Saturday, September 19, 2015

On Catholics who prefer Low Mass

These days, I find myself preferring the Low Mass on Sunday. If I had a Low Mass or two during the week, I would prefer a glorious Solemn High Mass on Sunday with all the works, as it should be. But as it is I don't get enough spiritual quietness. Or perhaps I'm just getting old. I hope Our Lord understands.
The church is right that the High Mass is the theoretical norm (ideally with the local Christian community gathered to sing it, and understanding it as much as possible) but most Catholics throughout history since the Low Mass developed have agreed with you. I understand it developed for medieval priests to have private Masses but most congregations prefer it. Most people aren't very religious or at least liturgically minded. Reminds me of two things. For 40+ years a mainstay of orthodox Catholics has been the earliest, lowest Novus Ordo on Sunday morning: if we can't have a better Mass, as we were incessantly told after Vatican II, then fine; no bad attempt at music and no ad-libbing or other funny business, Father; just read it out of the *&$# book and get it over with. (Like tough old immigrants who survived persecution in Ireland and then poverty in South Boston, etc. Their faith survived and thrived on semi-secret Low Masses and saying many rosaries.) Sometimes I'm like you and miss the days right after Summorum Pontificum when my parish's Tridentine Mass occupied that schedule slot. (This place was the first in the archdiocese to have a Sunday-morning Tridentine Mass after Benedict the Great freed that Mass. As it's only 15 minutes from home I signed up there.) The pious purists might scoff but I liked getting my obligation done first thing with my whole day free, just like most Catholics 50 years ago. For the past few years our Mass has been a mid-morning Sung one and it's great: the right kind of ecumenical, a high-church kind. Besides the actual chants of the Mass (ordinary and propers), much of the music is just like an old Episcopal church's: the processional and recessional hymns (the offertory and Communion hymns tend to be Catholic classics) and pipe-organ preludes and postludes.

This preference of most of the laity is partly why the liturgical movement failed and/or self-destructed in the '60s after about 50-75 years of doing so much good, influencing many: printing the first bilingual hand missals and teaching people chant.

Study of the liturgy is actually new; nobody had the means nor really wanted to centuries ago. (So Trent's and St. Pius V's reforms were just the medieval Mass handed down, as liturgy usually is.) The Protestants including the Anglicans were driven by a new, false Christianity that put Christ's saving work firmly in the past so no Mass; Christ's sacrifice was no longer eternally present at the Communion service. (The Protestant Christ doesn't change you; he just covers up your sins, so no need for grace through a church. Protestant churchgoing is self-refuting; when norms catch up with Protestant values, Luther's principles, the Protestants logically stop going to church. American do-gooders, SWPLs, social-justice warriors, are "spiritual, not religious"; endgame Protestants.) But along with that you had fanciful notions of the early Christians (sitting around a table; minister "facing the people"; the Lutherans kept the trappings of the Mass at first to deceive but, after writing their symbolical foundation documents answering us, theologically are semi-Catholic but still without a real Mass), since nobody, including on the Catholic side, really knew what the early Christians did. (Catholics did the right thing and just passed the liturgy down, of course making lots of small local changes. The text, not the ceremonial, of the Roman Rite was essentially the same in 1960 as it was in 1460 and circa 500 for that matter.) So for the first time in Christianity, you had new services from scratch. The Protestants had the notion, not without merit, that it's better for the people to actively participate, something the liturgical movement took up about four centuries later minus the heresy. (So the Christian community would understand and be inspired by the liturgy itself, leaving it [ite, missa est] feeling recharged.) The movement's ideal at first fitted both our doctrine and the rules of the Roman Rite: congregationally chanted High Mass. Counterpoint: the church is a big hospital for sinners, not just for people who like church services (sacraments work ex opere operato, really doing what they stand for, and the liturgy simply is, no matter what the priest and congregation are feeling), plus there are many shy contemplative types; "active participation" isn't everybody's cup of tea. And mother church is fine with that. You can go to High, Sung, or Low Mass and follow along OR zone out and do your devotions. As a layman you have a lot of freedom! The lapsed are below the minimum requirement for participation at services but are still in the church; they are welcome. Not good enough for the holier-than-thou early Protestants who wanted only committed Christians, and not good enough for our litniks as they started to go bad, and not good enough for the politically correct Modernists after Vatican II who thought the purpose of the church is to serve the world's masters by working for justice and peace, man.

