Monday, September 16, 2019

“Reactive Participation”: Further Thoughts on the Missa Murmurata

In light of last week’s kerfuffle, it may be helpful to introduce to some readers a certain book that should be familiar already, but in these days of confusion, one hardly knows. Wasting no time in preliminaries, here, then, is an altar missal:

Yes, the one depicted above is black, while most extant copies are red or burgundy, but that’s an accidental difference. Here’s the title page:

This is a 1920 missal (as indicated in the mention of Benedict XV) in an edition published in New York in 1947. Classic years of the untampered-with Missale Romanum.

In this book, as in its precursors and successors (to 1962), there is a section entitled Rubricae Generales Missalis. These are the general rubrics — directions for the priest using the missal, telling him what to do and say, and how to do it and say it. Within, there is a chapter numbered XVI:

Voilà! These are the paragraphs on the parts of Mass to be said aloud or silently, as translated in my preceding post. The paragraphs with their clear content really do exist and really do govern the celebration of Mass. They are not “a personal preference,” or an attempt at quashing legitimate diversity, or a Trojan Horse for the Dialogue Mass or the Radical Liturgical Movement.

The article “The Parish Low Mass is Not a ‘Silent’ Mass” met with fierce resistance on the part of some who do not read carefully or make distinctions.

Let’s review what was said.

1. Priests should observe the rubrics of the missal.

2. This is even more the case if the rubric is designed to share the public prayer of the Church with the public.

3. It is a good thing to be able to hear the prayers of the Mass that are meant to be said or sung aloud, regardless of whether one has a daily missal to hand or not. Indeed, if one likes to follow the Proper of the Mass but happens to be sans missal, audibility becomes still more important.

And let’s review what was not said.

1. There should never be any silence at all for meditating or for praying the Rosary.

2. Everyone should be saying everything at Mass — “dialogue till you die!”

3. A silent monastic Mass is evil and should be abolished.

4. My personal preferences should be those of everyone else.

5. Everyone should have his eyes or nose glued into a hand missal.

Here are five pieces of advice for critics of the Missa recitata:

1. Learn to read the rubrics. They are quite interesting, have a rich history, and are there for a good reason. At least, this can be safely assumed until the reform, at first tipsy, later intoxicated, gets into full swing in the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s.

2. Abusus non tollit usum: the deformation of right principle by the reformers does not diminish the rightness of said principle. The reformers wanted the liturgy to be within the hands and hearts of the faithful. Fair enough. Then they slashed and burned the inherited liturgy, with its immeasurable treasures, and built a sleek new liturgy that reflected their modern prejudices. Bad business. The desideratum did not necessitate the disaster.

3. Slippery slope arguments are amongst the weakest. “If you think the priest should speak up, or the faithful join their prayers to the Church’s, then — then — it’s only a matter of time before you’ll want — the vernacular! and communion in the hand! and altar girls! and…” Really?

4. A Low Mass offered according to the rubrics still has plenty of silence in it. No one in the traditional movement will want to do away with the silent Canon that we all dearly love. By this time, we have learned a thing or two from the dark years of autodemolition.

Why have some people arrived at the idea that a stone-silent parish Low Mass, contra rubricas, is either ideal, or at least a form of legitimate diversity? (Again, please read carefully: I am speaking of a regular parish Mass intentionally offered in the presence of a congregation, not a monastic side-chapel Mass at 6:30 a.m. with a couple of boy scouts on their knees in the dim shadow.)

1. The Missa Murmurata was a highly useful precaution against English soldiers combing through the hedges and bogs to arrest Irish priests. Noise attracted danger.

2. The Missa Murmurata is also as remote as possible from the Novus Ordo and all its pomps and works. One gets to relish a nice chunk of quiet personal prayer, while leaving “that liturgy business” to the priest, and then one can receive Communion. In short: the ideal communion service! (And people wonder where the abuses of the postconciliar period came from? Hint: they were already in place, albeit less offensively!) This is what I call “Reactive Participation”: anything that happens to be done in connection with the Novus Ordo should never be done in the old Mass.

While skittishness about repeating the abuses that the Novus Ordo ushered in, especially the reformers’ faulty notion of what constitutes participatio actuosa, is understandable, one ought not to allow such a fear to cloud one’s judgement. Likewise, while the practice of silent Masses was prudent in Ireland under English oppression (see Mass in a Connemara Cabin by Aloysius O’Kelly) and indeed testifies to the heroic fortitude of a great Christian people under trying circumstances, it hardly constitutes an exemplar of the best we can offer to God in a time of freedom.

Priests who remember starting up the TLM again after its near extinction remember what it was like in those bumpy days. Any movement towards having the people participate, other than flipping pages and suppressing noisy kids, was met with “You don’t mean the DIALOGUE MASS, Father?” In other words, anything but Cleveland 1956 was perceived as stepping onto the slippery slope.

Now one need have no particular bone to pick with Cleveland or 1956 in order to have a fundamental objection to the notion that the public prayer of the Church should not be given to God in a public manner that the faithful themselves, if they wish, can internalize in the normal way in which speech is heard and pondered. The very texts of the old Mass are full of ageless wisdom and burning charity. [1] This is our common possession as members of the Mystical Body of Christ, and some of it — the parts codified in the rubrics under discussion — is meant to be prayed in common, in such a way that those who either have a missal or have learned Latin can follow and internalize those antiphons, prayers, and readings if they wish. Outside of individual higher states of prayer, which in any case go beyond words, people have a normal human expectation to hear and grasp the words of the liturgy. After all, it is not, as such, a private ineffable ecstasy, but a verbal sacrifice of praise.

The admiration for St. Pius X is surely well-deserved. It was this Pope who not only encouraged frequent communion but also urged Catholics to “pray the Mass, not merely pray at Mass.” There is more than one way to carry out this advice, and indeed, as Pius XII famously said, not even the same person always wants to pray the same way. Some days we look at a missal, other days we don’t; some days we might pray the Sorrowful Mysteries and meditate on the Crucifixion during the Canon, other days we might sit there quietly, watching, listening, silently absorbing the gestures that are themselves a sublime form of prayer. The rubrics of the Church are meant to guard and foster all these ways of participating, not to dictate only one way to the laity; and yet, allowing for slight differences, there must be a correct way for the priest to offer the Mass if our worship is not to explode into as many different liturgies as there are celebrants. This, in fact, is what the Novus Ordo has done for the Church, and we can see the fragments of faith and innocence scattered about, past all hope of recollection.

In short, there ought to be an objective stability in how Mass is offered so that the faithful know what to expect, know what Holy Mother Church is sharing with them to nourish their prayer, and can, accordingly, conform themselves to the liturgy in order to pray as best they can, in their several ways.


[1] This is why I tend to agree with the perspective of a sermon on the use of the missal by Fr. Joseph Kreuter, OSB, printed in Orate Fratres of October 7, 1933, and reprinted at Rorate Caeli.

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