As one raised going to the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite who now attends the Extraordinary Form every Sunday, I wanted to respond to Pope Francis’s recent statement about the liturgical reform that happened after Vatican II. He seemed to be addressing Traditionalist Catholics who would like to reverse the changes that occurred to the liturgies of the Roman Rite after Vatican II in a speech in Italy this week to participants in their National Liturgical Week. He said,
“After this magisterium, after this long journey, we can affirm with certainty and magisterial authority that the liturgical reform is irreversible.” (from the Catholic News Service)
But those who have come to love the EF (Traditional Latin Mass) after being raised going to the Ordinary Form of the Latin Rite (Novus Ordo) know that we cannot—we have come too far. The reforms of the council have become part of the very life and heartbeat of the Church. Liturgy is vibrant, living worship of God—it has always been changing and always will until the end of the ages…
I was recently given another theological explanation of the action of receiving Holy Communion at the altar rail while studying the New Saint Joseph Baltimore Catechism with my daughter. And it blew my mind for about a week. We were in Lesson 28 on Holy Communion, directly following the lesson on the Sacrifice of the Mass, when I paused at this sentence: “At Holy Communion, when we go up to the Banquet Table (the altar rail), Our Lord comes to us.” I had always thought of the Banquet Table as the main altar where the priest makes present Christ’s sacrifice. It had never occurred to me that the altar rail was something more than a divider from the sanctuary, but that it is actually an extension of the altar—the people’s altar.. Read the rest at the National Catholic Register…
The three liturgies of the Paschal Triduum are full of beautiful, theologically rich chants most of which we only get to hear once a year in the context of the liturgy.
If you are like me, you never get to savor the depths of them while you are actually at Church. Even if I were not reminding that child to be quiet and this child to be still or wrestling with my toddler in back, the chants go by before I can plunge their depths.
Because of this I started listening to the chants for Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday at home. Doing this helps me prepare my heart for the Triduum liturgies and give my children something to notice and enter into during the long days of the Triduum where the liturgical year slows down to the pace of the actual events of Christ’s life. They keep our home prayerful and peaceful during the busy Easter preparations.
So, without further ado, I present you chants and hymns from the Triduum…
The summer we moved to St. Paul we were very eager to attend Holy Mass at St. Agnes. In addition to Sunday Masses, we went almost every day to the daily Mass in the lower chapel. At those daily Masses, for the first time since I had fallen in love with the Church’s liturgical traditions did the OF seem like it followed from those traditions. We had been daily Mass attendees at many other OF Masses, but this one was different.
Things have been busy here, and when things get busy my personal, random thoughts writing time goes by the wayside. Naptime turns into catch up time on everything or cooking Thanksgiving dinner time or frosting birthday cake time or talking to my mom because she is visiting time, etc.
Well, last night, I decided I was going to write this afternoon, no matter what. So, here I am squeezing it in, with a messy kitchen and the children’s toys everywhere. And it is okay, because my dirty house is a grace.
I wonder if my cluttered mind is also a grace?
This morning we finally all were feeling well enough from the latest cold to get out of bed for daily Mass. Daily Mass here is 7:30 am. And if it is going to work on a day the Professor teaches or really any day, we have to get ourselves out of bed at 5:45am and get that breakfast eaten and coffee in us by 6:30, so we can get the kids up to eat, so we can leave on time.
We went through the morning routine in the typical pre-caffine fog (coffee takes time to kick in), and finally we were sitting in the pew at Mass. The kids were not in their most prayerful behavior this morning and it was a struggle. But it dawned on me that besides the obvious Sacramental graces of receiving communion at a daily Mass, there are other reasons that it makes my day so much better when we do go.
I realized that I love being in a church full of people (the church in our neighborhood has like 100 people at morning Mass daily), but not be expected to talk to anyone. I like the community of silent praying (and verbal responses). The prayerful silence in a community of believers being led through the quiet liturgy of a morning daily Mass by a priest is so soothing to my whole being. And then we top it off with Jesus’ sacrifice and receiving communion.
