Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Insights from celebrating the Traditional Mass

America has a fascinating article (subscriber only. Full text available as a pdf here.) about a priest who offered the Traditional Mass (The Missal of 1962) in response to the request of some parishioners, when this was clearly against his own tastes and desires. What he discovered was surprising.
As I studied the Latin texts and intricate rituals I had never noticed as a boy, I discovered that the old rite's priestly spirituality and theology were exactly the opposite of what I had expected. Whereas I had looked for the "high priest/king of the parish" spirituality, I found instead a spirituality of "unworthy instrument for the sake of the people."

The old Missal's rubrical micromanagement made me feel like a mere machine, devoid of personality; but, I wondered, is that really so bad? I actually felt liberated from a persistent need to perform, to engage, to be forever a friendly celebrant. When I saw a photo of the old Latin Mass in our local newspaper, I suddenly recognized the rite's ingenious ability to shrink the priest. Shot from the choir loft, I was a mere speck of green, dwarfed by the high altar. The focal point was not the priest but the gathering of the people. And isn't that a valid image of the church, the people of God?

The act of praying the Roman Canon slowly and in low voice accented my own smallness and mere instrumentality more than anything else. Plodding through the first 50 or so words of the Canon, I felt intense loneliness. As I moved along, however, I also heard the absolute silence behind me, 450 people of all ages praying, all bound mysteriously to the words I uttered and to the ritual actions I haltingly and clumsily performed. Following the consecration, I fell into a paradoxical experience of intense solitude as I gazed at the Sacrament and an inexplicable feeling of solidarity with the multitude behind me.
I've only been to one TLM (at St. Alphonsus of Liguori in Baltimore several years ago), and though I was familiar with the responses, the liturgy felt strange (I knew all the responses. Well before I ever went to any Mass, I'd found these Tridentine missals in a corner of the library at St. Xavier's in Bombay and memorized all the responses). I felt strange just sitting there not participating, as if I were simply a spectator. However, I'm a huge fan of the Pope's motu proprio. I hope and pray that some cross pollination can take place that might help the way the Novus Ordo is celebrated.

Here is Fr. Z's excellent commentary/fisking of this article.


WordWench said...

This is a very well written article and I greatly admired the priest's perspective. It's very interesting to hear this type of description from the perspective of a priest rather than the usual long-winded commentaries I have read from mostly lay sources after the Motu Proprio.

I have attended TLM and don't like it, precisely because of the complete lack of participation. That is my opinion and I totally respect the opinion of those who like the experience. My wish, however, is the TLM's most ardent advocates would also have respect for those who don't like this form of Mass and prefer the Norvus Ordo. The problem is that TLM staunch advocates most often think those of us who like the Norvus Ordo are somehow inadequate Catholics just because we prefer this form. If more people provided the articulate and respectful discussion this priest did, the dialogue about the form of litugy would be enhanced. the problem is that respect for opinion among the laity does not seem to cut both ways when it comes to the Norvus Ordo/TLM discussion.

Gashwin said...

You are absolutely right about the lack of charity in such discussions (remember the one that ensued here last month? :)). Many (though not all) of those who advocate the TLM are suspicious of the Novus Ordo, and it's rather off-putting the kind of prejudices about fellow Catholics that some display.

I myself am open to the TLM (despite my one negative experience which I mentioned above), but am quite comfortable with the Novus Ordo. My hope is that the TLM, and a general return to more traditional piety overall in the Church can bring back some reverence and transcendence to Pope Paul VI's Mass.

I should add that I've encountered an equal lack of charity among the more "progressive" types when it comes to traditional piety, conservative values. Why just a little while back I heard a priest diss the piety of students from the Diocese of Arlington who were asking for the TLM and who it seems were going to Confession a bit "too much." I was a bit flabbergasted -- for me college students flocking to Confession would be a sign of hope and an occasion for joy!

The dissing, contempt, and lack of charity are on both sides.

WordWench said...

Gashwin, you are definitely right! The lack of respect for fellow Catholics shown from both sides of this argument is truly sad.

I like your ideas about incorporating some more traditional elements into the Norvus Ordo to rejuvenate the sense of reverence. i'm fortunate to belong to a parish that has been slowly incorporating Latin responses and some Latin hymns into the regular Norvus Ordo, along with some other more traditional elements. At the same time, we have excellent lectors and a priest who is a terrific homilist. I feel fortunate to reap the benefits of both older and newer forms of worship on Sundays.

Let's hope more churches work on this type of innovation and let's pray that more Catholics on both sides of this discussion learn to incorporate good old Christian charity and respect in their discussions!