Thursday, December 2, 2010


Just how do we celebrate the two forms of the one Latin Rite Mass well?

Let me start with the older form, what is now called the Extraordinary Form of the Mass.

I believe it is easier to celebrate this form of the Mass well. It is very clear, the rubrics are very specific and no creativity is allowed. That's simple.

The priest and altar servers need to know what they are doing. The priest and the altar servers need to be deliberate in all they do, not rush the Latin prayer which is a great temptation in this Mass and to be aware that they are leading the "priestly people" of God in offering Jesus' one Sacrifice to the Father. The laity count! This was made very clear in the liturgical movement of the 1950's. But this movement was born of previous eras that sought to highlight the role of the laity during the Mass.

The laity should be encouraged, cajoled and even chastised to participate out loud with all the parts of the congregation once voiced only by the altar boy. Of course they should be encouraged to have a missal, follow the prayers and speak and sing those parts that pertain to them. Music directors should pick settings of the Mass that the congregation can sing also. Only rarely should "concert" Mass settings be sung that are impossible for the laity to sing also, but there is more than one way to participate in the liturgy and silently is a venerable tradition, but should not be the primary one.

The Scripture readings of the Mass should be read to the congregation and in the vernacular.

Silence is built into this Mass with the various prayers of the priest including the Roman Canon prayed silently or in a low voice. This should not be seen as to exclude the laity from hearing these prayers, the laity should indeed follow in their missals, but the low voice is to show forth in a particular way the sacredness of what is prayed, done so in hushed tones.

Attentions to detail is important too. Clean cassocks and surplices for the altar boys, nice vestments for the priest and deacons and well decorated, uncluttered altars, with beautiful altar clothes. All the accouterments should be worthy of the celebration that perpetuates the one Sacrifice of Christ.

Now for the Ordinary Form of the Mass:

This form of the Mass is more difficult to celebrate well. In terms of all the accouterments of the celebration from altar server cassocks and surplices to what the priest wears and how the altar is vested should be similar to the EF Mass and there should be continuity while still respecting the General Instruction of the Roman Missal for the Ordinary Form of the Mass.

The official antiphons of the Mass, Entrance, Offertory and Communion Antiphons should be sung or chanted by the choir or the cantor. The congregation should be encouraged to participate. However, because these change each Sunday, there is no reason why a processional hymn sung by all could not be first and then the choir or cantor singing the Introit. In other words these antiphons should not be omitted even if other hymns are selected in addition to these.

There is not as much built in silence in the OF Mass as in the EF Mass. Therefore, there should be silence after the Scripture readings, after the homily and after Holy Communion, even instruments should be silent. This is a time for contemplation. The OF Mass is very wordy with almost everything prayed aloud.

The prayers of the Mass should be prayed by the priest and deacon in a way that makes clear that these prayers are not directed to the laity or congregation. The priest should not "read" these prayers as though he is reading the Gospel to the congregation. If the presiding chair is to the side of the altar, the priest should not turn directly to the people to pray the orations of the Mass, but turn toward the altar which represents Christ in a symbolic way.

Having the Benedictine altar arrangement for the prayers at the altar (Liturgy of the Eucharist) will help the priest to focus his eyes not on the congregation but on the crucified Lord. This will help to reduce the visual appearance that the Eucharistic prayer and the other prayers are being prayed to the people.

I do not rule out Ad Orientem celebrations of the OF Mass, but this should be decided in consultation with the pastoral council, the other clergy and staff of the parish and ultimately with the bishop. It should not be foisted on people or based upon the sole discretion of the priest celebrating a particular Mass. There should be consistency in a parish setting and even in a diocesan setting, not to mention the Universal Church.

Lay lectors, Extraordinary Minsters of Holy Communion, and altar servers should be well practiced and there should be a choreographed plan for all the movements of these "ministers." Those who wear lay apparel for reading and distributing Holy Communion should wear Sunday best. If this presents a problem, then they should be vested in an alb which could be understood as the baptismal garment of the people of God whether clergy or laity. The surplice over the cassock serves the same function as it is a "mini" alb.

