Tuesday 15 December 2015

The Faithful

If you get annoyed by traddies grumbling about the Novus Ordo, this would be a good time to click away (or skip to the bottom). Or, if you're curious, keep on reading. I shall strive for a pleasant tone. Minimal snark.

On Sunday Benedict Ambrose and I took the the train north to visit his mother. We were under the impression that the Extraordinary Form of the Mass would be available in her town that day, but we were wrong. Alas. We took the train back south and debated how to fulfill our obligation. And yes, "how to fulfill our obligation" is a wretched way to think about Mass.

"Polish Mass," I said as B.A examined our options via train wifi.  "Polish Mass."

B.A. did not look too happy at the thought of Polish Mass.

"You won't understand the homily, but I have it on good authority it's usually kind of boring. You could play a [mental] drinking game to it. Every time the priest says "miłosz" (love), you get a sip."

B.A. did not look amused. Tappity tappity.

"There," he said, pleased, and I looked to see an English-speaking Mass at a church not too far from the railway station.

"But will we get there on time?" I asked.

"Chalice veils," said Benedict Ambrose, which refers to his belief that the absolute bare minimum to Sunday Obligation is being at Mass between the Offertory, when the chalice is (or was) unveiled and when the chalice is covered up again after the Communion of the Faithful.

I was not happy. I would rather have gone to Polish Mass than show up late for English Mass, but I admit that Polish Mass can be rough going if you don't understand Polish or aren't moved by the traditional hymns. The English Mass started before the train pulled into the station, and I wondered if we could still get to Polish Mass on time if we missed the bare-minimum moment. I hoped there would be a long homily, even if the long homily was about how rotten the Extraordinary Form of the Mass is and how silly the people who want us all to go back to it.

We got off the train and scurried through the station and ran through the dark, wet streets to the handsome old church, which glowed in the night, and found ourselves among 160 or so people saying the Nicene Creed. Great was my relief. We scurried to the very back, and I hoped we didn't stick out too much in the half-empty church. We could have taken a pew of course but like most people who go to the EF week after week, we're allergic to the Sign of Peace.

This is not because we are jerks but because we take Mass seriously. If we really were jerks, we would really yuk it up during the Novus Ordo, crossing the aisle to shake hands, kissing the prettier people, blessing the babies, singing twice as loudly as everyone else, in a spirit of angry irony. Oh dear, how wicked that would be.

Anyway, we stood at the back, behind the last pew, in which two cherubic moppets played a slapping game, which we found very distracting, but hey--their parents may have picked the back pew for a reason. And I noticed two things that shocked me although mentioning the first one is an old traddie cliché.

1. The priest prayed at the congregation.

First of all, I know this was not his fault. Once I had a look at the "how to say liturgy properly" book that came out in 1971 or so, and it was adamant that priests really had to put their back into presenting the prayers with emotion, expression and volume. And this priest obediently did that. He was miked, and so although he was purportedly praying to God, he was obviously speaking to/for/at us, the congregation. In his defense, his delivery was not all about him. He didn't show off, mug, make jokes, chat wittily or do any of those populist-priest things that some people love, and I loved myself until I went to BC.

2. The priest sang to the congregation.

The congregation did not sing, but a pleasant male voice sang the offertory and communion hymns through a microphone to the organ accompaniment. I looked in vain for the excellent cantor before realizing he was the priest. The congregation sat in silence while the priest sang verse after verse. I looked over at another man standing at the back, and although he was reading the hymn paperback, he wasn't singing either. Afterwards, B.A. explained to me that these were difficult hymns for a congregation to sing, and he thought the priest should have picked hymns the congregation would know.

It was Gaudete Sunday--the priest was not wearing rose vestments but sad old purple--but I didn't feel very happy. I looked at the singing  priest and the sparse congregation, and wondered how long this state of liturgy can continue. It was a big church, but in the 1950s it would have been packed to the door with Scottish Catholics whose faith too often meant social marginalization  but was strong nonetheless.

Those Catholics, though, had the solemnity, grandeur, silences, music, rhythms and certainties of the Old Mass. These faithful 160 do not--or don't know they do--but still they came to Mass on a wet Sunday evening. Still they fulfilled their obligation. Many received communion from either the (surely redundant) Extraordinary Minister or the priest. Some brought their children. "It's a miracle," I told B.A.

