From a reader…
At the TLM I understand that I, as a layperson, gain the graces simply by being present, but what am I supposed to do during it? I’ve heard that people used to pray the rosary silently. I sometimes follow along in the missal but should I be reading what the priest is saying silently or should I be praying with what the choir is singing? For instance would I meditate on contrition during the Kyrie instead of reading what the priest is saying while the Kyrie is being sung? What are some ideas? What did the common folk of the past do?
How can the laity participate in the Holy Mass? How did they used to? How can they best do so?
Excellent questions. The fact that you are asking these questions is a sign of desire to grow in holiness. The first promptings of the Holy Spirit usually excite in us the desire to pray. Secondly, we get inspired to try and pray with the Church. Thirdly, we get inspired to try and pray well.
There’s no set way prescribed for the laity to participate in the Holy Mass.
The Church is gracious in recognizing that we are all individuals. We have our own temperaments, interests, and devotions. As individuals our moods and abilities will vary dramatically. Our needs change from day to day, year to year, season of life….
The Roman Rite is not linear. There are different things going on at the same time. For Catholics, this is not confusing cacophony, but rather soothing symphony. When listening to a symphony, you can pay close attention to the oboe one time, the strings the next time, the kettledrum a third time. Or you can let the whole sound wash over and enjoy the harmonies. There’s no “right” way of listening to a symphony.
This applies to Holy Mass.
When Hearing Mass, you can attentively pray along with the choir. You can, make your responses to the priest’s greetings and promptings to pray, for example, at the congregations Domine, non sum dignus. Or you can pray along with the priest… silently, of course, during his own prayers. You can use the rosary to meditate on the Lord’s life, Our Lady’s intercession, and the graces showered upon us. Perhaps meditate on other aspects of our Faith. You might express your sorrow for sins you’ve committed, pray for the needs of your family and friends, or use the time to simply give thanks to the Blessed Trinity.
Holy Mass is the highest prayer God has given the Church to offer to Him. It stands to reason that the closer your prayers are to the prayers of the Holy Mass, the more efficacious they will be. There are wonderful old missals and prayerbooks that can help to keep your mind and heart focused on the action of the Mass, on Christ’s action in the Mass. Don’t ever worry that there’s some special “formula” of prayer during Mass that’s absolutely optimal.
Sometimes it’s enough just to “be” at Mass.
Follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit. If anything seems off, or difficult, or unusual, consult your confessor next time you go.
And don’t forget a prayer for the priest who is reading Mass.