Monday, 15 August 2011

Active Participation...

My Reflective Mood post generated a rather pertinent comment, which I felt had to be given a wider airing, as it exemplifies one of the misconceptions which many people have about the Extraordinary Form of Mass.

I think I need to nail my colours to the mast, so that my comments have some sort of context. First of all, I've said it before, and it bears repeating: I am no expert liturgist. I am not a trained musician - though I do love to sing (and I think I have quite a nice voice) and I did organise the choir for many years at a previous parish I attended, so I got fed the standard liturgical line (mumbo-jumbo) for the celebration of the Novus Ordo. I have even been a Euphemistic Monster (please don't hurt me, I can explain!) and I am still a reader.

I have no doubts about the validity of the Novus Ordo Mass, I just prefer the Extraordinary Form. In my opinion, there is so much more to the traditional liturgy. A simple analogy will demonstrate my present attitude - both McDonalds and Café Rouge serve food, but, given a completely free choice, I know which food I'd rather have!

I am a relative newcomer to the Extraordinary Form, and, unlike many people who have put much time and effort into finding a "Latin Mass" each Sunday, travelling many miles in order to attend one, I tend to go mainly to my own parish church. I do realise how fortunate I am in this respect! I often attend the Sunday evening Mass in my parish as well as the Extraordinary Form Mass in the morning (I help in the Sacristy, and often set up and clear away for this Mass) I don't state this in order to boast, but merely to demonstrate that I am used to attending both forms of the Latin Rite.

This is the comment from Diamantina da Brescia:

It was interesting that you mentioned that not having to join in with the responses in the Extraordinary Form Mass fitted your mood. Is it usual for the congregation at Extraordinary Form Masses not to join in the responses?

At the handful (four or five) of Extraordinary Form Masses I have attended, I have attempted to join in the responses in my best Latin (which is not very good, I admit: I speak Portuguese, Spanish and French to varying degrees, but have never learned Latin), but I am perplexed that as a rule, the rest of the congregation (other than the choir) does not do so. Why is that so? Even the Latin versions of the Creed and the Our Father are said too quickly for the congregation to follow along if they wished -- and I would think that those prayers should be said in common by the entire congregation at every Sunday Mass!

I feel lost and confused if I am not actively participating in the Mass, whether it is joining in the responses and singing the hymns or serving as a lector or EMHC. That is just my personal opinion

It is important to note that there are variants on the Extraordinary Form of Mass, and this will affect the way in which responses are made. I went into more detail about them in a previous post, but, briefly, you have Solemn High Mass (with priest, deacon and subdeacon), a Missa Cantata (one priest, but stuff is chanted) and Low Mass (one priest, one or two servers, and most of the Mass is "silent".)

At the Solemn High Mass, the choir chants all the Mass propers (the bits which change), the deacon chants the Gospel, the subdeacon chants the Epistle, and the congregation often joins in with chanting the parts of the Mass (Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, Agnus Dei) and the Creed, along with "Et cum spiritu tuo" at various points (and the bit at the start of the Preface.)

At a Missa Cantata, it's pretty much the same, except that the priest chants the Epistle and Gospel.

In both cases, there is no obligation for the congregation to join in with any responses, though they usually do, and generally with far more gusto than is observed at many Novus Ordo celebrations. Hearing our parish congregation belt out Credo I is quite uplifting! Occasionally, and usually at a Solemn High Mass, the Mass setting is a polyphonic one, and not really suitable for the congregation to join in. Before anyone gets upset about it, this is frequently the case at places like Westminster Cathedral even at Ordinary Form Masses.

Fr Baumann Visit 09Low Mass is where the lack of overt congregational response is most noticeable. During Low Mass, the server makes the responses on behalf of the congregation. The priest is praying, as I understand it, in persona Christi, interceding to the Father on our behalf. The prayers are said quietly. In some countries, I believe, the practice of a "Dialogue Mass" has become the norm - a sort of halfway house between the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms - where the congregation make the responses with the server, but this is rare. It also seems (to me) to defeat the idea behind Low Mass, and turns it into a competition to see who knows enough Latin to keep up!

Occasionally, one can find Low Mass with hymns - but the hymns are sung while the priest is continuing to pray the Mass, unlike the Novus Ordo where everything stops while the hymn is sung.

Since Diamantina mentioned a choir, I'm not sure which sort of Mass she is used to attending, though it is probably a Missa Cantata - however, in that case I don't understand why she is saying the Creed rather than singing it. The Our Father is always chanted (or said) by the priest, except for the response "sed libera nos a malo" which is either chanted (by everyone) or said (by the server.)

At any of these Masses, it is not obligatory for the congregation to "join in" with the responses.

