Account of participation for the first time at Holy Mass in the Extraordinary Form

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”.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    The meditative quality of the Extraordinary form is so conducive to interior participation in the Mass that if I had access to it weekly I would skip the Ordinary form all together.

    The Ordinary form is good for kids, it gives them markers to help get through the Mass when they don’t understand it yet, or have difficulty sitting still for that long. Up. down. Kneel. Stand. etc. tells them, and those adults who have the same difficulties, how far they have to go for it to be over.

    I find the “marker” actions in the Ordinary form actually break up the Mass so much for me that my interior participation suffers for it. Not that I cannot manage to be actively participating in my interior while doing the many actions but it is simply never as deep as that interior participation in the Extraordinary form.

  2. KAS: Ordinary form is good for kids

    And yet we often get reports that children are better behaved at Mass in the older form.

  3. Maltese says:

    Everything tries to help you leave the world and your week at the door and draw you closer to God.

    Very true! It is often said that the new mass is horizontal, e.g. geared towards the community aspect of mass, whereas the TLM is vertical, e.g. focussed on Almighty God.

    Viewing mass as a community meal draws our focus away from God, and to each other. Thus, we stare at the priest, and he entertains us, rather than offering the Unbloody Sacrifice to God.

    The new mass’ lex orandi completely rearranges how we pray. It is anthropocentric; it focuses us away from God and towards man (the priest). And the Priest, instead of acting in persona Cristi becomes an entertainer.

    Evelyn Waugh said:

    The nature of the Mass is so profoundly mysterious that the most acute and holy men are continually discovering further nuances of significance. It is not a peculiarity of the Roman Church that much which happens at the altar is in varying degrees obscure to most of the worshipers. It is in fact the mark of all the historic, apostolic Churches. I think it highly doubtful whether the average churchgoer either needs or desires to have complete intellectual, verbal comprehension of all that is said. He has come to worship

    Indeed! We need to quit holding hands at mass, looking at each other and the priest, and start worshipping Almighty God!

  4. KAS says:

    Interesting that kids behave better at the Extraordinary form. I just recall as a child knowing from what we were doing how close to being done we were and how much longer I had to sit still and pretend that my little brother’s behavior was not bothering me before I could escape from him. Of course, being protestant then, I soon became eligible for acolyte and so escaped to sit down front after lighting the candles and until time to put them out. :)

    I wish we had access to the Extraordinary form here but there is simply no unity among those who would want it and all attend different parishes which makes it even more difficult. No unified community asking for it means no go. sigh.

  5. chcrix says:

    St. Alphonsus in Baltimore looks exactly the same as it did when I visited it a few times as a child many years ago.

    I wonder how it escaped the destruction of the late sixties and early seventies – or perhaps it was restored.

  6. RichR says:

    I lot of beautiful points made in the OP.

  7. albinus1 says:

    St. Alphonsus is indeed beautiful. My parents were able to attend a traditional Mass there. I visited the church once when I was in Baltimore, but unfortunately I wasn’t there on a day when the traditional Mass was being celebrated.

    St. Alphonsus still has its old high altar with raredos, and it is used for the traditional Mass. My parents told me that when they were there they were amused by the sight of the Novus Ordo altar on wheels, being wheeled out of the Sanctuary in preparation for the traditional Mass. ;-)

  8. albinus1 says:

    The weekend we were there happened to be the Feast of Christ the King in the old calendar.

    PS — One thing that occurs to me is that if the EF is ever to be more fully integrated into the liturgical life of many parishes (not to mention the possibility of restoring many traditional elements to the NO and making it more like the EF), something will have to be done about the calendar issue. The present situation, where the OF and EF is each celebrated according to its own calendar, so that two different liturgical colors can be seen in the same parish on the same day, and the celebrant might have to prepare two different sermons, is a stop-gap that probably can’t, and shouldn’t, continue indefinitely. And I think that what will probably have to happen is that tradition-minded people will have to accede to the newer liturgical calendar. I love the older calendar; but having two different liturgical calendars and celebrating some of the same feasts on two different days, in the same church, is just too great a source of potential division to continue indefinitely. After all, one of the reasons for the Synod of Whitby in England in the 7th century (described by Bede) was the fact that the Celtic Church and the Roman Church celebrated Easter on different days — something that today continues to be one of the most visible symbols of the split between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. If adopting the current OF calendar is the price for having the traditional liturgy more widely accepted and available, I think it’s a price worth paying. Continuing to use an older, separate calendar for the EF contributes to the perception that the EF is some sort of “museum piece” to which its supporters have the same sort of quaint attachment as those who like to listen to recordings of old radio shows from the 40s, rather than part of the living liturgical tradition of the Church. But I realize I might be opening a can of worms by suggesting this, and that others might sincerely, and charitably, disagree.

