Sunday, October 22, 2006

A tale of two Masses

The first one: the 10:00 am Novus Ordo Mass in Latin at St. Matthew's Cathedral. I had the morning free and went with a friend. The church was pretty full, a rather young crowd. A very nice leather-bound Ordo Missae in the pews for us to follow along. [Note: it would be nice to have the collects and if possible the Preface for the day also included in the program, so that the congregation can pray that as well.] The celebrant was a clean-cut young priest whose Latin was flawless, and demeanor muted. He didn't draw attention to himself at all. [He did sit perfectly still, hands on his lap, eyes closed, whenever he wasn't "doing something," reminding me of one of those old holy cards of the "Holy Hands of Priest" and looking at times like a still alabaster statue!] The readings were in English, and the homily preached from the pulpit by a permanent deacon. [I'm afraid my mind wandered a lot during the rather long homily.] The schola was fantastic ... superb polyphony. A Gloria (Missa quarti toni) and an Offertory motet by Palestrina. The Gradual (responsorial psalm) was in English, and there were opening and recessional hymns from the Worship hymnal: so no, there was no use of Gregorian propers. The rest of the Ordinary (Kyrie, Credo, Sanctus and Agnus Dei) was cnanted from the Missa de Angelis, which is a little more complicated, but folks seemed to know it, or catch on. I still think it is deathly difficult to get folks to intone the Creed ... it's a complicated text in any language, and trying to follow neumes at the same time is difficult, unless one uses a really simple melody, and even then, at least for me, it's not very prayerful.

All in all I found myself lead to prayer, and less distracted than normal. As we were walking back to the car, both of us felt that it would be difficult to make this our regular Sunday Mass. We're both steeped in the vernacular ... Despite my familiarity with Latin, I found myself fumbling over the text at times, or chasing after neumes while chanting. At one level, this is a matter of practice. Yet, therei's much to be said for worshipping in one's own language." [And yes, those who know me, know that I'm all for a re-introduction of more Latin in the liturgy, too.]

Incidentally, it was with this same friend that I worshipped in the Tridentine Rite a few years back, at St. Alphonsus of Liguori parish in Baltimore. That was my one and only time at a Tridentine Mass. While it was beautiful, both of us found ourselves exclaiming, as we left the church, "Thank God for the Council!" I guess I'm really used to the Novus Ordo, and "full, active, participation" is ingrained in me as praying out loud, responding, acclaiming, chanting and singing. As I tend to say, the Novus Ordo done well can reclaim a sense of the transcendent in the liturgy that has been eclipsed.

The second: the 12:15 pm Gospel Mass at St. Martin de Tours church in the District. St. Martin's is on North Capitol, a predominantly African American congregation (This is also the parish where I've been assigned for my Sunday apostolate). It's a beautiful little church (I'm sure there'll be photos on here one day). The Gospel choir was highly energetic and electrifying. A very different sense here -- not much silence, yet a powerful feeling of enthusiasm and zeal. Great preaching too. And certainly a strong sense of community -- the sign of peace went on forever! Everyone got out of their pews and mingled around the nave.

I couldn't help but think of the Mass in the morning and wonder, "are these even the same?" Well, yes, of course -- it's the Mass. The Lord is present, even if, to an outsider, they look and feel very different. I was also reminded of that rather funny post at Rorate Caeli -- the point there was to highlight just how diverse the celebration of the Novus Ordo can be, and that it's a bit silly for some to call the impending universal indult a threat to the "unity" of the Latin rite. Of course, despite all my "traditional leanings," I think the Novus Ordo has a certain healthy flexibility that helps it adapt to local cultures. Obviously, the "unity" of the Latin rite involves a sense of the catholicity of the church, and is less tied to a single cultural expression, much more so than the other Rites.

It seems to me that most of the talk about the "reform of the reform" (much of it that I am sympathetic to), comes from the West: N. America, Europe, Australisia. I wonder what the thoughts are on the "reform" of the Novus Ordo (or rather, the reform of the way the Novus Ordo is celebrated) in other parts of the world -- Africa, Asia, Latin America? Parts of the world where the church is growing? [I've shared on this blog before my own discombobulation at the experience of Mass in India. Obviously, the way the Mass is celebrated is not in any simple, direct way correlated to such things as, for instance, vocations to the priesthood.] [I should add that the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship is a Sri Lankan, who shares the Pope's concerns about the celebration of the liturgy, it would seem.]

Anyway. Just some thoughts. I'm far from being any kind of a liturgical expert -- traditional or avant-garde!

[By the way, of the three Masses I attended this weekend (one at the seminary yesterday, in addition to the two today), at only one, the one at the Cathedral, was the homily about mission and World Mission Sunday.]


St. Elizabeth of Cayce said...

Gashwin writes: Yet, there's much to be said for worshipping in one's own language."


I guess I'm really used to the Novus Ordo, and "full, active, participation" is ingrained in me as praying out loud, responding, acclaiming, chanting and singing.

Someone very wise once talked to me about getting used to my new "Catholic Skin." I've noticed on this journey that other styles of worship service, Protestant prayer meetings, etc., all seem just a bit foreign now, even as they were 1st or 2nd skin not many years past.

In my case, the 2nd Mass you attended, with the Gospel choir, would have felt like worshipping in a foreign language. It's a vernacular different from my own. (Vernacular in the sense of my language of comfort & familiarity.) The chant Mass, even thought my Latin is limited, might have been more my own vernacular, were I to need to choose between the two.

Izzy talks often about the Liturgy being what carries along the worshipper. Your mind knows generally what is coming, so you are freer to pray, to focus on God, to hear what He is saying to you throughout the Mass. That to which we beome accustomed, in whatever spoken or sung language, becomes our "vernacular."

I have no doubt you, as a true polyglot, will be able to fully & actively participate in Mass at either location. Thanks for sharing the stories.

Gashwin said...

Some good points there St. Liz. There is a rhythm to the liturgy, and part of growing in faith means growing into this rhythm, and letting it become one's own.

And, in as much as language and culture are closely intertwined, the "vernacular" isn't simpy about the language of the words either.

Truth be told, I was a lot more "comfortable" at the morning liturgy than in the afternoon. The 5 minute Sign of Peace took me off guard. I didn't leave my pew, while the rest of the congregation was moving around. I didn't feel like I belonged, which at one level is very real (this was my very first time at this parish, after all), and at another level is silly: we are one Body after all. One of my novice brothers used to worship in an African American congregation in Baltimore, and said that this was quite common.

My biggest problem, I've been noticing, is having "tapes" playing in my head while I'm at Mass, any Mass (except the one back in SC!), like I'm unconsciously, without even realizing it, evaluating everything. It's horribly distracting from the real reason I'm there -- to pray and worship.

Anonymous said...

" I'm unconsciously, without even realizing it, evaluating everything." That's one of my biggest problems, too. I went to another church this past weekend, where there was a lot of clapping (e.g., after a musical number, after the homily, during a musical number), and it really irritated me. I felt like I was at a show. It was a nice show, an inspirational show. But I'm not show the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is supposed to be like a show.