Sunday, January 29, 2012

Silence in the Mass

Prayers said at foot of the altar
at beginning of Traditional Latin Mass
I recently did a post on a talk by Pope Benedict XVI on the importance of silence in communication.  I feel that silence during Mass is also very important, and I don't mean just from the people in the pews, but silence in the Mass itself.  Mass is the highest form of prayer for a Catholic because it is when we go to Calvary for the re-presentation of Christ's sacrifice to the Father.  Recognition of this fact demands reverential silence, and so it was until 1969 when the Novus Ordo Mass was first introduced.    Until the creation of the Novus Ordo Mass, the celebration of Mass included large amounts of silence.  Apart from the homily, amplification is never used during the Traditional Latin Mass.  Everything in the Traditional Mass lends itself to silent, prayerful contemplation.  It is never an intrusion into the prayers of the faithful, but an assistance in their prayers.  The priest prays with and in the same direction as the congregation.

In the TLM, the priest starts the Mass at the foot of the altar, asking forgiveness for his and the congregation's sins while the congregation kneels and prays silently with him.  In the Novus Ordo Mass, the priest comes out, stands at the side of the altar or behind it facing the congregation, and he prays at the people, almost always amplified, even if there is just a handful of people at the Mass.  The people stand, not kneel, facing the priest and instead of praying to God, they are basically answering the priest. 

Communal prayer and holding hands
during Novus Ordo Mass
It continues this way throughout the entire Novus Ordo Mass.  The priest is never quiet, not even during the Consecration. There is never a moment when the people can pray silently in personal communication with God.  Even when receiving Communion, instead of being able to kneel quietly in prayer and preparation at the altar rail while waiting for the priest to come to you, we now have to pick a line to stand in and then slowly walk up to the priest or Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist (who are no longer extraordinary but an expected part of the Mass) surrounded by the distraction of people walking all around us. Instead of being in silent, contemplative prayer, we have to wait to hear "Body of Christ" and then answer "Amen" to whomever (priest or EMHC) is giving us communion, again interrupting our internal communion with our Lord.  Most people receive in the hand, so after taking the Body and Blood of Jesus into their unpurified, unconsecrated hands, they walk away many times still holding the Host and consume it while walking, dropping the fragments of the consecrated host and, not even realizing it, desecrate our Lord, all hardly in an attitude of prayer.  The result of all of this is to lessen even more the reverence and awe due the Blessed Sacrament. 

Receiving Communion in the hand at
Novus Ordo Mass contrasted with
prayerful reception at TLM
using a paten to catch any fragments
For too many Catholics, receiving communion has become nothing more than a shared meal, not the reception of the Body and Blood of our Savior.  People don't even stop to consider whether they are in a state of grace and worthy to receive Communion.  They have basically the same attitude as Protestants do.  However, Protestants don't believe they are actually receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.  And they're right - they are only receiving a symbol.  But with Catholics, we believe that we are literally receiving the same Jesus Christ who gave Himself for us on Calvary.  You sure wouldn't know this at the typical Novus Ordo Masses.  Everyone just marches up in line and, most giving no sign of reverence whatsoever such as a bow of the head or (Heaven forbid!) genuflecting or (gasp!) kneeling, they hold out their hands, barely aware of what is happening.  And it's hard to blame people since almost everything in the Novus Ordo Mass promotes that view.  In contrast, at the TLM, the people receive in a kneeling position on the tongue, all the while (hopefully) deep in prayer and communion with our Lord, and, if they wish, the people can stay kneeling at the altar rail for a moment or two in thanksgiving.   There is a reason why those at the TLM almost always walk to and from the communion rail with their hands folded in prayer, while you rarely see that at a Novus Ordo Mass.  The physical posture and gestures of the people reveal what is going on in their minds. 

The music in the Traditional Latin Mass is also never intrusive but instead, is always conducive to contemplation.  The singers and organist are up in the loft behind the congregation and basically out of view.  Music in the Novus Ordo Mass has come to include guitars, drums and other instrusive instruments. The choir is no longer unobtrusively in the choir loft but front and center, taking the focus off the Sacrifice of the Mass.  Again, this leaves no silence in which the congregation can worship. 

The lack of silence and opportunity for contemplation, meditation and personal prayer on the part of the people has directly led to lack of belief and proper respect for the Real Presence. Mass has become a matter of the priest entertaining the people, trying to find new and innovative ways to keep the attention of the congregation.  It has led to a tremendous falloff in weekly Mass attendance (down from 75% in the 1950's to about 20% in the US and single digits in Europe), and people complaining more and more that they are bored with the Mass.  Is it just coincidence, just an accident?  Is there really any wonder why people do not show reverence at Mass and feel free to talk before, after and even during Mass?  As the Holy Father told us, silence is an important part of communication with each other, and it is just as vital in our relationship with our Creator.  The corrections recently made to the Novus Ordo Mass are very welcome, but I think it still has a long way to go.

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