Thursday, October 25, 2012

Methods of Hearing the Mass

I was priviledged to attend a talk given by a canon of the Institute of Christ the King sponsored by a local branch of Juventutem on the method devised by St. Francis de Sales of hearing the mass. As the Institute are great devotees of that holy bishop of Geneva, I can think of no better way to get acquainted with the subject.

The common stereotype of such methods is that they belong to the hoary pre-Liturgical Movement world of popular piety that is often unfairly maligned by both a certain type of traditionalist and a certain type of post-Conciliar Catholic, and also perhaps uncritically embraced by yet another type of traditionalist. Neither group usually seems to know what it is talking about, as both tend to assume such methods hinge on the ceaseless repetition of disconnected rosaries while the priest does something else up at the altar.

Until recently, I, too, took a somewhat jaundiced view of such practices, and I still have something of a bias for the more monastic, Benedictine tendencies of the old Liturgical Movement. However, when I encountered a book listing about fifty or so different pious ways of following the Extraordinary Form, I was pleasantly surprised. One was meant to meditate on specific mysteries, Scriptural events, or liturgical elements when one said a particular decade of the Rosary in such schemes, synchronizing private piety with public liturgical praxis. St. Francis de Sales' method is similar, though it does not incorporate the rosary. Instead, one is meant to meditate on the chronology of the Passion of Christ as the priest goes through the liturgy. I had once heard such a practice criticized as unduly allegorical or detached from the historical development of the Mass, but nobody, not least St. Francis de Sales, would intend such a method to be exclusive, nor to be an accurate representation of liturgical history. Such spoil-sport literalism (one of the less pleasant features of the twentieth-century Liturgical Movement) is more often a hindrance to piety than anything else. We are not all monks, and there is room for devotional popular piety alongside a more sober liturgical sensibility in parish life.

The great beauty of the Mass is that it can be fruitfully participated in in a wide variety of ways. Obviously, it is best to pray the Mass rather than merely praying at Mass, but Sunday in and Sunday out (or day in and day out for many), it is a laudable thing to engage with the liturgy, its texts and actions, in a wide variety of ways, whether praying aloud or meditating in silence. Indeed, the evening, which was preceded by a Low Mass at which all the young people in attendance responded most vigorously at the Et cum spiritu tuo and Domine, non sum dignus, was a model of how both sensibilities ought to coexist and mutually enrich each other.

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