The Rite to Remain Silent
July 18, 2005 § 3 Comments
The alternative to the easy way is the hard way.
I am fortunate enough to regularly attend a reverent, orthodox Mass. It is a novus ordo Mass said partly in latin and partly in english. The consecration is in latin: no worries about the translation of “pro multis” there, because it isn’t translated. I have been to a Tridentine Mass before, and it was also fabulously beautiful. There is nothing quite like the sound of the chanted Kyrie and the smell of incense, the bells and the communion rail. The aesthetic experience of Mass that I have been granted in recent years is a blessing piled upon blessings.
When I travel I almost invariably find myself at a Mass that is clearly lesser in its externals. The music usually involves a guitar, an instrument I love in general but I detest in that setting. The homily is almost always about affirming us in our okayness, yes Jesus loves us and we all need to be good tolerant nice people. The penitential rite is usually so brief that if you cough you will miss it, and sometimes it is missing entirely. (I expect that the Mass is valid but illicit with the penitential rite missing, but these are not the sorts of things I worry over when I am actually in Mass).
And the latter kind of Mass is mainly what I grew up with. I have always been Catholic, but not a particularly good Catholic, and I do wonder at times what influence the thin gruel of modern liturgy has had upon me, what unnecessary crosses I still bear because of my own choices to be sure, but choices made in a particular context.
But no matter how thin the liturgical externals may be – and it must be admitted that they can get very thin indeed – He is there. So the attitude I try to cultivate in myself, even when a priest with a pronounced lisp skips the penitential rite and tells us that we all have to be more tolerant, is one of gratitude.
It seems possible to me that the reason we have such thin gruel in our liturgical externals might be because we are ungrateful for what we have. Maybe the “isn’t that nice, aren’t we wonderful” overtly narcissistic Masses are a penance for our ingratitude. For me a Mass which skips the penitential rite becomes a penitential rite in its entiriety, a reinforcement of the fact that we have been ungrateful for what we have in the Church, and that we deserve no better. We hear the stories about how in the old Mass many of the lay people would ignore what was going on completely and engage in private devotions. And I wonder whether things would have been really different for me had I been brought up in that liturgical setting. Perhaps, but perhaps not: perhaps the flaws in me as a modern person cannot be papered over by liturgy.
Perhaps it isn’t as much that the new Mass is uniquely suited to the modern world as that the new Mass is all that the modern world deserves, really more than it deserves. We are ingrates who do not appreciate the gift of the Eucharist; and the alternative to a voiced penitential rite is a lived penitential life.
So when I attend Mass at the church of isn’t that nice, aren’t we wonderful I try to make a point of it to go up to the celebrant after Mass and thank him for bringing us the Blessed Sacrament.