When I didn't recognize the recessional hymn, I nudged B.A. and off we went into glistening night. I have been to Sunday Mass almost every Sunday of my life, and missing Mass feels like a minor trauma. "Chalice veils" is really not enough. However, my husband has been a trained liturgist since he was a child in a fine Anglican choir, and public worship is very important to him. Witnessing a shift in the focus of worship from God to the community hurts him, just as bad singing hurts my musician brother, who has perfect pitch.

But as for me, if others can be bi-ritual, surely I can be bi-form. I never knew anything but the Novus Ordo from birth to the age of 37, and I do believe it can be done well, can be made a true child of the Mass of Ages, and I think merely turning the focus of the priest from the congregation back towards God, facing the same way as the congregation, is the best place to begin. Will the faithful accept it? Thinking of those faithful 160, I would hazard that the remaining faithful of Scotland will accept just about anything.

The O Antiphons. I was going to write about the O Antiphons today, but I was moved to write about  our experience at Sunday Mass instead. Here is an article about the O Antiphons by our friend Gregory DiPippo

Update: I've been reading through the Father Z comments on Sunday obligation, and I was struck by a comment about a woman who came to Mass for the barest of the bare minimum, lit a candle before the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary and was on her way. It occurred to me that this woman's trip to church might be longer than the time she spent in church. The journey itself was less tedious to her than an extra minute spent in church. Why? The commentator assumes the woman was caring for the sick; I wonder if she wasn't a brokenhearted trad.


  1. I'm puzzled - if the Mass in your MIL's town was Novus Ordo not Extraordinary Form, why didn't you just go to the NO Mass there? Or was there no Mass at all?

    I'm always a bit surprised at disdain for NO Masses; usually the people are really trying to worship God to their best ability. Though BA was right re: hymn selection - hymns picked at NO Mass are often outside the vocal range of parishioners, so they either don't sing, or do so sufficiently badly that you wish they hadn't!

    The Chalice Veils was interesting; I had thought you had to be there for the Gospel reading, as missing the Word of God is half the Mass gone. Live and learn.

    Quite surprised you left before the end of the recessional hymn - that's my personal bugbear, as half our congregation arrive after Mass starts, and leave before it ends. Makes forming 'community' pretty hard, and finding those rostered on for Mass duties even harder... ;)

    At least you made the effort to get to Mass tho. Far too many give up too easily. Recently berated a mate who moved to a small town of 3,000 or so and started skipping Mass. Said church was on the far side of town and he had to walk, but it turned out the church was shut every 2nd Sunday anyway - rural town syndrome! (priest shortage) Guess we are lucky to have so many Masses to choose from in the cities...

    Southern Bloke.
    P.S. The lady who came in, prayed, lit a candle and left may not have been there for Mass specifically, but just to pray for a particular intention. I've done that, and been caught on the hop by walking into a part-completed Mass at an unexpected time (outside my local parish). All adds to the holy... :)

  2. So many interesting points! :-D Okay, one by one.

    !. It's Scotland, home of about 700 priests. MIL's town is much smaller than Edinburgh, with fewer Catholic churches. It was cold and damp and 2 PM, i.e. an hour before sunset. Should we stick around and wait for a Sunday evening Mass (if there is one), or should we go home to Edinburgh? The Forth Bridge is shut, so do we really want to take the bus? Better take the train.

    2. It's not disdain. It's pain. The Novus Ordo can be done as beautifully and reverently as the Extraordinary Form, as the Oratorian Fathers prove Sunday after Sunday. So why isn't it? Because it's a wee vulnerable baby of a Mass and easily pushed around. Everyone can sing Gregorian Chant. It's meant for untrained voices. Where is it? St. John XXIII wanted it, the books were prepared. Where are they?

    3. I always heard Gospel, too. Father Z points out that the "chalice veil to chalice veil" rule is just so well-intentioned people stop worrying themselves into a lather.

    4. We have community at our EF community. Sometimes we eat, breathe and sleep our EF community. Our life revolves around Sunday Mass. However, this Sunday we had make an emergency visit to my MIL.

    5. I could tell you stories. But one thing about Trads. If they skip Mass, it is not because they are lazy or even because they have to walk two miles to get to Mass. Trads will certainly walk two miles to get to the EF. Some regularly travel for two hours or more. (I crossed Belgium.) If Trads skip the N.O., it's because it makes them deeply, desperately unhappy. I've known Trads who have gone to services at an Anglican church rather than go to their village N.O. If this leaves you completely bewildered, it's because you don't regularly go to the Extraordinary Form. What the head doesn't know, the heart doesn't sigh for. And this is why I counsel all Catholic who do not have easy access to the Extraordinary Form NOT TO START GOING. If you go to university in Edinburgh or London but you are from a tiny village in the Highlands or Yorkshire to which you plan to return, please do not go to the EF.

