Rules, Rubrics and Reasoning

In the ongoing debate about church shopping some of the readers who go to the Extraordinary Form of the Mass defend their choice by saying, “It is objectively reverent.” Can this be so? It can be objectively formal. It may be objectively done ‘by the rubrics’ but ‘reverence’ is surely a subjective experience. They may experience it as ‘objectively reverent’ but I’ve spoken to other Catholics who have come away from a Mass at one of our local traditionally minded parishes and this is what they’ve said:

1. That didn’t do anything for me at all. I don’t think it was reverent. All I could think of was how po faced and uptight and mechanical those young servers were. Yucch. They were totally distracting.
2. I didn’t think it was reverent. In fact I didn’t think much about it at all except that I couldn’t understand any of it and wondered why Fr so and so is cold and distant and won’t talk to us in our own language and has his back to us. I was just bored.
3. I find Mass in my parish more reverent. (They’re referring to a parish which traditionalists would look down their nose at for being AmChurch) The lighting is soft and the music is quiet at the consecration and everyone goes forward to receive the Lord reverently.

I suppose some who favor the traditional forms of worship would say, “It’s simple. The way we do it is right and they are just wrong. We worship God in His way and they worship him in their way. If they’re Catholic they should learn the old Mass and get used to it.”

Those who would argue that the priest should just “say the black and do the red” have a good point and I agree with it. A priest should certainly not deviate from the words printed and the rubrics given. However, even when the priest does just this it doesn’t make the Mass reverent necessarily. Terrible music can intrude, poorly drilled servers can distract, bad vestments and awful architecture can distract, or the priest might ‘say the black and do the red’ with total faithfulness to the rubrics, but say the words either in hip hop– ‘look at me aren’t I making the Mass meaningful’ kind of way, or say the black and do the red in a casual and bored way and both would affect the perception of reverence. In other words, many priests ‘say the black and do the red’ and it’s not reverent at all. All one needs do is talk to an old cradle Catholic who will tell you that his boyhood experience of Mass was centered around the altar boys’ bets  that Fr Magillicuddy would set a new land speed record and say Mass in 22 minutes. That good Father ‘said the black and did the red’ but it sure wasn’t perceived as ‘reverent.’

Furthermore, simply ‘saying the black and doing the red’ doesn’t necessarily bring in any kind of simple uniformity of worship. In my own parish I aim to ‘say the black and do the red.’ The music will be simple, classic hymns. The servers (mostly boys) will be trained to serve with dignity and simplicity. I don’t want to do anything special. I don’t want the worship to be overly formal or overly dignified or for the music to be overly magnificent. Nothing will distract. All things in the liturgy should focus on the action at the altar and nothing else. However, despite my attempts to be as objective as possible in my celebration of the Mass I am sure before long my own parish will carry the stamp of its pastor just like all the other parishes in town and people will come to my parish or leave my parish according to how much they like ‘Fr Dwight’s Mass’. This is a frustration for me because I would dearly love to provide something that is ‘objectively reverent’ but I doubt if it is possible.

What is ‘reverence’ at Mass anyway? Some traditionalists think it can be packaged and performed and if it is all done ‘just so’ then it will be reverent. What they experience as reverence will leave many other Catholics cold. They make the mistake of assuming that because they find formality, beautiful music and splendid liturgy reverent that everyone else must as well, they then go on to insist that “If only those other Catholics could experience this fine liturgy they will love it and come back to the tradition and all shall be well. Sadly, the majority of ordinary Catholics are simply turned off by  traditional worship. They don’t appreciate the formality. They don’t like what comes across as exclusive, high falutin’ arty masses filled with snooty people who look down on them. They don’t think it’s wonderful, and so they vote with their feet and go to AmChurch parishes.

Now I know what will happen, all those who like traditional liturgy will think I am accusing them of being snooty and arty and high falutin’ and stuck up.  Some of them will write snooty comments and prove my point. However I’m not–repeat–not throwing stones at traditionalist Catholics. I’m actually on their side. I’m simply stating how many of them are perceived by an awful lot of rather nice, ordinary Catholic folk who have tried traditional Catholic worship and simply don’t like it.

