Sunday, 14 June 2009

The Laywoman's Guide To The Usus Antiquior...

I read a comment a short while ago to the effect that someone wanted to attend a Mass in the usus antiquior, but was afraid that she would make a fool of herself, because she wouldn't know what to do. It occurred to me that more and more people are becoming interested in the traditional liturgy, mostly because of all the information on the blogs, but, unless one happens to be in a parish where the Extraordinary Form of Mass is offered, the thought of seeking out such a Mass could be rather a daunting prospect.

So, I thought I would share some of my thoughts and experiences, and offer some friendly advice.

I do not claim any special knowledge, I'm not a cleric, nor am I a trained liturgist, and I don't have any Latin to speak of (until fairly recently, the only Latin response I knew at Mass was the Kyrie eleison... the rest of it was all Greek to me...) - I can't even claim to have been attending the usus antiquior for that long, being a relative newcomer to the traditional liturgy.

That being said, I have been lucky enough to attend a parish where the usus antiquior is offered on a regular basis, and, while I am familiar with what is going on, I also remember how I reacted when I first encountered the Old Mass.

So, remember that my own experiences may be very different from yours: that doesn't make them any more right, or wrong... and I wouldn't criticise anyone for feeling differently.

I have heard some people say that the best introduction to the Extraordinary Form of Mass is a Solemn High Mass: bells, smells, candles, torches, plainchant, the full works. Mass in all its splendour, giving the greatest and best to God in worship.

In my humble opinion, (see caveats given above) this is probably not the best way to start.

The novus ordo Mass is linear: one thing happens at a time, and events follow on one after another... and participation has come to be interpreted as "following and understanding everything that's said and done" - after all, it's now all in the vernacular for that very reason, and missals, missalettes, booklets or whatever are provided so that you can make all the responses along with everyone else.

If you're not making the responses, there's a suspicion that you're not "taking part" - a key example of this is the sign of peace: this is the point in the Mass where one is supposed to meet and greet as many people in the congregation as possible. Trying to remain recollected in prayer is seen as "being unfriendly." One time, I found myself being profoundly moved by the Mass, and tears were streaming down my face. I didn't want this to be noticed, however, and attempted to bow my head and not look round at the sign of peace... I thought this would be ok, as there wasn't anyone standing anywhere near me. Imagine my discomfort when someone actually walked across the church to my pew, and poked me in the arm to attract my attention and offer me the sign of peace.

At High Mass in the usus antiquior, there are lots of things happening. My very first High Mass (many years ago) was a real shock: I was there because a friend was singing in the choir, and I waited patiently for the singing to stop so that the priest could begin the Mass... I then found that Mass had actually started some time before, and we'd actually reached the Epistle...

Trying to follow what is happening is extremely confusing, because the choir will be singing Mass propers, or the parts of the Mass, while the priest is reading the texts at the altar, and the deacon and subdeacon may be moving around the sanctuary, while the servers are preparing something else... everything is following a precise pattern, everything has its proper place, but, unless you know what you're looking at, it's easy to get totally lost.

Personally, I think that the best way to become acquainted with the Extraordinary Form is by attending a Low Mass. However, it's not an easy thing to do. We have a lot of preconceptions and hang-ups which need to be overcome.

The most disconcerting thing is the silence, and the stillness. At Low Mass, the server is the only one who makes the responses. He makes them on our behalf: some people like to make the responses for themselves, but this should be done in a whisper, so as not to disturb any of the other people present. This is hard to explain: everyone present is praying, but not all in the same way. Some people like to follow the prayers of the Mass word-for-word. Some people want to meditate on a particular aspect of the Mass. Some people like to pray the Rosary (what better way to meditate on the life, death and resurrection of Our Lord?) Older prayer books have different passages to mull over... it doesn't have to be the same way for each person, and it doesn't have to be the same way every time for any one person. The beauty of this Mass is that one can unite one's prayers with the sacrifice being offered in whatever way is most effective at the time.

However, this freedom to worship in whatever way you like does take some getting used to. Modern living has made silence and stillness seem strange, and equates it with wasting time and doing nothing. In reality, this silence and stillness in the presence of God is a way of giving time to Him, a demonstration of our love for Him.

Low Mass has the fewest distractions: kneeling for the majority of the time, sitting (or kneeling if preferred) for the epistle, and standing for the Gospel readings. Of course, as Dr. Laurence Hemming pointed out to me, there are really no rubrics for the congregation, so, if one wants to go and light a candle, then that is perfectly acceptable.

