Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, August 13, 2007

A New Catholic and the Old Mass

My wife and I were both born about ten years after Vatican II ended, so although we've both been active Catholics since birth, we're "new" in the sense that our entire experience of the Church has been post-conciliar.

My family was not "traditionalist" in the sense that it has come to be used. But it was certainly traditional in many ways. On Sundays we said grace before meals in Latin, and learned some traditional Latin hymns, though we seldom heard them that way at church. We said a decade of the rosary before bed, kneeling before the statue of Christ the King in our living room. And we grew up on stories of the saints and the Ignatius Press Faith and Life books. (My mother attempted the Baltimore Catechism with us, but for me at least it was too late. I was in ninth grade and rebelled at the need to memorize short answers for things I figured I could explain myself. So I was told to go read Father Harden's catechism instead. The New Catechism of the Catholic Church had not yet been published.)

I grew up on the Los Angeles Archdiocese. This may perhaps only be my sense of memory, but it seems to me that perhaps liturgical insanity came a bit later there than in some other parts of the country -- perhaps under Manning with the memory of McIntyre still in the air the full storm force held off for a bit, or perhaps this is only youthful memory. The first parish I remember was the cast-cement-gothic St. Augustine's in Culver City, where incense was still standard at Sunday "high mass" -- though so were guitars, if memory serves. Altar rails were still in use in some parishes that we visited.

Nevertheless, I was probably in my early teens by the time I first attended a mass in Latin, and although I knew that Vatican II had opened up the mass to common celebration in the vernacular and celebration ad populum, I didn't realize till much later that there were much of any other non-cosmetic differences between the 'old mass' and the new. I had, of course, looked at my parent's Latin missals from before the council, and we had a copy of the Latin order of the mass for the 1970 missal, which I'd also looked over as I started to learn Latin. But I certainly hadn't been exposed to the kind of "this is a total break" rhetoric that one hears in some traditionalist circles.

Despite my lack of experience with such things, I was consistently interesting in going to Latin mass (according to the new or old missal) for two reasons:

First, one of the most compelling things for me about Catholicism has always been its history, the fact that not only or beliefs but our liturgy stretch back, by small incremental changes, all the way to the times of the apostles. Since Latin was the primary language of liturgy in the West for a little over 1500 years, and many of the key phrases in the mass have (to my understanding) remained the same throughout that time, I wanted to experience a mass that tied directly through spoken work with those unnumbered other masses celebrated throughout the Western World over the last millenia and a half.

Second, one of the things I think most other inhabitants of modern suburban parishes will agree they have found lacking is a strong ritual sense in the liturgy. It's certainly not impossible to find this in the novus ordo. A number of parishes I've been to have done this well, and some indeed brilliantly. (I've never seen a mass as transcendent as the Easter vigil we went to at the Brompton Oratory. Truly two+ hours of heaven on earth.) However, since the new missal is more sparing in its rubrics, it's easy for a minimalist celebrant to produce a very bland liturgy. Whereas, at least on paper (and according to its devotees) the old mass seemed to require a great deal of ritual gesture as a matter of course.

For both of these reasons, I had been interested in seeking out the mass according to the old missal. I did eventually manage to find several opportunities to go to Latin masses according to the new missal, by which I was very impressed. So I kind of assumed that the Tridentine mass would be even more so.

I've now been able to go to several masses according to the old missal -- all of them low masses (though I hope to be able to go to a high mass for the Assumption this week.) My reactions are not entirely what I expected.

What had drawn me most to the idea of the old mass was the text, the attraction of hearing the same words (or pretty close to them, depending on the time period) that have been spoken in most Catholic churches in the West for a thousand years and more. I've still retained enough Latin from being a Classics major in college that I can follow the mass pretty well in Latin, and so I had in my mind listening reverently as the ancient words of the Church were intoned. I was thus rather chagrined to discover what some have called the "blessed mumble" -- a quietsuperhighspeedallwordsruntogether method of pronouncing Latin that resembled (and perhaps was the inspiration for) the eight second Hail Mary that allowed my Irish grandmother to come close to getting rope burn with her rosary.

The other disappointment I found in attending a real old mass, as opposed to reading it and looking at pictures, is that the ritual gestures which seemed so clear and powerful in photographs and on the missal page were in real life often done in a small enough way (and, obviously, facing ad orientem) that they were difficult to see. Perhaps some of this is because all of the Tridentine masses that I've been able to attend have been celebrated by very old priests. If father is sufficiently bent to start with, it can be a little hard to tell from half-way back in a crowded church if he's standing, bowing or genuflecting.

