Wednesday, November 28, 2012

I'm not sure what possessed me to request a ticket to the Pontifical Solemn High Mass offered last night at St. Hedwig's Church in Trenton. It may have been the silly hope that ticket holders would be envied as excitement surrounding the event swelled. But anyone interested in Latin Mass hasn't a covetous impulse in their whole soul.

As parking downtown is limited, the diocese arranged busing from Notre Dame High School in Lawrenceville. Besides having been there many, many times for catechist training workshops, I had just recently visited with my son for a high school open house. No surprise to see athletes still getting picked up when I arrived on campus around 6.

A coordinator held up a shuttle bus for me and then another dozen people climbed aboard for a ten minute ride. From the drop-off point in the rear of the church, I walked passed a television crew, set to broadcast live on EWTN. Inside the church vestibule, I approached an usher desperate for a program. I flashed my ticket, afraid he would collect it, but he instead simply acknowledged it and I went in.

The interior of the church is as stunning as the outside, only more so because it was lit up. It was not quiet so I felt comfortable taking non-flash photos from the back. With as little ado as possible, I casually tied on my handkerchief, the same one I wore inside the Orthodox Church surrounding Jacob's Well in Shechem. Then I found a seat next to two women. Shortly, another couple came to our row and I moved down to make room. Then the row filled from the other end, as another two women sat down. I estimated that twenty percent of the ladies wore head-coverings.

I expected the schola to be singing but there was no prelude. When the bishop entered, the church was not full because it was still quite early1. After kneeling at the side altar, the bishop went into a side room to vest. He was in there a long time. Meanwhile, folks began lining up for the procession. The Maidens of the Miraculous Medal were adorable! The Knights of Columbus, less so. I fancied they never dreamed they'd wear those outfits ever again.

There was likely quite a smirk on my face as I eyed the cross bearer, a traditional priest of the diocese vested as a subdeacon. He seemed to eye me back and I wondered whether he recognized me. I haven't visited his church in a long time.

I was unable to catch up with the printed text until the Kyrie. We didn't make the sign of the cross to begin the liturgy but I had crossed myself when the bishop blessed everyone on his way to the sanctuary. The schola's singing of the Gloria was quite fabulous. I think it was polyphonic and frankly I had expected plainer music. It sounded very like Simon & Garfunkel's Benedictus but with several more voices. Then the Collect and another subdeacon sang the Epistle. I didn't think his skill was much in evidence but it was a brief, familiar reading2 from Revelation 12. The congregation made very few of the replies printed in the provided rubrics, leading me to believe that the expected knee-jerk response has waned with the years. The only response made consistently was the proverbial et cum spiritu tuo.

There was plenty of picture-taking throughout. And flash photography at that. A professional photographer was making the rounds. View his work here. The woman at the end of my row snapped a picture during the elevation of the host. The distribution of holy communion was quite involved. First of all, everyone on the altar had to receive. And there were a ton of folks on the altar! The gesture they all performed prolonged the distribution: a genuflection before kneeling to receive, then another genuflection. It was almost like Irish folk dancing. They'd come from their respective camps on the right of the altar and on the left to the center and back again. Finally, the ushers brought the laity forward, beginning with the little Maidens. Then they brought up the side pews which outraged the woman next to me. She complained to her husband that everyone was going up ahead of her. I've seen it done before, taking the side pews first. It is uncommon but what's one more uncommon thing on top of so many others? I thought for a fleeting moment that I might receive from the bishop himself but then I could see he was working the far side of the rail.

It seemed to me that we're all rusty at taking communion (1) on our knees, (2) on our tongues, (3) at the rail. The worst part is, of course, that upon returning to our seats, everyone is out of sequence. In the N.O., that only happens if someone takes the wine. The two ladies on the center aisle ended up going all the way around the back of the church to their seats. The man next to me entered the pew without waiting for his wife. I stupidly followed him in and the other two ladies followed me. The man's wife showed up presently and had to climb over all of us! Which she did without hesitation. And the pews in this old Polish church are narrow.

I noted some left before holy communion. The two ladies to my left left right after holy communion which, in the TLM makes more sense than in the N.O. because there could be another dozen minutes of service remaining, what with the Last Gospel3 and all. I remember the Last Gospel being read in English at another Latin Mass I attended occasionally when I lived in Dayton, OH. Well, after all, I couldn't hear any of it last night, so I can't be certain what language it was. We all genuflected at the appropriate time during the reading, those of us who remained 'til the end, that is.

I got a real sense that the TLM is a kludge. That "best practices" have been incorporated over the years centuries. Take the Last Gospel, a private priestly devotion. There was also quite a defensiveness about the mass of the faithful. And I don't mean the presence of the Knights, even though they seemed, in some way, to be handling security. Maybe it was simply the sheer number of people on the altar. Or even when the bishop took to his throne during the homily, surrounded by servers and others, like some club, a club I couldn't join even if I wanted4.

After the mass, everyone posed on the steps of the sanctuary for photographs. One woman nudged passed me, saying, "That's my daughter up there! I need a picture!" That made me wonder how many people attended the mass to see a friend or relative participate. And how many people were like me, just out looking for a good time? I don't know but it might account for the general absence of any air of reverence. The sheer number of photographs taken and the constant chit-chat of those around me suggested they were spectators. I flirted momentarily with reverence myself immediately after receiving communion merely because the communion line was still so amazingly long, I had nothing else to do but bow my head and close my eyes until it passed. That worked. I affirmed to myself, "It's the same communion bread, nothing extra, still just Jesus."