So where is ‘reverence’ in worship to be found? All I can do is speak for myself: I have experienced true reverence at a Solemn Missa Cantata in Latin. I have also experienced reverence at a camp with 200 children and college aged students where a couple of kids with guitars had prepared contemporary music carefully and helped lead the worship with true love and devotion. I’ve experienced true reverence at a fishing village Mass on a hot summer night in El Salvador with illiterate people singing with just an accordion, a fiddle and a broken down drum set. I’ve experienced true reverence in worship at the Taize Community and at Kings’ College Cambridge. I’ve experienced it in the stillness after all the loud music has died down and communion is completed at a huge charismatic Catholic rally. I’ve experienced reverence at Mass at the tomb of St Peter, in the chapel once used by St Maximillian Kolbe, in an inner city Mass in England in a church crowded with the unemployed and homeless, and I’ve experienced reverence at a country church in England at 7am on a winter morning when my breath froze. I’ve experienced reverence after Mass at Mont St Michel or a hundred other monasteries, and at a big circus tent church in an American suburb, and at a 6pm weekday Mass at Westminster Cathedral–the great dark hall crammed with office workers and tramps and students and children who have stayed late at school.

Can someone come along and say I did not experience reverence in these places because the Masses did not follow the rubrics of the Catholic Mass?

I think not.

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  • shadowlands

    I was at my son's Confirmation Mass about two months ago. There was terrific noise, loads of people and not enough seats. The atmosphere was hectic and it troubled me we were all about to ask for the Holy Spirit to arrive in power without the time for quietening down, let alone the Bishop's entrance. However, I managed to just focus on the inside and felt the presence of God regardless. In the end all went well, and it was reasonably reverent from an outsiders point of view perhaps. But, and this is the BIG but for me, it's whats going on in my heart that determines how Mass is for me.What is my state of reverence on the inside? I can be at Westminster or Prinknash or a tiny little modern building near me, but I still have to present myself. The building and the form of service go completely over my head. I also think it is wrong to criticize the priest performing Mass, as the devil must shriek with laughter at us all knocking each other. Pray for the priest, at the front of our battle lines. Am I able to be aware of Jesus presence and my need for His forgiveness? As I have rather a lot of areas He is dealing with, I tend to be looking for Him often, and this has helped me to appreciate Mass and Eucharistic Adoration, whereas before I started to really battle with sin in my own life, I just took Mass for granted. Now I am aware of a person. Jesus. The rest just fades once you see Him.Not too keen on all this exposure stuff mindyou. I've discovered some right yukky prideful 'in your face' types of attitudes that need surrendering. Lord have Mercy on us all.

  • Paul

    Do you smell a whiff of Donatism in the air, Fr Bruce? :)

  • the owl of the remove

    The liturgy is a gift of the Church that we receive, not something we create.

  • Subvet

    Lately I wonder how Mass was celebrated in the first few centuries of the Church's existence. Since the Sacrament of the Eucharist was instituted at the Last Supper, were the congregation all reclining as was common for meals? How was the Eucharist distributed, did the priest place it on the recipient's tongue or was it passed around as a piece of bread to be shared (ala what Christ Himself probably did)?Was any of this less reverent than what we have now? More reverent because they were closer in time to Christ's life? I'm sure the answers are available to anyone who looks for them. How many of us do that instead of digging our heels in and defending "our" Mass?

  • Brennan

    How many Catholics nowadays have ever been to a Gregorian rite Mass then decided to "vote with their feet" and go to a more informal Novus Ordo Mass? Not many, obviously. "Sadly, the majority of ordinary Catholics are simply turned off by traditional worship."Again, how many Catholics today even have the opportunity to attend a Gregorian rite Mass to even know whether or not they would be turned off by it? Further, I suppose if students were at a school where they got to read comic books all day they would probably cry to the high heavens if a principal came in and replaced it with a Great Books program. But what is important is not necessarily the subjective feelings of the students, but what is objectively being transmitted to them. Finally, it would certainly seem that when we completely altered a liturgy that organically developed over hundreds of years that's when Catholics started voting with their feet and stopped attending Mass altogether.

  • Brian

    Father Longenecker, have you ever said Mass in the Extraordinary form?I don't ask this to be obnoxious. I have a friend who is a priest and recently learned to say the Mass in the EF, and what he tells me about his experience of it is so completely at odds with what you post.