This is not, however, meant to be a "why I don't like the Tridentine mass" post. (And if anyone finds the touches of humor in the above paragraphs offensive, I hope they'll take it in the "family in-joke" spirit in which it was meant.)

Although we've been fortunate to find a lot more reverence brought into the vernacular liturgy of our parish with the arrival of our new associate pastor (fresh out of seminary), I remain drawn to the Latin language, and to the old mass -- at least in concept. And this has been much more actively on my mind the last few weeks since the publication of Summorum Pontificorum. It seems to me that Benedict XVI was not merely (as some people have suggested) tossing a sop to those who are locked on the idea of celebrating nothing but the 1962 missal. He said that the missals should be mutually enriching, and thus I'm sure that there are things that we need in the old missal. Some of them, I'm pretty sure I know what they are, since they're things that have always attracted me to the old mass. But at the same time, I find myself wondering if there are things which the old mass pretty clearly needs to learn from the new.

The old missal is full of beautiful, ancient phrases, and it seems a shame that the standard mode of reciting them makes it difficult to follow them clearly. I have read a number of people insisting that the silent canon is an important and ancient element of the mass. I'm certainly not enough of an expert to speak to that, but even if this is so, I wish the rest of the mass were routinely spoken clearly and at a more solemn pace. Although in the vernacular new missal we sometimes have problems with priests adding their own editorial comments to the words of the mass, I do very much appreciate the fact that the words are all there and clearly audible. Yes, one can always read the words out of the missal, but in a sense this strikes me as rather unhistorical. I can't imagine that missals were all that common for the laity before 1700 or so. Come of that, literacy wasn't all that common among most of the laity before 1700 or so. In all seriousness, the vision of the laity all quietly kneeling, reading along is something that only became widely possible within the last 200 years, and in many parts of the world, even more recently. I assume that before that people either simply followed other devotions (I've read that saying the rosary and other prayers during mass was fairly common in some places and times) or just watched. The most spiritually healthy, I'm sure, were deep in meditation. But most probably weren't.

Also, it seems to me that the 'dialog mass' was headed very much in the right direction, and I wish that (in its fullest form) it was simply the standard option for the old missal these days. Parts of the mass are clearly written in responsory form, and I assume that the practice of having only the server speak for the people was basically an artifact of the congregation not being sufficiently literate to read along and speak their parts. This is clearly no longer a problem in the modern world, and in that sense it seems much more appropriate to have the whole congregation make the responses than to continue using the server as a stand-in out of habit.

Of course, I'm not a liturgical expert, and no one is asking me for my advice on how to revise the missal. But then, from what I understand speaking clearly in those parts of the mass other than the canon and the secret (and perhaps at least speaking the canon in an audibly low voice? is that going too far?) and using the most full form of the dialog options is not an abuse according to the old missal. It just doesn't seem to be how people tend to do things.

In this sense, I have some hopes that if some younger priests (and you don't have to be all that young to have never celebrated mass prior to 1970) begin learning the old missal because of the motu proprio, perhaps some of the best aspects of the new form (the full dialog form, the clear speech, the visible gestures) will make their way back into the celebration of the old missal.


Ana Braga-Henebry said...

I've got to pause my busy Monday and add a comment here. I so enjoyed this post because it reflects so much of what I think on this issue. We've gone to the old Mass for years, because we just can't stand the music anywhere mostly, but... I have never been a at peace with it. I always leave thinking...mmm... that's why they had to change this, or that. Thanks, Mr. Darwin, and here's looking to a day in hopefully near-future when all parishes will have beautiful, respectful, dialog masses, and without a hint of bad music!

Rick Lugari said...

I haven't been to a Tridentine Mass in over a year, but I've been to good number of High, Low, and Dialog Masses over the years. I know that High Mass is the norm and the highest form of public worship, but for me I actually found the Low Masses to be the most sublime and edifying experiences I've found.

The Dialog Mass, IMO, is just okay. Had the liturgical reform merely been making it the norm, though, I think everything would have been alright. Heck, even if they would have merely revised the calendar, and allowed the vernacular for the readings and some of the prayers everything would have been fine. The problem is that the NO Mass (the Latin vs Latin) is somewhat watered down and introduces elements and options that are not conducive to reverent worship or ripe for abuse. Liberality in such matters are a good thing, but so are boundaries and limits.

