Yesterday I spoke on thee merits of the Tridentine Mass, today I want to share my concerns. (Click here for the first part of this article!)
Have you ever read a missal from before Vatican II? They are really an amazing piece of history. Personally, I collect them, (and anything else Catholic for that matter) and every time I walk through an old book store, I’m always hunting these down. It’s the first place I go, every time. I find them simply fascinating. I will be the first to admit that I long deeply for that sense of connection to all of history that one must have felt with the old Mass.
The are not just books I shelve though, I really actually read through them. I am brought to two major conclusions.
First, nobody really knew what the heck was going on. Yes, there were of course the die-hards, just like today, but it’s obvious to me that the average person saw himself more as attending an event then actually participating in it. Was it holy, oh yes it most certainly was, but was the average person truly engaged? I’m not so sure.
Let me paint a picture for you. Imagine you are at Mass, and everything is in Latin. You know your responses by heart, but you don’t really speak Latin at all. When it comes time for the Bible to be read, it’s like they are reading Greek. You have no idea what they are talking about. What do you do? Well, you are at Mass, so you can pray of course. Can you imagine sitting around with everyone quietly praying their rosary while the priest was up there doing his thing? Pulling out your missal so you can read in your language whatever the priest is mumbling up at the altar?
Mass was truly a personal experience, a chance for you to have some quiet prayer time in the midst of all the other Catholics in your community. Yes, there were moments when everyone would act together, but for the most part, you sat and prayed while someone else did all the work. You would sit and listen to the clacking of rosaries on pews and the rolling of Latin prayer reverberating through the room.
Now I’m not going to say it was all bad, in fact I think it was all good. Prayer is never a bad thing, and the way the Mass was celebrated truly gave you a sense of the Holy. You were not however personally involved.
Vatican II really set a new focus on the “People of God”, and in doing so really changed the whole view of what it meant to celebrate the Mass. I’m not saying this was a change in teaching, merely a change in emphasis, from institution to laity, and this is a good thing. With it came a required mandate to actually involve the people that the Mass was being said for.
So now we get to understand what is being said. This is very good. We are involved, this is also good.
Before I wrap it up though, I must throw in a thought.
I am rather intellectual, and have a tendency to think in the abstract. So it is very important to me to imagine the regular average Joe who is coming to Mass. The Mass is the only catechism he will get, and I have to imagine that he does not really know what is going on. Does the Mass as it stands call him to worship and prayer? Does it allow the gospel to really enter his heart? I know that God can do anything and work in any circumstance, but does the way we celebrate truly engage him?
The Tridentine Mass certainly did, he knew he was in the presence of something supernatural. I’m not so sure he would get the same feeling now, and fear he may leave out of boredom and confusion.