Getting More Out of Mass (Part I of II)

Miraculous Mass of St. Martin of Tours

Miraculous Mass of St. Martin of Tours (15th century)

Or Why I Fell in Love with the Ordinariate Form of the Mass

 

Have you ever heard someone say, “I just don’t get anything out of Mass.”? Or, perhaps, you’ve said that yourself on one or more occasion.

Upon pondering this sentiment (and acknowledging that the motives behind it may vary widely among those who have expressed it), I’ve come to understand that a person’s feeling that something is lacking at Mass may have as much to do with the liturgy itself as with the person.

[EARLY DISCLAIMER:  Nothing in this blog posting is intended to:

  1. Condemn Vatican II, its reforms, or the order of the Mass that was formulated by its documents.
  2. Paint those who attend one form of the Mass as “holier” or “better Catholics” than those who attend another form, or vice versa.
  3. Recruit people away from the Diocesan parishes at which they are actively registered to a parish of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter.

This blog posting is merely one Catholic’s observations of the merits of the Ordinariate Form of the Mass.]

Being a “cradle Catholic” who was born following the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council, I spent the first 47 years of my life attending the “Ordinary Form” or “Novus Ordo” (New Order) Mass at various parishes wherever I happened to be living. I must admit that during late high school and college, I had even attended “rock ‘n’ roll” Masses from time to time.

Although raised in and thoroughly immersed in the Church, like most Catholics (or, perhaps, it’s just human nature not to venture out beyond one’s immediate surroundings), I was entirely unaware of other Rites of the Catholic Church throughout my childhood and early adulthood. That was until my early 30’s.  At that time, there sprang up a small parish in our city that used the Extraordinary (“Traditional Latin Mass” or Tridentine) Form.  LuAnn and I attended it once, and found it interesting but also found the language to be a formidable challenge.

A few years later, we learned of a Byzantine Rite church within the geographical boundaries of our Diocese. Fascinated that the congregation observing this ancient liturgy was in union with the Catholic Church, I just had to drag the family to experience it.  That led to finding parishes of other Rites in union with the Church:  Greek Melkite, Syro Malabar, and Maronite.  I found it especially moving to attend these churches on various Holy Days such as Holy Thursday or Good Friday.

But, while I had always enjoyed “sampling” these other liturgies from time to time, none of them felt like “home.” Then, in 2014, on a whim, we visited a newly formed Parish of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter whose pastor was the high school history teacher of one of our sons.  This was my first experience with the “Anglican Use” or “Ordinariate Form” Mass.

Although the gathering space was a nondescript classroom (in fact, quite ugly), I was immediately struck by the beauty of the liturgy.  Having read the Vatican II document Sacrosanctum Concilium years before, I had for years felt that the reforms intended by the Council had not been implemented well.  I had, in fact, had multiple discussions (er, debates?) with various priests over the years in which I contended that the most faithful implementation of the reforms would have been to essentially translate the Tridentine liturgy into the local vernacular (English in our case) while retaining the reverence and the various liturgical sacramentals (incense, bells, etc. – the “smells and bells”).  This is exactly what we found in the Ordinariate Form.

But, how did it come to be that a grafting of a shoot of the Anglican Church onto the trunk of the Catholic Church would, in my view, become the fulfillment of the Second Vatican Council? As it happens, the Church of England, despite its many faults, implemented a reform very similar to that called for by Sacrosanctum Concilium nearly five hundred years before Vatican II.  Painting the history (which is long, complex, and complicated) with a very broad brush, Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury under King Henry VIII, essentially took the ancient Sarum Rite Mass (which traces its origin to the time of William the Conqueror (and similar in many ways to the Tridentine Mass), and translated it into English.  During the 19th century, it also underwent a revival of sorts during the Catholic-minded Oxford Movement within the Anglican Church.  Keeping with the arboreal theme, by the 20th century, this led to a liturgy which is rooted in the ancient Catholic soil but mostly vernacular (English), and therefore, very accessible for us common English speakers – just what the Second Vatican Council intended!

Truth be told, I must give credit where credit is due for the arboreal analogy. Archbishop Joseph Di Noia O.P., Under-Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, said in 2015 that the Ordinariate Form is:

“a prudent grafting of proven Anglican shoots on the rooted, living trunk of the Roman Rite to promote new and healthier growth.”

Now that the Anglican liturgy has been “Catholicized” by way of Pope Benedict’s 2009 Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus and subsequent work by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (correcting any theologically errant prayers or rubrics), the Church has received a beautiful vernacular alternative to the Ordinary Form of the Mass.  Such a priceless gift!

To paraphrase Bishop Steven Lopes, Bishop of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter, from a lecture he gave in June 2017:

“The beautiful expression of these prayers, the rich tapestry of the English language they preserve, even the emphasis on transcendence in worship is … [a] pastoral contribution to the vitality of Catholic life…. the Ordinariate liturgy is a great treasure.”

