Saturday, July 18, 2009

For all us first-timers

Attending the Ancient form of the Mass?
What to expect and how to prepare for attending
the Extraordinary Form of the Mass

By Ben

This article is intended for those who have never attended a Latin Mass before. It will give some suggestions on how to prepare for this experience as well as an outline of what to expect. Unfortunately, due to the nature of this article the theology and spirituality of the traditionalmass can’t be explored in an enormous amount of depth.

The Traditional Latin Mass exists in several different forms but can be divided into two basic categories, ‘low’ and ‘high’. High Masses are those in which the texts of the Mass are sung. If at all possible I recommend you make your first Mass a High Mass. Many people attend their first traditional Mass expecting Gregorian chant and clouds of incense only to be disappointed and confused by a nearly silent, bare bones low Mass. This can be real culture shock for some people (this is not to knock the low Mass, it just is alien to modern minds that are used to constant noise and activity).

Part 1

What to do to prepare? Obviously the Traditional Mass is in the Latin language. Many people who regularly attend the Latin Mass and aren’t fluent in Latin (most of us) follow along in a book called a hand missal. This book contains the order of the Mass in Latin and English as well as translations of the prayers and readings particular to the specific day.
Pope Pius XII encouraged the lay faithful to use the missal to “pray along with the priest in the very words of the Church”, but if this is your first Mass in this form, you don’t want to spend the entire Mass buried in a book. Besides, you will probably lose your place and get confused.
My advice is to save the missal for next time if you choose to use it. Rather, take some time before you will be attending the Mass to read through the Order of Mass.

Many publishers have printed a booklet containing the Order of Mass for the Extraordinary Form (Una Voce, Roman Catholic Books, Ignatius Press) it can be found here, as well. It would also be good to read the proper prayers and readings for that particular day as well (which can be found here ).

It would be helpful to familiarize yourself with the basic responses. In particular, the Et Cum Spiritu tuo (and with your spirit) to the Priests ‘Dominus Vobiscum” (the Lord be with you). If you are inclined and have the time you may also wish to be familiar enough to recognize the Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy) and Anus Dei (Lamb of God), as well as the ‘Domine non sum dingus . . . (Lord I’m not worthy . . .).

Keep in mind that it is not necessary to hear and understand every word, or to see every action of Holy Mass in order to ‘actively participate’. There are two types of ‘active participation’, internal and external. Internal participation is far more important than saying and doing things. Know what the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is. Unite yourself and your sacrifices and difficulties (no matter how insignificant) to the sacrifice of our Lord made present in the Mass. Doing this is the best way to assist at Mass and it can be done without knowing the exact words being used at the altar.

Part 2: What to expect

The structure of the Extraordinary Form of the mass is different from the structure of the Ordinary Form. Let’s walk through the Mass. This will be a general description of a sung Mass--depending on what type of Mass there may be slight differences.

Before Mass begins there may be a sprinkling rite. Father will sprinkle the congregation with Holy Water while the Asperges (You will sprinkle me with hyssop, etc.) is sung. During the Easter season Vidi Aquam (I saw water) takes the place of Asperges.

At the beginning of Mass the server(s) will lead the priest to the altar as the Choir, or Schola, will begin to sing the Introit. While the Introit is being sung the priest and server(s) (or ministers) will say the prayers at the foot of the altar. If, after the Introit and Kyrie, it’s a day when the ‘Gloria in excelsior’ is used, the priest will intone it and the singers and congregation continue.

Father will then say a prayer and read the first reading from the right side of the altar. (He will face the altar and the readings may be in the vernacular as is now permitted.) Then he will read the Gradual and Alleluia while the schola sings it. The Missal will be moved to the left side of the altar by one of the assistants. The Gospel will be proclaimed from the left side of the altar.

The sermon follows. After the sermon the priest will return to the altar and intone the Creed, which will be sung by the schola and congregation. This concludes the ‘Mass of the Catechumens”, and now begins the second part the ‘Mass of the Faithful” . . . the Sacrifice.

The offertory prayers and preparations are made while the schola sings the offertory chant. Then the priest turns to the faithful and says, “Orate fraters” (Pray brethren that my sacrifice and yours), etc. The proper responses are made. He then turns back to the altar and sings the preface. The schola and congregation sing the Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy).

Then is begun the canon of the Mass (Eucharistic prayer). It is offered in silence, the consecration whispered as a sign of reverence. The voice is only raised at the phrase ‘Nobis quoque pecatoribus’ (To us your sinful servants) in order to incite humility.

After the Amen Father sings the ‘Our Father’, the schola and congregation joining at the phrase ‘sed libera nos a malo’, (but deliver us from evil).
The ‘Agnus De’ is sung, responses are made, and communion is distributed.
Communion is received while kneeling at the altar rail and on the tongue. If you were never taught to receive on the tongue , here is how: A server will place a plate under your chin, the priest will hold up a host and say ‘May the body of Christ preserve your soul to life everlasting’ (in Latin). Don’t say ‘amen’, but tilt your head back slightly and part your mouth, extend your tongue so that it covers your bottom lip. Father will place the host on your tongue. That’s it.

After communion concluding prayers are said, the blessing is given, and then the ‘last gospel’ is read, which is always the first chapter of the Gospel of John.
Sometimes postures are different. Take a cue from what the regulars are doing. At low Mass in most places congregants do what the servers do.