A local area Catholic has a blog wherein she posts about her visits to various Churches around the Archdiocese of St. Louis, called Snup’s View from the Back Pew. This blogger recently assisted at Mass in the Extraordinary Form at St. Francis de Sales Oratory on All Souls Day. From the write-up, it appears this was her first (or first in a long time) experience with the traditional Mass.
I have reprinted some relevant sections from her post below. I thought it might be helpful to address some of her observations, as they seem representative of many people new to the classical Roman Rite.
St. Francis de Sales – St. Louis
Today is neither a Sunday or a Holy Day of Obligation. However, I had the opportunity to go to a Solemn High Requiem Mass to remember the Souls in Purgatory, as November 2 is the Feast of All Souls.
St. Francis de Sales is not a regular parish of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, but rather it is an oratory staffed by priests (and soon to be nuns [two already!]) from the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest. What makes the St. Francis de Sales different from every other church in the Archdiocese is that Masses and other devotional practices, like Benediction, are conducted according to the 1962 Roman Missal. This is the Mass that was used before Vatican II (read the documents).
Because it was a weekday Mass, I assumed most people would be in more casual clothing. There were somewhere between 75-100 people of various ages. All of the women wore long skirts and all but one had head coverings, such as mantillas, of some kind. I was rather shocked about how nicely dressed everyone was. Even the men who wore jeans wore button down shirts. There were no flip-flops. No dresses so tight and/or short you wondered how the wearer genuflected or kneeled.
This was the quietest church I have ever been in. I was taken back to grade school, when Mrs K and Sister Mary Anne, insisted on absolute silence in Church, it was that kind of quiet. It stayed that quiet pretty much throughout the entire Mass and after Mass. There was no mad rush out after Communion. As whole, the people in Mass knelt right after Mass to pray private prayers. I thought maybe there was a devotional or something, but was informed it was just private prayer of thanksgiving.
I didn’t have a missal, so I couldn’t really follow along. I could have swiped my friend’s but then I wouldn’t be able to see what was going on.
The priest, deacon, and subdeacon all wore black vestments. There were 9 altar boys of various types, a couple seminarians and a master of ceremonies, who directed everyone on where to go..sometimes by clapping, sometimes by pulling on surplices. Because it was a Requiem Mass, which is a Mass for the Dead, there was a coffin-like structure (called a catafalque) in the center, surrounded by unbleached candles. The entire Mass was in Latin. I only knew exactly what was going on at five points during the roughly 90 minute Mass: the Kyrie Eleison (or here for the current use), when everyone made the Sign of the Cross on their foreheads, lips and chest at the Gospel (or at least I hope it was the Gospel) when the priest washed his hands at the beginning of the Liturgy of the Eucharist (for the current Mass), at the elevation at the Consecration, and at the end when the catafalque was being incensed and sprinkled with holy water. Because it was a Requiem, there was no Gloria and there was no homily for some reason. My friend insisted the Our Father was said, but I totally missed it. The Mass itself was said with Father having his back to the congregation, so that both he and the people were both facing God. It’s called ad orientem worship as opposed to what occurs in a current Mass, which is versus populum, or towards the people. Father chanted whenever he spoke loud enough for people to hear. It seemed to me that the congregation spoke only two lines multiple times: amen and “Et cum Spiritu Tuo” which means “And with Your Spirit” as an answer to “The Lord Be With You”(Dominus vobiscum) My friend said there were actually more parts for the people (like a piece of the Our Father)…but I missed those too. This was a very reverent and holy (and quiet!) Mass. There was incense during the Mass.
The music was chanted and was absolutely lovely.
My thoughts are conflicted. I think Latin is necessary for a universal, Catholic church. It would be nice to know that no matter where I go or what happens to me, the Mass is constant, if not reassuring in its routine. However, I feel betrayed at some level. It was my understanding that the only major changes made to the Mass after Vatican II were to have Mass in the vernacular and to allow Communion to be received in the hand. This is so not the case. For the majority of the Mass, I had no idea what was going on. I’m having a hard time reconciling that the Masses that I have described so far in this blog and have attended my entire life originated from the Mass I attended tonight. I have no clue as to how what I witnessed tonight morphed into what I witness on Sunday everywhere else. It seems to me that the Mass I witnessed tonight was akin to the Old Testament God, distant and remote, whereas the Mass I attended every Sunday, is more like the New Testament God, approachable and friendly. This is an inaccurate analogy, as I have been in some Masses that were so cold, God needed a hoodie. But I am so conflicted…
Let me say that this review is very thoughtful, and raises more issues about the entire issue of liturgical reform that I could possibly address, even if I were competent to do so. Therefore, I just want to make some selected points, both about the perception of the traditional Mass and the changes in the Mass that occurred after Vatican II. In other words, I am not trying to be comprehensive, so add comments as you think may be helpful to this person.