As with the EF Mass, the priest celebrating the OF Mass should "SAY THE BLACK; DO THE RED." There should be no improvising, narcissistic creativity or personal or congregational adaptations. The laity should not change their parts either.

As for music, the best should be chosen and there should be a strong repertoire of congregational singing for the actual parts of the Mass and any additional hymns. I recommend buying a hard back good traditional hymnal and avoiding at all costs paperback hymnals and misalettes that contain music. New music constantly thrown to the congregation is the best way to cause them to stop singing.

At St. Joseph Church, we have had our current People's Mass Book for over 6 years. In my previous parish, they've had the worship hymnal now for almost twenty years. The congregation sings with gusto! They know a strong, traditional, easy to sing repertoire.

As it concerns the distribution of Holy Communion, my personal opinion is that kneeling is better and looks more reverent and instills reverence in the congregation. However, the norm in the USA for the Ordinary Form of the Mass is to stand. Say the Black do the red and be consistent! Thus until the option of kneeling for Holy Communion is explicitly decided by the General Instruction of the Roman Missal and USA Adaptations, we should teach our people how to reverently receive Holy Communion while standing, either by tongue or by hand. It takes catechesis and regularly so. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal has guidelines for the reverent receiving of Holy Communion while standing.



Kent said...

So I just this last weekend attended an extraordinary form Mass. Living in a rural area I had never had the opportunity before. I must admit that it seemed kind of impersonal and detached. The priest and servers saying the responses and doing the actions, etc. and the congregation with their heads buried in prayer books evidently following along with the English translation and saying nothing. Question: Is the congregation allowed to respond along with the servers and if so was this congregation not responding because they did not know the responses or for some other reason. Thanks for you blog. I read it every day.

Marc said...

My wife and I were in St. Louis over Thanksgiving week and had the opportunity to go to a church operated by priests with the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, who exclusively celebrate the Traditional Rites. We went to a midday Low Mass and it was an incredible experience.

The Mass was completely in Latin, including the readings (there was no homily, so the readings were never presented in English). The priest did not have a microphone, so he was barely audible even though the Mass was celebrated at a smaller side chapel. The altar servers were very well trained. The people in the congregation were all completely silent throughout the Mass (including omitting any responses). All the women had head coverings of some sort.

I was in awe at this brief (perhaps 30 minute) experience. I will likely remember it for the rest of my life. This was a Mass celebrated well and with dignity - it was completely focused on worship and Sacrifice.

Now, if I had gone to a daily Mass at an Ordinary Form parish in St. Louis, what would I have experienced? Probably one of two things - either an Ordinary Form Mass celebrated well and with dignity or an Ordinary Form Mass with liturgical abuses of irregularities.

Why do I prefer the Extraordinary Form Mass? Because I knew that by going to the Extraordinary Form there was only one possibility of what I would experience - an Extraordinary Form Mass celebrated well and with dignity.

Anonymous said...

Apparently a symptom of a hermeneutic rupture is your head swells.


Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

The tradition in this country up until the late 1950's was for the altar boy and/or choir only to do the responses and the people were to remain quiet, but follow the Mass in their missals. Many didn't even do that, they prayed the rosary or other devotionals. In other countries like Germany, people were encouraged to participate even going back to the 1920's. In 1958, the Dialogue Mass was developed and priests were to encourage their congregations to participate in all the spoken responses, but this did not catch on every where. The 1962 missal incoporates the expectation that the people will participate. The active participation called for by the Second Vatican Council applies to the 1962 missal as Sacrosantum Concilium could only refer to the Mass that was in use when it was written, the new mass had not be developed. So active participation applies to the 1962 missal. Unfortunately, some people have nostalgia for the 1950's pre-1958 movement towards active participation culminating in Vatican II encouragement of it.

