Saturday, June 2, 2007

The Tridentine: A Contemplative's Mass

With the article from the UK Telegraph on the motu proprio posted below, I wanted to make some additional thoughts about active participation in the Mass. Much of this applies to a reform of the reform, but includes my thoughts on the Tridentine Mass I recently went to at St. Josaphat's in Detroit.

I will say that it was an interesting experience. This, I believe, is a contemplative's Mass. At least, it is conducive to this. Contemplative prayer is largely misunderstood in an era where the New Age has made inroads even to Catholic worship. People confuse what feels good for feeling God - a trick the Angel of Darkness knows all too well.

I had a pretty good idea of what things not to do in the Tridentine, but had some help. I wondered how I would feel not audibly saying certain prayers, and had to remind myself almost continuously not to say, "Amen" following reception of Holy Communion.

From my standpoint, I was fine with these things. I sung the parts of the Mass - the Kyrie and Sanctus, for example. But, I drifted into a meditative mode in all other parts. The wording of the text throughout the Mass was absolutely artistic and beautiful - and a much fuller expression of worship, in my humble opinion, than what I experience in the Latin Novus Ordo. It was surreal, especially at offertory as chant was beautifully executed, heightening my interior adoration of God. I knew precisely what Pope John Paul II was talking about when he said that worship needs to first be interior and that is where active participation resides.

There is something about chant and the liturgy that lifts the soul to it's Creator, when the soul permits itself to let go of the world, and even of "feelings". We know from the teachings of St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa, for example, that we can only "feel God" when he so wills it. But sometimes, feeling God can translate into difficult and challenging feelings. Therefore, we must be careful of following what makes us "feel good". Sometimes in following this "feel good" thing, we deprive ourselves of the dry experience into which Our Lord may be calling us in order to strengthen us. This is the biggest mistake many of us in this generation make is that we think worship is suppose to feel good. Worship is not for us, it is for God and we worship him in the Mass regardless of how it makes us feel. Can you imagine going to work or feeding your family only when it feels good? This "follow the feel good" leads to people not even going to holy Mass because they don't feel like getting up because it "feels good" to sleep in on Sundays. Or, they don't bother because the local liturgy just isn't their cup of tea. An illicit Mass is still a valid Mass (one with abuses, but a valid Consecration), and we must suffer with it if it is the only Mass we have available to us. The martyrs put up with much worse.

One can be swinging their arms in the air during the Mass and feel all euphoric, but it does not necessarily mean that they are in active participation. I recall from some of my own past experiences from years past that I wasn't tuned in to what was going on bewteen heaven and earth during the Mass. I can't say I didn't understand the true meaning of worship until I got into Assumption Grotto's reserved environment, where stimuli - everything from the priest looking directly me to folksy music - were removed. Once removed, I was able to discover God in the Mass. After 6 months of tasting nothing but the Mass as Grotto as Vatican II likely intended, I found myself like a fish out of water at a typical contemporary Catholic parish. Just the priest looking around at the congregation - especially during any part of the Eucharistic Prayer - in particular the Consecration - was sooooo distracting to me.

I pitied the poor priest who didn't realize he was taking my focus off our Lord and onto himself. The problem is so much bigger than one priest though. Many have been trained by seminaries to celebrate Mass as if it were a business meeting. You can see it on televised liturgies - with the EWTN Masses being the exception. Public speaking skills - with hand, head and eye motion, are best suited to public speaking, not leading people into public worship. These are subtle distractions. It will take a very long time for priests to unlearn these things, and some never will. Our response should be one of charity and understanding that in many cases, priests are doing what they were taught and truly believe they are doing the right thing. Patience needs to rule the day as we pray and hope they will slowly discover, along with the rest of us of younger and middle-age status, silent-active participation at it's very best.

This patience will also have to be applied to priests who take the plunge to learn the Old Mass. Some period of imperfection in what they do will need to be dealt with patiently as it is much more complex. Some priests have even had their interest turn to disinterest when people trying to "help" become overly critical of Father, as he does his first few Tridentine Masses. There is nothing like a bunch of arm-chair Popes to scare younger priests away from exploring the old Mass. Thanks be to God they have any interest at all.

The other half of the problem is that even if the priest "gets it", if he is too quick to change his style, he will lose the people who just think he isn't dynamic enough. Being dynamic applies to public speaking, but it does not apply to leading folks into public worship. As I've already made the case above, it hinders public worship. It all comes back to catechizing people on the Mass and on the very subject of worship.

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