Saturday, May 12, 2012

Saying the Black

Having written what I wrote on Tuesday, I should admit that I don't positively dislike the Tridentine Mass—I just prefer the Novus Ordo. That said, there are things about the TLM that I find … less than felicitous. The parts that are important can’t be heard, the parts that can be heard can’t be understood, and the parts that can be understood can’t be spoken by me. I realize of course that the silence of the TLM lends itself (for the prayerfully minded) to contemplation of the mysteries enacted; this is not a bad thing.  But there is a time for contemplation, and there is a time for public worship.  The two may and should overlap, but ultimately they are definitionally different and it cannot be expected that the circumstances most ideal for the one are going to be equally good for the other. 
The TLM enables contemplation; it also, dare I say it, enables distraction.  For a young child, my mother likes to say, attending the TLM is a bit like attending a dinner at the Norwegian embassy in Burma where one can’t hear the speakers, simultaneous with the full awareness that the content of their conversation is vital for your salvation.  The costumes are beautiful; the banquet is impressive; but …
There is a reason that many (not all) Catholics assume that the “active participation” in the Mass, called for in Mediator Dei and Sacrosanctum Concilium, includes (but obviously not limited to—see Sacramentum Caritatis) vocal participation. C.S. Lewis hit the nail on the head when he said that we men are creatures of body and soul, who ignore the attitudes and conditions of the flesh at our peril.  An attitude of submission and reverence—heads bowed, hands clasped—the sort of attitude of reverence such as the modern TLM encourages—is essential for us.  But if it is important that we should kneel, and beat our breasts, because those actions bring certain truths home to our psychosomatic selves, then it is equally important that we not only know (though catechesis, through reading) what is said at Mass, but that we also hear it—that our ears should participate in the activity of the mind in following the progress of the liturgy.  And in the same way, we should give assent to the words of the priest not merely with our minds, but with our lips as well.  It’s true, what they tell us, that if you say something often enough you start to believe it.  Just try saying “mea culpa, mea maxima culpa” in a crowded chapel most every day of your life for three or four years.  It gets ugly.
Which brings me … to an aesthetic point about active participation in the Mass.  The Latin Novus Orod is not vital to Catholicism, any more than a trip to St. Peter’s is necessary for the saving of one’s soul; but there is something in a LNO that, like the trip to St. Peter’s, speaks to the heart of what it is to be Catholic.  Everyone should at some point have the experience of attending a Mass where he rises with the congregation, some two or three thousand strong, men, women, and children, and they say with one voice “CREDO IN UNUM DEUM.”  Where they plead together as one, “SUSCIPIAT, DOMINUS …”  Where he opens his mouth to sing, and hears the chanted words “ADVENIAT REGNUM TUUM” reverberating through the rafters with the force of the biggest, baddest Met opera chorus you’ve never heard.  It produces a whole new appreciation for the phrase “the Church militant.”
Having said all this, let me make concessions.  I would be happy with the TLM if it were altered in three regards.
First, if the propers could be in English.  Even children who know no Latin can read the text of the ordinary and follow those portions of the Mass pretty well—I know I had no trouble with that before I started Latin in highschool.  But expecting children to use a missal (or expecting Mom and Dad—who are strict in their definition of “grave reasons” and therefore at six and counting—to help them ALL) is a bit much.  And honestly, there are some people who even as adults capable of reading Thomistic Latin pretty darn well (me!) find using a missal … complicated and obnoxious, and following the Latin propers by ear difficult if not impossible.  Not to mention the fact that, if one attends daily Mass, the priest saying the TLM has a surprising amount of latitude as to what propers to use … which leads to all of us who dutifully premarked our missals fisk-fisking around to find the memorial that he decided was appropriate …
Second, if the congregation could hear the Eucharistic prayer.  I’m not asking for the priest to be loud—saying it in a subdued voice is very helpful for creating a reverent silence.  But there is a lot of room between LOUD and INAUDIBLE; the virtue’s in the mean.
Third, if the congregation could participate vocally in all the altar boys’ responses.  The low TLM was said this way briefly—what was referred to as a “dialogue Mass”—but the norm now is for the congregation to be wholly silent, even on weekdays and certainly on Sundays.  I don’t think this is a horrible practice, but I think—as stressed above—that vocal participation would be an improvement on it.
Interestingly enough, I’ve had TLM friends (including one who commented on my last post) tell me that they would be OK with the NO if:
* the propers were in Latin
* the priest faced the altar
* the congregation comported itself with reverence at all times.
Three recommendations to which I heartily subscribe.  As I’ve said, my love for the NO is based on the fact that it exists under those conditions.  That is the NO I am familiar with, and that is how the NO will look fifty years from now (more or less.  Please God).
Clearly there’s a lot more common ground here than the radicals on both sides of the TLM v. NO question seem to think.  Under the conditions outlined above, the only major difference between the TLM and the LNO is in the penitential rite (basically, in the TLM the prayers are longer, and they are said kneeling).
A final point regarding the Vatican’s position on all this.  There is a phrase that (along with “active participation”) crops up frequently in these debates; in the letter to the bishops which accompanied the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, Pope Benedict writes that “the two Forms of the usage of the Roman Rite can be mutually enriching: new Saints and some of the new Prefaces can and should be inserted in the old Missal.”  Well, that’s one way for the two Forms to enrich each other.  But I don't think the Pope wishes or intends for the “enrichment” to stop there.
Last summer my siblings and I sang at a Catholic wedding in the Tridentine Rite.  On the Sunday after the wedding the music director, somewhat bemusedly, told my brother the following anecdote.
Apparently one of the liturgical directors at the Vatican had been in attendance at the wedding ceremony, and was impressed by the beauty of it all.  He approached the director afterwards and observed that it was a wonderful thing to see the motu proprio in effect.  He then proceeded to inquire about the parish’s ordinary schedule of Masses.  Our director told him: we have one Tridentine Mass every Sunday, and the other four Masses are Novus Ordo.
“All in English?”
“All in English.”
The lowly Vatican liturgist’s brow furrowed.  “You mean, you say the old Mass and you say the new Mass, you have the two extremes, but you don’t say Mass the way the Pope says it?  You have no Latin Novus Ordo here?
The future, my friends.  I don’t know whether, when the dust settles down, we’ll call the Mass of the Roman Rite the “Tridentine” or “Novus Ordo”.  But I do know more or less what it will look like.  Papa Bene’s called it.


  1. To quote Fr. Z and others "lex orandi, lex credendi." Not a bad argument for vocal participation in the Mass whose prayers constitute their own religious source. (I.e. you don't need to go back to Scripture or Tradition to justify them.) In other words, there is no replacement or equivalent for the Mass outside of its celebration, so there is no other way to make it "lex orandi".

    Also division of the Mass into Mass of the catechumens, and Mass of the faithful is pertinent I think (I think I have the names of these right). Most of the congregation's participation in the Novus Ordo is in the first of these.
    The priest then ascends the altar and offers the sacrifice in the second half of the Mass.

    Recall also that at Christmas (perhaps other times too) the pope used the TLM gradual in place of the responsorial psalm. Mutual enrichment!

  2. Oh, I had forgotten about that gradual!