Why is this important? Simply, the ancient saying of the Church “Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi” (attributed to Prosper of Aquitaine, a disciple of Saint Augustine of Hippo) which, in modern English, would most simply mean “How we pray influences how we believe.”  In other words, our liturgy forms our beliefs!  (Not to negate personal responsibility, but, if you believe that you’re “not getting anything out of Mass,” the root of the emptiness you’re feeling very well may stem from the liturgy itself.)

Some have added to Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi,Lex Vivendi” which makes the saying roughly “How we pray influences how we believe which influences how we live.”  I would go a step further, and add “Lex Morietur” (if my feeble Latin serves) which brings it to its, literally, final conclusion:  “How we pray influences how we believe which influences how we live which determines how we die.”

Saint John Vianney confirms this in his Sermon for the Last Sunday after Pentecost:

“As a rule, one dies as one has lived. This is one of the great truths which has been confirmed many times by Scripture and the holy fathers.  If you have lived like good Christians, you will be sure to die like good Christians; but, when you live un-Christian-like, your death will be of the same kind.”

Understanding this, shouldn’t we do all that we can to seek out, participate in, and support the most reverent and transcendent Catholic liturgy we can find? This is why I fell in love with the Ordinariate Form of the Mass.

Well, enough of the history, and on to a point-by-point comparison of the Ordinariate Form to the Ordinary Form… next time….

In the meantime, let us pray for each other, for our priests, and for the Church as a whole for proper discernment in the liturgy in which we participate that it will be reverent, transcendent, and formative.

 

 

 

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6 comments

  1. Thank you for sharing your experience and feelings being part of this beautiful liturgy where one is truly involved through the actions of the celebrant to be joined to God The Father through the suffering of God the Son by the power of The Holy Spirit.
    “Beauty will transform the world,” and to me this Liturgy is truly the expression of what is beautiful.

  2. Like you, Patrick, I am a cradle Catholic, but my cradle is a genuine antique. I grew up in a Catholic school with real Sisters who wore habits and were comfortable with their vocation of forming the next generation of Catholics. I loved the Latin Mass, which we had every morning (fortuna excellentissima) except for the repetition – you had to read the Gospel, for instance, twice: once while the priest read it in Latin and again almost immediately when he read it in English. When Vatican II – or rather the Spirit of Vatican II, which I suspect is a second cousin to Robin Goodfellow – came along, I began to get something new out of the liturgy – annoyance. I had several hard-working, dedicated pastors who struggled to make the liturgy “relevant” to children and teens. Being already well past that I found it irrelevant to me. (Has anyone ever told these guys that children prefer being treated like grownups?) Anyway, after the exodus of almost everybody, and the withering of vocations to the priesthood, my parish found itself the proprietor of three – yes, three – neighboring parishes which were too small to have their own priest. An Ordinariate group rented one of these churches for Sunday Mass, and I stumbled into it. I have never left. I was very interested in your comment about the Sarum Rite, which I didn’t know.

    • Thanks, Mary Elizabeth, for your comments. Regarding the Sarum Rite, I was able to find on Google Books a free pdf download of “The Sarum Rite in English” published in London by The Church Press Company in 1868. It has a lengthy Introduction in which the history of the Sarum rite is set forth as well as Rubrics and descriptions of changes in custom and ritual from the 11th century to the 16th. Perhaps, if you can find it, it may be interesting for you.

  3. Patrick, GREAT ARTICLE!!! As a former Episcopalian from the Anglo-Catholic wing, I actually couldn’t convert to a regular Roman Rite parish as they all felt very Protestant in comparison. I ended up converting to the Melkite Greek-Catholic Church, which has eastern-facing liturgy, tons of incense, reverance, plus a huge emphasis on spiritual direction, fasting, and community. There are at least two others from my parish, one of whom is becoming a deacon, on the same life track. We all love the Ordinariate liturgy! I think if one were closer at a decent hour of day (the current community in our area is 8:30am and 1hr drive away), I would be all over it. Learn more about the Melkites on my blog here: http://moreincenselessnonsense.wordpress.com

  4. Thank you for this article. My thoughts exactly.

    I’m a convert (31 years and counting) who found the Ordinariate some two-and-a-half years ago. Our pastor sent two of us last September to Houston to be installed as (instituted) acolytes. Divine Worship is, indeed beautiful!

    I’ve linked to this post at my blog. May many others discover the beauty of the Ordinariate Mass!

  5. Your experience is similar to mine. I recently moved to Houston where the Ordinariate’s Cathedral (Our Lady of Walsingham) is located. I attend Mass there nearly every week day. It is in English, which I like, and it is done reverently (I love the additional prayers and the altar rail). The music, when played during the week, is traditional and majestic. The language is a bit loftier which adds to the solemnity of the liturgy. In addition, the art and architecture, as well as the entire grounds, are beautiful. If you are blessed to have an Anglican Use Catholic church in your vicinity you would be remiss not to attend sometime.

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