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
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.