Then I am ready to really face my day. Coffee, quiet communal prayer, Jesus, and I can do this thing.
When we don’t go, I struggle harder to make it through the day even if I have slept an hour extra. Call me needy or something, I need my daily Mass, and I need it quiet.
This year we have a new tradition in the Spencer house:
The grass really took off this week in our miniature tomb and Calvary scene. Last Friday in my quick takes, there was no growth at all.
But besides this one new tradition, we have been sticking with our normal Holy Week things. Since M and I are both cradle Catholics, Holy Week traditions have been ingrained in us from our first years of life. We mostly have preserved the traditions from M’s side of the family. I started going to his house for Easter nine years ago in college and Holy Week just does not seem like Holy Week without certain things, like Greek kurulaikia and my mother-in-laws chocolate eggs. For Holy Thursday we always have manestra, a greek dish with orzo and lamb, that his mom taught us how to make. I went to the Triduum at M’s charismatic home parish in Ann Arbor, MI all through college and we made it back almost every year that we lived in Buffalo as well. Since we have been in Minnesota we have been going to our parish, St. Agnes, for the Triduum liturgies, which are beautiful as St. Agnes liturgies always are.
This year, Holy Week started off with a gorgeous Palm Sunday Sunrise, and me remembering to take the palms away from the children once we got through the procession, which meant normal Mass behavior instead of worse behavior.
Today, M helped me with the kurulaikia and the chocolate eggs, while our Triduum guests, my sister and her boyfriend, played with the children and colored in Stations of the Cross coloring sheets.
Tomorrow our plans are for my mom’s lentil soup for dinner, and Saturday is for coloring eggs. I am trying to keep all the important traditions but not overexert myself, because, well, third trimester plus guests, plus late nights for the children is a lot in itself. Sunday we are hosting the Wisconsin relatives, which should be lots of fun, because they are really awesome people.
My grandmother and grandfather (both deceased) in Rome early in their marriage. I love this picture of them.
To add to the rambling post, if you recall, today is the 10 year anniversary of Pope Saint John Paul II’s death. My grandmother also passed away on April 2 ten years ago, but she died in the morning. It is a somewhat bittersweet day today. And further, Good Friday is the liturgical anniversary of us finding out about our 7 week old unborn baby’s, John Paul, passing last Spring. But the great thing about the Triduum is that we celebrate the Resurrection every year as well. And remembering those who passed away this week, reminds us also of our Hope in the Resurrection. Oh, happy fault.
One of the things that is a constant struggle with little kids is helping them be quiet and if they are able be attentive at Mass. Something that has worked for us so far is to just keep things simple. Since M and I have a missal for Mass (for both the Ordinary Form and the Traditional Latin Extraordinary form), we decided that each of our children should have their own personal missals appropriate for their age. The key to encouraging children to use hand missals is to use them yourself.
By small children, I mean children who are not yet reading or not yet reading enough to actually read along in a missal. I like these ones for their simplicity and pictures. 1) Ages 4-8: Marian Children’s Missal
While originally printed in 1958, Angelus Press has reprinted. We got our very old copy from some really sweet friends at our TLM parish in Buffalo, NY. What I love about it is the photographs of a priest celebrating Mass at the high altar. The photographs give your child a close up look at what is happening at the altar, to help familiarize her with the parts of the Mass without actually being in the sanctuary. Actual photographs are way more interesting than drawn illustrations, at least in my book.
My almost six year old uses this at both OF and EF liturgies. The great thing about children’s missals is that they focus on the key parts of the Mass which were maintained in the New Mass. This one has a lot more detail than the other ones that I am showing you today, so it is actually more appropriate for the EF Mass. This does not stop my daughter from using it at the daily OF Masses we attend.