  • Brennan

    Here is an quote from an article by Dietrich von Hildebrand which deals specifically with the topic of the liturgy and reverence (I invite all to read the entire article):"The sursum corda-the lifting up of our hearts-is the first requirement for real participation in the mass. Nothing could better obstruct the confrontation of man with God than the notion that we "go unto the altar of God" as we would go to a pleasant, relaxing social gathering. This is why the Latin mass with Gregorian chant, which raises us up to a sacred atmosphere, is vastly superior to a vernacular mass with popular songs, which leaves us in a profane, merely natural atmosphere.The basic error of most of the innovations is to imagine that the new liturgy brings the holy sacrifice of the mass nearer to the faithful, that shorn of its old rituals the mass now enters into the substance of our lives. For the question is whether we better meet Christ in the mass by soaring up to Him, or by dragging Him down into our own pedestrian, workaday world. The innovators would replace holy intimacy with Christ by an unbecoming familiarity. The new liturgy actually threatens to frustrate the confrontation with Christ, for it discourages reverence in the face of mystery, precludes awe, and all but extinguishes a sense of sacredness. What really matters, surely, is not whether the faithful feel at home at mass, but whether they are drawn out of their ordinary lives into the world of Christ-whether their attitude is the response of ultimate reverence: whether they are imbued with the reality of Christ.

  • Arnold Conrad

    I attended a Dominican Rite Mass at the Dominican parish in Seattle a couple of years ago. There was a fine chant choir and the celebrant and everyone else at the altar did a splendid job of executing the rubrics. However, I was left cold by its formalism and the lack of congregational participation. Even the Pater Noster was said by the priest quietly withn the congregation saying the Amen only. I was raised in the Tridentine Rite during the 1950s and early 60s. However, we celebrated the Missa Dialogica with lots of congregational participation in the Latin sung and spoken parts. The music and Latin words are still stuck in my memory. I realized that there are aspects of the OF that appeal to me, especially the expanded readings, the psalm and more hymn singing. I also sometimes wish that Vatican II had mandated what would have been essentially the Tridentine Rite in the vernacular with the sung parts in Latin wholly or mostly plus some of the elements introduced in the OF. As an ex altar boy I miss the prayers at the foot of the altar at the start of Mass. That should have been maintained in the OF.

  • MMajor

    Fr. D,Great post which I enjoyed reading; I have read with great interest these posts that, as a convert 25 years ago, mean much to my wife and I, especially after pilgrimmages to Italy where we experienced reverence in all NO masses we attended said in Italian, Polish or English and always included Latin. I wish, however, that there really was just a few degrees of variations between priests when they "read the black and do the red." My experience has been, frankly, one of terrible extremes of variance, here in my diocese, to the point of priests violating the rubrics regularly. My Bishop himself advised me to continue to seek another parish where this behavior didn't occur. I have never found reverent Masses that included entertainers either in vestments or strumming a stringed instrument. I would like to offer that an orthodox Mass said according to the rubrics would organically develop reverence; no matter the location or the celebrant. While my experience would label me as a traddy, I believe most "traddies" would appreciate a move by our bishops to a mandate of sticking to the rubrics, zero tolerance of entertainment at Mass in word and music, and a lower prioritization of metrics like attendance and collections.Yes, there would be a period of time when attendence and collections would drop. But long-term, I really believe it would result in less church shopping, greater reverence, improved attendance, and far less liturgical differences parish to parish.

  • Steve

    Paul, You wrote: Do you smell a whiff of Donatism in the air, Fr Bruce? :) Perhaps not Donatism, but smugness, surely. I can't speak for others, but just because I attend the traditional Mass and believe in its objective superiority in the hierarchy of goods, doesn't mean I warrant being compared to members of a 4th century heresy who were incapable of forgiveness and therefore set up their own church. My choices are wholly sanctioned by the pope, and the Mass I love, it should be remembered, is responsible for producing the majority of the saints as yet raised to the altar. It has nothing to prove from the standpoint of efficacy. Then again, we could look at the post Vatican II statistics on Catholic belief and draw some other conclusions about the state of present worship. But let's not let the facts get in the way of a good feeling, shall we?One thing no one disputes about the Donatists, however, was that the subject of the their ire, the traditores, had, in fact, betrayed the Faith – the Donatists' mistake was in thinking that such action could never be redeemed. With that in mind, perhaps carrying the analogy into the present circumstances would be unfortunate, considering the implications. After all, if traditional Catholics are Donatists, what would that make you?

