Wednesday, 10 September 2008

The prayers at the foot of the altar...louder please!

Let me premise these comments by apologising in advance for what is really a bit of a rant. I love the sung mass.

I go to a low mass in the absence of one - and in strong preference to a novus ordo, all things being equal. But I still regard the low mass as a very distant second best. I don't mind the silence at the Offertory and the Canon of the Mass (quite the contrary- I think it works at that point).

But although I'm doing my best to learn to love it, I have to say, the silent version of the prayers at the foot of the altar bothers me. And Mass with the priest saying all the responses, something I experience often enough to be an issue, bothers me even more. In fact I wonder if both these practices are not abuses (ok, the former one maybe not strictly speaking an abuse but still...).

Why every Mass should be a sung mass!

I guess my view is that a low Mass works well at a (beautiful) side altar with a very small congregation. Even more so when several Masses are happening simultaneously. But in a larger (and often uglier) Church, it is hard for its intrinsic merits to be as readily appreciated.

One of the peculiarities of the Low (traditional) Mass in my view, is the wide range of different approaches to saying it. Take volume. Some priests say it virtually all sotto voce. Some say everything except the silent bits quite loudly. Some servers follow the priest in the volume they use - others murmur their responses inaudibly even when the priest speaks quite loudly.

Personally, I want to hear these prayers (and the other things the rubrics indicate should be spoken in an audible voice such as the readings) - not least because it is hard to assist at something if you can't even tell whether or not it has actually started!

A traddie touchstone?

The prayers at the foot of the altar seem to be one of those touchstone issues for liturgical purists - the french Benedictines for example, regularly seem to get blasted in various forums for dropping them in the conventual mass when it is joined to one of the hours of the Office (presumably the theological rationale being that the priest was well and truly prepared to celebrate the sacred mysteries by the liturgy he had just sung).

I have to admit I find it hard to get worked up about whether or not they are dropped a la 1965 or not. True they are rather beautiful. But in the sung mass of course, they are completely inaudible to the congregation (not that that's necessarily important), and personally I tend to get distracted by the singing of the Introit. There are other ways for both priest and congregation to prepare adequately.

But if they are being said in the low Mass I do like to hear them - particularly the Confiteor (especially in the absence of it being said before communion - I want that Absolution to be clearly applied to me)!

But as I said above, some priests say them audibly, others don't. In fact Valle Adurni recently related the story of an Oratorian priest who felt so strongly over the issue that when a ruling came down that the mike had to be on for them, refused to say the TLM publicly at all.

The theology of the prayers

The rationale for the inaudible prayers, I gather, is that this section of the Mass really is between the server and the priest - they are, after all, the ones who are entering into the altar of the Lord.

The logical extension of this view is that if there is no server, then a person from the Congregation shouldn't step in and give the responses. And, as I've recently discovered, there are priests who take this view. Some won't allow a woman to say the responses. Others won't allow anyone.

I think there are two problems with this view, one theological, one rubrical.

First the theology of the prayers. While they certainly focus on 'going in to the altar of the Lord', a restrictive interpretation of this seems over-literal to me. After all, the priest has actually already gone up to the altar once.

The prayers are after all, meant as preparation for offering the Mass, and all of those present, as Mediator Dei points out, assist in the Mass, albeit not in the same way. While the psalm that forms the centrepiece of these prayers talks about going into the altar of the Lord, and can be taken as referring to the clear separation of priest and people in the Jewish Temple, unlike the Jewish approach (or the Orthodox), that level of rigid separation where the sacrifice is conducted behind closed doors, is not part of the Latin rite of the Mass as we know it today.

In fact, St Robert Bellarmine's commentary on the psalm puts the Introibo ad altare Dei verse in the context of Apocalypse 5 ('Though hast made us to our God a kingdom and priests'), pointing to the priesthood of all the baptised, rather than just referring to the Ministerial priesthood.

True, the priest acts for and on behalf of the people at the altar, standing as alter Christus - but, as Pius XII put it, he also acts 'in company with the people'.

Rubrical issues

The second issue (and closely related) is the idea of Mass without a server and without anyone making the responses. Saying a Mass without any ministers was repeatedly condemned as an abuse in years after Trent.

In fact Canon 813 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law (which surely applies to the 1962 Mass) specifically says: 'Sacerdos Missam ne celebret sine ministro qui eidem inserviat et respondeat.' Sub-section two of the same canon goes on to allow someone from the congregation, even a woman, to make the responses in the absence of a server if there is a good reason for the Mass to proceed (such as, presumably the presence of a congregation at a scheduled mass).

So I think the prayers at the foot of the altar should be audible, and if necessary, said by someone in the Congregation! But am I missing something?

Of course, the ideal solution is only have sung Masses...


