At a blog called Having Left The Altar (a reference to a quote from St. Frances of Rome, a favorite of mine) there is a refection on a first experience of the Extraordinary Form of Holy Mass in the Roman Rite.
The piece is a bit long. All in all it was favorable. There is a point in it, however, which merits commentary. My emphases and comments.
I was personally struck by how meditative the Mass was. At a Mass of the Ordinary Form, there is always something you are supposed to be doing whether it is opening a book, finding a song, singing, passing a basket, hearing commentary or meeting catechumens or what have you. At the Extraordinary Form, most everything is done for you. With the songs all in Latin, the Gloria in Latin, the readings in Latin, it is almost like the Mass in on autopilot as far as the layperson is concerned. (The priest did read the readings in English for us just before beginning his homily.)
Now, St. Alphonsus provides books for you to follow along and sing all the parts of the Mass in Latin as well as understand them with an English translation. But if you don’t want to, you aren’t a person suspiciously not singing or a non-conformist or someone who is anti-social or lazy. Because everything is in Latin, there is an automatic trump card excusing you from singing or following along. But it doesn’t mean you aren’t experiencing the music or the Mass. On the contrary, sitting in a beautiful church, smelling incense, hearing beautiful solemn music, it becomes a multi-sensory environment with everything helping to lift your mind, heart and soul to God. It becomes a precious opportunity to meditate and pray silently, reflectively, raising yourself to God. Everything tries to help you leave the world and your week at the door and draw you closer to God. [Okay… I think she is generally on the right track, and this is her first experience of the older, Extraordinary Form. But our participation at Holy Mass in either form can’t really be reduced to being on “auto-pilot” when the outward expressions of participation have been somewhat decreased because, for example, the priest celebrant and/or choir is saying or singing the texts. We still should be actively engaged with the sacred action while it is going on.]
Now, certainly, you don’t have to pray or meditate. You could sit there quietly irritated that everything isn’t in English. But, personally, the rest of my week is in English and, as a stay-at-home homeschooling mom to four young girls, the opportunity of prayerful meditation is worth far more than any song I could sing. For me, it was a golden opportunity, one I wish I had more often.
Now, I don’t think the Ordinary Form is invalid or anything like that. Christ is Christ. But the Ordinary Form seems to focus much more on participation. It focuses on how much it can make you involved, leading you by the hand to sing this hymn, say this prayer, even instructing when you should and should not go to Communion. After going to the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, I kind of feel like the Ordinary Form IS the children’s Mass, [and perhaps the Extraordinary Form is the grown ups’ Mass? I have made that comparison on this blog.] holding your hand and directing your thoughts through every step of the Mass contrary to the Extraordinary Form which provides the environment for you to meet God but lets you meet Him on your own terms, in your own words, at your own pace.
There is nothing wrong with participation – singing, lecturing, ushering, etc. – but it makes you focus more on physically doing something rather than on praying or meditating. [Again, I think she is on the right track, but her way of putting it is not quite there. Interior action is still active, even if it doesn’t have outward expression in gestures or words. Interior activity is active participation when you unite yourself by your will and with your mind to the liturgical action. We should move away from using the word “participation” only to describe outwardly active participation.] It is like filling your day with work and not taking any time to quiet your soul. There is nothing wrong with work; it can be very good. But without that time to quiet the soul, it becomes much harder to really enter into prayer. And constant participation makes it easier to fall into the belief that doing something is the equivalent of drawing closer to God, even if you are doing it mindlessly. All “Martha” and no “Mary” makes possible the illusion that “Martha” is all that is needed, is enough, or is as good as it gets. My thoughts after such a prayerful, meditative Mass were simply that, “Participation is overrated.”
Read the rest there.
Again, I think she is one the right track and I am very glad she had this experience. May she have many more and also invite others to join her!
Participation can be, must be first and foremost, inwardly, interiorly active. Let us not confuse “doing stuff” with “participation” as if “not doing stuff” excludes “participation”.