  • Steve

    I'm going to be longwinded for a minut and then do my best to bow out, because I don't have time for these kinds of discussions anymore.The bottom line is this: statements that disregard rubrics for the sake of some perceived reverence operate outside the Church's own theology and law on worship. There is not a culture in the world that does not treat sacred things with formality, deference, and awe, and Catholics are no different. The cultural anthropology of the human race was the result of instincts written into the hearts of men by God, after all, and with good reason. God imposes order on a chaotic universe, and we approach God in an orderly way to pay him homage. Truth. Beauty. Goodness. These all exist within a hierarchy, and all lead us to an understanding of God. One of the great modern fallacies is the idea that beauty is "in the eye of the beholder." While it is true that love and taste influence the way we perceive beauty, beauty exists on an objective level, and is judged at a standard that rises above individual preferences (just as truth and goodness are). It stands to reason, therefore, that a Mass that is constructed over the course of centuries, with the contribution of scripture, saints, and long-held apostolic traditions, would be superior in achieving these higher levels of truth, beauty and goodness. The Mass that existed prior to 1969 dates back to at least the Gregorian period, but many of its prayers are much older. It is a living, breathing conduit of tradition that tunnels back throughout the Church's history and connects us directly to the Church triumphant in heaven. It is not, to put it bluntly, Mass by committee, constructed with the idea of removing things too Catholic and thus offensive to Protestants. (cont'd)

  • Subvet

    Wade St. Onge, thank you for doing exactly what I expected a "traditionalist" to do. You've discounted my point that our forms of worship have considerably changed over the last two thousand years, instead you opt for personal attacks against anyone questioning the validity of your arrogant assumptions.I'd suggest you go back to your Bible and read the parable concerning the Pharisee and the publican. Attempt to remember whom God found most favor with (Hint: it wasn't the arrogantly self-righteous one who proudly proclaimed his reverence.)

  • rogue63

    Quite right, in many ways. I am a "traditionalist", but I prefer to just be called a "Catholic". I am attracted to the beauty of liturgy, and I can't help my own aesthetic sensibilities. Neither can people who enjoy Jimmy Buffett or Broadway or Mozart or ….. ad nauseam. In defense of the traditionalist that Fr. Longenecker describes, that traditionalist has a substantial amount of legislation on his side, including Sacrosanctum Concilium (1963), which stated that Gregorian chant should have "principem locum"—"the first place"—in liturgical celebrations. I certainly understand the "chozen frozen" description that Fr. Longenecker is describing. Many trad parishes are filled up with close-minded snots who believe that they are RIGHT. PERIOD. Many of these folks (not all) have little or no interest in metaphysical beauty. I cannot condone pop music used during liturgical celebrations, beacuse—-as Pope Benedict so eloquently writes in "The Spirit of the Liturgy"—–it is "…a cult of the banal….it assumes a cultic character….in opposition to Christian worship". Reverence can certainly exist outside of the architecture of Notre Dame de Chartres, or with music other than Gregorian chant, or with simply polyester vestments, too, but these all serve to point us to a higher purpose. Our best art, architecture, music, preaching and more are required of us by Almighty God. Why should we offer him only meager fare when a rich feast is available? I'm not talking about poverty-stricken mission parishes; I'm talking about suburban, well-educated parishes that continue to offer the same silly musical fare that's been recycled since 1976. Almighty God deserves beauty, and likewise our efforts to strive towards the same.

  • Bender

    So where is 'reverence' in worship to be found?In the heart. That's it. That's the only place.

  • Dermot

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • Andrew

    Some people also think stuff like Mad Dogg is good wine. Unless "wine" is supposed to be just a buzz delivery vehicle, that kind of thing is just crap. The problem is that way too many people (traddies included) think of "reverence" as the warm n' fuzzies they get or the proper dispositions (usually external) or that Father is doing something that appeals to the crowd. It really doesn't have much to do with any of these things. Its very deep respect, far beyond any sort of "feelings" one has, even "feelings" of respect. For instance, no matter how "respectful" one thinks they are being, you show up at Mass in beach clothes, you aren't being respectful. I don't know about the rest of the world, but this sort of "AmChurch" attitude isn't surprising. We are the same "egalitarian" culture that has replaced any sort of class or formality with camp at best and downright sloppiness at worst. We can't seem to figure out white tie/black tie/morning dress but replace the whole scheme with campy "tuxes" (which are anything but) and make Hummers into "limousines". I can wear NASCAR shirts and drink Natty Light with the best of them, but I do bother to learn what is proper and train myself to appreciate beauty and good order and there can be many variations of that. However, if one knows anything about at least liturgy, theology and history they cannot tell me with a straight face that God is equally "pleased" with crazy post-Conciliar "liturgy" with all of its sloppy informality. As to reverence being subjective, I suppose it is in the sense that heresy is either formal or material. Heretical worship is objectively odious to God but yet the worshiper might not have any fault it in because they simply do not know any better (invincible ignorance, which none of us know the extent of). I think folks (lay and clerical) that grew up with this nonsense and in good faith are trying to follow God's will in their lives as best as they can (which is only known to them and God ultimately) can be materially "reverent" even at crazy NO liturgies. However, this doesn't justify this stuff. Ultimately, it needs to be stamped out regardless of what some people might feel about it.

