Monday, November 12, 2018

Two Modest Proposals for Improving the Prayerfulness of Low Mass

With the increasing number of Masses offered in the usus antiquior, it is fair to say that Catholics are experiencing some of the same problems that were pointed to as reasons for the liturgical reform prior to the Council. While the list of such problems is lengthy, none of them in fact justified the liturgical reform as it actually played out. Nevertheless one would hope that the traditional movement could learn from past mistakes and make a special effort to avoid the same in the current fraught ecclesiastical situation. Since the manner of carrying out the Mass redounds immediately to either the edification and devotion of the priest and people or to their distraction and frustration, it behooves us to take it seriously. For indeed, nothing could be more serious than the sacramental re-presentation of the Sacrifice of the Cross.

In this article I will look at two of the most common problems: nearly inaudible, inarticulate muttering of servers at Low Mass, and rapid-fire delivery of the Latin prayers by the priest, as if he were in a race against time.

The Dialogue Between Priest and Servers

While it would be ideal to have liturgy served by clerics in minor orders, religious brothers, or seminarians, most of the time, as we know, Catholics have recourse to “altar boys” filling in for acolytes. And I have no complaint about the institution of altar boys as such, provided they are tall enough and serious enough to fulfill their functions in the sanctuary.

However, as we learn from the High Mass, which is the real template of the Low Mass, the servers are making responses on behalf of the entire body of the faithful. At High Mass, we all sing “Et cum spiritu tuo,” and at Low Mass (I am purposefully not discussing the dialogue Mass in this article) the servers speak the same words in our place. Moreover, as the Roman Rite has developed, the preparatory prayers or prayers at the foot of the altar have ceased to be purely private prayers for the priest and ministers; they have come to belong to the faithful, too, who treasure them, follow them in their missals or from memory, and wish to hear them at Low Mass. As if in tacit acknowledgment of this fact, nearly all of the priests whose Masses I have heard over the past 30 years utter Psalm 42 and the additional prayers prior to the “Aufer a nobis” with a level of voice that can readily be heard throughout the church.

It is therefore asymmetrical and irritating when the servers mumble, swallow, or whisper their responses to the priest’s well-articulated phrases. It is the liturgical equivalent to someone walking with one normal leg and one peg-leg. Here is how it comes across to the faithful in the pews:

Priest. In nómine Patris, et Fílii, + et Spíritus Sancti. Amen. Introíbo ad altáre Dei. 
Servers. Ad Deum qui lætíficat juventútem meam.
P. Júdica me, Deus, et discérne causam meam de gente non sancta: ab hómine iníquo, et dolóso érue me.
S. Quia tu es, Deus, fortitúdo mea: quare me repulísti, et quare tristis incédo, dum afflígit me inimícus?
P. Emítte lucem tuam, et veritátem tuam: ipsa me deduxérunt, et aduxérunt in montem sanctum tuum, et in tabernácula tua.
S. Et introíbo ad altáre Dei: ad Deum qui lætíficat juventútem meam.
P. Confitébor tibi in cíthara, Deus, Deus meus: quare tristis es, ánima mea, et quare contúrbas me?
S. Spera in Deo, quóniam adhuc confitébor illi: salutáre vultus mei, et Deus meus.
P. Glória Patri, et Fílio, et Spirítui Sancto.
S. Sicut erat in princípio et nunc, et semper, et in sæcula sæculórum. Amen.
P. Introíbo ad altáre Dei.
S. Ad Deum qui lætíficat juventútem meam.
P. Adjutórium nostrum + in nómine Dómini.
S. Qui fecit cælum et terram.

And so forth, throughout the liturgy. The dialogue is often so unequal that the priest might as well be the only one speaking, in a bizarre vivisected conversation, somewhat like overhearing a telephone call. If the servers are representing us at the foot of the altar, they are doing a poor job of it. Why don’t they speak up a bit — “enunciate and articulate!,” as my high school rhetoric teacher used to say? Again, this is not about using a loud voice. It is simply about using a normal audible voice and not rushing through the words. They are, after all, prayers, and prayers are worth praying. Deo gratias after the Epistle should sound like it means “Thanks be to God!,” and the same with Laus tibi, Christe.

Am I asking too much of these cute and sometimes clueless boys? No. I believe that those who train altar boys should teach them what the words mean, and teach them how to enunciate them and articulate them at a normal volume and a walking, not running, pace. Not:

P. Kyrie eleison.
S. Kyrie eleison.
P. Kyrie eleison.
S. Christe eleison.
P. Christe eleison.
S. Christe eleison.
P. Kyrie eleison.
S. Kyrie eleison.
P. Kyrie eleison.

Above all, at the end of the Offertory, these words should be distinct and audible at Low Mass:

Suscípiat Dóminus sacrifícium de mánibus tuis ad laudem et glóriam nóminis sui, ad utilitátem quoque nostram, totiúsque Ecclésiæ suæ sanctæ.

And moving into the Preface dialogue, it is totally unfitting to hear the following:

P. …per omnia saecula saeculorum.
S. Amen.
P. Dóminus vobíscum.
S. Et cum spíritu tuo.
P. Sursum corda.
S. Habémus ad Dóminum.
P. Grátias agámus Dómino Deo nostro.
S. Dignum et justum est.

The priest is inviting us, in one of the most beautiful phrases of the Roman liturgy, to “Lift your hearts on high!,” and the response should be in earnest: “We have lifted [them] up to the Lord!” Then, in a phrase rich with Eucharistic meaning: “Let us give thanks unto the Lord our God.” To which the response must be equally meaningful, as if the servers are senators speaking for a holy nation: “It is worthy and just.” These are not phrases to be rattled off under one’s breath; they are to be sounded forth in public.