Which leads us to the consideration of what is meant by "active participation" at Mass.

The main problem with viewing active participation as "doing something" is that only a minority of people have anything to "do" at Mass - hence the proliferation of EMHCs, readers (sometimes, particularly at school Masses, this can degenerate into having different children each reading a single verse of the responsorial psalm, so that everyone can take part) meeters and greeters, and so on. But the vast majority of people at Mass don't have one of these roles, so to view active participation in this way is to dismiss the vast majority of mass-goers as not participating fully.

It also completely denigrates the role of laypeople in the centuries prior to Vatican II, none of whom would have had anything to "do" at Mass.

Even if one extends the "doing something" to "saying something," this causes problems. If one attends a Mass in another country, one cannot necessarily speak the language, or even understand what is said. So does that mean one is not actively participating in Mass?

Active participation does not mean "doing something." It doesn't even mean "saying" something.

Active participation means being present with the intention to offer praise and worship to God and uniting oneself spiritually to the sacrifice of the Mass. Fr. Tim gave a very helpful summary of what active participation is in a post on the benefits of the Mass.

Fr Baumann Visit 05Now, on a more personal level, I find that my own active participation may change, depending on my mood. This mostly applies to my experiences at Low Mass - at a Solemn High Mass or a Missa Cantata I usually sing along with any bits I can, though not always.

Sometimes I want to follow the whole Mass word-for-word, making the responses (whispering them, or just mouthing them, so as not to disturb anyone else) and for this I use a Missal. It takes a while to get familiar with all the different sections of the Missal for anyone brought up on the Novus Ordo, but it's not impossible.

Sometimes I use one of the "schemes" for following Mass given by one of the saints. Before I encountered the Extraordinary Form, I used to look at the prayers for Communion written by many of the saints and wonder how people ever managed to complete them in the time - now I realise that these were designed to be prayed during the Mass, as reflections to focus the mind as the liturgy progressed. Some of them have helpful pointers, such as "while the priest makes the preparatory prayers" or "during the priest's Communion" and so on.

Occasionally I am in the mood to meditate on the Mysteries of Our Lord's life, death and Resurrection as given in the Rosary, and so I will pray that way.

Sometimes I just want to sit in the presence of God, and pray in my own words. It is in that sort of mood that I want to look at beautiful statues and stained glass windows, to reflect on the people who made them and the truths which they were attempting to convey through their artistry and skill.

One objection to all this is the tendency to suffer distractions. However, I find that I am just as prone to suffer distractions in the Novus Ordo - reciting the Creed out loud doesn't prevent me from suddenly wondering what lessons I need to prepare for the following day, or what I want to cook for dinner. I have even suddenly found that I don't recall praying the Gloria - despite having done so, out loud, along with everyone else.

Others object that it is important for all the congregation to pray the same thing during the Mass. Why? Just because we all pray the same words out loud doesn't mean we are all thinking exactly the same thing. And at the Extraordinary Form of Mass we are all there for the same reason, and all our prayers are united and offered to God the Father on our behalf by the priest, so we are all praying together. The organs of the body all do different things within that body, but it is still one body. And, after all, we are the Body of Christ!

Low Mass does take some considerable effort on the behalf of most of us who have been brought up with the Novus Ordo - the silence and stillness does take some getting used to, especially as we have been trained to think that silence and stillness equates with doing nothing. Once that hurdle has been overcome, the greater freedom allowed by the Extraordinary Form becomes very precious indeed.


Richard Duncan said...

I always tell people that "contemplative engagement" better expresses what is meant by "actuosa participartio" than "active participation".

A rare instance of where the dynamic equivalence approach to translation works better than the literal:)

Anonymous said...

Mac, you said:

In some countries, I believe, the practice of a "Dialogue Mass" has become the norm - a sort of halfway house between the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms - where the congregation make the responses with the server, but this is rare.

I don't see things in many different countries, but the Low Masses I've been to in the Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland have all been 'Dialogue' to some extent. I'm not sure what the custom is in Germany, but have heard that it's common in France.

It doesn't have my preference, really; I'd prefer more silence at daily Mass. But if the ladies at Mass want to make the responses, I'm not one to beat them into submission of my own desire for quiet ;) And it's a good practise in detaching myself from what would otherwise be distractions anyway.

Genty said...

Very well put, Mac. It's absolutely correct that because you are saying something aloud doesn't mean you are concentrating on what you are saying. I've got that problem with my daily prayers!

One of the major problems, I think, is that the spirit of the (secular) age demands that to be fulfilled we must be constantly active and if we aren't "doing" there's something lacking or we are simply lazy.

The EF Low Mass, in particular, is the perfect antidote to all this rushing about hither and yon. It requires you to be still in silent contemplation and prayer at the aweful Sacrifice.

