A reaction to someone’s reaction to her 1st “Tridentine” Mass

At Mormon2Catholic, Cynthia  (who seems to be a very sensible lady) reports on her first experience of a "Tridentine" Mass.  I thought her observations interesting enough to make some positive comments about.

On her blog she says:

The priest was wearing a very cool "fiddleback" chasuble, which I had never seen one in real life. It was very cool. 

SurpliceFirst, this is really sort of sad, isn’t it?  More than one generation now has been denied the richness and variety our Catholic tradition can give us.  Many vestments of this kind were dumpsterized in the name of "reform". I know.  Years ago I pulled many a vestment from a dumpster with a (now) priest friend of mine.  I am sure that there are many young people who would similarly say, "What’s a (fill in the blank)?"  Your options are "sanctuary, chalice, Host, tabernacle, altar rail, organ, confessional, statue, votive candle, altar boy, surplice, etc."  And the thing the altar boys were wearing over their cassocks is called a "surplice" from the Latin word superpellicium.

Also, thanks for putting that in "fiddleback" in "quotes".   The backs aren’t really fiddle-shaped at all, after all.  I think this comes from the more Spanish style and also some of the vestments seen in Austria which indeed have curves in the sides of the back part of the chasuble.  I have put on vestments in Austria and Germany which had sharp curves in the back part as well, making it very much resemble a fiddle.  Most vestments people called "fiddlebacks" however, have straight backs in the Roman style, with slight curves in front to allow free arm movement.  Also, sometimes they are called "Roman style", though this too is a precise term.  The "Roman" style has specific pattern of decoration, of the trim on it.  Many times people call "Roman" also the vestment with the same shape that has, for example, big Crosses on the back, and so forth.   This is all very picky, but I thought I might as well offer these comments while I was at it.

She says:

The people who were attending the mass were reverent, and most has missals that they were using to follow along.

Yes!   This is called "active participation".   So often we hear that at the older form of Mass people were "passive spectators".  Not so!  People could follow along quite well and truly participate by watching and listening and praying.  This was a great observation on her part.   However, later in the piece she says:

Also, the only participation that was going on during Mass with the parishoners was standing/sitting/kneeling and the Hail Mary’s.

Here is the problem.  So many Catholics have been lead to believe that "active participation" means "doing things" like standing up, sitting down, singing every thing, carrying stuff around, and so forth.  True "active participation" flows from our baptismal character, which allows us to receive what the Lord has to give.  As a matter of fact, the ultimate form of active participation is the reception of Holy Communion in the state of grace.  True active participation is more than merely doing stuff.  It is really active receptivity.  Of coure our active receptivity then leads to an outward and physical expression too.  But outward expression without the interior actively is empty. 

Many people don’t know this, but Popes before the Council and the Novus Ordo were urging people to respond outwardly and actively as well.  They urged people, for example, to say the Our Father, etc.  I am terribly amused by many folks who attend the older form of Mass and, while venerating the memories of Pope’s such as Pius XI and Pius XII, actually try to shush visitors who automatically and understandably start saying the Our Father along with the priest.  I have always thought it rather absurd, when celebrated the older form of Mass for congregations, to turn around and say "Dominus vobiscum" and have silence in return.  I know they are out there, of course.  I can see that they are paying attention.  It is clear that they are engaged.  At any rate….

She wrote about her first experience:Facing God

Now the down sides. … The priest kind of mumbled the Latin, so it was hard for me to follow. … He said most everything at a level that was impossible to hear. He faced away from the people the entire mass.

Well, yes.  There are parts of the Mass that the priest is supposed to say quietly, with a voice just loud enough for only the servers to hear.  That doesn’t mean that Father was "mumbling".  That is sort of an old chestnut, really.  Don’t get me wrong.  I have no doubt in my mind that for centuries many priests did in fact mumble.  Many today mumble in English, so why wouldn’t they mumble in Latin?  Mumbling is not a fault of the older rite any more than liturgical abuses we see everywhere today are a fault of the Novus Ordo.  That’s called being sloppy, and it has nothing to do with the way Mass ought to be said. 

Moreover, many people describe the position of the priest as if he is "facing away from the people" or "back is to the people".  I guess that is understandable from one point of view.  However, the priest is really facing the "liturigcal East".  He is facing God at the head and as the head of the people present.  Recently there has been a lot of talk about this both in this blog and others.  This position of the altar is very important.  As a matter of fact the rubrics of the Novus Ordo presuppose that the priest and the congregation are facing the same direction, since there are times when the rubrics say the priest must turn towards the people and then turn back again to the altar. 

I was very glad to read her reactions to the older form of Mass.  She probably learned a lot from it.  Perhaps as she becomes a little more familiar with that style of Holy Mass, she will start noticing other things as well. 

His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI has for years been of the mind that there should be more widespread celebrations also of the older form of Mass.  The idea is to re-root the celebrations of the newer form back into the tradition whence it came.  Liturgy should develop organically.  The Novus Ordo was an "artificial" construction on the desks of experts.  So, by a "dialogue" between different forms of celebration, it would be possible to reconnect the present with the past and provide for a future.  This must be done irenically, of course.    I think this has already begun to take place.  Many younger priests I know have adjusted their way of seeing liturgical things once they got to know some of the older forms.  They changed the way the say Mass because of their contact with the tradition.  This makes sense.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. I am terribly amused by many folks who attend the older form of Mass and, while venerating the memories of Pope’s such as Pius XI and Pius XII, actually try to shush visitors who automatically and understandably start saying the Our Father along with the priest.

