July 12, 2009

My Internal OF vs. EF Ascesis

Reading Matt's impressions of assisting at his first EF Mass got me to thinking about things.

When I first started to attend Mass in the EF on Sunday afternoons, it was purely out of curiosity and professional interest. On my reading of Summorum pontificum, our Holy Father had empowered the laity to ask for this form of Holy Mass, so it seemed to me only proper for me as a priest to be acquainted with it.

But what really hooked me was not anything about the Mass per se, but the people I observed and met. Here was the reverence I had been missing. Before Mass was not a cacophony of worldly conversations. Cell phones didn't ring, and nor were any answered during Mass. (!) Nobody here would need to be asked not to drink their coffee during the service. There was no anguish to be endured over irreverence before the Blessed Sacrament; everyone who entered or left the church was eager to make the appopriate reverence. I realized in my own Catholic heart that silence and reverence were things that had drawn me into the Church from the beginning, and I had forgotten how close they were to my heart.

So I went back; not so much for the Mass--though the EF itself continued to interest me on the intellectual and professional levels--but for the chance to pray with brothers and sisters who also just wanted to pray and join themselves to the Lord's sacrifice in quiet reverence.

For me, though, I have to keep myself from the thought that this is really a question of OF vs. EF or modern vs. traditional Roman rite. The scandalous lack of liturgical and sacramental catechesis and our terrible lack of reverence is not the fault of the newer form of Mass itself. This is to oversimplify and to ignore a very wide complex of questions and issues. It is eminently possible for a Sunday assembly to celebrate the Ordinary Form of Mass with all of the reverence that is due to the liturgy and to the Most Blessed Sacrament. Not that I have seen this in most places I have lived and prayed, but it is certainly possible.

There is a cultural struggle here, but it's one that is not reducible to OF vs. EF. These might be symbolic of several aspects of the struggle, but they are not the thing itself. This is just something I am trying to keep in mind these days.


Lynn said...

That is very well put, and an important distinction. I am very reverent (if I do say so myself :P), rejoice deeply in the Real Presence, would never leave a phone to ring at Mass, and yet the EF leaves me cold. I've read all kinds of stuff that tells me I must be wrong or confused or just uncool, because the EF is as good as it gets and everybody who is anybody prefers EF over OF. I'm saddened by that, but I also see the blessing in it--that I have the privilege of assisting at a reverent OF parish, and many people have never actually experienced that in real life.

Brother Charles said...


Thanks so much for the comment. It makes me sad when I hear about people saying things like you describe, and putting down the liturgy. It's against spirit of Summorum pontificum, not to mention Christian charity.

Qualis Rex said...

Lynn - there is enough ignorance on both sides to go around. As someone who was born long after Vatican II, I did not get to experience the Tridentine mass until much later in life, but I was raised around religious (priests and nuns) all my life. And before SP, whenever I would bring up the Tridentine liturgy I would get scowls, hisses, rolling eyes and dismissive hand gestures. One bishop even told me "are you still Catholic? Yes? Then don't worry about that."

I think it's all about certain people trying to impose their will or vision on others because they "know what's best". If you are lucky enough to have a Novus Ordo liturgy which brings you closer to God, then consider yourself lucky and cherish this gift. But at the same time, consider the multitudes of Catholics around the world, who 2 years into SP don't have the benefit of a Tridentine mass in our diocese, which is now our right, due to some very oppressive/repressive personalities.

Brother Charles said...

This is also, true, QR. Some of my religious brothers seem pretty hostile to the EF.

Lynn said...

That's so sad, QR, especially since there have always been other rites. It's not as if it's an OF/EF dichotomy, even in the United States. I wish that politics and personal feelings could be set aside and people could just be provided with an orthodox liturgy in whatever rite the community prefers.

My mom tells the story of an uncle's mother, who loved the Latin Mass, because she did not speak the most prevalent language in her community. When V2 came around, she got left out in the cold. Sure, she knew what was going on in the Mass regardless of the language, but there was a heart connection that she missed. In many places, Latin does unite people. In other places, it would be divisive. So why on earth shouldn't we have both?

This is not so much about OF/EF, but about all the baggage associated with them, and it would benefit everybody on all sides if the baggage could just be set down. Easier said than done, I suppose.

pennyante said...

I'm with you, Lynn... I very much prefer the Ordinary Form even though I grew up with Latin Masses. Though the EF is not for me, I would never try to deny it to someone who feels the EF is best for them...

It is a shame that there is such a division among the people who advocate one or the other...

Qualis Rex said...

Br Charles I could "name names", but let's just say what you say does not surprise me at all. And it is very sad. Which makes YOU that much more special and your calling that more relevant and important, since you seem to see both sides with such a clarity.