The first time one attends a Low Mass, I would recommend sitting or kneeling near the back and just watching, while offering a prayer from the heart. The readings and prayers can be looked at before or after Mass. After a few times, once the general structure of the Mass is familiar, then one can start to follow the prayers in a missal, if that approach appeals.

The Missa Cantata is one step up from Low Mass: there may be more servers, and the choir (and possibly the congregation) sing various texts. In my experience, the choir sings the "propers" (the texts, such as the Introit and Alleluia, which change according to the day, the season or the feast) and the congregation sings the responses (Et cum spiritu tuo; Amen; etc.) and perhaps the parts of the Mass such as the Kyrie, the Sanctus and so on.

This is the most common form of the usus antiquior offered in a parish setting for a Sunday Mass: getting three clerics together on a Sunday for a full-on High Mass is pretty tricky. If one is familiar with Low Mass, a Missa Cantata will be pretty easy to follow. The only thing to remember is that the choir may be singing one text while the priest is getting on with the next part of the Mass. Don't let this faze you: the choir will stop singing for the most important part of the Mass (the Consecration is totally silent, which can be a spine-tingling experience) and you don't have to sing if you don't want to. There is generally more movement during a Missa Cantata, but it isn't compulsory, and if you want to remain kneeling, you can, though it is customary to stand for the Gospels. If you are unsure of what to do, look at the rest of the congregation.

Of course, everything I said about praying during Low Mass applies for a Missa Cantata (and also for a High Mass) so you can follow the prayers in a missal if you find that helpful, or opt for a different form of prayer.

Solemn High Mass has a priest, deacon, and subdeacon, as well as lots of servers. The priest will often be doing one thing while the deacon or subdeacon is doing something else, and occasionally all the clerics (and servers) will sit down while they wait for the choir to finish singing a particular part of the Mass; the congregation usually sits at this point as well...

Once again, if you are familiar with Low Mass, the basic structure of High Mass will be reasonably easy to follow.

Trying to find all the prayers in a missal can be tricky; the first collect (prayer) is easy enough if you know the calendar being used, but there can be a variety of things being celebrated. Saturday, for example, will usually be a Mass for Our Lady, but if a saint's feast occurs on that day, they may be added in as well: I think it's possible to have as many as seven collects. There are always an odd number, most commonly three.

Communion is generally given on the tongue and kneeling at the Old Mass, though I don't know of anyone who has been refused Communion because they wished to receive in the hand...

Many women prefer to cover their heads when attending a traditional liturgy. It isn't compulsory, but it may be helpful to note that there is a choice of head-covering: scarves, hats and berets are acceptable alternatives to the mantilla.

Most importantly, persevere. The Old Mass can seem very strange, and it takes a while to "tune in" to the different pace and emphasis. It is no longer about what we are doing for God, but is a glimpse of the heavenly liturgy, given to us by God, for our salvation, and in which we are privileged to participate.

33 comments:

Victoria said...

Thank you for this great post. I have copied it for reference.

immaculataconceptio said...

A shining example of your being a teacher, Mac.

Father George bloggingLOURDES

George said...

Hold on there Mac!!!! There's just so much, in fact too much dare I say, in this post to grab on to!

What you are doing is great and even for us men this is really useful stuff. May I suggest you condense this down step by step to 'bite size' pieces so we can all digest, pray and think about, then 'ask back' where necessary.

Perhaps do this over a couple of weeks, a month even!

God Bless.

Mac McLernon said...

George, I didn't mean the post to be just for women... the laywoman in the post title refers to me!

Sorry, you're right: the post is rather too long, but I wanted to get everything down as I thought of it, so it's almost a "stream of consciousness"

I'll consider doing a more leisurely step-by-step guide when things are a bit less hectic.

George said...

Thanks Mac - eagerly awaited by us all!

It's not that your post was too long, just so much in it - a veritable avalanche of information!

And we want to ponder and contemplate in awe at every little gem and jewel that makes up the Crown of our Glorious Faith which is the Mass of Ages - the Usus Antiquior.

Delia said...

Excellent - very helpful!

I was refused Communion in the hand years ago at Maiden Lane, at the first Tridentine Mass I'd attended after being received into the Church in the early 1980s. It never occurred to me that one was supposed to receive on the tongue (no blogs in those days!), but the priest dealt with it very aggressively, shoving the paten under my chin and forcing it up, and it put me off the traditional Mass for years. I also felt that the atmosphere was very cliquey.

But thank God it's not like that now!

Amanda said...