Even if we don't consider the text and rubrics of the NO Missal (Latin) deficient in comparison to the 1962 Missal, we certainly have a problem with the application of the vernacular (at least - or especially - in the English). I don't know Latin, but I am fairly well versed in the glaring differences between the Latin and English texts. It's as if many were purposely done to obscure or compromise the theology of the Mass. I lament those things to a degree, but I try to make up for them in my own ways (I strike my breast 3 times at the 'confiteor' and recite to myself the full "Lord I'm not worthy that you enter under my roof...", etc. But just in the last year I learned of another terrible translation that I was unaware of and I feel ripped off of not having that nugget of richness and devotion. Happy are those called to His supper should be "Blessed" are those... To me it's a huge difference. Happy is all about ME and my emotional state...Blessed is much's about God, His doings, His nature, His love, AND it's about me, my state of needing God and His love for me by mercifully favoring me by this gift. I dunno...maybe I'm making more of it than I should, but it is a very real thing for me because I do try to pray the Mass. This turned into a bit of a rant...sorry..

Anonymous said...

So you're a native Angeleno, too, eh?

perhaps under Manning with the memory of McIntyre still in the air the full storm force held off for a bit, or perhaps this is only youthful memory.

I can't speak from personal experience (having not been raised Catholic), but my Hollywood-born cradle Catholic wife seems to remember things this way. She remembers altar rails and other liturgical "relics" as late as the late 70s, so your memory of the archdiocese is probably right.

Daddio said...

Excellent point about "reading along". I don't think that's the best way to do it. I think we should actually make the effort to learn enough Latin to understand without reading along. That's quite a challenge.

This month we got a new pastor at our parish. In two weeks, he has already done away with some of the bad music that nearly drove us to a different church. (Our music director NEVER sang the actual responsorial psalm of the day, she always did one of the "acceptable substitutes", and we were getting really tired of cycling through the 5 or 6 that she knew.)

Yesterday I thought, if the "ordinary" mass can be this reverent and beautiful, I don't really need the "extraordinary" mass after all. I didn't want to change the whole thing after all, I just wanted to get rid of some of the annoying crap that usually comes with the new mass for whatever reason.

I bet a lot of the young people who are curious about the old mass are really just wanting a change. They think they want the total opposite of what they've had to put up with all these years. Come to find out, if you take away the crap, the new mass is fine!

Perhaps if the bishops had been more dilligent about following the dang rules for the new mass all along, there wouldn't be such a demand for the old mass now.

AnotherCoward said...

Change is peculiar though. Just reading this post and comments and similar threads elsewhere, change is the one thing everyone wants and the one thing no one is ever satisfied with - except for the occasional guy who has everything exactly as he wants.

One thing has become clear to me, though, in that while we can find individual material abuses, there has never been a heavy handed condemnation and dictation from the Vatican concerning the ins and outs of liturgy. There's always an open ended judgment left to the local bishop's discretion in liturgical application - case in point, the end of extraordinary ministers: my parish still has them. I don't get it. There's no hiding that they're still in use. And yet ... they're still in use. I know other parishes have stopped, going so far as to change traditional parish practice to accommodate. We've had priests (I even think the archbishop himself) from the cathedral come visit - still no changes. Call me a rebel, I like that our parish hasn't stopped ... but I often wonder how it is that we get to keep going in this if we're really not suppose to.

One thing that the Pope said in his letter was along the lines of "we ought to allow room for all good things in the faith."

I think there's an underlying sentiment there that always quietly pervades the essence of our faith. You can never remove the bad - it is by definition an absence. You can only fill in with good.

So maybe instead of everyone getting themselves stirred up in an uproar about what's wrong and bad and what-not, we'd all do a lot better of stating affirmatively the good vision - and in charity, leaving it at that. In a lot of ways, I can see Darwin here doing exactly that - and I can appreciate his perspective over that of most liturgical whiners.

Bad music will give way to bad chant - personally, I prefer bad music over bad chant. Poorly followed liturgy gives way to unfollowable liturgy - personally, I prefer poorly followed. But where we disagree in the compromises we're willing to make, we can at the same time, I think, agree with their final aim. Latin vs Vernacular is not the point. Music vs Chant is not the point. Holy reverence and edification is. Historical continuity is. And the fact that (1) we care and (2) pursue it is, in this regard, the best thing we've got going.

tonyn said...

I agree with the last "commenter". "Bad music will lead to bad chant". I believe my choir (I'm the director) does some wonderful music, but we rarely do chant---mostly becasue our assembly doesn't want to hear it! And our poor priest---he can't even get the interval correct when he attempts the shortest of chant!