Friday, December 22, 2023


Deacon Fritz Bauerschmidt at Praytell has an interesting article about a modern Mass he recently attended in the English vernacular but celebrated like a 1962 Missal Mass.  You can read the short commentary HERE.

This is in part what the Deacon wrote:

What was most notable to me, however, was that the priest prayed the vernacular text of the Mass as if it were Latin. What I mean by this is that he did not speak the words as if he had any expectation of communication taking place with the assembly, but as if they were sacred words that were an element in a ritual incantation. Even the words addressed to the assembly were said with no eye contact or other indication that we were the ones being spoken to. Yes, I could understand what he said; but the words were uttered in a way that mainly communicated the message, “these words are not for you.” This became particularly striking during the canon, when he lowered his voice so that, while just barely audible, the effect of the Latin “silent canon” was approximated.

I think Deacon Fritz hits the nail on the head. The reform of the Mass, whether Sacrosanctum Concilium anticipated this aspect or not and I don’t think it did explicitly, was to better highlight in the Mass the dogma of the real presence of Jesus, the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, Incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Blessed Virgin Mary who became Man. Jesus Christ in the Flesh is one Divine Being with two natures, human and divine. 

The Mass should equally show forth the majesty of the divinity of the Crucified and Risen Lord, but also show forth the intimacy of the Divinity that is equally Human in the same Christ. That is an art not a science, of course, for both the clergy and the laity at specific Masses. 

If the 1962 Roman Missal  Liturgies were heavy on majesty, formality that flows from it, and transcendence, otherness, the 1970 Roman Missal and subsequent reformed versions of it was/is heavy on banality, folksiness, informality and affectivity as it concerns warmness and hospitality, eye contact and smiley faces. It is imminence gone wild to the exclusion of majesty, formality and transcendence. 

The art for the clergy and laity is to make sure the Mass is celebrated in a formal way, but with human warmth and dignity, not that of a party, but that of a very human but divine celebration. When the priest or deacon speak to the laity, be it in greetings, Scripture or homily, he should turn to them, establish eye contact and communicate in a normal way but in a public, formal setting. That does mean eye contact, not eyes cast downwards, and liturgical arm gestures should be natural not robotic as should all liturgical movement and choreography. 

But prayers directed to God should be clear, audible, distinct but without eye contact and preferably toward the altar either when the priest is also facing the nave or preferably ad orientem. 

I think a case can be made for the Canon of the Mass being in Latin and in a quiet voice. This captures the Latin Rite’s version of the iconostasis and is a form of transcendent spirituality, that of the grand silence while actual formal prayer is said/prayed in a liturgical setting—it is a grand low voice silence filled with mystery and awe. All the rubrics of the Roman Canon’s 1962 version fit well into this spirituality of awe and transcendence and the other canons could use some more ritual movement similar to the 1962 Roman Canon. The words leading to the consecrations should be identical in all the canons, which they are not now with all the “signs of the cross” (sign language) as the Roman Canon has in the 1962 Missal version. 

Mixing transcendence and immanence is an art not a science. 

The greater problem for those who like the English vernacular is priests for whom English is a second language, heavily accented and mispronounced. The next problem are Masses with a mix of vernaculars, in our country mostly a mix of English and Spanish. That can be very frustrating for those who don’t speak or understand the language that is used. Latin, with the laity using their own vernacular missal would even-out the playing field in those situations. 

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