Wednesday, 29 October 2008

'Praying something altogether different': the faithful at the Mass

Michael Sternbeck wrote a comment on my previous post responding to something both I and Joshua had said, arguing that even if the faithful don't necessarily follow every word that the priest says, it is better that they pray something of the words of the Mass rather than something altogether different. I think this is a discussion worth having!

Knowing the prayers of the Mass

Let me start by saying that I agree with Mr Sternbeck that the faithful attending Mass should know the prayers that are being said at Mass well, and understand their function and meaning. I haven't finished reading his Ordo yet (when I have, I'll post a review of it), but my impression so far is that it will help all of us immensely. In particular, the succinct explanations of each part of the Mass place the texts in their historical, functional and theological contexts.

But knowing the texts very well (and in my view, we should all have most of them semi-memorized either in English or in Latin) doesn't mean to me that praying them with the priest during Mass is necessarily always the best method of hearing Mass.

The pernicious influence of congregationalism

In my view, one of the greatest problems of our time is congregationalism.

Its extreme manifestation, of course, is the Brisbane disease - congregations who say made up Eucharistic Prayers along with the priest, and even purport to perform some of the ritual elements of the sacraments along with him.

But it does affect even traddies in subtle ways, and the practice of saying every word of the Mass mentally seems to me to encourage it.
The reality that we need to keep in mind when thinking about 'active participation' is that while the people do contribute to the sacrifice of the Mass, they do so in a different way to the priest.

What active participation really means

The Mass is fundamentally about our worship of God, and aids our sanctification firstly by the grace of the sacrament poured out by virtue of the act itself (ex opere operato), and secondly by the work of the Church (ex opere operantis Ecclesiae) operating through the sacramental (the prayers and ceremonies). Although the faithful do contribute to the sacrifice of the Mass, with the priest acting to gather up and offer our prayers and sacrifices, so that they are offered 'with and through' the priest, our role is above all to have hearts disposed to receive grace (Mediator Dei, 31).

In fact, Pius XII defines active participation as follows:

"The cooperation of the faithful is required so that sinners may be individually purified in the blood of the Lamb. For though, speaking generally, Christ reconciled by His painful death the whole human race with the Father, He wished that all should approach and be drawn to His cross, especially by means of the sacraments and the eucharistic sacrifice, to obtain the salutary fruits produced by Him upon it. Through this active and individual participation, the members of the Mystical Body not only become daily more like to their divine Head, but the life flowing from the Head is imparted to the members..."

The different roles of the priest and the people at Mass

In Mediator Dei, Pius XII spelt out the different ways in which the people and priest participate in the Mass:

"... the priest acts for the people only because he represents Jesus Christ, who is Head of all His members and offers Himself in their stead. Hence, he goes to the altar as the minister of Christ, inferior to Christ but superior to the people. The people, on the other hand, since they in no sense represent the divine Redeemer and are not mediator between themselves and God, can in no way possess the sacerdotal power...

However, it must also be said that the faithful do offer the divine Victim, though in a different sense.

This has already been stated in the clearest terms by some of Our predecessors and some Doctors of the Church. "Not only," says Innocent III of immortal memory, "do the priests offer the sacrifice, but also all the faithful: for what the priest does personally by virtue of his ministry, the faithful do collectively by virtue of their intention." We are happy to recall one of St. Robert Bellarmine's many statements on this subject. "The sacrifice," he says "is principally offered in the person of Christ. Thus the oblation that follows the consecration is a sort of attestation that the whole Church consents in the oblation made by Christ, and offers it along with Him."

Moreover, the rites and prayers of the Eucharistic sacrifice signify and show no less clearly that the oblation of the Victim is made by the priests in company with the people."

So if active participation is about intention, disposition to receive grace, and being in the company of the priest, it follows it seems to me, that what matters is not whether we follow the words of the Mass, but the best means of achieving the correct dispositions.

Some qualifications...

Now I want to acknowledge a couple of qualifiers to my basic point.

The first relates to the Mass as a sacramental - participation in the ritual where it is permitted or required, for example by acting as a server, singing in a choir, singing the Ordinary or saying the responses in a dialogue Mass - clearly does have some inherent merit. The Baltimore Catechism summarises the issue thus:

"..a boy who serves Mass or a person who sings in the choir will partake more abundantly of the fruits of the Holy Sacrifice, other things being equal, than one who merely assists as a member of the congregation."(No. 3, p212)

The point though is that silently joining in the prayers does not constitute such 'extra' participation.

