The Holy Father had something good and important to say yesterday:
When we celebrate the Mass, we don’t accomplish a representation of the Last Supper: no, it is not a representation. It is something else: it is the Last Supper itself. It is to really live once more the Passion and the redeeming Death of the Lord. It is a theophany: the Lord is made present on the altar to be offered to the Father for the salvation of the world. We hear or we say, ‘But, I can’t now, I have to go to Mass, I have to go to hear Mass.’ The Mass is not ‘heard’, it is participated in, and it is a participation in this theophany, in this mystery of the presence of the Lord among us.
I loved the first part of this statement, with its laser-like focus on the Mass as a sacrifice (and the word “theophany” really can’t be used often enough), but worried a little about the second part.
This whole idea of “participation” has become the battlefield over which a liturgical war is being fought.
Full, active and conscious participation in the Mass in the Middle Ages
For me, “participation” means prayerful attentiveness to the Mass, joining my prayers with that of the rest of the congregation and the priest in adoration of the Holy Victim, but for various “ultras” this is not good enough; the “Council” mandated a different form of “participation”, one that was “communal” (an idea thoroughly debunked by a cursory reading of Sacrosanctum Concillium, as pointed out by Dom Alcuin Reid).
This form of “communal participation”, with us all subsuming our wills to that of the group (is it just me or does that sound a little Nürnburg Rally?) in practical reality takes the for of reciting responses and hymn singing. I can live with responses and happily used to sing the Missa de Angelis at the main Mass in my youth, but hymns?
Hymns fall into three categories for me:
- the un-singable – the tune may be impossibly irregular or may require too large a vocal range
- the unconscionable – the lyrics are too drippy or downright heretical or, in the case of “Spirituals”, I find the cultural appropriation too objectionable; and
- the ones written by Fr Faber – catchy tunes, orthodox lyrics, easy vocal range, what’s not to like?
But even with a hymn that I like, it isn’t the Mass, it’s a distraction at best.
Sorry Holy Father, this Catholic “hears Mass” when he can, because all of the other stuff distracts from his full, active and conscious participation in the Mass.
Well Raven, I don’t know what others might say about this, but I absolutely agree with every word you say in the article.
To really participate, in the true sense of the word, at such an amazing event as the re-enactment of the Holy Sacrifice of Our Blessed Lord at Calvary, one can only wish to be invisible, to steep oneself in prayer, adoration and thanksgiving, as one listens to and absorbs each part of the enfolding Sacred Liturgy.
Now how can one do that at most Novus Ordo Masses when there are distractions from start to finish? You would have to have a will of steel, an unsurpassable ability to switch off from everything going on around one, and an admirable holiness to be able to be unaffected by them. Since I’m afraid I fail to fit into any of those elated categories I therefore find not getting distracted during a NO Mass a challenge for me from start to finish.
I must admit though that it does depend sometimes on the time of day (early Masses being quieter usually) and very much on the priest who is celebrating.
Before Mass starts one would like to prepare oneself with a few quiet prayers, but the chatter going on all around often makes concentrating on this virtually impossible. After Mass the noise of people greeting one another also makes extra thanksgiving prayers equally difficult! Everyone seems to forget that Our Lord is still there, present in the Tabernacle.
Then during the Mass we are constantly being called to “come down to Earth” and notice the community around us, especially at that noxious moment of the hand-shaking ritual.
I want to participate at Mass, but not in the way one participates at a party or as I do when having fun with a group of friends. At Holy Mass I want to participate as an unseen, unheard member of the Church Militant on Earth, who has been undeservedly invited to the greatest event in the world taking place before me. In that way I may be able to grow a little closer to God.
Beautiful words from both Raven and Kathleen.