actual experiences of the EF. Oddly enough, our experiences don't jibe with those of our parents and grandparents, who remember the old Mass as celebrated as the norm by parishes. It's as if our local EF Mass is formulated to accommodate those who long for a distant musty past -- as opposed to the way a living parish works, where a priest who strives for liturgical beauty and tradition must be scrupulously excellent to stave off the inevitable complaints from people who don't like "that sort of thing".

    Conversely, the few times we've been to the Novus Ordo celebrated in Latin have been wondrously reverent and marvelously beautiful. Perhaps that's because we're attuned to the rhythms of the Novus Ordo and so can immerse ourselves in the richness of this form of worship. But also, the careful planning and preparation and clear love of the form and the language have shown through in the attitudes of the priest and the choir and the congregation. The worship aids have been clear and concise so that even someone who had never attended any mass, let alone a mass in Latin, could follow the prayers and respond appropriately. The same has been true of the few and various Byzantine Divine Liturgies we've attended -- even in a completely unfamiliar language, with an unknown structure, we didn't feel at sea because both the priest and the faithful were unambiguous about what they were doing, and what role each played.

    It's enjoyable to click around to various websites and look at the pretty pictures of vestments and gorgeous churches and the inspiring image of the elevation with the priest surrounded by the deacon and the sub-deacon. Darwin can appreciate the richness of the Latin text, with its elevated vocabulary and the layers of ancient solemnity. I love the inherent drama of the ritual gestures and postures, and the spiritual elevation of Gregorian chant integrated into the Mass. But we've never seen these things in person. Some detractors of the Novus Ordo say that although they've heard that the new Mass can be reverently and beautifully celebrated, they've never seen it. For us, it's the other way around.

    We'll probably go back to the EF Mass, even though it's unlikely that our local group will deviate from the minimalist pattern we've seen over the last five years. But please, guys. You do have to try to create beauty. At a minimum, decide which responses the congregation should make, and then make them. Even the Novus Ordo can manage that -- even in Latin on occasion.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    It's as if our local EF Mass is formulated to accommodate those who long for a distant musty past

    head...exploding...no one...listens...to.....me.....

    SERIOUSLY, how long have I been saying this for? But nooooo I MUST be a heretic who bashes the tradition of the Church because I don't think the 25 hymns Catholics knew before the council represent the "patrimony of inestimable value". And I don't get "active participation" because I think the "blessed murmur" is ridiculous. I've been saying it over and over: the EF in and of itself is NOT the salvation of the Church. As my fellow heretic Matt (I think) from the Holy Whapping once said, the victory of Summorum Pontificum will be to rescue the traditional Mass from traditionalism.

    As a matter of fact, I now regularly attend the EF. It's offered all over my city in some 5 parishes. There's a 9:30 EF just walking distance from me at a gaudy old Polish church. I hate gaudy old Polish architecture (because I'm a tradition-hating heathen, donchaknow) so I go to the 12:00 EF downtown at the grand old German parish. Both are run by a few priests of the diocese, and are typically very well done. I will say though, there are many people there who seem to just be there for the nostalgia. Old folks, women with covered heads, families with 20 kids. The bulletins ignore the larger work of the diocese and only focus on the other tridentine parishes. The priest uses baroque vestments (which I also dislike. You know, because I'm a liberal who only likes ponchos) There is a great deal of "bubble" attitude in these parishes. But there's a few there such as I who sing the responses, actually remain standing throughout the sung Gloria, and probably don't mind a well-done OF (which is also down the road).

    The REAL revolution of Summorum Pontificum will be well done Masses in either form. We're seeing it happen at Fr. Fox's parish, my former church, and even EF parishes like mine where the music is generally very well done by a few able gents. As I've always said and will continue saying, nothing has changed in America after Vatican 2. We still have lousy devotional hymns and a congregation that doesn't know or care what's going on. BUT inasmuch as we can restore the music of the Church and foster TRUE participation, we are doing the work of the council to revitalize the Church. And Pope Benedict is leading the way!
  • Gerry
    Posts: 3
    This thread reflects something I have been feeling. My first experience with the EF was in Chicago at the colloquium this year. In my forty some years of church attendance and as a musician--at various Christian traditions, I have never felt so inconsequential and irrelevant as I had during the mass in the EF. It felt to me that the ritual was the thing that mattered and the people present were insignificant and could only ever be external observers of the ritual. It is reductionist, I admit, but I came away with the impression of an exclusive boys club who do what they do and the rest of us are supposed to be not only awed but also profoundly appreciative at the chance to watch them do whatever they do. If I had to choose between the polarities of this type of experience (even with the fabulous music) or the mass where I feel welcomed, included and have some sense that my choice to be there matters(even with the dreaded sacro-pop), I would have to choose the latter. That being said, I believe that we can retrieve much of the musical treasure seemingly left behind in the 1960's and improve the quality of our liturgies. We can implement much of this intelligently without resorting to the wholesale restoration of mass forms as though they were museum pieces.
  • Jeffrey TuckerJeffrey Tucker
    Posts: 3,624
    Interesting perspective! Part of what you felt was probably the underlying impulse for the reform movement, which many sacred music people resisted precisely because they worried that what happened would in fact happen. What Benedict XVI has done is to begin the process of knitting things back together again, not in order to go back but rather to push forward the organic development in the Roman Rite will address concerns such as yours.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,943
    My understanding is that various popes have encouraged the congregation to participate. It just didn't happen for whatever reason. Why, I don't know. I am old enough to remember the EF mass when it wasn't extraordinary. There was little or no participation by the congregation in my area, either. The masses were often rushed and it seemed that with low masses, especially, the desire was to get everyone out as fast as possible. That, we don't need to go back to.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    "I have never felt so inconsequential and irrelevant as I had during the mass in the EF."

