I posted a while back on the prayers at the foot of the altar, and it elicited a few comments about the dialogue mass that I've been thinking about and want to come back to, but in the broader context of the ars celebrandi.
Fr Z made a comment recently to the effect that the way the mass is said makes all the difference, even in the extraordinary form. I think he is right, notwithstanding the fact that the EF is somewhat less easy to make a mess of than the OF! The problem is that to a large extent we are conditioned by what we are used to.
And for me I've come to the realization that, beyond the intrinsic merit of any mass, I really don't much like the low silent mass - it's just that it is still preferable to the in your face, talky vernacular Novus Ordo Mass that is the most readily available alternative!
Oh for the 1950s (not!)...
The way our expectations are conditioned is always best illustrated for me by a relative, who in principle decries what was done to the liturgy in the 1960s and 70s - but in practice finds the TLM as it is typically said today alien.
Some of the things she complains about are small things, but important to her - she wants to hear the Last Gospel, not see it muttered sotto voce for example. But most of all, growing up in the 1940s and 50s, she was used to a said mass, not a sung one, and finds the missa cantata hard to follow.
The Mass she remembers was one of those half hour Mass deals, even with sermon on Sunday. She even seems to have a bit of nostalgia for the priest's harassment of latecomers (he started start again from scratch if anyone came in late)....
To me of course all of this sounds like bad stuff! I converted (technically reverted) to the Church in part influenced by seeing a couple of very reverently Solemn Masses performed complete with orchestra (courtesy of the LeFevrites before the split), followed up by the splendour of the London Oratory. When I came to Australia it was a bit of a thump to earth to experience the novus ordo as it usually is, but my first few years were cushioned by the experience of a really outstanding choir dedicated to excellence, combined with doses of Byzantine Catholicism.
And my path to a regular experience of the silent Low Mass was a relatively slow one - at first our TLM community had dialogue and sung masses, it is only in recent years that we have been weaned off the former! All the same, that initial experience of spectacular sung masses still drives my view of the ideal mass.
The Low Mass shouldn't really be the norm....
Personally, of course, I'd like to go back to the medieval norm of a sung mass in the parish church every day (private chantry masses were the add-on extra, not the norm), with a Solemn orchestral mass on Sunday!
It doesn't necessarily take a choir (though in many cases there was one several times a week) to do a missa cantata, just a priest, a server and a person to sing the Propers and Ordinary. The daily sung mass in a traditional monastery of course, reflects this norm.
The silent mass seems to reflect a variety of forces including the reduced resources in many places after the Reformation, the destruction of the monasteries, and the shift to an emphasis on doctrinal rather than liturgical competence post-Trent. In Europe, organs, choirs and orchestras ensured masses were typically not silent. But the Irish tradition which Australia and the US inherited has tended to see all that music stuff as what the enemy Anglicans did.
So what can we do now...
Well, the first and most obvious thing is to agitate for a Solemn Mass, or at least a missa cantata whenever at all possible!
These days with so few priests (and even fewer who can actually sing well!) there is often a hard choice to be made between having a Solemn Mass, or having confessions available through the Mass. My view is, Solemn Mass (make more confession time available beforehand)! As Pius XII said, it:
"...possesses its own special dignity due to the impressive character of its ritual and the magnificence of its ceremonies. The splendor and grandeur of a high Mass, however, are very much increased if, as the Church desires, the people are present in great numbers and with devotion."
The second point is really for priests (and servers), and that is to note that from a layperson's point of view, the ars celebrandi really is important, especially for the low mass. Things like having a (well-trained) server, the priest maintaining custody of the eyes, pronouncing the Latin correctly and without mistakes, getting the different voice levels consistent, and even the way communion is distributed, really matter.
The third point is that maybe the use of options such as the dialogue mass should be reconsidered, at least occasionally (is there anywhere in Australia that still has it?), along with the mass with organ, and mass with hymns. I have to admit I have reservations about all of these, but still, maybe they have a place. I used to dislike dialogue masses in particular - a reaction to the novus ordo where one is always having to say something. But perhaps the low silent mass goes too far to the opposite extreme! Someone suggested to me that if the congregation were saying the responses in Latin, it would make it easier for newcomers to come to grips with the fact that everything happens in a foreign language, and I think there is something in that.
Finally, I've concluded trying to follow every word in one's missal compounds the problem of the low mass rather than helping. Many of the medieval mass books aimed at the laity encouraged meditation on the allegorical meaning of what was happening at each point in the Mass, and Michael Sternbeck's Ordo commentary notes provide some suggestions drawing on that approach which I think are helpful.
But I'd also suggest that, the current disdain for such things notwithstanding, saying the rosary or Office or other prayers during Mass (as Pius XII allowed for in Mediator Dei) may well be helpful occasionally for those of us who struggle with the silent mass...