Wednesday, March 16, 2005

A visit to a Tridentine Mass

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.


Julie D. said...

Much thanks, ladies, for taking the time to give your reactions. I've never attended a Tridentine Mass both due to lack of opportunity and also due to trepidation over some of the very things that y'all mentioned.

However, I'm very blessed in that our church still has its altar rail (the only one in Dallas that has hung onto it) and everyone kneels for Communion and many also receive on the tongue (which I'm happy I learned from following my husband's lead). So maybe I have the best of both worlds?

Mary Poppins NOT said...

I really enjoyed your post - I was married at St. John Cantius, with a Tridentine wedding. To answer some of your questions, the Tridentine Rite follows the 1962 missal, which was the calendar for hundreds of years. The calendar was revised after Vatican II. So the Tridentine rite, like the Eastern Rite churches, has a different reading cycle.

I agree that the Tridentine Mass requires some preparation, but once learned, is quite profound. It definately takes some effort, but if nothing else, can connect you to the liturgy attended by countless saints.

Isn't it an awsome church, though? I have some lovely wedding photos. We don't attend there anymore, as we moved to the suburbs, and now attend an Eastern Rite Church (also very reverent, communal, and in the vernacular). Our Catholic Faith is full of wonder, isn't it?

Therese Z said...

Your wedding pictures must be absolutely gorgeous, that church is over the top!

Why would the cycle of readings be changed? I know that the Gospel of John used to be read separately after Communion, so they probably mixed that back into the cycle, but I'll have to research if more was done than that.

David J. Seleb said...

Hello Therese and Roz:

I will admit that the first time I attended a Tridentine Rite mass, at least ten years ago, I was stunned by the difference in the liturgy between it and our ordinary rite. However, I reacted quite differently to it than the two of you did. I was so impressed with its beauty that I felt from the first moments that it was everything that my soul had been longing for. It did take some time to get used to worshipping within the rite, but I knew that it would be worth whatever time and effort I had to expend.

To worship well in the Tridentine Rite, I believe, requires a great deal of mental and spiritual effort. It isn't an easy task! One has to WANT to worship within the rite and must use all of the senses and faculties to do so. Of course, one could simple sit passively, as you described, and pray silently to oneself, fingering a rosary and not paying attention to the actions on the altar at all. Or one could do, as I have done, and obtain a Roman Missal, in English and Latin, and follow intently all of the prayers and readings of the Holy Sacrifice, joining with the ministers in praying devoutly the Holy Mass. It is a choice that one has to make. I do not attend the Tridentine Rite exclusively, but there are many Sundays when I certainly prefer it.

To answer one of your specific questions, there were no "cycle" of readings in the old missal. There was one epistle reading and one gospel reading assigned to each Sunday of the year, and they never changed. On a particular Sunday, you always heard the same portion of one of the epistles and the same gospel reading. The Cycle of Readings began with the ordinary rite of the mass that we have today.

I'm enjoying this discussion!


Therese Z said...

I acknowledge the value of the Tridentine that David points out, although I rejoice about the new cycle so that we hear more Scripture.

David, one of the most important points you make is that we have to desire to worship truly and deeply at the Tridentine Mass, and should study and spend time with the rite to grow in that. Maybe I've lost perspective since I usually attend daily Mass, but the vernacular Novus Ordo (NO) seems so much more accessible, more ready to hand.

Perhaps the Tridentine Mass is to a faithful NO Mass-goer, what the NO Mass is to a non-Catholic attending Mass for the first time. And if that's the case, my quick advice to that non-Catholic (to spend time with it, read it ahead of time, soak in it) is exactly your advice for us.



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