Tuesday, 28 October 2008

The ars celebrandi and what to do about the low mass!

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...


Joshua said...

I fully agree, Terra.

1. It is easy to have a sung Mass - I should know, I've been the one deputed to "be the choir"!

2. Like you, I have got used to Low Mass with server responding - but I can't help myself, I still give the responses, and I hear others doing the same. (At Kelmscott here in WA, which has just started a Latin Mass this year, when it's not sung, the people spontaneously make the responses.)

3. Very good point about not following every word - depending on my devotion, sometimes I will say some of the Office or some prayers of preparation for Communion during Mass, especially during the Offertory; I attend, however, to the Proper of the Mass - Collect, chants and Lessons, Secret, Postcommunion; I either read the Canon to myself or just recall it to mind as the priest prays it; of course, I have my prayers of adoration at the Elevation... the key is to be liberated from that Novus Ordo "must know/hear/say everything" mentality, which is can be enemy to prayer.

Anonymous said...

Orchestras have absolutely no place in the liturgy.

Please read Dr Geoffrey Hull's "The Banished Heart".

+ Thomas Wolsey

Archieps. Eborac.

Card. Presb. Sae Caeciliae trans Tiberim

Legatus a latere

P.S. We need to go back to the pre-Pius V Missale Romanum.

Joshua said...

His Eminence is fallible in this respect ;-)

What better than Midnight Mass with Charpentier's Messe de minuit, for instance?

And what of Pius XII of happy memory, who customarily celebrated Papal Low Mass for the diplomatic corps, with a small ensemble just outside the chapel playing Air on a G string and other classical music easy-listening?

I'd prefer anything like that to the Novus Ordo any day.

Michael Sternbeck. said...

Joshua wrote:

the key is to be liberated from that Novus Ordo "must know/hear/say everything" mentality, which is can be enemy to prayer.

I hope that the real meaning of what Joshua wrote in his comment is not to belittle the practice of following the words of the Mass and uniting this Public prayer (be it said silently or aloud) with Personal prayer.

Whatever about what Pope Pius XII wrote, it assuredly is of greater advantage to follow the words of the Mass than to pray the Office, the Rosary or other Devotions which must have the effect of changing the focus of attention away from the rituals and prayers of the Priest.

It was with that in mind that I prepared my Mass-book, so that the Faithful could read a modern but poetic translation of the Latin, which they could make their own prayer.

If they don't follow every word, but find themselves lingering over certain prayers of the Mass, then surely that is preferable to praying something altogether different.

Joshua said...

I hope I haven't shocked you, Mr Sternbeck!

I think what I am reacting against is what a number of pious folk have described to me - they spend their time at Mass racing through their people's missal, desperately trying to keep up with the priest as they try and work out where he's up to, and find the process upsetting.

I have a certain grasp of the Mass, and, say, if I am serving Fr's Low Mass, will now more and more not bring a missal, since I know the responses and what Fr will do (and what I must do) when, and can follow the prayers and texts read aloud (esp. if it's a Mass from the Common, or if I've looked over it beforehand), while at the Canon I can cast my mind over what is being prayed, and I know the prayers at Communion time.

Something of the same applies at sung Mass: if singing, I cannot attend to the prayers at the altarfoot, for example, or to the offertory prayers, but that is Fr's liturgy and I must humbly play my part by singing instead - and at sung Mass I would contend that we are meant to attend to what we hear, rather than tune out and follow every line spoke secretly as if the choir were a distraction.

So I suppose you could say I do follow the Mass; the only difference is that at the Offertory I am attentive to the Offertory chant and secret (from my missal), but tend not to explicitly follow every line of the priest's prayers (tho' I may for instance recite the Dominican Suscipe Sancta Trinitas to myself).

I suppose all this is to more or less unite the public prayer (the liturgy) with my own prayers, as Pius XII counselled.

Still, it was favoured by many Popes that one can licitly and beneficially pray the Rosary or Office or devotions during Mass - Fr Rowe usually says his Breviary if he hears another's Mass; sometimes I will say my Rosary at Mass, or some other prayers, but always my intention is to contemplate the mystery of our redemption.