Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A Tale of Two Masses

I went to Masses on both Ash Wednesday and the Second Sunday of Lent which were at the same time days and centuries apart:  the Ordinary Form and the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite.

On Ash Wednesday, following the homily, the priest had a show-and-tell on how he makes ashes, complete with sieves and lighter fluid.  Throughout the whole Mass, Father interjected mundane comments, and following communion he told us to spend time in silence with the Lord and then almost immediately prayed aloud spontaneously.

The sanctuary was covered with swathes of purple fabric and banners with cartoonish Lenten symbols.  At the base of the altar were sand and stones--the "required" desert scene.

Compare that to Extraordinary Form Mass (sometimes still called the Latin or Tridentine Mass) I attended on the Second Sunday of Lent at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Littleton.

I sat a couple pews from the front, which I realized was a dumb idea as the church filled up.  As a stranger at a foreign liturgy, I had very few people in front of me whose lead I could follow.  I suppose it's not unlike how many people feel when they first encounter the Mass in any form. 

It wasn't hard for me to recognize the different parts of the Mass even though, with the exception of the homily, it was all in Latin.

The men wore ties and most of the women and girls wore headcoverings.  Incense smoke rolled around the base of the altar like morning mist.  Gold-accented statues and murals caught glints of daylight.  Both the choir and the priest chanted, and there was even silence.  Beautiful, elusive silence.

Ten altar boys served the priest.  Ten!  They were of various ages from maybe eight to mid-teens, well-trained if not a little fidgety.  One older server specifically attended the priest, while others swung the censer, carried candles and even bore torches during the Consecration.

The Consecration was completely silent, though bells accompanied the elevation of the Host, which rose above the priest's head like the sun--the Sun of Justice rising from the East.  Priest and congregation faced the same direction, toward the Lord to Whom the prayer was offered.

It was a feast for the senses.  It was the Mass that my grandparents, many saints and even one of our Founding Fathers experienced.  And when compared to the casualness of most Masses I've experienced in my lifetime, it was clear that the focus there was not the priest, the congregation or the musicians, but Jesus.  Everything was being done for the Lord and to emphasize His Presence there, and it was all done deliberately and with purpose.

Should you like to experience the Extraordinary Form of the Mass for the first time (or again), the Coalition in Support of Ecclesia Dei has a listing of Masses by state.

I can't say that my first experience what particularly prayerful--I was trying to take in everything around me--but I can see how someone more accustomed could find it very prayerful.  So I think I must go back.