My emphases and comments.
April 6th, 2011 15:48
An Extraordinary Form Mass in Amsterdam – much more inspiring than the usual trendy rubbish
I was in Amsterdam last week, conducting at the Concertgebouw. I found out that the FSSP (Priestly Fraternity of St Peter) have a thriving parish there, in the Sint-Agneskerk. I went along on Sunday for their beautiful Extraordinary Form liturgy. The Dutch church is a wasteland/joke/disaster area because of 30 years of liberalism. Basically there are no Catholics left here! Or so it seems sometimes, thanks to the usual rubbish. Thankfully there are some younger, faithful Catholics willing to swim against the tide. [I knew a couple Dutch priests in Rome and they said the same thing, with deep sorrow.]
I’m still a bit of a novice when it comes to the EF – Sunday’s was my third – but I am struck each time by just how devotional the atmosphere is, even on entering the church. Everything seems focused on the tabernacle. [Do I hear an “Amen!”?] There is a palpable presence of God, which tends to be missing from a lot of churches now, which feel more like Glasgow Central station than a house of prayer.
In the FSSP’s Amsterdam church there was a veritable tsunami of mantillas on display! [If women don’t think these things make an impression on men… hah! I laugh. Again… hah! And let us not now divert the conversation in the combox about this single point, which I can already feel some people will try to do. They will say “I know I am not supposed to bring this up but…”… followed by my deleting you.] There is a liberal argument in Holland which is opposing the government’s crackdown on Islamic women wearing the hijab/niqab/burka. Those same liberals who would have a fit if they saw a mantilla in a Catholic church, no doubt!
I certainly got the impression that the people present on Sunday were being helped enormously in their faith, much of which has been swept away in Holland. Many ethnic/immigrant faces in evidence. It reminded me of the Newman Beatification Mass at Cofton Park. Compared to this, the anti-Pope demonstrations in London looked terribly white and middle-class. Just like most opponents of Rome, outside and inside the Church. [I think it was James Joyce who described the Church as “here comes everyone”.]
“Ah, but we can’t go back to the past,” we hear the usual ageing handwringers cry. But the past is the past, and has no bearing any more on the new impetus to sort out the liturgy. [I am not quite sure what he means here and I am not sure I can go along with this. The past does provide a “bearing”. If we don’t know where we have been, we can’t chart a course for the future. A composer will know this. Thus, I am not quite sure what he was driving at. I’ll take this up again, below, where there may be a clue.] Latin Mass can be in the EF and the Novus Ordo – that’s the beauty of Latin, and that’s why the Devil (let alone the Tabletistas) hates it!
“Oh but where is the active participation in the Latin Mass?” cry the liberal killjoys. But lay involvement is clearly possible to the fullest extent in the EF or Latin Novus Ordo. [As a real composer, MacMillan is going to have a clearer sense of active participation as interiorly active receptivity. Listening is a profound dimension of active participation, and it is also a difficult dimension.] In the three EF liturgies I have attended in the last year, the assembly sang much, much more than one ever sees or hears in a Glasgow “Mass-for-Daily-Record-Man” or its depressing equivalent up and down the country. Everything from the Asperges Me, through the Kyrie, Sanctus and all the Dominus vobiscum/et cum spiritu tuos – sung by EVERYBODY. There is no point in using the past, pre-Vatican II practice as a weapon against the inevitable. [The key word here is “inevitable”. That, friends, is worthy of important conversation.] None of the young Catholics now committed to good liturgy have any idea what the old curmudgeons are going on about when they moan about the bad old days. [Do I hear an “Amen!”?] Their bad memories are irrelevant and have no bearing at all on the push for improvements. [There is the word “bearing” again. Perhaps that is what he was driving at, above, with his comment about the past.] And these improvements will have a bearing on both forms the Mass, especially the English vernacular, I’m sure. [Indeed.]
Even the readings – chanted in Latin – were understood by everyone, because we had the translations in Dutch and English in our bulletins. [NB!] I have never felt so participatory. [There it is.] These “readings” were heightened and holier because they were sung, and in an elevated tongue. The whole experience was sublime – ie, the way it should be every week in the Novus Ordo, and will be again once the Reform of the Reform has been won. Much better this than the usual lackadaisical mumbling and stumbling that we usually get, with all the right-on social/political messages thrown in for good measure. The only bit of the Mass I didn’t understand on Sunday was the homily, in the vernacular – Dutch.
I want to return to a point, in that last paragraph. I an an anecdote, the plural of which, as we know, is “data”.
When I was a seminarian, assigned to a parish for “pastoreal”, as they called it, experience, I was asked to work on music for the Triduum with a very good parish musician and a then-seminarian from the local minor seminary (who participates on this blog, btw). After clearing it with the pastor we did the Good Friday Passion sung in Latin with the old books and slight adaptations so the texts matched the Novus Ordo. After the liturgy, at the back of the church, I was set upon by Just-Call-Me-Maggie man-hating wymynpryst-type harpy nun in plainclothes – not even a lapel pin – who berated me in front of people for having denied everyone the chance to participate in the Passion. Since this was in front of parishioners, I went on offense. I turned to a family heading out of church, with children, and quizzed them, asking if they had been disturbed by the Latin sung Passion. On the contrary, they paid closer attention because it was so much more interesting than they way it is usually done. I asked a boy, probably 10-12 years old, if he was able to follow it. No problem, he responded, he just followed in the booklet. He meant the regular missalette, which of course did not have Latin. How did he know what was being said? He could tell where they were when the different people started to sing. No problem. He just read along.
People are smart. If you dumb everything down, they will be liturgically as dumb as the stuff you give them. Raise the level, and they will rise as well.