The inaudibility of the servers, the disharmony it creates with the priest, and the lack of “purchase” it offers the congregation are matters that deserve to be taken seriously by the adult trainers who prepare the servers and the MCs who regulate the teams. This is not a difficult problem to correct, but it does require awareness, attentiveness, and follow-through, together with positive reinforcement (“Johnny, it was great how you spoke your responses so clearly today. Keep it up!”)

Haste in Clerical Recitation of Texts

A related matter of concern is the post-Summorum reappearance of clergy who habitually rush through the Low Mass. As far as I can tell, we are dealing in most cases with genuinely devout men who intend no disrespect to Our Lord and no disedification to the faithful. Nevertheless, machine-gun Latin —




— does not carry any conviction of being speech truly addressed to the face of a living Person with whom one is communicating, as two friends would talk to one another, nor, for this reason, can it in fact increase the devotion of the speaker or of the listeners. It seems, on the contrary, to be a lost opportunity on the part of both priest and people for the intensification of acts of adoration, faith, humility, contrition, and other virtues. In spite of the daily repetition of the Mass, we could truthfully apply to its celebration the familiar words of the Quaker who said: “I shall pass this way but once; any good that I can do or any kindness I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.” This particular Mass will never be repeated, nor will this particular congregation assist at it. And as we know from the dogmatic theologians, the subjective devotion of the priest and of the people have a role to play in the spiritual fruitfulness of the Mass.

Perhaps the most germane statement made on this subject is St Francis de Sales’s: “Beware of it [haste], for it is a deadly enemy of true devotion; and anything done with precipitation is never done well. Let us go slowly, for if we do but keep advancing we shall thus go far.”

Dom Chautard, author of The Soul of the Apostolate — one of the few truly essential spiritual books written in the past century — has a lot to say on this subject. The author spends several pages unpacking the meaning of the prayer said before the Divine Office, in which the cleric asks for the grace to recite it digne, attente, devote, worthily, attentively, devoutly:
DIGNE. A respectful position and bearing, the precise pronunciation of the words, slowing down over the more important parts. Careful observance of the rubrics. My tone of voice, the way in which I make signs of the Cross, genuflections, etc.; my body itself: all will go to show not only that I know Whom I am addressing, and what I am saying, but also that my heart is in what I am doing. What an apostolate I can sometimes exercise [this way]! …
DEVOTE. This is the most important point. Everything comes back to the need of making our Office and all our liturgical functions acts of piety, and, consequently, acts that come from the heart. “Haste kills all devotion.” Such is the principle laid down by St. Francis de Sales in talking of the Breviary, and it applies a fortiori to the Mass, Hence. I shall make it a hard and fast rule to devote around half an hour to my Mass in order to ensure a devout recitation not only of the Canon but of all the other parts as well. I shall reject without pity all pretexts for getting through this, the principal act of my day, in a hurry. If I have the habit of mutilating certain words or ceremonies, I shall apply myself, and go over these faulty places very slowly and carefully, even exaggerating my exactitude for a while.
          Fill my heart with detestation for all haste in those things where I stand in Your place, or act in the name of the Church! Fill me with the conviction that haste paralyzes that great Sacramental, the Liturgy, and makes impossible that spirit of prayer without which, no matter how zealous a priest I may appear to be on the outside, I would be lukewarm, or perhaps worse, in Your estimation. Burn into my inmost heart those words so full of terror: “Cursed be he that doth the work of God deceitfully” (Jer 48:10).
Another classic text, The Hidden Treasure by Saint Leonard of Port Maurice, counsels the priest in the following words:
Use all diligence to celebrate with the utmost modesty, recollection, and care, taking time to pronounce well and distinctly every word, and perfectly to fulfill every ceremony with due propriety and gravity; for words ill articulated, or spoken without a tone of meekness and awe, and ceremonies done without decorum and accuracy, render the divine service, instead of a help to piety and religion, a source of distress and scandal. Let the priest keep the inner man devoutly recollected; let him think of the sense of all the words which he articulates, dwelling on their sense and spirit, and making throughout internal efforts corresponding to their holy suggestions. Then truly will there be an influx of great devotion into those assisting, and he will obtain the utmost profit for his own soul.
There is no question that a reverent Low Mass Mass can be offered in 30 minutes by a priest whose Latin flows well, who is extremely adept at the ceremonies, and who knows many of the prayers by heart. It is also true that sometimes Low Mass takes longer than it should because the celebrant is still learning the ropes and has not yet “mastered” the liturgical form. But regardless of the total duration, any appearance of rushing in words or gestures is never edifying and always detracts from the dignity and beauty of the celebration — and consequently from the prayerfulness it is meant to induce as well as the spiritual fruit likely to be derived from it.

Little things make a difference in the spiritual life; why would it not be the same in the greatest act of worship we can offer to God, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass? For a long time Catholics have fought simply to have access to the old Mass, an immense reservoir of grace, doctrine, and godly piety. We should not stop fighting for that access if we do not yet enjoy it, but now that we are some years down the road from the Mass’s reintroduction on a wider scale, it is time to correct the bad habits into which we may have inadvertently slid.

Some may be wondering: Can we possibly concern ourselves with such matters when the Church on earth seems to be falling apart in front of our very eyes? My view, however, is quite the opposite. This crisis we are living is a crisis of worldliness, of lukewarmness, infidelity, and apostasy. The ultimate solution to it is not investigations (however necessary), proclamations of doom and hand-wringing (however correct and satisfying), or a flurry of activism (however tempting). The solution begins and ends with drawing near to the Father and joining with the citizens of the fatherland. Now is the very best time to attend to the service of Almighty God in His holy sanctuary and to do what is right, because it is right, for the love and glory of God.

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