The Marian Missal has a photograph and accompanying page with simplified prayers for: the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar, the Introit and Kyrie, The Gloria, The Collect, The Epistle, The Gospel, The Credo, The Offertory (Host), Preparing the Chalice, The Offertory (Chalice), Washing of the Hands, Prayer to the Trinity, Orate Frates (Pray Brothers), Preface and Sanctus, Te Igitur, Prayer for the Living, Hanc Igitur, Blessing of the Offering, Consecration (Host), Elevation, Consecration (Wine), Elevation, Blessing Host and Chalice, Minor Elevation, Pater Noster (Our Father), Breaking the Host, Prayer for Peace, Prayers-Holy Communion, Domine non sum dignus (Lord I am not worthy), Priest receives Host, Priest receives Sacred Blood, Communion of the People, Communion and Post Communion prayers, Blessing, Last Gospel.
Following the photographs of the Mass are summaries and illustrations of the Gospels for Sundays and Holy Days.
Following that are the parts of the Mass in Latin and English. On each page of the photographed parts of the Mass are page numbers for the text of the Mass, so a child who is reading well could flip between them. (Our copy once had a ribbon, but a baby pulled it out):
I highly recommend this missal, and would probably purchase another once my four year old is a little older.
This little gem of a book is short and sweet. It is published by Tan and very reasonably priced. The only thing it has against it is that it is paperback and the bindings are stapled, so it is not really good for a destructive child. We once had a printing with red and black illustrations inside. It got left in church one day, and the one we have now is just black and white. The illustrations are reminiscent of the Baltimore catechism, but not as cool as the photographs in the Marian Missal.
The Missal based on the EF Mass, but this one more than the last is very usable for the OF Mass.
The book starts with guide to the altar, and a reminder to pray to Our Blessed Mother.
The headings of each page explaining the Mass pictured with brief prayers are: The Sign of the Cross, I Confess, Introit, Kyrie, Gloria, Epistle, Gospel, The Sermon, Creed, Offertory, Washing of Hands, Sanctus, Get Ready, The Consecration (Host), The Consecration (Wine), Jesus is Here, Our Father, Agnus Dei, Jesus is Coming, Holy Communion, Thank You, O God, Last Blessing, Last Gospel.
It has the simple words SEE, HEAR, PRAY where it is appropriate, so a child does not have to be super literate to understand the prompts.
My four year old has been following this book with ease since she was about 3.5, and since she is a very active child it really helps for her to have something in her hands. I also love that the girl is pictured with a head covering, which you do not see in children’s missals featuring the OF Mass.
This is the best board book I have found for toddlers to follow the Mass. It is simple, straightforward, and the priest is young and reverent. That being said, if I were to make a board book missal for children I would use pictures like the Marian Missal, have the women and girls with head coverings (or at least some of them since that is fairly standard where we go to Mass), and the priest celebrating Ad Orientem (facing the tabernacle and crucifix).
This sweet little book, with a nice handle, has a page for the following parts of the Mass: Procession/Introit, Epistle, Gospel, Offertory, Sanctus, Eucharistic Prayer, Consecration of Host, Consecration of Wine, Minor Elevation, Our Father, Agnus Dei, Lord, I am not Worthy, Holy Communion, Closing Procession.
My two year old never follows the Mass in its entirety in this book, but she does like to see the pictures of Jesus and pretend to each the hosts. So, we get what we can in good behavior from her. One of my children at age three did use this book to follow short, daily Masses in their entirety. I like that it is simple straight-forward and durable. _____
So, there you have my top three missals for small children. I would love to hear of other great missal-like books for children. One last thought is that my five year old, when we attend the EF Mass often just grabs one of the red books provided by the church and uses that.
One of the problems with contemporary Christianity is that too often Christians focus on what they “get out of Church.” I am thinking specifically of the plight parents find themselves in when their sweet newborn grows out of sleeping at Mass and becomes the loud and active baby. Their experience of Mass changes from one of focused prayer with very involved participation to distracted prayer and focus on keeping a child quiet in church. And while negative comments to parents about their children are rare, those are the comments that stick in parents’ minds, much more so than positive comments and encouraging smiles.
One cranky fellow parishioner can take away a parent’s comfort with bringing their little baptized Christian to Sunday Mass. So the parents start going to separate Masses or take the baby to the back, fearing that their child is disrupting the personal prayer of those around them. It seems to the parent that as long as they bring little ones to church they will not be able to pray. This is not the case. They just need to learn to pray differently and realize that Mass is not about personal prayer but it is a place of public prayer.
