From a reader…
I attend the extraordinary form of the Mass every 6-8 weeks. I’d attend more frequently, but my wife isn’t there yet. So I have a general appreciation for the usus antiquior.
That being said, at the Palm Sunday Mass I was struck by the reading of the Passion. The priest and two deacons chanted it. Slowly. In Latin of course. Facing north (toward a “choir” of altar servers). [No, they weren’t facing the servers except secondarily.] And it was inaudible to nearly everyone in the Church, so even if you could understand Latin (I can, enough), you couldn’t follow along because you couldn’t hear it. I read the Passion in my hand Missal, but the chanting was so slow that I had to wait another 20 minutes (NO exaggeration) for them to finish. [What’s your hurry?]
So, what’s the point? I’m usually all about the older forms, but this just seemed downright silly to me. [?] Any thoughts on how chanting the Passion inaudibly in Latin toward the wall for nearly half and hour is a good thing? Perhaps this is a case where the liturgical reform was an unqualified improvement?
There are several issues to address.
First, that the chant was “inaudible” is an aberration. Text is sung in sacred liturgy so that it can be more easily heard and so that the importance of the text can be underscored. If at your Mass they were singing very softly… well… maybe they are timid. That, however, isn’t the normal practice, as is the case at times with the Last Gospel. The Passion wasn’t supposed to be “inaudible”. Hence, there was either a flaw in their delivery or a flaw in your hearing… or maybe you were in an acoustical dead spot (churches have them).
It took an additional 20 minutes. So? I did a recording of all three parts of the Matthew Passion and it is posted on this blog. It clips right along and it takes about 30 minutes. So, what you heard is just about right. That’s how long it takes, more or less. The question to be asked is perhaps similar to the one Our Lord asked of His apostles in the garden, which you read yesterday: “What! Could you not watch one hour with me? Watch ye, and pray that ye enter not into temptation.” On Palm Sunday we enter into the most important time of the Church’s liturgical year. It is fitting that we hear the whole Passion on Palm Sunday. Let’s not be in too much of a hurry.
The Passion was sung to the liturgical “north”, as you point out, which is a symbol of proclaiming the Gospel to the places where the light from the liturgical “east” has not yet penetrated.
“Silly”, you say? Many who experience the older, traditional form are conditioned by the Novus Ordo to have everything immediately apprehensible without effort, swift, paired down, unchallenging. They come to the traditional rites and they are conditioned to expect the same. Not only that, we are people of our age, in which we have little screens and time savers. Everything is NOW! NOW!! NOW!!!
“Unqualified improvement”? No. What you experienced was not as it should have been.
So, I reject the premises you offered.
There are hard elements of the older, traditional Rite which are necessary for establishing the grounds for an encounter with mystery. The kneeling for long periods, staying still, not being able to see or hear everything… these are necessary elements in worship of the mysterium tremendum et fascinans. When people chaff against these hard elements – understandable at first – their minds turn to distractions. In a way, a parallel is found in kids, who have a hard time staying still for more than about 5 seconds. That’s just the way they are. But they eventually stop being wiggleworms and grow up. Similarly, it takes some conditioning to shed distractions, to be still. That’s really hard for us, in this age of convenience and immediate satisfaction.
As a matter of fact, at our Masses we have a lot of children who can stand still for the whole Passion and not fidget.
That said, it is possible that those who celebrate the older forms have learned a few good elements for our ars celebrandi from the “days (decades) in the wilderness”. A greater awareness on the part of the sacred ministers that the are people out there is positive. I take that as an element of the mutual enrichment that would naturally take place between the two forms.