Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A Sunday of Mass Confusion

Since my Facebook status about this got so much attention, I think I need an entire note to give the full story.

Today I went to an Extraordinary Form High Mass (Traditional Latin/Tridentine/1962 missal etc) for the first time. They have EF masses every week at St. Francis de Sales, this gorgeous Gothic church in south city. One of my roommates works at the child care center next door, so I've always wanted to check it out. I've also gotten hooked on some Catholic blogs that are big fans of the EF - especially Fr. Z's astute writing at

There were a lot of things I enjoyed about the Mass - the sense of mystery, reverence and sacred space, the meditative sounds of chant from the choir loft, the priest's *ad orientem* posture that emphasizes the Mass as sacrifice. I even got up the guts to cover my head, which was actually pretty cool. (Stella, I used the shawl from your wedding which I thought was MUCH cuter than all those lace triangles.)

BUT there were also aspects of the Mass that I just about hated. The biggest problem was that we couldn't hear the priest AT ALL, so even if we were diligently following along in our red booklets we had no idea WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON???? We were sitting toward the back, so the only sounds we caught were the many restless children and the always-droning organ. Still, you'd think they would make better use of the sound system that was there.

I was very very frustrated. I thought I was well-prepared. I've been to the Novus Ordo in Latin. Heck, I took a 300-level Latin course in college. I was prepared for the fact that I wouldn't be saying many responses and would need to mentally participate. But to be completely oblivious for most of the Mass? That was maddening and humbling.

So my little brain started ticking away and thinking all these semi-traitorous thoughts that would have made the women in mantillas smack me.
First, I realized that the 1962 rite did need reform. Adding Old Testament readings and more "audience participation" was a good call. I could see how someone observing a Mass pre-Vat II could come away with the impression that Catholic worship is full of goofy, secretive, empty ritual. I could see how there seems like too much emphasis on the priest and servers, to the point that the people in pews don't really need to be there. And do the people in the pews really understand and appreciate what is going on?

Then my historian brain started churning and I suddenly really, really sympathized with the Methodists and Baptists and dozens of other denominations who wanted to get rid of the trappings of religion and just let non-seminary graduates preach in big tent revivals. By the end of the 2 hour Mass I was ready to belt out some good Protestant style hymns rather than sit still in confusion.

So yeah, overall, my first EF Mass was nice, but not the glorious, sublime, vastly superior experience its fans make it out to be. I am still a child of the Novus Ordo, even if I do like Latin chant. I'll give the EF another chance one day, maybe at a different parish. Maybe after I do some serious reading about all the CRAZY vestments the priest was wearing. Also why are the altar boys always touching his sleeve, shoulder, etc?

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