Sunday, January 17, 2010

Old Mass/New Mass

Fr. Z at WDTPRS made a post here asking for readers, especially those of the younger generation, to email him with brief thoughts on the old mass/new mass question. The responses are there, and in part 2 and part 3. My response was made and posted. All of the responses taken together make an interesting reflection on the question, and as I have continued thinking about it, I'd like to make a more substantial discussion of the topic than was afforded there.

First, I must lay out what I mean by the "old mass/new mass question." Overall, I'd like to discuss my preferences, how I arrived at them, and also the role the Extraordinary Form (EF) has played in my spiritual life at different points.

As I have said before, I didn't much care about the Faith, nor attendance at Church through my freshman year of college. When I returned to the Church as a sophomore, I had only moderate religious formation, and very little understanding of liturgical history. Luckily, though, I had friends who were also willing to learn, and as a group, we grew in the Faith. A close friend of mine had heard that there was a place in the Archdiocese (of Chicago) that had a special indult to celebrate the "Latin Mass" (as we called it). We decided to take in the Mass, and see what it was all about. I looked at some online missal and saw a general structure I recognized, and I figured that since I had been going to Mass all my life, a little Latin wouldn't deter me from knowing what was going on.

We were late, got a little lost on the way, and walked in during the Kyrie. I recognized that; it was one of the last things I recognized. Because we were late, I didn't notice the mass guides in the back of the Church when we came in. The experience was something wholly other. I was lost the whole time, and just did my best to pay attention to the bells. Come communion time, they used a communion rail. I had never received my Lord and Savior directly on my tongue in my life, let alone while kneeling. I think I knew not to say "Amen," but that was about all I knew. Moved by the sacredness of this mode of receiving, from that point on I only received on the tongue.

Reflecting on that Mass later, and attending the EF mass a number of times again, I was moved by the realization that this Mass was one and the same mass that my parents grew up with, and my grandparents had for much of their lives, and my great-grandparents, and back and back and back. I was also struck by the sanctity that the priests and servers showed toward the celebration of the Mass, something I had not seen anywhere else I had been. I also attended Mass at the same parish in the Ordinary Form (OF) in Latin.

Now, with my initial experiences of Mass in Latin laid out, I'd like to go on to discuss my preferences. In short, for the most part, and all things being equal, I'd prefer to go to an OF mass over an EF mass. Part of this is definitely familiarity; I think if I had only known the EF mass and then had limited exposure to the OF mass, I'd at least be leery of it. But, there is more than that. I like hearing what the priest is saying, and having responses given by the congregation rather than by the servers.

I don't attend the EF mass very often, despite having two nearby places to attend every Sunday. I used to go more often when I was in Chicago. I would go when I felt like I needed "an infusion of sanctity" or tradition, or just wanted to attend a liturgy which was done carefully. Today, the parish I attend does not do things "perfectly" (to my liking, at least), but things aren't off the wall either. I would probably more regularly attend if the EF mass was offered as one of the regular liturgies by my parish.

I haven't yet touched on the language issue. On this point I am still torn. I would like to see much greater use of the Latin language, but to what extent I am not sure. Of course, I think that things like the readings of the Mass ought be in the vernacular, but I'm not sure which parts of the ordinary ought be in the vernacular languages, and which others in Latin. I don't accept the premise that people won't be able to relate to or understand prayers in Latin, or whatever the usual complaint is. How many people even pay attention to the words of the Confiteor or the Credo when they hear it in English? Would it be any worse if the prayers were in Latin? The thing I like about keeping large parts of the ordinary in Latin is the uniformity and universality of worship among the Roman (Latin) Rite Catholics.

Finally, I will take a quick detour to discuss the reform I wish had taken place after the council. The mass I would like to see is essentially the EF mass, but with the points I've mentioned above, that is audible prayers by the priest (at least some of those prayers ought be audible), and responses given by the people. Throw in the additionally extended lectionary, and we've got a renewed liturgy which is clearly in continuity with Tradition. This, I think, having read things like Sacrocanctum Concilium, is what the council foresaw.

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