As mentioned in an earlier blog, I celebrated the Extraordinary Form of the Nuptial Mass yesterday for now married, Mr. and Mrs. David (Stephanie Howe) Bushey. Here are some of my reflections on this form of the wedding and Nuptial Mass.
There were a good number of young people there from Christendom College. Apart from the EF of the Mass, they have a very traditional reverence and piety. Many in attendance were familiar with the EF Mass and participated in an active verbal way with the sung and spoken Latin responses. This was marvelous.
But getting back to the traditional reverence and piety of the congregation; this is what I remember growing up as a Catholic in the pre-Vatican II Church. Even as a very young child, let's say before I even turned five, I can remember the hushed reverence of the congregation and how pious people were after they received Holy Communion. I can remember people returning from Holy Communion, kneeling with their face buried in their hands. As a child I thought they were upset, but my parents reassured me they were just grateful to Jesus and His divine mercy.
Reverence, reverence, reverence marked this form of the celebration of the Mass including the Nuptial liturgies. This is in marked contrast with so many of our OF forms of nuptials where there is a giddiness and a total ignorance of what our form of prayer and reverence are all about. If all of our wedding liturgies were as reverent as the one yesterday, I think most priests would begin to favor once again the celebration of weddings over funerals. At least today, for funerals, people seem to be in a more reverent mood and hunger for spiritual meaning in the face of death, but not so much for weddings!
There was no room in the EF Nuptials for the congregation to acknowledge the bride and groom with applause or cat calls. And there is no place for the bride and groom to kiss. So often in the OF form of Nuptials as soon as the bride and groom kiss, there is loud applause and yes,(and I have experienced this many times) cat calls from the congregation. At the recession in OF nuptials, there is not only loud and sustained applause, but a hooting, guttural groaning and the like that you might see and hear on the "Tonight Show." It's down right silly and stupid but because of the loss of the sense of the sacred that is what our nuptials in the OF liturgies have disintegrated into.
The EF form of the Nuptials was so serious, so prayerful and so solemn everyone knew that applause and guttural groaning in this form was totally out of place. The sense of the sacred was too profound and solemn to add anything profane to the Liturgy. I understand now, more than ever, why older people (most of whom are now dead) use to tell me when I was first ordained how much they missed the reverent silence and the sense of the sacred they experienced prior to the reforms of the Liturgy. I didn't really understand their lament until recently and they were right to lament. We have lost the sense of the sacred in our reform liturgies and I'm more and more convinced it is the reform and dumbing down of ritual and sacred actions that has contributed to it. The way you pray is the way your believe and if you pray with a flawed translation of the vernacular, rubrics that are not followed or worse yet spontaneously made up and a giddiness about things sacred, it only follows that the profane will be incorporated into the liturgy and people will lose all respect for that which is sacred thinking their giddy silliness and entertainment form of participation will adequately replace true spirituality and reverence.
While I do love the Latin and think our Catholic people are smart enough to actively participate in this language, even verbally, I do appreciate the vernacular also and see accurate translations of the Latin to be a blessing for the Church. I still contend though, if the form of the Mass and the other sacraments had simply been left alone and good, accurate translations of the rubrics and texts of these sacraments been accomplished without changing the order, gestures or bodily postures of these Sacraments, true renewal and an increase of devotion and reverence would have remained with us and just maybe, (I'm not clairvoyant) we would have maintained the high level of active participation in our Church and at Sunday Mass.
By high level of active participation, I mean almost 90% of Catholics attending Mass on Sunday as was the case prior to the Second Vatican Council. Today, we consider it a blessing if we have at least 20% attending. This is truly shocking and it should be sobering to those who think the renewal of the last 45 years has actually been renewal. Why go to Mass if one does not believe what the Church believes about the Mass, if our celebrations betray that belief through banalities, entertainment forms of participation, and downright profane activities in the church and her celebrations? Why should the nearly 70% who absent themselves from Sunday Mass and active participation take seriously what we do if the outward signs of what we do, do not inspire or lead to true worship, reverence and spirituality--that sense of the sacred that was so characteristic of Catholic parishes of a by-gone era?
Let's get with it and continue the reform of the reform. Pope Benedict knows what he is doing and we need to support him. Perhaps in another 45 years the liturgical landscape will have improved and the absence of Catholic people in our pews and the loss of the sense of the sacred will have all been truly reformed.