Stephen said...

The prayers at the foot of the Altar are preparatory prayers for the priest and servers before the Mass starts properly, which traditionally starts at the Greeting and first Collect.

However, there is no reason why the whole congregation cant join in in a Low Mass. I actually experienced this at a Low Mass at San Gregorio in Muratorio in Rome, and I liked it.

Terra said...

Yet the rubrics indicate they are part of the Mass - they are not optional extras in the 1962 Mass, not private or public devotions like the prayers generally said after a Low Mass but part of the liturgy proper. It is true that a 'dialogue' mass is the other option in the absence of a server, but the Fraternity in particular don't seem very keen on these...

Kiran said...

I tend to agree regarding the idea that the ideal is a sung Mass on every occasion, though this is not really possible, even in monastic communities. However, I have seen the priest say all the responses, just for the prayers at the foot of the altar, the reason being that this pushes the congregation to provide a server. This in mind, what I find annoying is not the priest saying all the responses, but the fact that there is no server willing to serve the Mass, which in most communities, there should be.

Terra said...

I think most communities do their best on servers - the problem with non-geographical communities is that you often have to travel a long way to get to masss, times may not fit in with work schedules, etc.

If there really is an unwillingness, I think the community should be asking itself some hard questions on what the real underlying problem is!

My concern is more over the inevitable days when someone is sick or away and a replacement can't be arranged.

As for monasteries that can't manage a sung mass - I sincerely hope we aren't talking about Benedictines!

Seriously, at a pinch, with judious use of psalm-toning (or even recto tono if things are dire singer wise) you only need one (ideally reasonably capable) singer... Surely the main issue with the sung Mass is normally the priests inclination (or capability) to sing and the impact if any on the length of the Mass?

Kiran said...

Terra, fair enough. In terms of monasteries, while it is one thing to say a conventual Mass should be sung, surely we are not suggesting that all the "private masses" be sung (although it is reasonable to expect that all "private masses" have a server).

Since I am speaking in the abstract, I am not sure what the problem is in most communities. All I can say is that it does seem odd for it to be the case that there are no servers for the Mass over and over again.

Michael Sternbeck. said...

Terra wrote:

So I think the prayers at the foot of the altar should be audible, and if necessary, said by someone in the Congregation! But am I missing something?

Yes I'm afraid you are Terra and it has to do with the history of the introduction of these prayers into the Mass. The description of this would take far too long here.

The Prayers at the Foot of the Altar are private prayers between the celebrant and ministers: they should not be audible, nor were intended to be, historically.

At a sung Mass, the congregation's attention should be on the words of the Introit (whether they are able to sing those words or not), not on what the celebrant and ministers are praying quietly. This is the Church's ideal. But of course, ideals are often not realised.

If a server is lacking, perhaps the congregation might assist the celebrant by answering the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar. But there is no requirement that this happen.

This matter points to a wider tension within the Extraordinary Form of the manner in which the congregation should assist. Is it the Church's ideal that at a Low Mass, the congregation remains completely mute? No. But, there are many devotees of the Old Mass who wish it no other way than that. Sometimes it is not appropriate to implement ideals which the congregation is neither accustomed to, nor at ease with.

But the Church's ideal for congregational participation at Low Mass doesn't include the congregation's participation in the Prayers at the Foot of the altar. Rather, at a "Dialogue" Low Mass, the congregation should join in the Ordinary of the Mass (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus Dei) and, when it is possible, to recite the Proper of the Mass (Introit, Offertorium, Communio) also, with the priest. In short, what the choir would sing at a Sung Mass, the congregation may recite with the celebrant at a Dialogue Low Mass.

That is the Church's ideal, as set out in a number of pre-Conciliar documents.

And yet, I suspect that Traditionalists would be much more comfortable at hearing the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar recited aloud than to implement this ideal for the Dialogue Low Mass.

Joshua said...

Remember that priests all have their singularities and funny ways...

To have no server, and to refuse someone offering to answer the Mass at the rails, is quite wrong: it bespeaks a distorted understanding.

A certain priest late of the Fraternity is one of those who likes Ps 42 &c. sotto voce; I understand the reasoning, but would prefer it said in an audible voice.

My own priest is not enamoured of the dialogue Mass, but always says the bits out loud that he should - and still has the third Confiteor too. Furthermore, he likes to have sung Mass when possible. And when I and others join the server in making the responses at Low Mass, he doesn't mind.

You hit the nail on the head when you said how easy it is to have Missa cantata: at a pinch, psalm-tone the Ordinary, do de Angelis for the Proper, and Bob's your uncle.

Of course, some would turn up their noses at something so allegedly vulgar: more fool them, sung Mass is best (tho' of course Low Mass has its own quiet meditative beauty).