Thanks Mac, I really appreciate the post, also being the one that raised the issue in an earlier post.
I THINK the TLM near us is actually on Father's day (21st) and my husband is keen to go too (I have no idea what sort of TLM it is, I never realised there were so many kinds!). He has some experience as a boy but I am a convert.....so nil!
We will take our 6 children. Please pray our "naughty" 4.5 yr old will behave himself & be enthralled by it! What age do "young ladies" start to wear head cover?? I have a 12 and 7 yr old girl.

Elizabeth from Sussex said...

Thank you for this - it was really useful. I didn't understand that the priest may be doing one thing whilst the choir sings another. This makes sense of a few times when I have confessed to elderly priests who often begin the words of absolution whilst I am still making the act of contrition he has requested. I guess it's the same idea.

Matthaeus said...

What a great post - with a bit of 'tweaking', and perhaps the inclusion of some more photos to illustrate the points made, this could make a very nice leaflet to advise people attending the Usus Antiquior for the first time.

Perhaps you should develop it a bit and then submit it to the LMS, or the CTS.

God bless.
M.

Londiniensis said...

"I'm not a cleric, nor am I a trained liturgist ..."

Never mind, according to The Tablet Pope Benedict XVI isn't a trained liturgist either.

Ottaviani said...

Delia - I'm sorry to read that you had that experience and perhaps now you know the reason behind it (even if it was done a bit haphazardly!)

One way to counter the problem is to announce before mass or before the sermon (when notices are usually read out) that communion is received at this mass on the tongue and kneeling (if one is able to do so). This prevents any misconceptions and that way you know those who persist on receiving in the hand are there to state a point (and perhaps not even in the right state to receive Holy Communion in the first place).

Carl said...

The CTS do a book called The Extraordinary Form of the Mass Explained by Fr Richard Whinder.which is very good

For the younger at heart or those who prefer a comic type read I would recommand:
Know Your Mass by Fr. Demetrius Manousos. published by Angelus Press. Both my boys enjoyed this just as much as I did :-)

Joe said...

a key example of this is the sign of peace: this is the point in the Mass where one is supposed to meet and greet as many people in the congregation as possible.

That might be how some behave with regard to the sign of peace during the celebration of the ordinary form ... but it has never been my understanding of what it is meant to be. It is one of the points where I think the extraordinary form can contribute to an enrichment of the ordinary form ...

Elizabeth said...

Brilliant, now I can say the Rosary when I feel I am being distracted.

Kate said...

Thanks for a really helpful post, we have just started attending the Low Mass, when we can, and your explanations and insight are a very valuable way of helping us understand more of this wonderful Mass.

gemoftheocean said...

Ottaviani: There is only ONE canon law. Not two. The priest did that out of meanness.

Mac McLernon said...

Amanda - no specific age that I'm aware of... but I wondered whether the traditional veil worn for First Holy Communion was something to do with it?

Ottaviani said...

GOTO - If you want to talk about "meanness" then look at how many people in the USA have been refused holy communion for simply wanting to recieve in the tongue and kneeling down!

People forget this but the normative way is to recieve on the tongue. The optional way is to recieve in the hand - which can only be allowed if an indult was extended to that diocese or country to do it. The fact of the matter is that most countries did not have that indult in the first place but simply copied what the Dutch did and then it became impossible to stop.

And the Fr. Z-esque canon law argument doesn't cut it. Canon law did not anticipate that there would be "two forms" of the Roman rite. What Pope Benedict has created is a unique sitation in the history of the church. The rules for the Novus Ordo cannot be shifted onto the old rite ipso facto. Otherwise there would be nothing to stop communion in the hand being forced in a Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom mass - and believe me you do not want to suggest such a horrid thing to Eastern rite Catholics!

gemoftheocean said...

O: The eastern rite has its OWN Canon law!!! All by its lonesome.

I still say the priest who refused Communion in the hand to the person was ignorant at best, mean at worst.

[At any rate, Canon law wouldn't especially cover this sort of thing.]

[As for myself when attending this type of Mass I stand and recieve on the tongue -- ]

gemoftheocean said...

Oh, and Mac...no, they tried to force the female poulation in all ages into hats/veils/or freakin' kleenex "hats" as soon as you could walk. All part and parcel of the same mentality that kept women out of public dining restaurants during certain hours of the day because the important men needed it and couldn't be bothered to dine with women around. [You are too young and would have missed all the ****.]

Shepherd said...

I attended an Ordinary Form First Holy Communion Mass at Taunton last Sunday (first time in about 20 odd years).
I did not know what was going on, the music was gut wrenchingly awful and the singing banal. But, you just sit back and see it through.
I desperately need an EF now to set me to rights.