I took all the pictures I wanted after mass and walked outside to pick up the bus back to my car at NDHS. A row of four buses waited at the curb and I got on the first one. Two buses from behind pulled around the lead bus and left. How strange. Still I waited, noticing the bus was not acquiring many passengers. The driver closed the door and began to move the bus, then stopped and seemed to go in reverse, then forward again, then stopped and opened the door to about six people, women and children. The lady asked, "Is this bus going to Notre Dame?" The driver said, "No, to St. Gregory's" and the lady stepped off. I bolted up and down the bus stairs. I had no idea St. Greg's also ran buses to the mass! Imagine if I'd stayed on that bus! And I felt stupid for wasting 20 minutes on that bus when I could have been back at ND already.

I'm not in any part Polish, but I have these occasional brushes with Polish Catholicism:

Jezus pociesza płaczące niewiasty.

"Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem who weep for him."

1 The church never did fill completely.
2 It was the Feast of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, old Catholic calendar.
3 "Gospel - The Last Gospel" from Catholic Encyclopedia, Adrian Fortescue, Vol. 6, 662.
4 The club I have in mind is not the clergy but the entire Latin Mass community / apostolate, yet another closed, church clique.


Barbara Schoeneberger said...

I envy you your ability to notice and remember so well everything that goes on around you. I'm something of a dullard in that regard.

I'm sorry your impression of those attached to the Extraordinary Form form a club you couldn't join even if you wanted to. It's not at all supposed to be that way, but I know that some Extraordinary Form communities lack a welcoming atmosphere. It's also hard to judge when so many people were acting as spectators. A Pontifical High Mass is a really big deal - there aren't that many celebrated yet. Most parishes offering the Extraordinary Form have a lot less hoopla, yet the Mass and congregation are very reverent. At least that's been my experience in all the cities where I've attended the Extraordinary Form. For sure, you'd be welcome here in Springfield.

RAnn said...

I've seen many blog postings over the last few years praising the EF mass--the reverence, the music, the people's dress, basically everything, and comparing it to your basic suburban mass in which teens check cell phones during mass, adults wear shorts or low cut tops, and where the music is, according to the poster, horrible. Let's just say I've always been a skeptic, and your post pretty much sums up what I've thought, though I've never actually attending an EF mass.
They make a big deal about how the priest is not facing away from the people, but rather, in the same direction, facing the altar. However, without a microphone, or even with it in those old churches which were not designed for modern sound systems, the result is the same--you can't hear the priest. Couple that with mass being said in a foreign language and you get what many people have told me was common in the "olden days"--people being at mass and using that time for private prayers.

Those who love the TLM tout the beauty of Gregorian Chant vs the banality of modern liturgical music and then often have digs for horrible singing voice the the cantor (especially if she happens to be female)yet our local church that has the EF mass hires professional musicians to sing and play classical music. If the EF became the norm tomorrow,who do they think would be singing it in the average parish?

Some bloggers seem to think that changing the mass to the EF would cause a return to reverence, beauty, modest dress and all the rest. I suggest that much of what they see when they compare the EF and the OF have to do with the fact that the EF is extraordinary--that the people who are there are attending not because it is Sunday and they still feel some cultural obligation to do so, at least periodically; not because this is the easiest mass to get to between soccer games, or because taking the kids to mass keeps Grandma happy; rather they are there because they really want to be not only at mass but at that form of the mass. As such, they are more interested, more reverent, more involved than many who attend their local parish. Today priests who say mass in the EF do so because it is important to them to do so. They've generally gone out of their way to learn to say mass that way and may have had to fight to get permission to do so. As such, they say it carefully and reverently and those at their masses see the best example of what those masses can be. Folks my parents age can tell you about the worst. No, there may not have been the creative abuses you see with today's mass there were priests who rattled through the Latin rapidly with little thought (since no one could really year them or understand the and the congregation wasn't paying attention anyway)--masses where the whole point seemed to be to get through them.

Moonshadow said...

Thank you, Barb. A low mass in an out-of-the-way parish on a Sunday morning will be more reverent than one with the bishop on global, Catholic TV. I've attended several of the former, in the early-mid 90's, long before the camps formed, before the publicity and politics.

The Catholic blogosphere does overstate its generalizations.

RAnn said ...
"the result is the same--you can't hear the priest."

The Latin prayers are intentionally inaudible to impress the priest's intercessory role. My inability to pray along with the priest during a Latin mass makes plain my dependence upon his actions on my behalf before the Lord.


Anonymous said...

Having never been to a Tridentine Mass (pontifical or otherwise) this was a very interesting thing to read. RAnn's opening sentence sums up my experience on the blogosphere, too. I think she's right about the difference in the assembly also impacting the reverence factor. I would add that once, when I was a liturgy director at our parish, I actually served as EEM. Up until that day, I thought ppl came to Communion with no awareness whatsoever of what they were doing--that they were not paying attention at all. But standing in front of that line, holding up the host and seeing people's facial expressions--I learned that day I am totally wrong. People may be under (or mis) catechized, they may be following the too-casual conventions of modern society and not be dressed properly, but They.Get.It. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. So I don't really buy the whole reverence/not reverence thing being a function of the language, form and personnel of the Mass being said.