On my way into the Church and before I was officially received into the Church I first started to attend Mass at what became my home parish. For a period of time that Mass I had stumbled into was in fact what was the indult Mass of what is now called the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. I say stumbled since I found this Church by accident when driving around and saw it had a bookstore. Those who know me would not be surprised a bookstore would be such a lure. When we walked into the Church I was blown away by the beauty of it as it conformed to what movies and television had led me to believe is what a Catholic Church should look like. Funny how Hollywood never uses a scene involving the modern clamshell or theater-in-the-round style churches as background. This parish had had the indult Mass for some years since it was first allowed. So this was my introduction to Mass on my way into the Church. There was a beauty to it that was quite the opposite of the experience in the 70s when I attended Mass with my mother. I really enjoyed singing at those folk/pop Masses and since there was pretty much zero transcendence and feel of any sacredness it did not bother my atheist sensibilities to go there with my Mother. Being new to the Extraordinary Form of the Mass while I felt the transcendence of it and the feeling that something sacred was going on there I also had zero background in understanding what was going on other than some basics. Because of logistics and other factors we started to attend a later Mass there of the ordinary form, though once a month Latin was used in the same way that EWTN does the Ordinary Form. When it comes to the Ordinary Form vs. the Extraordinary Form debate I have often thought that the debate usually was really the Ordinary Form with liturgical abuses vs. the TLM (Traditional Latin Mass). My home parish has the Ordinary Form without liturgical abuses and while you do get some of the standard plate of modern sacred music, there has been more of an effort to include much of the sacred music that is our patrimony as Catholics. Plus of course no guitars are involved with the Pipe Organ being the primary instrument. So I have experienced the Ordinary Form of the Mass that was conductive to worship and prayer.
In my travels around diocesan parishes though this does not seem to be the norm and while I have found three parishes that I can go to without lapsing into liturgical abuse and sacred music critique mode, this is sadly not the case for the majority of parishes. Most parishes seem to think active participation means guitars and percussion instruments. That you can rouse the pew sitters into active participation. That this combination will someday actually induce the majority of those in the pews to sing along. That another chorus of On Eagle Wings will finally bring about the distorted sense of active participation they dream of. God Bless those involved in music ministry in giving of themselves and of their time, but really often I just want to shake them or give them copies of the Church’s documents regarding liturgy and Cardinal Ratzinger’s “The Sprit of the Liturgy”. They seem to be totally ignoring the direction the Pope is giving us by example. So to say the least these types of Masses leave me totally distracted and unable to pray.
One egregious example recently was a parish that combined organ with a full drum set. Psychotic split-personality liturgy. Hearing drum runs and buildups during the Gloria and re-worded Agnus Dei (Lamb of God removed) was not a pleasant experience, but I really do try to realize that I am there for worship and not to check off annoyances. I don’t often succeed at doing this. I remember back after the release of Summorum Pontificum that some members of this parish and others had a meeting with the Director of Liturgy for the Diocese. Father Z covered this meeting and the resulting document from the Diocese which was way negative towards having the TLM at this parish for the standard false reasons. So I was surprised to find out later that the TLM was being celebrated twice a month in the older church building. Recently they started having this Mass every Sunday.
I had never seen what is known as “historic St. Joseph” before and looking it up I found that it was the oldest Catholic Church still standing in Jacksonville, Fl and that the wooden structure had been built in 1883 back when the area was a farming community.
We went to Mass there yesterday and the church looks much the same on the outside though of course surrounded with modern infrastructure of streets and a parking log. When I entered the church I was much taken with both the beauty and simplicity of the interior. A traditional high altar with tabernacle makes up the center of this cruciform style Church with the interior being all wood. A small cozy church with great acoustics. As I had not attended a TLM in some years I was not quite prepared for the experience. My knowledge of the TLM had been much increased and seeing the TLM occasionally on EWTN certainly prepared me more than when I had first stumbled into the TLM. Really though I was blown away by how easy it was for me to enter into the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and to pray and worship God. I am so prone to distractions that I am easily set off track, that was less so on this occasion. Sure small distractions like seeing the incongruity of a priest wearing a maniple and a wireless receiver distracted me, but overall it was really a joyous experience and one I still have a glow of. After last week’s experience of banal sacred music and hordes of Eucharistic Ministers of Holy Communion I was stunned by the experience of again receiving Holy Communion kneeling at the Communion Rail. For me there is just no comparison between shuffling up in the Communion line and being able to pray and kneel while awaiting to receive Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist. Really though it was the flow of the whole Mass as being something where we all pray and worship together vice being directed by a priest-peformer who has to make eye-contact with everybody and casually interacting with “Good mornings” and “Have a good day’s”. Sure these area all liturgical hot-button issues, but I am convinced more than ever that the Ordinary Form of the Mass still has a lot to learn from the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. The so-called reform of the reform is more than just a buzzword phrase, but really something important to the life of the Church.
There are secondary considerations regarding how I was more easily able to enter into the Mass. For one attendees of the TLM are much more likely to dress modestly and to dress up. So much easier to retain custody of the eyes when women are not attending Mass in backless dresses and spaghetti straps. There was so much silence only interrupted by the sounds of babies (but these sounds always bring me joy). I love the pipe organ, but in this simple church the Latin hymns were all sung A cappella and seemingly by the majority of the worshipers. External aesthetics contribute to internal dispositions and anything that keeps my internal distractions to the minimum are too the good. I am too prone to chasing after liturgical squirrels.
For those playing liturgical topic bingo at home – yes I covered some hot topics. My intention though was not to contribute to heated discussion, but to provide some measure of the joy I experienced in actually being able to pray the Mass and to worship God to the extent of my limited capabilities.