Kent said...

Fr., Thank you for addressing my questions concerning the extraordinary form.

Henry Edwards said...

Like the Irish with their silent Masses said behind rocks to avoid detection by their British oppressors, most traditional Catholics have been deprived of fully participative Masses these past 40 years (though I had experienced them before Vatican II).

So some residual lack of balance is not surprising. I personally believe a mature Catholic of full traditional experience will appreciate the spiritual riches of both the quiet low Mass and the glorious sung high Mass.

I prefer equally not to attend a high Mass on a simple weekday or a low Mass on a Sunday. Each has its place and (for me) does not work well in the wrong place.

When I visited the ICK oratory in St. Louis, I had attended the "four hours of heaven" solemn pontifical Mass in the Basilica when Ab. (now Card.) Burke ordained two new priests the previous afternoon, at which the entire congregation seemed to sing everything. Early the next morning at St. Francis de Sales Oratory, I witnessed five separate silent low Masses at five separate altars, each with a single altar boy, just bearly hearing their whispered murmurs in the silence. I was positioned so I could adore Our Lord at 10 separate elevations of Host and Chalice within the space of 10 minutes.

In retrospect, I thought this experience probably more powerful -- as perhaps Cardinal Ratzinger did when, of a similar experience at Fontgombault, he said "Now THIS is the real Catholic Church" -- then either the previous afternoon's pontifical TLM or the first solemn high Mass I attended later that morning, at which the choir sang mostly in polyphony so the people participated mostly by active receptivity.

There are so many liturgical flowers (OF and EF) in God's liturgical garden that we probably ought not to be doctrinaire in saying that either this or that is the single best way, whatever any council or instruction has said at some particular time.

SqueekerLamb said...

In mid November, I had an experience identical to Marc's. It was at a Friday evening Mass followed by Exposition & Adoration, Confession, then Benediction.
There was ONE altar boy who appeared to be about 11or 12 yrs old and he new his stuff! He knew every response and did not have a book in his hands!
All the women wore veils, and there was a box of spare ones for those who needed one.
Present were young and old, singles and couples, black and white.
It was a tiny little church down a side street in a bad part of town in Mableton, Ga...and it was perfect.
Like Marc, it was an experience I never forget!
The mad rush to the altar rail was a first for me. It literally was a mad rush...makes me smile just thinking about it!

Father, since the 'norm' in the USA is to stand to receive communion, are you saying those people that want to kneel shouldn't?? Would it be frowned upon for someone to kneel?
Didn't you mention once that you have a few parishioners who kneel (without the benefit of a kneeler)?
I posted that last Sunday I did kneel for communion. Should I stop?

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

The norm, and it is a norm is to kneel. However, priests and others who distribute Holy Communion are told not to deny anyone Holy Communion who wish to kneel. So it appears to me to be an option for the one receiving but the one distributing should not encourage it as it goes against the "norms." Norms are not infallible or unchangeable.

Marc said...

Henry Edwards: "We probably ought not to be doctrinaire in saying that either this or that is the single best way"

I agree with this statement. There are beautiful OF Masses being celebrated throughout the world everyday, including St. Joseph Church in Macon, Georgia.

However, I think we are right to be concerned that there are also liturgical abuses and instances of "priestly inventiveness" at OF Masses throughout the world everyday as well.

It makes me wonder, and perhaps Fr. McDonald can jump in on this, whether we would see those same instances of liturgical abuse and inventiveness if we were only celebrating the EF Mass? I'm just not sure.

I do think, though, that in our current liturgical world, where we have both the OF and EF, one can be almost completely assured that by going to an EF Mass, one will not encounter abuses. However, when going to an OF parish with which one is not familiar, there are no assurances and the results are, in my experience, sometimes disappointing and distracting.

I guess that's a long way of saying that when I travel away from St. Joseph, I will always look for an EF Mass so that I can be relatively sure I will not encounter inventions and additions to the OF Mass.