Thursday, March 29, 2012


Father Robert Taft, SJ, gave me another light bulb moment in reading his article on the Eastern and Orthodox Divine Liturgy when he wrote: "But liturgy is not ceremonial. It is prayer. And so these ceremonies are the ritual expression of a text."

The light bulb moment would not have happened for me if not for Pope Benedict's broad permission to celebrate the Tridentine Mass also known as the Extraordinary Form.

That liturgy which is offered by the priest in soft tones and many inaudible prayers, but prayer nevertheless, does precisely what Fr. Taft describes in the ceremonies of the Eastern Rite's Divine Liturgy, "ceremonies that are the ritual expression of a text!"

We don't use ceremonies in the Ordinary Form of the Mass as a ritual expression of a text to the extent that we do in the Extraordinary Form where movements are more scrupulously choreographed and signs of the cross more frequent during the recitation of prayer.

Let me give but two examples from the Extraordinary Form Solemn Sung Mass for the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary this past Monday:

1. At Monday night's EF Mass for the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Roman Canon as usual was prayed in a low voice. However, the choir sang a rather lenghty Sanctus/Benedictus (the two separated). So as the choir sang the Sanctus, I recited it and began to quietly pray the Roman Canon, the people were kneeling. Even with my back to the people, they could see my ritual action giving expression to the text they could not hear.

The Sanctus was finished as I began the Hanc Igitur. The bells were rung, the profound bows of the priest at both consecrations, the double genuflections, the ringing of the bells at each consecration, once for the first genuflection, three times for the high elevation, and once again for the second genuflection were all ritual actions giving expression to the consecration narrative or text which was prayed quietly! That's liturgy!

2. Then the Benedictus was sung as I prayed the remainder of the canon. Of course there are numerous signs of the cross over the consecrated Species which are ritual actions that give expression to actual words of praise being heaped upon God as I asked God to accept the Sacrifice in praise of Jesus Christ present who is the Sacrificial Victim. Even though the choir was singing the Benedictus as I quietly prayed the Roman Canon, the actions of the priest gave voice and expression to the texts.That's Liturgy! However, even if there had been no music overlay of the Roman Canon by the choir, the Roman Canon would nonetheless have been prayed in low voice and thus the ceremonial actions of the priest still give "ritual expression to the text!" How cool is that?

The Ordinary Form Mass is too sterile and wordy, too verbal! And this critique has been offered about it since the 1970's for I recall that critique but did not fully understand until now what that critique actually meant. We have much to learn not just from the Eastern Rite and Orthodox expression of Liturgy but from our own organic development of Liturgy that has its apex in the Extraordinary Form. That doesn't mean returning exclusively to the EF but it does mean allowing the EF to seriously impact the way the OF is today celebrated to liberate it from its banality, sterility and verbosity.


Anonymous said...

It seems that the Lord has been working in you for some time (years) regarding this topic, and here recently has turbo-charged His actions in you.
Can't wait to see what is yet to come...

Mark Duch said...

Please keep pressing on, Father! Maybe one day in places like Arkansas we'll get to see the fruits of what you're doing.

Carol H. said...

I agree with SL. Father, I beleive that Christ has been pollishing you into a very "good arrow."

(For an explanation, see

Henry said...

As for the separated Sanctus and Benedictus, nothing seems more glorious and thrilling to me than the Benedictus ringing out in response to the consecration, proclaiming our joy that the Body and Blood of Christ have been made present again.

Carol H. said...

I agree, Henry; it not only was fabulous, but it made a whole lot of sense liturgically as well. Thank you for bringing that up as it is a moment that I don't want to forget!

Templar said...

Take a moment and re-read what you've posted Father. You are echoing the words of Traditionalists who have maintained for decades that the Tridentine Mass works on souls in a profound way, and the Pauline Mass does not. You're seeing it, hearing it, feeling it, and beliving it. And you are perhaps the most scrupulous and dedicated Priest I know when it comes to saying the OF well, and yet still, your light bulb is illuminated.

Anonymous said...

The Ordinary Form, no matter how well-celebrated, is banal and verbose. It is not multifaceted. It is one-leveled and is nothing to admire in itself. The only way the Ordinary Form can be admired is through the lens and influence of the Extraordinary Form. We gave up a liturgy in which the verbal parts were accentuated by profuse physical signs and realities. These signs gradually multiply in number and profundity until the Canon is said, and through that chain of actions, we see in a physical way how the texts deepen in sacrality. Those actions are barely present in the OF.

Is the Ordinary Form a perfect liturgy? Far from it. But it does have some strengths.

Is the Extraordinary Form a perfect liturgy? Much, much closer to perfect than the Ordinary Form is, and it has many more strengths.

I do not think it is feasible in the future (next 150 years) to maintain two Forms. We must take the best of the Ordinary Form (what little there is), and combine it with the best of the Extraordinary Form. That is the ideal liturgy. There are valid concerns with the EF, but there are more with the OF. I think it is valid to think that the EF needed to be reformed a bit, but not destroyed. The future Roman Rite MUST have: 1) the strict flow, form, rubrics and layered nature of the EF; and 2) the concept of lectionary cycle and a good amount (but not the extreme "LETS PARTICIPATE" attitude) of the verbal participatory parts of the OF. Let us also not forget that there are a considerable amount of verbal participatory parts in the EF solemn and high masses as it is, and that the solemn (thus participatory) mass is the ideal level of mass; the non-participatory Low Mass is only a concession from the Solemn Mass.

Gregorian Mass said...

Will the Latin Rite ever get back to something that resembles the EF in ritual? Really, I don't know. It is a shame that it cast aside so much of its' identity. It is still a shock that erodes the whole idea of Catholic history, like a weird experiment of sorts. Does this mean the OF should disappear? Many think so. I think there needs to be both in every parish. The idea that not everyone has the resources is an excuse. The smallest, most rural parish made due several decades ago. It this day an age with so much help from internet tech., Priests and lay people alike could learn all about it in an afternoon. Ad Populum is not really the necessity it once was. Anyone that does not know what goes on at the Altar can take a moment (active participation) and look at it on youtube. The fact that it is constantly suppressed speaks volumes..