  9. Supertradmum says:

    I taught and had a Montessori school and I can assure you that children understand the mysterious nature of Liturgy. I taught the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. Very young children respond to the beauty and majesty of the EF. God gave us humans instincts for Beauty, Truth, and Goodness, which were ruined by sin and are ruined by banality. That a child acts better at the EF is no surprise, for many reasons, but especially as the child intuitively loves Beauty and Mystery.

  10. Wow… Not only are the facts dead on, but it is all so eloquent. I have for years – no decades – been convinced that the whole “active participation” (or actual participation if you prefer) concept was wrong at it’s core. When people – adults or children – have even a basic understanding and appreciation of what is taking place at the altar, there is no need for anything more. And the participation by the congregation is spiritual, not physical, and as such no need exists for there to be much physical or verbal manifestation of that participation. The basic rubrics of kneeling, standing, sitting, in addition to the few verbal responses in the old mass serve to help us focus on the proceedings and the solemnity thereof. That is all that is needed. It’s all that ever was needed.

    The Lily has no need of gilding.

  11. John Nolan says:

    @ albinus1

    Regarding the calendar discrepancy, one can’t help seeing the NO calendar as a classic example of the hermeneutic of rupture. The idea of pre-Lent (season of Septuagesima) is a very old one, is echoed in eastern liturgies and still survives in the Anglican ecclesial community. Having Christ the King (a very recent feast) on the last Sunday before Advent spares squeamish modern-day congregations from hearing about the ‘abomination of desolation’ as a prelude to the second coming of Christ (the Dies Irae sequence was originally written for this day). Other feasts have been shifted around for no obvious reason. The octave day of the Nativity has lost all reference to the Circumcision – were Bugnini and co. ashamed of the fact that Our Lord was Jewish? I am aware that the 1962 calendar is itself the product of tinkering going back to the time of Pius X, but it is integral to the rite and cannot be divorced from it.

  12. There are plenty of times in the Church’s history when priests have celebrated different saints’ days for different congregations on the same day, not to mention different kinds of Masses. Nobody sits there and goes, “Oh, woe! We have a funeral Mass this afternoon, so how can we possibly celebrate St. Swithin this morning?!”

    Personally, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having multiple saints’ days for the same saint. It happens plenty of times anyway. Just smoosh the calendars together by main force, pick whoever saint’s got the highest claim on your parish day, and all the St. Roberts are your uncle.

  13. AnnAsher says:

    Two thoughts. First, while she is as I suggest to my friends first attending TLM and simply experienced it, there is a fuller understanding of participation that isn’t physical. I do follow along – I don’t always need my missal anymore.
    Second, she reminded me of something. I’ve recently gone back to Daily Mass, daily M-F in the Ordinary form partly so my yoing children can learn the Mass through immersion vs. text books. Interesting thing happens in the NO chapel where the adults chat with one another- my kids think they can also! They get noisy! Sunday TLM, sitting there prior to Mass, so silent a pin could drop in the Sacristy and you could hear it, and the same children sit in Holy Silence and look at the Faith displayed on the walls and windows.

  14. “… there is simply no unity among those who would want it and all attend different parishes which makes it even more difficult. No unified community asking for it means no go. sigh.”

    KAS, I don’t know where you live, but perhaps you can take a cue from the international society devoted to the traditional Latin Mass, Una Voce. My local Chapter doesn’t have a set parish as a home base, but what it does is has a central governing body, and they arrange certain priests to preside at the Masses (rotating), they go to different churches in the diocese to promote the EF Mass geographically, and there is a core choir and group of servers that do the Masses. Perhaps this would get around your unity issue, if you are thinking along the lines of a lack of an FSSP community setup being your problem.

  15. Denita says:

    YES YES YES YES!!! Having attended my first OF Mass in ions this past Sunday, I know more than ever now why I prefer the Mass in Latin.

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