QUAERITUR: How to prepare for participation at Mass in the Extraordinary Form

From a reader:

I am a great fan of your blog and I learn a lot on a regular basis.
However, I am new to WDTPRS- have you in the past given tips and hints on how to start out in the 1962 Missal?

This seems like it would be good not only for me but for many other readers as well. For a Catholic like me, who knows the modern Church well but nothing pre-Vatican II, I would benefit from even more basic info.

The first thing I can suggest is going to Mass in the Extraordinary Form as often as you can.  Looking at the texts ahead of time will help.  Don’t sit in the front, at first.  If you sit a little farther back you can see what other people are doing in regard to posture.

Having a good hand missal will help as well.  The beautiful missals from Baronius Press or Angelus Press are marvelous aids for full, conscious and active participation.

There are often booklets available at churches where the older Mass is offered.  They are helpful too.

You could also look for resources online.  There are many places on the web which give the whole order of Mass and the day’s prayers.  For example, you could go to Divinum Officium and see the day’s Mass in Latin and English side-by-side.  You might want to use a missalette for the Novus Ordo and then compare them to each other, for the order of Mass at least, before going the first time.

There are also numerous videos on line and on DVD.  For a really solemn Mass, a Pontifical Mass with commentary, the Paulus Institute has a DVD of a spectacular Mass that was broadcast on EWTN.  There are a great number of videos on youtube.

After that, just try to experience Holy Mass in the Extraordinary Form.

Another thing.  You may be coming from a parish where you have been told that “active participation” means that you have to be doing something outwardly.  If you aren’t singing everything or saying everything or looking at the priest look at you, then you aren’t participating.  Critics of the older form of Mass claim that the congregation is forced to be “passive”.

That’s simply false.

True active participation is active receptivity to what Christ, the true Actor during Mass, wants to give us through Holy Church’s liturgical worship.  Our baptism makes us capable of participating at Mass and then we engage our will and minds to follow carefully the words and gestures of the sacred action.  This culminates in the perfect form of active participation, which brings the outward and physical and the inward and spiritual together: the reception of Holy Communion in the state of grace.

What I am aiming at here is that you may need a deeper view of what “active participation” means so that you are not from the very first moment left scratching your head about what to do or why people aren’t more outwardly expressive.  They aren’t passive, friend.  Not in the sense critics use.

I don’t think this should be seen as hard or daunting.  After all, lots of people over the centuries got along very well with the older form of Mass, people of every age and level of education.  It isn’t a mystery, even if it is the mystery, if you get my meaning.

Perhaps some of the readers here will have their own suggestions, based on their own experience.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. RobertK says:

    This may be a good book to start with along with one of the missals Father recommended.
    Calvary and the Mass by Fulton J. Sheen
    Product Description:
    Bishop Sheen’s reflections on what is now known as the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was originally published in 1936 and is one of his most dynamic and eloquent books. It is a vivid, inspiring explanation of the true meaning of the Mass, an explanation that is filled with wisdom and beauty. Leading us through the several phases of the celebration of the Mass, Sheen shows us its relationship to Christ’s Crucifixion on Golgotha. He points out how the seven parts of the Sacred Ceremony are based upon the Lord’s seven last words from the Cross.

    Under Bishop Sheen’s brilliant guidance, we see the Mass in its true light, as the crowning act of Christian worship. It is the commemoration, the reenactment, the perpetuation of the Divine Sacrifice. In Calvary and the Mass, Bishop Sheen not only gives a clearer, fuller meaning to the celebration, but also reveals a pattern of faith by which we may direct our lives to a higher fulfillment, embracing the example set by Christ in His self-sacrifice

  2. Nerinab says:

    Excellent advice, Fr. Z, especially about rethinking “active participation.” I found my first EF Mass very unsettling because there was much less congregational “action.” I didn’t immediately recoil (frankly, it was a very serene experience), but I have often heard that the congregation is “not allowed to participate” in the EF. I try to remember that though Mother Mary may have been silent at the foot of the cross on Calvary, she was certainly not passive while watching her Son’s suffering. If find it an immense privilege and humbling experience to have the priest offer the Sacrifice of the Mass on my behalf.

  3. lux_perpetua says:

    Fr. Z:

    thank you, thank you so much for linking to Divinum Officium! this is clearly my Ascension present from the Lord! i have been looking for an online source with the older Divine Office for so long so’s i can read it in Braille. googlebooks and pdfs are not accessible, and i needed a straightup html site. unless i’m really dense, it appears that this is the answer to my problems. Wahoo! can hardly wait for 6pm!

  4. Should any readers be attending one of the Dominican Rite Masses on the West Coast, there is now available a “pew booklet” worship aid here: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/dominican-rite-mass/15834813

  5. misternaser says:

    I made the mistake of sitting up front for my first EF Mass, so I echo Father’s advice to sit where you can see when others sit, stand and kneel. And both times I just followed the Mass without looking at a missal. Sort of like foreign language immersion, I was able to see and hear what was happening at the altar rather than having my nose in a book trying to translate at it went along. And frequency will help; I was surprised how much I’d picked up the second time I attended Mass, which was a whole year after the first.

  6. Read through the text of the Mass at least once before you attend for the first time. This is a big help. If you get a missal, then you will also have the propers (at least for Sundays and holy days), which the little booklet missals, though handy, do not have. You can also get the propers off the Internet.

    The traditional Mass was somewhat outside my comfort zone to begin with, and it took some work and preparation; but then this is the case with most of the best things in life.