    1. I wish someone had done a poll of fallen-away Catholics in 1975, and asked how many had fallen away because the Mass had changed. Maybe someone did. I will have to ask.

    2. "I've known Trads who have gone to services at an Anglican church rather than go to their village N.O."

      This just makes me so sad--and confused. I don't care for the Tridentine mass (although I believe it should be widely available), but I don't understand how you could miss Catholic mass on Sunday (a grave sin, unless you were talking about weekday masses/services) and the reception of the Eucharist that a Catholic mass provides to go to a non-Catholic service rather than a Novus ordo.

  3. For about a year I was a regular EF attendee. Then I felt obligated to take a job as a music director in a NO church. I had been unemployed for a while, and though I didn't really want to go back to church gigs, it is a great way to pay the bills.
    After going to mass cheerfully and enthusiastically every Sunday at the (for me) ungodly hour of quarter to nine, and even going during the week at least once every week for so long (a first!), it was astonishing, and I suppose a lesson in humility, how much I now once again dragged my feet to mass. And I was being paid to go!
    Fortunately I found full-time employment and was able to find a suitable replacement for my church gig, and so am now once more happily ensconced in my Latin parish :D

  4. Heavens, a QUARTER to NINE! I'm a morning person, but oooh, what a thought. But I'm glad you are back in your Latin parish. The EF is so terribly addictive. When I go to Poland I think I will go to ordinary Polish Mass, but then lo and behold, I end up at the EF.

  5. Wow my EF Mass is 8am on a Sunday! But it's worth it :)

  6. Hahaha, and here was I planning on getting to EF Masses over the summer here...

    Thanks for the detailed answers Seraphic, I guess:
    1. I forgot you are in winter, and MIL's town sounds small.
    2. Yeh, ummm, heard of Gregorian Chant; not something you encounter in the NO Mass locally ;)
    4. Sorry, I should have been more charitable. I just bleed for the musicians (and God) who watch half the congregation leave in front of them while still trying to complete a hymn.
    5. I am more bewildered at the prospect of going to an Anglican service, both for the lack of company (down here they struggle to hit 3 figures in the local Anglican church) and lack of orthodoxy (tolerate everything seems to be Anglican policy? it must be hard being orthodox Anglican!).

    And ha! If there are surveys showing correlation, let alone causation, between Mass changes and attendance, you can be sure diocesan HQ will bury them deep! We don't even get annual reports. If they just did basic surveys when the state census occurs every 5 yrs, the bishops could benchmark/piggyback off the state data to get a good idea of what is happening in terms of massgoers vs wider society. Oh, the thought of actual data...

    Oh well, that's what hope is for, right? The blind belief that God will fix things even if we humans seem intent on trainwrecking them. ;)

    And congrats on the full-time job StellaMaris!


  7. "I've known Trads who have gone to services at an Anglican church rather than go to their village N.O."

    Dear Seraphic Spouse...

    There are Catholics who do that. But is that proper behavior for a Catholic? I would not attend a non-Catholic religious service in place of Mass (Novus Ordo).

    An Anglican church may be beautiful and offer beautiful religious services. A Catholic parish may offer dreadful liturgy.

    However, beneath the outward beauty of a particular Anglican church and religious service is the reality that the fullness of Truth isn't found there. Conversely, the fullness of Truth exists at a banal Novus Ordo Mass.

    I realize that a dreadful Novus Ordo Mass is difficult to take. But we must do our best to find a way to deal with the ugliness at such a Mass.

    The Church is our Holy Mother. Her children at a parish may dress Her in ugly garments. Nevertheless, She remains our Holy Mother.

    Therefore, even for just one hour on a given Sunday, I would not leave Her for, if you will, a well-dressed Anglican service.


    Mark Thomas

    1. "Neither would I."

      Thank you. I was confident that you would not trade even a banal Novus Ordo Mass for a non-Catholic religious service. But you are correct in that there are Catholics who do that.

      By the way, after I found your blog recently, I have spent time read posts from your archives. Thank you for your holy and gifted work.


      Mark Thomas

  8. Maybe the congregation should be encouraged to leave as the closing hymn is being played while singing with full heart and voice.

    Besides those who want to remain to pray.


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