Roz and Therese met in Chicago over the weekend, and one of the highlights planned for our visit was attending Tridentine High Mass at St. John Cantius.
We each had very high expectations. We'd like to tell you of our reactions.
(Therese) It was like looking through the wrong end of a telescope at something very beautiful. I can remember Latin Mass in grade school, and felt reasonably confident that "it would come back to me." But instead I felt so isolated, and strained to follow the order of service. The choir chanted nearly nonstop, and the priest would sometimes say only the first three words of prayer audibly.
(Roz) It was so far away -- a tribute, I suppose, to the majesty of the altar at this very beautiful church. The Gregorian chant, while beautiful, made me feel even more disconnected from the Mass -- almost like a heavenly Weather Channel keeping your ears busy while your eyes are engaged. I heard precious little Latin.
(Therese) The servers bowed profoundly, and the reverence was very deep, ON THE ALTAR. But I felt like a stranger, a tourist. During the Liturgy of the Word, I struggled in an aura of disappointment and confusion. Sometimes I had to see where we were by the physical actions of the priest; no wonder they put those little pictures in the margins of the Mass booklets.
(Roz) When I realized that the priest was reading the Scriptures at the altar in Latin, I wished I had brought my copy of Magnificat along. Thankfully, he read them later in English at the microphone. I was surprised that the cycle of readings was different than I had read that morning -- can someone help me understand why the Tridentine Rite follows a different schedule?
(Therese) The Canon, the Liturgy of the Eucharist, was a little better, since the order of things was unchanged, and the prayers, even in Latin, became recognizable. But I couldn't stop myself from saying "Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus" under my breath because I ached to join with Heaven in saying "Holy, Holy, Holy Lord."
The Novus Ordo Mass is communion in prayer. We pray together, in turns or in unison. Until it's not there do you realize how important that is, as we focus our minds and stand spiritually and actually on Calvary. It would be very easy to do as some others do, to say a Rosary during the Tridentine Mass, because you can feel very unconnected from the mystery on the altar.
(Roz) The contrast between this experience and Mass at my own good parish gave me a new appreciation for Vatican II. Jesus did indeed destroy the veil keeping us out of the Holy of Holies. I can see how Mass in the vernacular, interactive prayers, and even the priest's procession through the people up to the altar truly bless and inspire worship and thanksgiving. We don't want to lose the centrality of the priestly role, but we don't want to lose the expression of the communion of saints either.
(Therese) Communion kneeling at an altar rail, our hands under the linen runner, was very beautiful. I haven't received on the tongue since 1971, probably, and Jesus arrived as a gift from Heaven, more easily than I thought (the mechanics really worried me). I was reassured that Mass was Mass and that I met my Savior in the way He taught us.
(Roz) I'm thinking of starting a directed giving fund at my church to install an altar rail. Feel free to send me donations by Paypal.
(Therese) All in all, the Tridentine Mass is not to be experienced without some preparation, and we agreed with people we chatted with afterwards, that months of attendance might be necessary before your focus can shift and the remote becomes intimate, the foreign becomes familiar.
I want to attend a Novus Ordo Mass in Latin soon and see if the communal give-and-take of prayer comforts my heart and the Latin exalts it by joining my prayer to that of centuries of Christians.
(Roz) I'm game, Therese. And if anyone knows whether the Tridentine Rite Mass is ever celebrated using the English translations of the prayers, please let me know. The translations in our Missalette were simply beautiful.
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