Here is the thing: the liturgy is about the Body of Christ as a whole giving due worship to God. It is about the Sacrifice of the Mass being made, which requires only that the priest make the actions of the liturgy in a fitting manner and that the baptized members of the parish be present. It does not matter for the due worship of God whether that I am pacing in back with a child or parenting my 21 month old into quietness in the pew. My inability to focus and my not “getting anything out of Mass” is not taking away from the due worship of God. But my child not being there, my child being sent to children’s church or a nursery, takes away from the fullness of the Body of Christ being present at our obligatory Sunday liturgy. Children as baptized members of the community should be at the Mass, as Canon 1247 states, not excluding people by age, “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are obliged to participate in the Mass.”
I discovered as a young parent that while personal private focus on the liturgy is important and good, it is not the purpose of the liturgy. The liturgy is the public worship of God, and while private consolations at Mass are a good thing, that is not the purpose of Mass. The Mass will go on. Personal, private worship of God is just that: something we can do personally and privately outside of the context of the liturgy. My husband and I have found that when we are able to set aside time for private prayer when our children are asleep and when we take time to go to a chapel alone, we have a deeper more personal relationship with God than when we worry about “getting something out of Mass” in addition to teaching them how to behave.
And as for everyone else, who is not the parent of the active and loud or fussy child, please be patient with families. For all Christians, the liturgy is not primarily meant for private prayer, but for all baptized Christians to pray together (even the non-baptized who are present worship God at the liturgy). It is an awful thing for Christians to criticize parents who have loud children. None of us know what it is like to parent each individual child; all people are different. We do not know if a child is teething and impossible to soothe or a child has allergies or any of those things, but we do know that children are meant to be in Church just as much as adults should be. Children are our hope for the future, and we should welcome them, with their non-adult behavior and all. Since the liturgy is a place of public worship, all attending need to remember this and not be upset if they lose their personal focus on prayer. If we need quiet for prayer, then we should take time to pray in in addition to our attendance at Mass.
I am not advocating that children run wild in Church, I am trying to explain that the distractedness that even disciplined children cause it Church is okay, because they do not take away from the due worship given to God. I try my best to keep my children from distracting others, ask other parents to do the same, and ask the whole community to be welcoming of children and encouraging to parents. And cry rooms, nurseries, and children’s church (during the Liturgy) do not make children and parents feel welcome. When someone tells a parent pacing in back where the cry room is or to take their child behind the glass window in the back of Church, a parent feel ashamed to have children there and feels exiled from the body of the church.
If everyone were to realize that it is not about what one personally gets out of Mass, but giving due worship to God, then everyone would not feel like they need to create a space to for parents and children but would welcome them into the main body of the church. And parents can learn how to focus on the public worship in the liturgy, modeling it to their children, and stop fretting about what they “get out of Mass” and think more about what they bring to God.
As is usual in articles about the liturgy, there was division in the comments on my articles about devotion to the old Mass and about participation in the Mass from people who prefer the Extraordinary Form and from those who prefer the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite. This is my attempt to find a balance between the two sides, and be open to the whole of the Church’s traditions.
The novel A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr. begins 600 years after a nuclear war that destroyed the bulk of civilization. The story opens upon a monastery were books are being hidden and preserved. They are being hidden because after the war, there had been a movement known as the Simplification, where masses of people went around destroying books and killing anyone who tried to keep books hidden. They were afraid of knowledge, because it had led to the awful war. A man, Leibowitz, started a secluded monastery to preserve surviving books and history. The monks spend their days copying and memorizing the books and trying to relearn much of what was lost. Many of the books are so piecemeal, that they cannot understand them. Catholicism has developed over 600 years in a world hostile to knowledge and shaking from the effects of mass destruction. The traditions that have been passed down must be interpreted for the people of their present time. Some of the old traditions they cannot make sense of and some of them are very exaggerated. The sense of liturgical time and the liturgical ceremonies are much more intense than they were before the war, but they suit the people of the time.
Photo by Lawerence OP.