Lynn & Pennyante, I agree with you that there is far too much baggage associated with one rite or the other. Since I was born long after Vatican II, I have no baggage coming with me regarding the Tridentine liturgy. Meaning, I'm not longing for any sort of "good old days" of Ozzie and Harriet, big band playing on the radio etc. I guess I have a LOT of baggage on the other side, since I can specifically remember whispy white women "dancing" liturgically through the priest's homily, hands joined and swaying and legs kicking during a drawn-out version of the our father, being told that you can do anything in life (except judge others) because God will forgive you, seeing the begining/end/and kiss of peace during mass devolve into a sorrority party, hearing how Buddhism/Wicca/New Age religion enhances Christianity etc. Admittedly, this is my baggage. And once again, if you have never experienced it, then say an extra 10 prayers of gratitude tonite.

for narnia said...

this is an interesting topic, Fr. C! thanks for sharing. i think that whatever seems to work for a person in their spiritual journey, then that's what they should stick with. (whether it's EF or the OF, etc...) i know what you're saying when you refer to "a cacophony of worldly conversations" and the "cell phones ringing and being answered" and the "lack of reverence." i feel that when we're in church, there is nothing so important that it can't wait until after Mass. it is God's time and He should get our undivided attention. i don't mind the OF form. i can't really compare it to the EF form because i've never experienced it. i do love the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, even though i have yet to experience it in english. the times i've been to this particular Liturgy, it's always in Ukrainian. even though i don't understand the language except for a few words here and there, it's still such a beautiful and very reverent Liturgy. PEACE! ~tara t~

Elizabeth Mahlou said...

Oh, my, the post of Brother Charles and the comments of Lynn and Qualis Rex make me feel extremely privileged to live in our small mission town here in California. No one here would ever dream of bringing food or drink to mass or to talk during it. There is a good deal of silent time for communing with God during our masses, and no one would ever talk on a cell phone. In fact, Fr. Ed, our Irish priest, fines people $10 if someone forgets to turn off a cell phone, and it rings. (I don't know if people really pay the fines, but he stops everything and comments on it, which makes it a "once is enough experience.") We are especially blessed because no one has chosen for us the type of mass we will attend. We have five masses every weekend: OF in English (three times: Saturday evening, early Sunday morning, and Sunday at 10:00) and Spanish (Sunday noon) and Latin mass on Sunday afternoon, with high mass being celebrated once a month. One could attend all them if one did not want to have to choose! :)

Very frequently I thank God for the privilege of living in this tiny town, home to the mission, a convent, a friary, and a retreat center. Can you imagine a richer life? After reading your posts, I think I will thank God twice tonight for my mission-centered community.


A Secular Franciscan said...

I agree - there is often baggage attached to both forms. They have become symbols for some people (though not all) of the "Old Church" and all that that entails vs. the "New Church" and all that that entails. And there is often anger involved.

I am not a fan of OF myself, but when they wanted to bring it back in our diocese I argued for it. If that is a form that helps some people worship, I'm glad for them and welcome it.

I see the same sort of vehemence when it comes to liturgical music. Some folks are so attached to one particular kind they seem ready to brand anyone else who prefers a different kind "heretics" - or at least ignorant.

NCSue said...

Thank you for this post.

To the best of my knowledge, there are no EF Masses in our area, and I have never had the opportunity to attend one. I admit to curiosity, but it's really not the form of the Mass as the it is the form our our disposition and attitude before our Lord that needs to be addressed.

It's hard for me to distinguish between the attitude of many of our parishioners at the Lord's table versus at the local pizzeria. If I wish to pray in silence before the Blessed Sacrament, I pretty much need to go when the church is empty. It seems to me that we could avoid chattering and texting and so fort for an hour each week, or at least to step outside and allow others to do so.

Lynn said...

I consider it an immense blessing that I have never had to experience liturgical dancing, except via YouTube, to see what it was. I've taken enough dance classes to know what is skilled and what isn't, and liturgical dance isn't, not any that I've seen. I've also seen incredible ballet choreographed to hymns and Christian music, and it can be done extremely well. It just doesn't belong in Mass. Unless it's in one of those places where it is already part of the culture, it would just be a huge distraction.

So I will say those ten extra prayers of gratitude!

ben in denver said...

This really is an interesting conversation.

I too originally began attending the EF because of the community. We have been attending the EF regularly almost two years now. When the boys started traning to serve at the altar last September, we became a good deal more exclusive in our attendance at the EF so as not to confuse them.

Then last month on Corpus Christi, we attended the OF and I made the surprising discovery that the EF was having a serious effect on my Christian formation. I participate in the Mass differently, and I think more effectively than I used to.

One of the things that I initially didn't like about the EF was that I thought it was more difficult to participate in the liturgy. Friar Matt discusses in his post that he was not sure what responses to make, and really, you don't have to make any. In our parish, the only response that nearly everyone makes is the "Domine non sum dignus..." So at the begining, I felt like I was not participating much in the liturgy, But that feeling subsided so gradually, that I didn't notice until I went to the OF for Corpus Christi.

When I went to this mass I prayerfully said all of the responses, but I was left with the feeling that I could not participate as much as I thought I should. It felt like it was too easy, and there wasn't enough for me to do. It was an unexpected feeling, and I'm not sure what to think of it yet. But it is a sure sign that the EF has formed me in ways I was not consciously aware of.