So anyway, "active participation" became a kind of idol. Part of the liturgical movement, based on what people liked at dialogue Masses in Germany, abandoned history or misread it with the perhaps unspoken idea that anything that gets the people actively participating is good. So, for example, the clergy's penitential prep office before the actual Mass and the Orate, Fratres became the people's prayers when historically they aren't, and looking at some ancient basilicas (which faced west but the altar and people actually faced east, the custom then), some litniks got the idea that the early Christians had Mass facing the congregation.

Whence, along with a dose of space-age optimism about progress, we got the un-Catholic notion at Vatican II, just like Protestants (no Mass; Christ's saving work is in the past so the service is all about the individuals in the congregation, narcissism really, not adoring Christ in the Communion elements, which creates the real Christian community, Christ's mystical body), that a complete rewrite of the services, simplifying them to fit somebody's fantasy about the early church, was in order; "active participation" being better than anything else at services. (American Orthodox and American Eastern Catholics got it right by not really adopting liturgical renewal or even the Sixties: just offer English as an option. Byzantine Catholic liturgical reforms are mostly Orthodox-related, not Sixties at all. That's great, but so are latinizations if they're pre-Vatican II and don't take over the rite.)

Throw that wrench into the already long-entrenched folkway of preferring Low Masses, and bye bye, traditional liturgy, High and Sung Masses (incense and chant), and legitimate liturgical movement. The parishes ended up... still having Low Masses junked up with sappy hymns based on pop music, only with an inferior text for the Mass, certainly in English. Just like the first Anglican service in English, in 1549, skating towards heresy ("one in being", "for you and for all"). Benedict XVI fixed that (in good conscience I can go to Mass anywhere in the United States now, just like Catholics 50 years ago) but the old is still better.

By the way, happy feast of St. Januarius (San Gennaro). May his prayers protect Naples from Mount Vesuvius for another year.


  1. I do find myself going to plain, read masses some times to prevent cheap demands on my sensibilities.

    On a weekend retreat at Our Lady of the Annunciation (Clear Creek) Monastery in OK the power of the Low Mass struck me. The most moving experience during the retreat was daily Low Mass.

    All the priests perform their daily Low Mass at side altars with a server and any Laity who wish to assist (There is no con-celebration in the EF Mass). As you kneel at the side altars you must be careful not to bump the priest or server with your folded hands (you are that close). Many remain in the Nave, where you are literally surrounded by the Holy Mass. 7-9 Masses are being said concurrently, Sota Voce. With 25-30 laity present and 40 + monks all praying the Mass in silence, it was all rather moving and grace filled. I never knew silence could be so joyful, so tangible. The marvelous overshadow of that time remains most prescient with me.

    This occurrence only occurs in monasteries or religious houses that do the EF of the Mass. It was once common to many. Eamon Duffy speaks of it in The Stripping of the Altars. Our loud and vociferous culture need this quiet.

  2. I also like low Mass, for a daily mass, but prefer a sung Mass on Sundays. One should remember that the sung Mass is the more ancient, only much later did the low Mass develop, on this the Orthodox are correct. It is also important, perhaps to point out, that concelebrated Masses in the ancient Roman tradition did not die out. The French diocese of Lyon kept the tradition of concelebration right up to Vatican II.

    Like John, I prefer that in a parish the sung Mass be with simple settings and sung by the whole congregation, much as one finds in a Ruthenian Greek Catholic or Orthodox parish [the Greek Catholics even sang their daily Masses]. The old Anglo-Catholics were very good at this, with simple settings (usually the "English Gradual") and the very simple, easy to sing, Merbecke Mass. It worked for generations until Anglicans began to mimic the "reforms" of Vatican II.

    1. It is also important, perhaps to point out, that concelebrated Masses in the ancient Roman tradition did not die out. The French diocese of Lyon kept the tradition of concelebration right up to Vatican II.

      I was going to say I like this better than the private Masses all at once that Marcus Josephus likes.

  3. I remember, very fondly, the low Mass at the Anglo-Catholic parish I was baptized at. It is interesting that I'm now very high church (being Byzantine) but I do enjoy daily mass at work. Something about a very simple liturgy.


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