Catholic Mom of 10 said...

Fotunately both forms of the one rite are wonderful in our parish. Mantillas...I & my 8 daughters have no preference..take them or leave them but I can relate to karen's experience.

Rusticus said...

Excellent post, Mac - many thanks. I am hoping to persuade my wife (an Anglican convert) to attend an EF Mass, but as it is such a radical alternative to the usual Protestant/Novus Ordo way of doing things I didn't want to throw her in at he deep end with no preparation.

Your post here is a superb introduction to newcomers - very well done! (10/10 + Gold Star!!)

Rusticus said...

Shepherd,

St George's or St Teresa's? I was at St T's and I agree about the music.

However, Canon John is celebrating an EF Mass on Tuesday (23 June) at 11.30 at St George's - see you there?

Shepherd said...

Rusticus, it was St T's. Sadly, we were only visiting from our West Wales base.

Volpius Leonius said...

f anything the EF of Mass is easier for new people than the OF is for new people because you can sit there and do nothing and no one minds.

While at the ordinary form you need to know the responses, need to do the sign o fpeace etc.

One Lady new to the OF for example during the sign of peace said "nice to meet you".

The OF has far more opportunities for laity to mess up and embarrass themselves due toe mandatory physical and external participation, at the EF you can follow the simple maxim "if in doubt do nothing" and you will be fine.

Amanda said...

Well, I've firmed up the details and this is where I'm going....

Solemn High Mass at 3.30pm at Our Lady of Consolation West Grinstead in Sussex. The Parish Priest is Fr David Goddard (a married former Anglican Priest). His son has just been ordained and will be celebrating the Mass on fathers' day! Lovely...
Presume Fr David will be Deacon or sub Deacon...not sure of the 3rd cleric.

Brad Harvey said...

I`m a bit late getting to this, Mac. Excellent post... one of your best. I`m filing this for future reference.
I rarely get to attend the EF but pray that will change one day.

This will be helpful when the time comes.

amanda.molloy said...

Well, here I am reporting back....
The Mass was rather splendid. It was the first EF mass that I and the children had been to. We didn't have great seats (due to all the pillars at West Grinstead) so it was hard to see what was going on & 3yr old was uncharacteristically restless (I found myself offering her as my prayer, because I couldn't make another one, for the first time in ages) while (naughty) 4 1/2 yr old dozed contentedly through most of it! The choir were magnificent. The sumptuous vestments and all the clergy on the sanctuary in their black birettas were a spectacle to behold. The Latin was easier to follow than I expected, but was hard to feel as involved as one does in the OF Mass and i dont think we'll go again (unless another v special occasion arises), then we'd go and learn some Latin. We all love receiving Holy Communion kneeling & on the tongue, it seems much more respectful. On the whole it was a very positive experience. There was a champagne reception afterwards and Fr Matthew (the newly ordained celebrant) was standing at the garden gate for ages, giving people blessings (in Latin) as they left.
I'd now like to attend a Missa Cantata and a Low Mass....if anyone knows of any in Sussex/Surrey let me know, maybe in a couple of months time though, we'll say home for a bit now.

Mac McLernon said...

Amanda, the "lack of involvement" compared to the OF is a common response at first... you have to give it more time. The important thing to note is that you ARE involved, by virtue of you being there and wanting to pray... and restless, fidgety children are less of a problem because you don't have to follow every word... next time, take the children round to side altars to light a candle, and feel free to whisper to them what's happening, and point things out to them.

Liturgeist said...

I actually disagree... I found the Missa Cantata much easier. But then, I was moving from the sung Latin Mass at Westminster Cathedral (OF) and the difference between a sung Latin Mass in the OF and a sung Latin Mass in the EF, from the congregation's point of view, is not that big - the priest reads stuff while the singing is going on, the canon is silent, but the rest of the differences one doesn't notice.

OTOH, going from your average Sunday parish Mass to that would be a shock, sadly.

Ian Cottingham said...

"the only Latin response I knew at Mass was the Kyrie eleison... the rest of it was all Greek to me...) "

The irony of this statement is that Kyrie Elesion is not Latin but Greek.

EnglishCatholic said...

My wife (then girlfriend) was a Pentecostal, born again, Christian and it was at a Latin Mass that she felt a deep sense of the presence of the death and resurrection of Christ and now she is a Catholic insists that we attend every week - (thank God we can in Hong Kong) - and, Deo Gratias, we shall have our first child baptised according to the older form.

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