Saturday, January 08, 2011

On Low Mass in the Extraordinary Form

On New Years Eve I attended a Low Mass in the EF. Although I have attended and served at a number of Masses in the Extradordinary Form of the Roma Rite (or using the Missal of Bl John XXIII as I prefer to call it) this was the first time that I had attended a Low Mass since I was in Rome in 2007!

Personally I think that the Low Mass is a bit of an abberation in our tradition as it has been the form that had been taken completely from its original context and many of the liturgical problems in our day stem from the fact that this was the normal Mass in parishes before Vatican II.

Firstly its origin was as a Missa Privata when more monks became priests and needed to say a daily Mass outside a Conventual Mass. By the time this had happened the concept of concelebration had obviously fallen completely out of favour. Its use expanded with the need to say increasing numbers of the Masses for the Dead or "stipend Masses". With the missionary activity after the 16th century its use became more the norm in areas of the world where the conditions and resources made these types of Masses the only feasible option. They also allowed the Mass to be "inculturated" into non-European areas through allowing locally produced hymns and songs to be played and sung and even parts of the Mass to be celebrated in the vernacular.

More locally, the style of Mass that was seen in Australia was imported by Irish priests. Ireland came from a persecuted background where Low Masses were the only feasible Mass option. Therefore in all areas in Australia apart from Cathedrals and some larger churches, the Low Mass accompanied by the "4 hymn sandwich" was the norm.

I have a copy of the St Stephens Cathedral Sunday Mass schedule (issued after evening Masses were permitted):

Sundays 6,7,8,9,10am and 11am (Solemn Mass) 6.30pm and 7.45pm.

You can see that logistically 7 of those Masses were Low Masses.

Brisbane through most of the 20th century was blessed with a multiplicty of churches on the basis of (before cars) nobody should have to walk more than 5 minutes to a church. Of course there was a multiplicity of priests to cater for all the Low Masses celebrated at these suburban churches. This would be completely unsustainable today.

A related problem that is being encountered with the revival of the Missal of Bl John XXIII is that these churches were built for Low Masses, and are very difficult to celebrate a Solemn Mass or even a Missa Cantata in, due to lack of room in the sanctuaries.

When the Missal of Paul VI was introduced in stages from 1965 to 1970 the Mass was converted into English and the 4 hymn sandwich stayed. The introduction of readers and extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion (which are more of an ordinary sight than an extraordinary sight for the last 30 years) did nothing to change this state of affairs.

The beauty of the Mass comes out when it is sung. Is a work that is supposed to be sung (Traditionally with a capital T) and so in some ways the Low Mass brings out the worst features of the EF and OF Masses.

For us with an interest in the Missal of Bl John XXIII, it is not a journey back to the 1950s and the vast majority dont want to go back there (I was never there in the first place). A proliferation of Low Masses would be a journey back to the 1950s and opens up the accusation that the Latin Mass revival is a nostalgia trip. It would also lead to a proliferation of bad liturgical practices both by celebrant and servers simply because when the normative Mass (ie the Solemn Mass) is celebrated, there is no experience and Low Mass abberations (such as kneeling until the Epistle) would propogate.

For a sensible way forward and for the traditional Mass revival to have the greatest amount of success, I believe that the Low Mass should fall into disuse. If a smaller kind of ceremonial is required, a Low Mass form of the Missal of Paul VI could be used. This would of course be celebrated at a High Altar ad orientem and no Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion.

I know this posting will upset some people. I am not advocating that this form of Mass be banned, its just that I think that this is a form of Mass that has really has no future except as a Missa Privata, for priests who do not concelebrate, and is totally unsuitable as a congregational Mass. The Solemn and Sung Masses have far more opportunities for the congregation to participate in the Mass according to the vision for "actual participation" as envisioned in Sacrosanctum Concilium, and therefore need to be encouraged a lot more.

1 comment:

Kate said...

Stephen - I'm not actually a great fan of the Low Mass, particularly for Sunday masses, as it is typically performed today for some of the reasons you've articulated, but I have to say some of your assertions here are way off base.

Firstly of course 'active participation' does not necessarily mean or require external action. Indeed in my view, quite a lot of the external action of the NO mass directly undermines our active participation (such as the sign of peace, the offertory procession and badly done readings/responsorial psalms) in the actual sacrifice of the mass.

Secondly, find me some solid evidence that concelebration was ever a regular practice! It simply doesn't exist. This is one of those areas where the archeologism of the 60s and 70s has been shown to be badly based, a view of what peple thought the early church should have been like, not what actually was.

Thirdly, the origin of the low mass is not really monastic, but secular. More monks became priests because the Pope legislated to that effect, due to the shortage of secular clergy and a belief in the efficacy of the mass. Perhaps we need to find a way of refinding that, and the NO is certainly not the answer to that problem! And of course recover the idea of arranging mass for the dead...

All that said, low masses can be quite beautiful - when said at a side altar the people gathered in close for example. And it wouldn't take much work to redesign many churches to accomodate this. Personally I also like the dialogue mass...