BTW, I was organizing precisely this with Fr Rowe tonight: we will have a Missa Cantata every day of the upcoming retreat, so come one, come all!

Michael Sternbeck. said...

I feel obliged to add this in the light of comments above. What I am reading in this post and comments is "what I would prefer".

It is what the Church asks for in the rubrics of the Mass that is important, not what we as individuals prefer, or regard as right or wrong.

Terra said...

1. On the face of it, the Mass without minister is a pure rubrics/law issue, and on the face of it a serious one. But as I've seen it done by a couple of different Fraternity priests, I imagine they have some rationale for it - I'm just curious as to what it is!

2. As far as I can see the prayers at the foot of the altar issue is a preference/local custom one (although perhaps also reflecting particular theological opinions about the nature of congregational participation etc which is why it is an issue for me) - the only indication in the rubrics that I am aware of is that the server shouldn't speak so loudly as to disturb those saying Masses at other altars. In a situation in which this can't occur (such as that there are no other altars, or other priests!) I can't see that it applies. And it certainly doesn't seem to preclude saying it loudly enough to be heard by the attending congregation.

Michael, I'd be interested if you could point me to some source reading on the history of these prayers. But all the same, I'd argue context is everything and the changes made to the 1962 Mass (particularly the dropping of the third confiteor, notwithstanding its retention in some places) do change the original context somewhat.

3. As to the dialogue mass, the extent to which the congregation talks/does things in the Mass seems to me more a matter of fashion - a pastoral issue perhaps - rather than genuinely being about organic development. Pre-Trent, most parochial masses were probably even more actively involving than the current NO!

The various twentieth century documents urging the merits of the dialogue mass reflect, I imagine, the push of the liturgical movement earlier this century, which because it carried the seeds of destruction in it, traddies (rightly in my view!) tend to be a little suspicious of. It's time may yet come again, but I'd rather put my effort into persuading people of the virtues of singing the Ordinary rather than saying it.

Anonymous said...

REINVENTING THE WHEEL, Ask yourself why these prayers were removed as part of the reform! Why? because they where originally part of a series of private prayers in preparation, whose public recitation ensured that they were done before all. That is why the introit is sung over them at a sung mass. The Mass actually starts with the sign of the cross at the beginning of the introit. Nor is the Last Gospel properly part of the Mass as such, but an addition which was also removed with the reform.


Michael Sternbeck. said...

It would seem that an article of some sort is required to clarify these matters, and remove discussion from the realm of personal opinion, preference and perceived local custom.

The Sybillic utterance has just briefly touched on the history of the prayers beginning the Mass, but it should be noted well.

Terra said...

On the Sybillic utterances, most of us don't really expect there to be any underlying logic to changes made to the Mass (beyond the diesre to strip out anything beautiful and meaningful)!

Can you point me to an authority though, on the point that the Mass doesn't begin until the sign of the cross at the Introit?

David said...

Terra, The Latin Mass Society of England and Wales has published a "Plain Man's Guide to the Latin of the Traditional Rite of Mass", in which the following statement appears (Chapter IV):

The prayers at the foot of the altar are not strictly part of the Mass at all. They originated as prayers said in the sacristy by way of preparation for the ministers who were about to take part in the celebration. Later the practice arose of saying them during the procession to the altar. This was fine in cathedrals but in the humble parish church the distance from sacristy to altar was not great enough to enable them to be completed in time, so they finished up being recited at the foot of the altar instead. The fact that they are not strictly part of the Mass liturgy is clear at a High Mass or a Missa Cantata, where Mass begins with the singing of the Introit by the choir, while the ministers and servers recite these preparatory prayers in a low voice, inaudible to everyone in the congregation apart from those who happen to be sitting in the first few rows. Their status is also apparent from the fact that they are always recited and never sung. However, in the Novus Ordo the penitential rite has been incorporated into the Mass liturgy itself, an innovation which has attracted a considerable amount of criticism, and not only from traditionalists.

It's a pity that the author does not quote his sources. But his argument as to their source seems to make a certain degree of common sense...

Anonymous said...

"REINVENTING THE WHEEL, Ask yourself why these prayers were removed as part of the reform! Why? because they where originally part of a series of private prayers in preparation, whose public recitation ensured that they were done before all."

Check any mediaeval Missal (except the Roman and a few others) e.g., the Sarum, York, etc, etc from Northern Europe, and you'll find that the "prayers at the foot of the altar" were mainly said on the say to the altar (although the confiteor, etc, were said in the chancel, just before going up, saying "aufer a nobis", etc, kissing the altar, and beginning the introit.

If the Roman use had not been imposed after Trent, things would be a lot different now...

+ Thomas Wolsey

Archieps. Eborac., etc.

Marty said...

Geez've hit a nerve here!