As to the blogger’s perceptions, I would remark initially that it can take a while to “get” the flow of the traditional Mass. Some of my friends were instantly wowed and never went back to the ordinary form, but most required a period of getting used to it. Remember that for those who lament the inability to speak Latin, or the strangeness of a different form of Mass, that this is not a thing you have to get all at once. Why? Because Catholics don’t go to Mass just once. They must go at least weekly; they are encouraged to go as often as they can. Hence, the Mass is experienced over and over again, thousands of times in the average person’s lifetime. It becomes part of the fabric of life. The very nature of the unchangeable parts of the Mass, and the traditional one-year calendar, makes “getting” it easy. Over time, there really is no issue.
In the beginning, the Missal can help– if you feel more drawn to the mastery of the prayers of the Mass “in a language I understand”– or it can be a hindrance– if the deep interior participation flowing from the action of the Priest and the music, etc., is more your style. Use the Missal or not as it helps you spiritually.
The High Mass allows the new attendee to follow the parts of the Mass a little more easily, in that the Kyrie, the Gloria, the Credo, the Sanctus and the Agnus Dei are sung, and it is clear when they occur. Low Mass is usually (not always) quiet, and thus not as immediately accessible in the same way (this usually surprises people); however, the Low Mass is a beautiful encounter with God in the stillness of the heart.
Regarding the relatively high number of people at a weekday Mass, the silence and the reverent attire, I would say this: it flows naturally from the experience of the Mass itself. Traditional Mass attendance is not a guarantee of holiness. It isn’t that only “real” Catholics assist at it. It isn’t that there is a code of conduct that is enforced by some stick-wielding elite who ensure compliance with the code. Rather, as you experience the timeless Mass, with its beauty, truth, holiness, it inevitably acts as a leaven in your spiritual life. You take it seriously, for what it is. The Mass is not cheap entertainment, or a mind-and-soul-numbing obligation. It is the thing that matters. Of course you are silent in the presence of Christ. Of course you want to be dressed well for Mass. Of course you try to attend as many feast days as you can. In other words, it is all the action of Christ’s grace, working through the Mass.
The truths of the faith are taught in the Mass. The Mass informs the faith, and the faith the Mass. We believe as we pray, and pray as we believe, to paraphrase St. Prosper’s famous maxim. To take just one example, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist is Catholic doctrine. We are to believe this if we are Catholic. Christ is present in every valid form of Mass. In the traditional Mass, this doctrine is quite obvious. The music, chant, reverence shown to the Host, distribution of communion by consecrated hands, reception by the faithful while kneeling, and given on their tongues, and the care in the purification of the sacred vessels–these all show, and further encourage, belief in the Real Presence.
Which leads me finally to a very inadequate gloss on the blogger’s observations about the changes in the Mass. There is a ton of confusion and much intentional mischaracterization of the changes in the Mass. First, the place to start to determine what the Council actually contemplated for the Mass is the document Sacrosanctum Concilium. People are usually shocked to learn that the Council mandated no particular changes to the Mass, and the only guidelines to possible reforms actually listed in the conciliar document is that Latin was to be retained, and that Gregorian Chant was to be given pride of place musically.
Ask yourself how many ordinary form Masses you have been to that meet these guidelines (shout-out to St. Mary of Victories downtown).
Now, the Mass was changed after the Council, and promulgated in 1969. The rubrics of the ordinary form assume that the priest will continue to face ad orientem, or liturgical East–i.e., facing the altar– most of the time. Ask yourself how many ordinary form Mass you have been to that follow that rubric.
Finally, communion in the hand was not called for by the Council and was not contemplated in the new Mass as promulgated. In fact, it was a liturgical abuse that was not disciplined and over time became tolerated and eventually allowed under an indult to the law of receiving on the tongue. The Holy Father has lamented this state of affairs and distributes communion at his own Masses on the tongue, to faithful who kneel if physically able. No priest is compelled to administer communion in the hand, though he is allowed to. I truly believe that the reception of communion in the hand, and the veritable army of lay “extraordinary” ministers of holy communion, have had the practical effect of lessening reverence for the Eucharist. There are those who argue that reception in the hand is an ancient tradition of the Church. Again, I haven’t the time to go into a comprehensive discussion. Suffice to say that their evidence is not conclusive and that current liturgical law and a thousand plus years’ tradition are against them.
Finally, to end a very long post, I say I understand how the blogger has no clue how the Mass morphed into what we have today–and at the moment I am only referring to the new Mass as it is commonly celebrated in your typical parish, not the officially promulgated form. When I first realized it myself, I felt I had been robbed of my patrimony. In both forms, God is God. He is all-holy, all-good, all-powerful. He is judge, He is Savior. He is perfect and awe-inspiring, and He is the best Friend of our souls. The Mass is the worship we owe Him, the Sacrifice of Calvary made present, and the means of communion with Him.
It ought to be good.