Yesterday, for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, I was invited to be an acolyte at St Gregory's community in Brisbane, my first time serving in the Roman Rite in the Extraordinary Form.
Having been a server for many years in the OF Mass, my overall impression is that the two forms of the Roman Rite are more closely aligned with each other than I thought. One sat there thinking - what is all the fuss over differences when there is so much commonality? - two slightly different forms of worship - one source of grace emanating from them!
However, the thing that impressed me most with the EF is that it is better "packaged". Each element of the rite is specified, which allows us to get out of our own interpretations of things and concentrate on the sacred mysteries of salvation. This extends to the arrangements on the Altar, the sacred vessels etc. where everything is a lot tidier and more efficient than the OF form, and is intended to minimise the risk of profanation of the sacrament.
The biggest difference to me was actually the ablutions, which are done only by the priest (and under the GIRM in the new form of Mass are to be done by the priest), but to me the ritual made a lot of sense and has developed from the learnings of "good practice" and what "works" over 2000 years, and eventually codified. The absence of having to handle Holy Communion under both species and no extraordinary ministers, actually made things streamlined.
I liked that the servers play an important role as part of a team with the priest all though the liturgy. You real feel that you are being a junior or part-time cleric part of a team - for me, really motivating. In the OF you always tend to feel that you are the naughty children at the bottom of the stairs (and the result is that priests treat you like that), and an embarrassment for (progressive) liturgists.
Although I had learned the prayers at the foot of the Altar by heart I found that my colleagues recitation was too fast for me, and I spent my time looking through the Missal to locate where they were only to find that they were 2 pages ahead of me!
The only thought that I could say as a liturgist is that it is better for the faithful to receive Holy Communion using hosts consecrated at that Mass (Sacrosanctum Concilium n55), but this should not be intended as a criticism. I note in Masses celebrated by the FSSP in France is that they keep to this principle a lot more strictly. It is an element of the Mass in which SC speaks to both the new and older forms (something that I intend to elaborate on further).
It was good to go through all the readings and propers for the Mass, and reflect upon them before going to Mass, as it really aided my full, concious and actual participation in the liturgy. For those of you who attend the EF Mass on a regular or occasional basis, taking this time is far more important in the EF than the OF. One can then anticipate the readings and prayers as they are sung or recited, and not be flipping pages all the time to work out what the priest is saying.
Overall, it was a great experience and attending Mass in the EF left me tingling for the rest of the day. I have been thinking how often that happens in the OF??