March 28, 2011

Some Dis/Orienting Thoughts

Some recent events and conversations have had me thinking again about the ad orientem/versus populum debate.

First, someone reported to me that he had witnessed some folks offering a "Tridentine Mass." Given the circumstances, I had my doubts. I mentioned it to the priest and deacon involved and found out, just as I had suspected, that it wasn't a Mass in the Extraordinary Form at all, but a Mass in Ordinary Form, except in Latin and offered ad orientem.

Second, in a conversation with a priest some of these questions came up. He assured me that it was entirely forbidden to offer Mass ad orientem in the modern Roman rite. Not only was it forbidden, but also unimaginable.

Both of these conversations, in the mistake of recognition and the misunderstanding that they represent respectively, reveal what we all already know: the EF and the OF are principally distinguished by two things: in the former the Mass is offered ad orientem in Latin, and in the latter it is offered versus populum in the local language of the assembly (or some of the assembly, as the situation increasingly is.)

Now one can argue that this distinction is false and can point out the appropriate passages from Vatican II and the GIRM to show that it is not the case at all, but the fact remains that in the de facto and existential state of things, these are the differences between the two for the overwhelming majority of people, so much so that an EF OF Mass offered ad orientem in the ordinary language of the Roman rite is seen as a "Tridentine Mass."

The third event was a conversation about the practice of inviting everyone to stand around the altar during the liturgy of the Eucharist. For whatever reason, feelings seem to run strong around this practice. I have nothing against it in itself; my only objection would be that it seems fairly well tied to the forbidden practice of passing around the sacred species. But to those who are against gathering in a circle around the altar (and I don't like it either), I would only say that I think it follows logically from the whole sacramental ethos of the Mass celebrated versus populum. The tired line against the Mass in which all the worshipers are oriented together is that the priest 'has his back to the people.' In the turning about of altars, folks have found a liberation and a new experience of God in the lateral sacramental presence of people praying through each other, and there is a lot to be said for this. But why then should the assembly pray with their backs to each other? Isn't it a clearer expression of the presence of Christ in the assembly if we all get to see each other? I'm not saying that everyone should always be invited to gather around the altar, but if you really believe in the Mass versus populum on a theological level (that is to say, beyond its entertainment value, should it have any, and the cult of personality) then why not go all the way and embrace this practice too? I don't mean this in a sarcastic way; I'm just playing out implications in my mind.

The fourth moment was when I attended a Mass in the Extraordinary Form the other day. I didn't think it was very well done. I don't mean that it wasn't done right, but that it wasn't done well. For a first class feast it was just a giant Low Mass with just a priest, a couple of servers, and a couple of priests sitting in choro. There was no sermon or homily, nor schola and not even a hymn before and after Mass. There was no music at all. Now I know that my active and conscious participation consists primarily in my offering of my own self-sacrifice offered in union with the Sacrifice of Christ on the altar, but at this Mass it was easy to see how someone could get the idea that he was cut off from what was really going on, and entirely incidental to the whole business.

I think it would be a good idea for all of us younger folks who are curious about exploring and even recovering things like prayer ad orientem and Latin as liturgical language to attend such a poorly done celebration of the EF. We need to feel, at some level, what a liberation it must have been for folks to have suddenly felt more involved, to make responses, and to speak prayers of the Mass themselves in a way didn't feel incidental. We all know the dangers and distortions of the Mass celebrated versus populum, when the Mass is made into a cooking show by some aspiring priest-celebrity, but we also need to feel, and not just know, the parallel dangers and spiritual dangers of ad orientem as well.

14 comments:

Joshua Michael said...

Amen! It is far too common for proponents of "traditional" or "contemporary" liturgy to merely bash the opposition rather than realizing that there are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches.

sam said...

I think you mean "OF" not "EF" in paragraph 5.

Anyway, well said. In principle I have great affection for the "Tridentine" mass (though my imaginative powers are more devoted perhaps to some even more distant form of the medieval Roman rite as it might have been celebrated in 13th century England), but every time I've been to one of those low masses (as the majority of them are), I found it disappointing.

Brother Charles said...

Thanks for the correction!

J. Ambrose Little said...

I have a traditional and conservative bent, and after becoming Catholic, I tended toward what is now called the EF. I even joined an FSSP parish for some time, but I became disenchanted. Recently, I and the family went to an EF mass, and we were reminded of something like what you outline here.

The most beautiful mass I've attended was a sung mass in the OF. Not the norm, but it illustrates that its more how we celebrate the rite than the rite itself that makes the difference.