The second point relates to the contribution we make to the Mass through our individual prayers and sacrifices. While the Mass is the sacrifice of Christ, we do genuinely join our own sacrifices to his through the action of the priest. That's why a Mass attended by holy people has more 'extrinsic' merit than a mass attended by people in a state of mortal sin. It is why the holiness of the priest is relevant even though the intrinsic merit of the Mass is not affected either by the Minister or the way it is said. It is why a sung Solemn Mass has more extrinsic merit than a low Mass.

But none of this, it seems to me, goes to the inherent virtue of the laity following every word in their Missals.

The point is...

I do think there is a place for following the texts and mentally saying them with the priest - but it is probably not something you want to do every day if you are a daily Mass attendee.

Similarly, I personally quite like the Angelus Missal's little sidebar commentaries on the Mass, which provide reflections on what is happening and how we can join ourselves to those prayers. Mr Sternbeck's commentaries on the relevant prayers seem to me able to be used in a similar way.

Another technique I've discovered is to bring along a Liber and mentally sing the Propers and Ordinary, although some juggling is required as the timings generally don't work that well!

But I do think there is also a place for the use of prayers less directly associated with the Mass, and I'm not yet sure that I see why using the prayers of the Mass itself is inherently superior to other approaches to hearing the Mass. But I'd be interesting in hearing the arguments!

The picture by the way, is of Fr Berg, Superior General of the FSSP saying Mass at the tomb of St Peter for the Fraternity's recent twentieth anniversary celebrations in Rome.


Michael Sternbeck. said...

May I recommend that the tedium of the Sermon may be relieved by the recitation of the Divine Office?

Furthermore, a sermon veering towards disaster may perhaps be rescued by the Public Recitation of the Rosary by the Faithful listeners.

Terra said...

Hmmm, the sermon is one point at which such practices seem to me somewhat suspect, although certainly something to consider in the face of heresy (a frequent novus ordo hazard) or deep depression at the state of the Church (a hazard at traddie masses) rather than AB Coleridge's 'faith that saves'!

Joshua said...

A very witty comment - but in my experience applicable to the Novus Ordo much more than the Trad Mass.

David said...

I haven't followed this discussion, but didn't St Pius X say:

"Don't pray at Holy Mass, but pray the Holy Mass.The Holy Mass is a prayer itself, even the highest prayer that exists. It is the Sacrifice, dedicated by our Redeemer at the Cross, and repeated every day on the altar. If you wish to hear Mass as it should be heard, you must follow with eye, heart and mouth all that happens at the altar. Further, you must pray with the priest the holy words said by him in the Name of Christ and which Christ says by him. You have to associate your heart with the holy feelings which are contained in these words and in this manner you ought to follow all that happens at the altar. When acting in this way, you have prayed Holy Mass "

Terra said...

Yet Pius XII in Mediator Dei said:

"...So varied and diverse are men's talents and characters that it is impossible for all to be moved and attracted to the same extent by community prayers, hymns and liturgical services. Moreover, the needs and inclinations of all are not the same, nor are they always constant in the same individual. Who, then, would say, on account of such a prejudice, that all these Christians cannot participate in the Mass nor share its fruits? On the contrary, they can adopt some other method which proves easier for certain people; for instance, they can lovingly meditate on the mysteries of Jesus Christ or perform other exercises of piety or recite prayers which, though they differ from the sacred rites, are still essentially in harmony with them...."

I'd need to see the context of Pius X's comment, but it seems to me that the sacrifice, the sacrament clearly can be called the highest prayer - whether the other associated ceremonies, particularly if I might say so, in the more modern form(!) can be termed a more perfect prayer than say Our Lord's prayer seems to me more open to debate!

The liturgical movement put a lot of emphasis on the text of the Mass itself, at the expense of associated devotions, the Office and all the things intended to extend the effects of the Mass out for us throughout the day and week. In doing so it went against centuries of tradition of other forms of 'active particiaption' and left us with the liturgical mess we face today in most parishes.

I guess I'm just arguing for a bit of balance (and variety) in our approach to the Mass.

Joshua said...

Terra, I've posted some related thoughts over at my blog: