Saturday, 21 February 2009

Noble Simplicity

Read into the title of this post what you want.

Prompted by the nasty mess heaved up by the Tablet this week, many are now meditating on the Mass and the "needs of the people". Here are my thoughts.

Recently, the need for some spiritual succor has proved too great and I’ve headed off to the Oxford Oratory for Mass on two occasions.

Both Masses were Novus Ordo and facing the congregation, one in Latin one in English. Both were very prayerful. The reason for this was the strict adherence to the sacred liturgy. No priest breaking off mid way through to ask Mr. Smith how his hip operation went. No children on the altar for the Lords Prayer. No hymns. Sermons that actually tackled the meat of the Gospel reading.

Mass is often about endurance. Recalling that prayer is a battle, Mass can often be the ultimate conflict. Sometimes this is down to scrappy liturgical “interpretation”, sometimes it can be down to an ill prepared congregation (been to a school Mass recently anyone?). The battle to remain focused and concentrate prayerfully on the sacred mystery is intense. I’m afraid, often I’ve left Mass feeling utterly defeated.

Nevertheless, sung solemn High Mass in the Extraordinary form is also a feat of endurance. So many distractions, so much beauty, so much for one scientist with a very short attention span and complete inability to multitask to take in. In some ways, and in no way disrespectfully, it is like asking someone who enjoys a quick shower to get something meaningful out of a long soak in a candle-lit bath.

It is nice not to have to face this conflict and go to a simple said “say the black do the red” Mass. A subtler battle then takes place between your more selfish human nature and your desire for union with God. It is altogether more intimate and humbling.

Some nice and very Oratorian touches were the sheer reverence and time taken over the cleaning the chalice, the use of the altar rails and the extra priest that appeared during communion to pray in reverence before the open tabernacle whilst the celebrant distributed the Eucharist.

Incidentally the chalice cleaning would have been lost from the view of the congregation had the Mass been ad orientem, I personally found it profoundly moving and don’t believe this ritual should be exclusively for the altar boys’ eyes only.

Pray for our priests, pray for the Church.


Irene said...

Oh, Anita! I feel so bad for you!

"Mass is often about endurance" -- How am I to understand this? Mass in our parish always is too short (60 minutes). It is the high point of our week, the rest of the week is a blur, waiting. It is great high drama, the highest drama, building progressively to the elevation of the host. What would you do at a pentacostal meeting, where the service lasts three hours?

Always Novus Ordo, always 4 pm. The only thing that is special about our mass is that our priest is able to say the mass in American Sign Language at the same time he voices it in English. There is no denying that this adds immensely to the drama (to be able to see the liturgy and homily) -- just as music adds to the drama.

But even when a substitute priest says mass in English only, the mass always is too short -- unless, of course, that priest is uninvolved and rushing through the liturgy just to get out as quickly as possible. Then there is no tension, no drama, no beauty -- almost no mass.

1962 mass? I may be retired, but my Latin is still servicable; it too would not be an exercise in endurance for me, though certainly I would regret the loss of the visual language.

Rita, I guess I really am at a loss for words, I just can't imagine your situation.

So I think it would be best for me to stop the flow of words and do the one thing that will help -- prayer, of course.

And I will continue to follow your trials in sympathy.

Rita said...


It is the "interpretations" of the Mass that cause the issue. The "endurance" has nothing to do with the length of the Mass, everything to do with the knowledge you will be faced with surprises, random interjections, inappropriate hymns.

It then becomes very hard to concentrate.