I sometimes feel, as a generation that is rediscovering old traditions, that we are doing the same thing. There are things in the Church that were simplified, and when we discover the more ancient traditions and try to take part in them, it is different than it was 50 years ago. There was something lost in all those changes that we cannot get back, but that does not mean that we cannot carry the traditions on. We are relearning them, and applying them to our lives now.
Thanks to Pope Benedict XVI’s Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificam in 2007, which allowed wider use of the old Mass, now called the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, following up on Pope Blessed John Paul II’s allowance in 1988, many more are discovering the older traditions that are such an essential part of the liturgy. Many have hoped that the old traditions would have an effect on the new traditions, and that the new Mass, the Ordinary Form, would be reworked to be less unlike the EF. Lately, on the New Liturgical Movement, there has been a lot of discussion on whether this “Reform of the Reform” is dead; those who hold this position believe that organic growth, the way that the liturgy developed from the time of Christ to Vatican II, of the new Mass is not possible. I would propose that the Church will not remain stationary when it comes to the liturgy, but that the changes will continue to happen slowly. They will take time, much more time than many would like. (There is an informative and interesting five part discussion of the state of the Reform of the Reform by Joseph Shaw on his blog.) We were given the new Mass, put together by some Council Fathers, a little over 40 years ago. It was a break from the organic development that the old liturgy had come from, but the new Mass is a part of our tradition now. It is all that two generations have known, and only recently, have these generations been exposed to the older traditions of the Mass. Some have embraced it and seek out the Extraordinary Form, but most younger people go to the Ordinary Form. Those born since 1970 have been formed by and in the new liturgy; it is apart of their formation as Catholics. Even those born in the late 50s and 60s have very little memory of the old Mass. The New Mass is now rooted in the body of the Church.
The changing of the liturgy is not going to happen now; it is not going to happen next year. Those who prefer the Ordinary Form, need not fear that it is going to be taken forcefully from them, and those who prefer the Extraordinary Form are being given a chance to attend it in more and more places. They are both available to the faithful.
Is having the two forms in one rite necessarily a problem? Is it a situation that is harmful to the Church? I say not. While maybe it is unprecedented to have two Masses in one rite, a diversity of liturgies is nothing new to the Church. And as Pope Benedict XVI said in Summorum Pontificum, the old Mass was never juridically abrogated. The tension of the two forms of the Roman Rite was put there from the earliest implementation of the New Mass. In the earliest centuries of the Church, there was a different rite in most cities. The Ambrosian Rite of Milan still exists to this day, not to mention all of the Eastern Rites and their unique liturgies. In the Middle Ages up to Vatican II, many Roman Rite religious orders had their own liturgical rites, for example, the Dominicans and the Franciscans. Now we have the Anglican ordinariates in the Roman Church, which have their own liturgy. We are living in a time of liturgical tension, but we must carry on and see what traditions stay with the Church over the next several centuries. Maybe in 500 years, every city will have its own rite again, and the liturgies will be variations of the two Roman Rite Masses. It will still be the Sacrifice of the Mass united with Christ at Calvary.
My husband and I often look at all the Church traditions, the various spiritualities, and the many liturgies and want to take part in them all. We make a point to attend Eastern Rite liturgies occasionally, and read a variety of spiritual books. Why not let oneself be influenced by all of them? I think of the story told by St. Thérèse of Lisieux in her autobiography, The Story of a Soul, where her sister Léonie offers a basket of playthings to Thérèse and Céline:
“One day Léonie, thinking no doubt that she was too big to play with dolls, brought us a basket filled with clothes, pretty pieces of stuff, and other trifles on which her doll was laid: “Here, dears,” she said, “choose whatever you like.” Céline looked at it, and took a woollen ball. After thinking about it for a minute, I put out my hand saying: “I choose everything,” and I carried off both doll and basket without more ado.”
