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.


§ 3 Responses to The Rite to Remain Silent

  • Dan Jasmin says:

    I have just finished listening to the audiobook of Scott Hahn’s “The Lamb’s Supper”. If even a little of what he says is true(and I suspect much of it is true) then we have a gift of inestimable worth in the Mass. Hahn presents the Mass as Heaven on earth where we are transported to the New Jerusalem as the Bride of Christ to be united with Jesus the Lamb and the Bridegroom. While listening to this book, I couldn’t help buthave some of the thoughts you echo in this post. Most notably that I in particular and Catholics in general do not understand what we have in the Mass. And yes, how ungrateful we are. I have never known anything other than the Novus Ordo Mass and usually with no Latin. Maybe we don’t have beautiful liturgies is because we don’t understand the beauty of the gift we have been given. A New Springtime will not come until we realize we have heaven on earth in the Mass and act like it.

  • Tom says:

    Here’s a nutty thought: <>To the extent it’s a matter of aesthetics<>, we might be thankful when we assist at a Mass that displeases us under the assumption that it pleased someone else. They get their pleasure, and we have something to offer to God, which for a Christian is a far better outcome than for us to have the pleasure and someone else to have to offer it up.

  • zippy says:

    Well, yes and no. Certainly your point is well taken about offering it up on the personal level, but I am also interested in other levels of understanding about the state of the Mass. “A matter of aesthetics” does not mean “a matter of subjective taste” or “a matter of theological and pastoral indifference”. Someone who is in the presence of a plastic Elvis is in the presence of an objectively lesser aesthetic experience than someone who is in the Sisteen Chapel.It seems to me that there is clearly a poverty of aesthetics in the new mass, at least as it is celebrated 90% of the time, and other poverties as well (e.g. the avoidance of the penitential rite). But if we stipulate that as true, the interesting questions become “why” and “what should we do about it”.Anyone who is willing to do the homework or who (as in my case) has been blessed by Providence can attend a beautiful orthodox Mass.Let me use the term “Mass” in the following to refer to all of the Masses said across the world, not just an individual Mass in a particular location:With the old Mass, modernist indifference was married to the ability to “check out” without consequences. With the new Mass that is no longer the case: indifference (in the absence of Providence to the contrary) has consequences. If you don’t do your homework, don’t get in the car and drive, you have a more impoverished encounter with the Mass than if you do. Mark Shea says that we get the bishops that we want. Perhaps we also get the Mass that we want.

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