    I recall a story of two priests talking, one an EF priest, the other an OF "reform2" priest. The OF priest was shocked at some practice or transition at the EF parish and asked "what about the people?" The EF priest responded "Fr. X, at the Traditional Mass the people don't matter." It's offensive to what we're used to, and I know what Gerry is talking about. Often at the EF I get the feeling "why do I bother?" When you're the only one singing, you just feel "et in terra... eh, what's the use?" If we look at it objectively, it's hard to say why the people should matter. The EF can be celebrated fully as intended without a congregation. Having been to the Orthodox liturgies, it almost seems to me that at the EF you're in heaven but as an intruder. At the Divine Liturgy, you're in heaven because you belong there. Perhaps CharlesW can chime in on that!

    At any rate, following my hermeneutic of nothing changing (patent pending), the OF is much the same. Look at how anyone under 30, if they're even at church at all, just stares vacantly through the whole Mass. They may as well be saying rosaries, as Darwin says! The only group that does sing is women 30-60, and even they will only do it if they personally like what you pick. So while we legislated that the people matter in the new Mass, they don't get it! They want to be entertained rather than offer something! When I promote congregational singing, I get right to the point: if you're not singing, you're not doing your role as a lay participant. On the other hand, we're seeing some progress in the EF in places with people learning the responses, the Pater (if they're allowed to sing it), and even simpler ordinaries! Again, this is what I mean: tradition without traditionalism!

    "There was little or no participation by the congregation in my area, either. The masses were often rushed and it seemed that with low masses, especially, the desire was to get everyone out as fast as possible. That, we don't need to go back to."

    What do you mean "was", Charles? It's still that way! Priests get yelled at if Easter Mass is over an hour! Again, see my hermeneutic of nothing changes. Oh sure, we've gone from 30-45 minutes expected, depending on parish, to one hour. But the expectation that Mass won't "waste my time" is still there. As on congregation member yelled at me when I asked them to join an after Mass choir: "I don't want to be AT CHURCH until 12:30!" To the extent that we can get past people checking their watches during the Postcommunion, we've made progress in implementing Vatican II.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,943
    That's true about the Divine Liturgy. You "set aside all earthly cares" as the liturgy says, and worship together "the life-creating Trinity." There is no concept of "low mass" in the eastern Catholic and Orthodox churches. The liturgy is chanted, and responses are sung by the congregation without instruments. The liturgies also tend to be a good bit longer than Latin rite masses. I agree with your point that things haven't changed much. I sit in the organ loft and see nearly everything that goes on below. If you're interested, here's the link to the church. http://www.discoveret.org/holyghst Look under art/photos for pictures. I observe people reading bulletins, reading hymnals - an act of desperation if there ever was one - and texting on their cell phones. I think that's become fairly normal behavior in many places. Of course, I do see many who are actually worshipping which is always encouraging. I thank God for those folks who actually do attentively worship at mass.
  • From my '07 Colloquim EF experience:

  • urli
    Posts: 35
    Yesterday I went to my second TLM ever. The first was in November last year or so and I left...unimpressed. But yesterday was brilliant.

    It's a parish run by FSSP, with a mens' schola. Missa XI, organist got quite a few notes wrong and one of the schola seemed to lose the plot at one point. But there were no hymns unless you count the Salve Regina afterwards. The structure is essentially the same, only with bits attached, and I could follow without needing to rely on my missal too much.

    I don't get to a TLM often because I live so far away, but this was worth it. Granted, I'm single and was sitting with a couple of friends whom I mostly followed when it came to posture. Certainly the first time I went to a TLM I came out thinking "Well, I was there too but did God notice me?" This time I didn't have that at all, although it's quite hard for me to describe.