St. Thérèse applies this to her call to give herself entirely over to God; it can also be applied to the Church and her liturgy. The Church can have all of the traditions, and live with them. They may, in time, merge together into one liturgy, or maybe having two forms of a rite will not be seen as such a problem in the future. I cannot predict what will happen. Only God knows. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI seemed to have a similar thought in Summorum Pontificum when he said:
“I think of a sentence in the Second Letter to the Corinthians, where Paul writes: “Our mouth is open to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. In return … widen your hearts also!” (2 Cor 6:11-13). Paul was certainly speaking in another context, but his exhortation can and must touch us too, precisely on this subject. Let us generously open our hearts and make room for everything that the faith itself allows.
There is no contradiction between the two editions of the Roman Missal. In the history of the liturgy there is growth and progress, but no rupture. What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful. It behooves all of us to preserve the richeswhich have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place. “
As Pope Benedict XVI in 2007 called his bishops to open their hearts to allowing for the use of the old Mass, Catholics now can see this as a call to open their hearts to both Masses. Whether you prefer one or the other, they are both apart of the Church’s tradition. The universal nature of the Church allows for this. While there are many kinks to be worked out, for example, the differences of liturgical calendars of both forms, it is okay to have the tension. It does not mean that the Church is divided; it just means that she has opened herself up “for everything that the faith itself allows.”
I am blessed to be in a parish that always has very reverent and beautiful liturgies, whether they are the Ordinary Form or the Extraordinary Form. We try to wake up for the early 7:30 am EF most Sunday’s, but this last week due to a late night for the kids we decided to “sleep in” and go to the 8:30 am OF. The one year old managed to last in the pew until the homily and then I was pacing in the back with her and other parents and young tots. I noticed that I paid much worse attention to the sung OF Mass than I do when I am in back for the quiet low EF Mass.
I imagine that it was largely my own fault. I did not exert myself towards the liturgy, and I realized that it was because I could hear what was going on. When I am only paying attention with my ears, if I am not careful, my mind and my heart tend to wander. I need to visually follow to really have conscious participation. Ideally I will have a missal (at both forms) and follow word for word everything that is prayed, but holding a missal is not an option in my state in life. And maybe that is why the quiet low Mass is more prayerful for me, because I have to follow with my eyes in order to follow with my heart.
Since the Church is so universal, each person has his or her own strengths when it comes to active participation in the liturgy. God has gifted us all differently and calls us all to different things. Gifted musicians, for example, tend to be in the choir wherever they are parishioners. It is where they can participate in the liturgy, where they are called to be. Others are called to be ushers, altar servers, deacons, or priests. Most of us are called to be the people in the pews. But in the pews we all pray differently. We are all different and all have different relationships with God. There are certain unifying actions we all do, but our participation in the heart is unique to ourselves.
When the Second Vatican Council discussed the liturgy and produced the document Sacrosanctum Concilium, the active participation of the faithful was something they were strongly considering. It has always been a concern with the Church. Even after the Council of Trent when Catholicism was such a part of everyday life, lay catechization on the liturgy was considered to be important. By the early 19th century, secularism had spread across Europe, and the liturgical movement began. It was from the fruits of that movement that the council fathers sought to help the laity understand the liturgy. Here is what they said about our participation:
Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that fully conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy. Such participation by the Christian people as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people (1 Pet. 2:9; cf. 2:4-5), is their right and duty by reason of their baptism.
In the restoration and promotion of the sacred liturgy, this full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else; for it is the primary and indispensable source from which the faithful are to derive the true Christian spirit; and therefore pastors of souls must zealously strive to achieve it, by means of the necessary instruction, in all their pastoral work[…] (SC 14)
With zeal and patience, pastors of souls must promote the liturgical instruction of the faithful, and also their active participation in the liturgy both internally and externally, taking into account their age and condition, their way of life, and standard of religious culture. (SC 19)
I really appreciate how considerate the Church is in knowing that not everyone can participate in the same way. When I see statements about taking into account age, condition, and way of life, in addition to the sick, the Church is keeping in mind the parent of little ones. This is where pacing in back counts; it is very active and still counts as participation.