  7. maynardus says:

    Some great tips from Father and other posters above. As noted, frequency really helps, I’ve noticed that it takes newbies an average of about six Masses before everything really starts to “click”. Obviousuly your mileage may vary, and you’ll pick-up on plenty of things each time; but do give it a good 5-6-7 Masses before you form any conclusions about your experiences.

    On “active participation”, the analogy of the Blessed Mother – and St. John – at the foot of the Cross is an excellent one. Martin Mosebach drew some similar analogies in “The Heresy of Formlessness”. I always consider my mere presence – and at least minimal consciousness – at Mass to be “active participation”!

  8. MissOH says:

    Know that the mass will differ if it is a “low” mass, missa cantata “sung” mass or a solemn high mass. How much you will be able to hear the priest’s prayers will depend on the priest and that is fine. The first time I went to EF mass it was a low mass and I had no idea I would not be able to hear the prayers.

    As Father Z said, you will need to re-think what active participation means. Of the masses I attend, there is one where the congregation does pray the Kyrie and some of the major responses “et cum spiritu tuo” etc aloud during a low mass and one where no one makes the responses audibly. There is one parish where during the solemn high mass, the congregation sings the Gloria, Creed and Pater Noster but not at the other parishes in our area where I have attended high or solemn high masses.

    Both of the churches where I generally attend mass provides the mass booklets and a sheet with the readings. Some people like to just concentrate on the actions and prayers of the priest and some like to follow along in a missal or with the booklets. I have a missal and I generally follow along in English as this helps me focus and pray. I do have a prayer book that has meditations to pray and focus on during different parts of the mass and I use that on occasion.

    A few times I have been blessed to be able to attend a “regular” daily mass in the EF that was intentionally “pared down” for lack of a better phrase, because it was taking place on a work day for people who did not have much time. I only mention this as I once saw someone make a comment about attending such a mass and how they did not like it as much as a Sunday mass. The daily masses in the OF I have attended at most parish’s are about 25 minutes to half an hour versus a Sunday mass of one hour. The same experience can be had at an EF daily mass that is not a feast day or special mass).

    Once I started attending the EF every Sunday, it only took me about 3-4 weeks to really feel comfortable, but I had attended few EF masses before. If you have no experience with the EF, it may take a bit longer, but just understand there can be some variations (such as I mentioned above) with the “active participation”.

  9. Henry Edwards says:

    I would benefit from even more basic info.

    As basic as it gets:


    The parts of the Mass are the parts of the Mass, in whatever form.

  10. I for one am getting rather weary of the “either/or” attitude in discussions of active participation in the Mass, as though outward participation is invariably an impediment to that which is inward, and vice versa. (I don’t know if it’s intended, but I fear that mentality is at work in some comments.) Any thoughtful study of the subject suggests a “both/and” approach.

    In the past year, Louis Tofari of Romanitas Press (also of Angelus Press) has written some brilliant essays on the subject of participation of the laity in the Traditional Roman Mass. They can be found here and here. There is also a very thoughtful piece by Fr Michael Simoulin of the SSPX on “Attendance at Mass and Participation in the Liturgy” from 1997, which can be found here.

  11. aquinasdad says:

    If you are new to an FSSP parish, let the ushers know – they will try to sit you near a person or family that can help you, if possible, and also make sure you are where you can see.
    The best advice I received about the EF when I started at an FSSP parish was from the liturgist; “Just let it wash over you the first few times. Don’t try to know exactly where you are in the missal, don’t try to listen to the priest in Latin so you can read the translation. Wait until you are familiar with the rhythms of the EF (3-4 masses, usually) and *then* start filling in the details”
    And I encourage you to try to read the readings and introit before mass – that is always a big help

  12. EWTN Rocks says:

    aquinasdad, I am new to a FSSP parish and looking forward to attending EF Mass on a regular basis. I realize the change from OF to EF will be significant and will have to become familiar with the new form of Mass. I expect to thoroughly enjoy the EF and welcome the change.

    manwithblackhat, thank you for posting links outlining laity participation in the Traditional Roman Mass. The documents helped to clear up some confusion on my part, and provide needed instruction.

  13. aquinasdad says:

    EWTNRocks; if you don’t mind, which FSSP parish?

  14. I hope that the great Fr. Z will indulge me in this blatant self-advertisement ;-) but I wrote about attending the Extraordinary Form of Mass and what to expect back in June 2009…

  15. Choirmaster says:

    I agree with the assessment that participation is more “interior” at an EF Low Mass, but at a Sung Mass or Solemn Mass, I just can’t see how the participation can be characterized as strictly “interior”. Indeed, at a Sung Mass (in many places that I have attended) the congregation sings just about the same responses as is said in an OF Mass. The “et cum spiritu tuo” response is sung constantly, not to mention the dialogue at the Gospel, the Preface Dialogue, the “sed libera nos a malo”, and the “pax vobiscum”. Also, depending on the time of year and the choir, the congregation sings most of the Ordinary (I’m thinking of the weekly TLM at the Cathedral in Savanna, Georgia, for example, where the congregation sings the entire Credo at break-neck speed).

    This is leaving out the constant genuflections and changes of posture at all flavors of the EF Mass. Generally, I’m pretty tired after assisting at an EF. The issue of participation and the false dichotomy of “interior” and “exterior” between EF and OF is–in my estimation–a straw man meant to filibuster any argument or discussion of the relative benefits of the EF over the OF.

    The participation at a Sung/Solemn EF is very “exterior”. The focus on the “interior” is probably due to the fact that the possibility–even requirement–for “interior” participation (and its close relationship to the “exterior”) at the EF is so much more profound.

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