If the OF is typically banal and self-indulgent, the EF is typically rarified and dull. We need a balance between the two.

Brother Charles said...

Indeed...and I hope this is what the Holy Father has in mind when he wrote of the "mutual enrichment" of the two forms.

ben in denver said...

One of the diferences between the forms of the liturgy is how the options work. In the OF, you have a lot of options as far as music, hymnody, and blessings to mix and match from. In the EF, you are either doing a low mass, high mass or solemn high mass. If you are having a sung mass, the priest has to know how to chant, you also need to have some sort of schola, or at least a good cantor to do the other sung parts at a minimum. It takes some training and talent to pull off a a more festive celebration. A Solemn High Mass requires at least 2 well trained clergymen. But in the OF, you have an opportunity to better use whatever talent presents itself. You can have a very musical mass without the priest singing at all.

I would imagine the mass you recently attended was last Friday? With the commuter nature of most EF parishes and chapels, it can be realy difficult to get the talent together for a weekday solemnity. The next first class feast, other than the events of Holy Week and Easter, is St Joseph the Worker on Monday, May 2. I would imagine they might be happy of your help at whatever EF community you attended recently. Perhaps you could volunteer to preach? or to celebrate a missa cantata for them? or to serve as deacon or subdeacon in an even more solemn mass?

Brother Charles said...

Aha! Thanks for the challenge!

David said...

I fear that one of the unintended effects is that, as you state, Latin Mass really only means the EF anymore. A parish near where I live and which I still attend on a fairly regular basis has, except for certain quirks on the calendar, ceased celebrating the OF in Latin, ad orientem, which it used to do daily. Since SP, the vast majority of the form OF latin masses have been replaced by EF masses and it does not appear that the OF in latin, ad orientem, will be returning anytime soon. I think the OF is impoverished as a result of this.

Brother Charles said...

David: Thanks for the comment. What you describe is unfortunate indeed.

Paul A. Zalonski said...

Offering Mass in the OF ought to be done, I am convinced from pastoral experience, facing God.

Mass should not be a staged event but worship of the Triune God. Good liturgical preaching is a requirement!!! Sadly, both the EF and the OF tend to be too dramatic, and not good drama at that....

Ratzinger talks about the closed circle Mass as not being to theological.

When are we going to get an integrated calendar for the 2 forms of the Mass??? It's been promised and thus far nothing....

Thom, sfo said...

Fantastically said, as always, Father.

Brother Charles said...

Thanks Thom...and I noticed the new blog!

Sarsfield said...

As one who learned to serve and love the EF as a boy only to have it taken away from him by the '60s "progressives," I must reluctantly share the sentiments of those who find their re-acquaintance (or first experience) with it somewhat of a letdown. I think it has everything to do with the prevalence of the form of Low Mass that prevailed in the years before VII and has, unfortunately, become enshrined as "the Latin Mass." I wonder why no one seemed to have been aware back then, let alone ever to have applied the 1958 Instruction from the Sacred Congregation for Rites "De Musica Sacra." Google it and read especially paras. 22-34. Check out para. 31 which describes Low Mass in its "most perfect form." Congregation reciting the Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and Agnus aloud with the priest??? At the EFs I've attended, I've always felt out of place mumbling "Amen" even "sotto voce." The point is that the Low Mass apparently need never have been as "low" as its current proponents seem to insist upon. And had De Musica Sacra actually been implemented in all its provisions (not just the Low Mass ones)the EF would not look or sound very much different from a sung OF at all.

Anonymous said...

One point on the subject that brings upon a constant puzzlement: many churches currently in service were constructed pre V2, that is, when the Tridentine mass was the norm of the day. Many churches that currently are under construction are designed for the specific demands of a V2 mass. Is there some debt of obligation towards the architects (that includes the parishioners that funded them) of the Tridentine churches to continue with that tradition in those buildings; they built them as the ideal framework for those masses and were a gift to future generations. Also is it correct to try and adapt a contemporary V2 building to the Tridentine: it seems sometimes to be so out of place, almost in direct opposition to the architect’s intent; these contemporary churches are also a gift towards the future of the church. Finally, as a means for the Church to embrace its vast heritage: would the construction of new churches designed specifically for the Tridentine be such a bad idea? While the message of both masses might be the same, there is spiritual emphasis with the Tridentine that is dependent both upon the architecture and the structure of the mass itself.I would hope also the future sees a value in our contemporary churches, just as I value the churches of my past.