We are called by God and by the Church to have a “fully conscious, and active participation,” but this cannot come about without “necessary instruction.” It all makes sense when I see my children in the pew at either form of the Mass. They have had instruction according to their mental abilities. The four year old mostly looks forward and whispers occasionally to her father. She listens to the readings when she chooses to or when she recognizes a story. The three year old has a picture board book, which has the main parts of Mass, and lately she has been trying very hard to stay on the right page. She stares at the book and whispers loudly asking “are we here?” and then will grin at her baby sister. The one year old will climb on the kneeler, look at books, and when she is really paying attention shriek as loud as she can and then quickly put her finger in front of her lips and shush.
For an adult, it is quiet different. We should know what each part of the Mass is and follow it with out hearts and bodies. Hopefully, we have all been given the appropriate instruction through our religious education or through RCIA. But it seems that the priest is called to continue to catechize us all on the liturgy, in homilies and in other parish events. Understanding liturgical action, adds to our ability to participate. Even the least catechized person can still pick up a “worship aid” and follow the Mass. Most parishes are very good at promoting active participation:
The people should be encouraged to take part by means of acclamations, responses, psalmody, antiphons, and songs, as well as by actions, gestures, and bodily attitudes. And at the proper times all should observe a reverent silence. (SC 30)
Sometimes, however, the best intentions of liturgical planners backfire, and all of the external “participation” turns into a distraction. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI put it this way a book he wrote as Joseph Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy:
It is not now a matter of looking toward the priest, but of looking together toward the Lord and going out to meet him. The almost theatrical entrance of different players into the liturgy, which is so common today, especially during the Preparation of the Gifts, quite simply misses the point. If the various external actions (…) become essential in the liturgy, if the liturgy degenerates into general activity, then we have radically misunderstood the “theo-drama” of the liturgy and lapsed almost into parody[…] One must be led toward the essential action that makes the liturgy what it is, toward the transforming power of God, who wants, through what happens in the liturgy to transform us and the world. (The Spirit of the Liturgy 175)
As laity, we have little say in what happens in the liturgies we attend, and thus we have to find a way to participate in the liturgy, which is centered around God’s action. Ratzinger explained:
The real “action” in the liturgy in which we are all supposed to participate is the action of God himself. This is what is new and distinctive about the Christian liturgy: God himself acts and does what is essential[…] The uniqueness of the Eucharistic Liturgy lies precisely in the fact that God himself is acting and that we are drawn into that action of God. Everything else is, therefore, secondary. (The Spirit of the Liturgy 173-174)
If you have come this far with me, then you are finally arriving at my point. How can we learn to participate better at any Mass, no matter what is going on? How did I learn to pray at any liturgy, despite my more traditional leanings? I give you my: Six Ways to Internally Participate in God’s Action in the Liturgy:
1. Prepare as much as you can, especially for Sunday Mass. Read the readings before the liturgy, so when you here them again, your heart can be open more fully to God’s Word.
2. Focus your attention on the unchanging parts of the Mass. The basics will always be there, no matter what else is added in or not. The OF and the EF have the same basic parts, especially the Eucharist, and that is where unity can be found between them.
3. Follow in a missal or missalette, if you can. I have found that even when I have heard a Eucharistic Prayer hundreds of times, I pay so much more attention to God’s actions when I read along.
4. If you can’t read along, exert yourself to listen, watch, and pray. The action at the altar is where God acts. You can join your heart with the sacrifice on the altar; the sacrifice is ours to take part in.
5. Memorize or have with you a devotional prayer for before receiving the Eucharist and another for after. This helps greatly with remembering that the liturgy is for our salvation. My favorite before and after where written by St. Thomas Aquinas.
6. If something is distracting for you, offer it up, and focus on the real action, which is God’s. This was the hardest thing for me when I discovered the richness of the Church’s liturgical tradition. But when I was able to get over my nit-pickiness, I learned to move beyond what I wished was different, and seek God in the liturgy.
Even when we find ourselves at the “story hour like” liturgies discussed by Rachel Lu in her essay Love For the Latin Liturgy More Than a Fashion and it seems like none of the Church’s ancient traditions are preserved in the new Masses most of us attend, God’s actions are still there and we can participate in them with our whole selves.