    Father Z: Because of the “saying” here, it appears you’re thinking about a low Mass. But what about the people chanting the Pater Noster along with the priest at a high Mass. Post Vatican II folks who come to the old Mass from the new Mass are naturally inclined to do this, but more traditional types sometimes admonish them that it’s illicit for the people to sing along. Is there a specific rubric or norm that bears on this?

  2. Jon says:

    The Mass I attend weekly is an FSSP Mass. I’ve also assisted at many other Masses said by the Fraternity, at other locations. At none of them have I ever heard the people chant or say the Pater Noster along with the priest. At High Mass the choir responds at the “Sed libra nos,” but not the people. The only place I’ve heard it done by the people is at the Solemn High Mass of the Assumption at Mater Ecclesiae in Berlin, New Jersey.

  3. catholiclady says:

    At the FFSP Mass I attend you will hear some sing the responses with the choir – the ordinaries, not the propers of course. And some you see are singing silently, ie. you see lips moving like you would see lip readings but they are unsure if they should let the sound out.

    By the way, our choir director, Dr. Richard Hafer unexpectly lost his wife last Friday, please add them to your prayers. Her funeral Mass will be tomorrow. This will be my first FFsP funeral Mass. What a comfort is to me to know I can have a Missa Cantata Indult Mass when I leave.

    Back to mormon2catholic’s blog.

    I also found her comments on the altar boys worth mentioning. They are so precise and meticulous in their duties and the discipline is obvious. It is a joy to watch them.

    *Dr Haefer also teaches gregorian chant at the University and has given many worshops at Clear Creek.

  4. Well, what do you call those chasubles which are stiff rectangles with rounded corners, if not fiddleback (which of course they are not) and don’t have the precise decoration pattern to be called roman? I have always called them sandwich boards, but this may not be the right term.

  5. Jon,

    At none of them have I ever heard the people chant or say the Pater Noster along with the priest.

    Sounds like these folks are not into the spirit of Vatican II. Or even of Pius XII. (Not consorting with rad-trads, are we?) From De musica et sacra liturgia (1958):

    32. Since the Pater Noster is a fitting, and ancient prayer of preparation for Communion, the entire congregation may recite this prayer in unison with the priest in low Masses; the Amen at the end is to be said by all.

  6. Jon says:


    No, no rad-trads, but I did mention this very thing to a young fellow named Fryar, who smiled, shook his head, and said something about a guy named Bugnini.

    For my part, being haughtily proud of my ability to match the priest in a machine gun Pater Noster, I mumble right along ;^)

  7. ARG! Why must this be so complicated? If only priests would say Mass as they should.

  8. Jeff says:

    Interesting about Pius XII!

    In my old Missal, the Pater Noster is preceded by a “P” for “Priest.” “sed libera nos a malo,” is preceded by an “R” for “Response.” Then another “P” for “Priest” precedes the “Amen.”

    So was Pius XII monkeying with the rubrics in 1958? Was he ignoring them because of propriety? Or do those letters not really reflect the old rubrics at all?

    I’m quite fond of joining in with the “sed libera nos a malo” whether speaking or singing. But I’ve never heard the choir do the whole Pater Noster. Or the Amen for that matter.

  9. But I’ve never heard the choir do the whole Pater Noster.

    Nor have I. But at one 1962 high Mass I know of, the priest celebrates it according to the rubrics — which of course say nothing explicitly about the congregation as such — but a fair number of people in the congregation ordinarily join (on their own initiative) in chanting the Pater Noster along with the priest. However, the organist and choir have been instructed not to join in, and don’t.

    Incidentally, this question of the people singing the Pater Noster at high Mass came up at the CTNGREG traditional list recently. Various people said that this must be a matter of local custom, that it’s customary and “always” has been in certain localities (e.g., France).

    Finally, in the new 14th edition (2003) of Fortescue et al (Ceremonies …), the new Chapter 19 on “The Faithful at Mass” cites Pius XII in recommending all sorts of vocal participation including people saying the Pater Noster at (dialogue) low Mass, but is silent on this question regarding high Mass.

  10. Andrew says:

    Is there some hidden reason unbeknownst to me, why it might be objectionable to pray the Pater Noster together with the celebrant? I could see not joining in if it is sung by trained voices, but otherwise, what would be the harm? Would it disrupt anything? Would it blur the distinction between clergy and laity? Somehow, I am not concerned that it might do either.

    I can’t remember for sure, (it’s been a long time) but it seems to me that in pre-Vat-II days we joined in. First time, a few years ago, when I heard that we are to keep quiet except for the closing “sed libera nos” I was surprised. I tried hard to recollect, and it seems to me: I must have been singing it. I even remember the melody. Why would I remember the melody it if I didn’t sing it?

    Either way, it’s not a big deal, is it?

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