  • dcs

    However, even when the priest does just this it doesn't make the Mass reverent necessarily. Terrible music can intrude, poorly drilled servers can distract, bad vestments and awful architecture can distract, or the priest might 'say the black and do the red' with total faithfulness to the rubrics, but say the words either in hip hop– 'look at me aren't I making the Mass meaningful' kind of way, or say the black and do the red in a casual and bored way and both would affect the perception of reverence. In other words, many priests 'say the black and do the red' and it's not reverent at all.The thing is that the traditional Mass (or Extraordinary Form) tends to limit the priest's opportunity to "make the Mass meaningful" or make a spectacle of himself. When the priest faces the altar, his personality tends to be hidden to everyone except perhaps the altar servers.

  • JanineD

    Father, before i read your post i thought that perhaps only the TLM was reverent enough. But i truly think i have been wrong. It is where your heart is, what state you are in when you walk into that church for whatever form of mass. It doesnt matter what form it is said in. Do you recognize our Lord present there? Does the Priest by his actions show reverence? In my large parish we are blessed with Priests that show their belief by their actions and postures and i can see how much they love the Lord. By their example, this helps me to remain focused on what i am at church for. The Lord. While the rubrics for a Latin mass are different, and the form is different (the implied if not actual reverence is a part of it.) At my parish the Priest saying the NO is just as reverent. Are ALL the people? no. But everyone is at a different level. Part of the problem is lack of catechesis. No one has made reverence part of the expectations. No one has said, hey you cant sing those songs. No one said no clapping in church in front of the Eucharist. We need to be reminded.Those who are reverent know why there are at mass, and recollect themselves out of love of Him and not simply habit. Those who are not need to be taught or reminded. Thanks for this post Father… thank you for your vocation..

  • Kiwiradarman

    Father, 5 years ago I would have called myself an atheist, before that a ‘cradle catholic’ who drifted away at eighteen, with occasional wedding, funeral and maybe Easter and Christmas. I came home when I became aware of the holy spirit and gods love for me. Sadly it took a separation to bring to the point where I listened to the voice I had ignored for so long.

    I’m a New Zealander and work in our capital Wellington, one day I was walking back from a clients office and was passing St Mary of the Angels church as I had done probably 100 times. This time however I knew I needed to go in, so I knocked on the office door and asked to see a priest. Fr Barry Scannell spent an hour with me and gave me a book to read called ‘forgiveness in the Wilderness’

    I read it twice that night and went to sleep realizing how much god loved me, the next morning in the shower I found myself weeping and praying a prayer of my life, I asked gods forgiveness and forgave those I needed to.
    I needed to understand this and called Fr Barry again, he explained that I had been led to an examination of conscience and god was acting in my life.

    The next Sunday I attended a very traditional Mass at SMoA and just before communion I found was weeping until I prayed the words ‘ Lord I am not worthy to receive you, and with these words my soul shall be healed’ and it was, I felt like the prodigal son being welcomed home and received the host in a state of joy.

    Since then and with my twin sons (who have both been baptized) I have come to love the mass in all it’s forms and I’ve now experienced its power in many forms, in January I was at a Mass in Maori celebrating the centenary of the first Mass said in NZ in 1838 by Bishop Pompallier (followed by the veneration of Pompalliers remains at a tiny church at Motuti) The boys are learning that we can always find a mass and they participate in school liturgies at Sacred Heart Cathedral School.

    Sometimes I can just about see the unbroken chain from any Mass to the last supper! I’ve grown to love the Mass in all it’s forms, the words are so powerful and meaning is so real! We were at a wedding (secular) in Burgundy this weekend when we got the opportunity to attend Mass at Taize, what an amazing experience! Simple beautiful chanting, quiet shared reflection and a living example of the universal church!

    I just needed to share how central the Mass in all it’s forms has been to my journey

    Thank You for the ministry of this blog you are one of my daily reads

    God Bless