I'd suggest getting a copy of the old Latin/English missal. Apart from having to get all the ribbons for the Propers in place beforehand, which means you have to read through them, it keeps you fully occupied during the Mass, as well as glancing at the priest's gestures so you know where he is. You don't have time to worry about participating, because that's precisely what you're doing.

I think of the NO Mass as the Martha Mass and the EF as the Mary Mass. Crude, but effective.

Do persevere, Diamantina da Brescia. There is much to be mined from the EF. It doesn't yield its treasures instantly but each is a wondrous revelation.

Little Voice said...

I am interested in some of the "schemes" you mention for following Mass. Can you point me to any that have been produced?

Diamantina, aka Gentillylace said...


Thank you for your wonderful explanation! I hope that the feast day is happy for you. You are very lucky to have the Extraordinary Form Mass in your own parish: I have to travel 15 miles to the west to one parish that offers it, or 20 miles to the east to another parish that offers it. With my lack of transportation, this means that I end up attending the Extraordinary Form Mass about once or twice a year.

From your description, I see that I attended the Missa Cantata. The Creed was sung: I just prefer that it be said, so that the congregation can join in. But since it is not necessary for the congregation to join in vocally in the responses to be actively participating in the Mass, I will just have to get over my sense of unease :-)

Where can I find some good schemes for following Mass that saints have given? Which schemes in particular do you recommend? I think that the next time I attend an Extraordinary Form Mass, that would be of great use to me.

Again, many thanks and have a great feast day!

Diamantina, aka Gentillylace said...

One more thing. I really appreciated Father Tim's post, and found it quite helpful.

Mulier Fortis said...

Genty - I have the St. Andrew's Missal with all the ribbons (and a few prayer cards)... but my main point is that sometimes I don't WANT to follow everything word for word... I love the fact that it's possible to change my approach from Mass to Mass as the mood takes me!

Little Voice - it's difficult to recommend any one scheme off the top of my head... they're often tucked away in older prayer books. One such book which is currently in print (but is actually an old one, reprinted) is "My Prayer Book" by Father Lasance (1908) Benziger Brothers: New York. It has several different ways of praying the Mass. Unfortunately I cannot remember when or where I bought the book, but it is a reprint (I got it new.)

Dom Prosper Guéranger also has some meditations on Mass in the back of his book "The Holy Mass."

I'll see if I can find any others!

Diamantina - I'm delighted that I was able to help, your comment was something that many people have expressed in different ways when discussing the EF, so I wanted to give as full an answer as possible. As for the "schemes" for following Mass, well, as I said to Little Voice, I shall try to dig up some more. God bless, and happy Feast Day!

bobd said...

It's been said that assisting at Mass is like being at the foot of Calvary. I believe this to be true,and, if so the question is how was Mary actively participating at Calvary. Did she sing? Did she speak? Did she do anything?
I prefer to be like her at the foot of Calvary.

Genty said...

Hi Mac, The Missal suggestion was for Diamantina. I got a reprint of the Fr. Lasance New Roman Missal (1945 US version with later additions) from Carmel Books in the West Country.
There's loads of info, explanations and historical references in the introduction, plus the laity's part in the (EF) Mass.
Unfortunately, Carmel Books is not online. Various websites give a telephone number, but I don't know whether it's still trading.

Blessings to all on the Feast of the glorious Assumpton.

Zephyrinus said...

Genty said: "Unfortunately, Carmel Books is not online. Various websites give a telephone number, but I don't know whether it's still trading."

I recently ordered two copies of the beautiful and wonderful St. Andrew's Daily Missal from Carmel Books.

As one Jesuit Priest said to me: "The only reading matter that one ever will need is a St. Andrew's Daily Missal".

I would, respectfully, urge and encourage all people who are looking for guidance, enlightenment, help and assistance, in following/loving/assisting at Holy Mass, to contact Carmel Books and order a St. Andrew's Daily Missal. Your lives will be changed forever.

Carmel Books have recently moved to Newbury, Berkshire.

Telephone: 01635 255340.


Postal address: Blackford House, Andover Road, Highclere, Newbury, Berkshire RG20 9PF.

The Manager is Michael Fishwick, who will be delighted to help.

me said...

This is the best post I have ever read, regards explaining the EF and Latin Masses. You make it very easy to understand and therefore attractive to one's soul or understanding. I hope you will perhaps post some more words in this vein for us non liturgically learned.

Thank you so much.

Ros, charismatic, shine Jesus shine advocate and rosary praying blogger!

Mulier Fortis said...

Ros - you're too kind!

Multum Incola said...

Nice one Mac. Dr Shaw's recently written about this as well:

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