Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Mass in Forma extraordinaria - Exaltation of the Holy Cross

I'm blogging on this a little late, but as they say, better late than never.

Last Friday evening (14 September), to celebrate both the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, as well as the Implementation of the Motu propio Summorum Pontificum of Pope Benedict XVI, a Missa Cantata was offered in Forma extraordinaria at Sacred Heart Parish in Dunn, NC. Music featured was Mozart's Mass in C Major (Coronation Mass).

I'm very sorry that I came late; I thought I should have been able to get there in plenty of time if I left 2 hours before Mass. For a trip that should have taken around 1h 30m or thereabouts from Chapel Hill, it took me 2.5 hours to get there, thanks to heavy traffic in Apex, heavy rains that cut visibility to a few feet in front of me, and tornadic activity in the areas where I would be passing through. But I made it.

Sacred Heart is a small church - the sanctuary seats ca. 160 in the nave, and it looks like at least another 15-20 might be accommodated up in the loft (although I suspect they would be those connected with the choir and instrumentalists). There was absolutely no room inside the nave: people were standing in the side aisles, and packed standing in the back of the church (there wasn't really a separate narthex, unless you consider the part of the church that constitutes the entrance, right behind the stairs leading to the loft). In addition, there were at least 40 people standing outside - audio of the Mass was piped to speakers outside of the church. What really struck me was the age of the people who went - a good number (maybe a little more than 50% of those at the Mass) were approximately undergrad- to graduate student aged. There were quite a few people there high school age and younger as well. Not as much older people, who would have been old enough to remember the Tridentine Mass, I'd say probably around 25%-30%, if that. I think there were at least 5 priests vested in cassock and surplice in addition to the Celebrant, the Pastor of Sacred Heart, Fr. Paul Parkerson, and the Homilist, Bishop Michael Burbidge, Bishop of the Diocese of Raleigh. The altar servers/acolytes appeared to be of at least older elementary to early high school age. I think there were at least 5-6 of them, and they all looked like they really wanted to be there.

What impressed me, from my point of view of being outside (and hoping that the raging lightning storm would not bring the rain drops until the magic words, "Ite Missa est" were chanted), was the absolute reverence of the others standing outside. No one was talking, and everyone was paying attention to what was being said. There was a printed Order of Worship, that included the Rubrics for Attending the High Mass (tells you when to stand, kneel, sit, etc., so those who are not familiar with the Mass may participate fully), the Proper Prayers of the Mass, the Readings (which were proclaimed in English), and the words to the hymn: "Long Live the Pope!" (words by Rt. Rev. Msgr. High T. Henry, Litt. D.; music by D.H.G. Ganss), which may be found in the St. Gregory Hymnal and Catholic Choir Book. Music was provided by members of Chapel Hill's St. Thomas More Choir, directed by Roger Petrich, with Sacred Heart's organist Michael Wimberly at the console. Members of the orchestra were not identified, so I'm not sure where they came from.

I was quite moved by the Mass - it seemed to me that this is what a Catholic Mass is supposed to be like. It also gave me a better understanding of how some of the great Masses composed by the likes of Bach, Mozart, Schubert, Vierne, etc. came to be. Everything seemed to fit so well. (Of course, singing under Dr. Van Quinn also made me very sensitive to the pitfalls of the effects a very very heavy vibrato, especially from the soprano section, may have on ensemble singing. Oof! it was a huge distraction from the music! So too was the consistent flatness, pitch-wise, of the choir. To be fair, it may have been the speaker system that distorted that ...) Bishop Burbidge's homily was brilliant - this is the third time I've heard him deliver a homily, and he certainly doesn't disappoint, he is an excellent homilist. He emphasized unity - how when we celebrate the Eucharist, we are united as one body, brothers and sisters in Christ. And that was the theme of his homily, that lasted for a little under 10 minutes.

Interestingly enough - I experienced something similar from the Anglican point of view. I subbed at an Anglican Catholic church, where they celebrate their Eucharist according to the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. My sense of that: very much Museum Liturgy-like. Not much engagement from the people in the pews; from my vantage point on the organ bench, it looked like they were pretty much doing their own thing, except when it was time for them to sing, then they sang. Not so with the PIPs at Sacred Heart. People (at least outside) were paying close attention, following along in the printed Order of Worship, responding at the appropriate places. I was very impressed by the participation of the people - they knew how to respond back, chanting in Latin, at the appropriate places. When I went inside for Communion, people were paying attention to what was going on during the Mass, and they were not doing their own thing.

To be honest, I never heard of this Mass until I started frequenting the RPInet boards. After having experienced it, I can understand why people seek out the Tridentine Mass (now the Extraordinary Form of the Mass). Dunn is a little too far for me to travel, plus I have conflicts that would prevent me from experiencing this on a regular basis (they are now going to celebrate the Extraordinary Form of the Mass every Sunday at noon), but definitely, when I'm travelling, or at home in San Diego, I would definitely seek out this Mass and attend.

At the reception, where cake and a ton of food was served, as we were waiting in the queue to sign a guest book, Bishop Burbidge was greeting everyone. He shook everyone's hand, and spoke briefly to all in the queue. The people in front of me wanted their picture taken with the Bishop, to which he gracefully obliged. When he got to me, I expressed disappointment that I came late and had to stand outside, thanks to traffic, heavy rains, and tornadic activity. He said the traffic and rain themes were those he heard from everyone (seems like most of who went to this came in from Raleigh, about 30+ miles to the north of Dunn), but he hadn't heard of the tornadoes. But he expressed relief that I made it there safely, and wished me a safe drive back to Durham (a shorter drive than the one I made from Chapel Hill). He is so nice! I noticed a Bishop Burbidge Fan Club in Facebook; I just might check that out ...

I chatted with a few others in the reception. There was a definite relief that the Extraordinary Form of the Mass will be made more readily available in the Diocese of Raleigh. A couple of women told me they felt like they've finally come home and were rejoicing in that. They said that after the Novus Ordo in English was implemented, they felt lost, and resentful that the Tridentine Mass was taken away from them. They left the Catholic Church over that. One of them found the SSPX church and started going to Mass there.

This past Sunday, I tried to share my experiences with this Mass with my Faith Sharing group, but they did not want to hear about it at all. They were all old enough to have experienced the Tridentine Mass, and they all condemned it. I couldn't understand why. Their answer, and a very unanimous one at that, surprised me. It's not the ritual of the Mass they objected to - they said it's a beautiful Mass, but it's the association of the Mass that they hated. They did ask me what the relative ages of the people who attended the Mass was. They were extremely surprised when I said it was SRO inside, with an overflow crowd outside. They were even more so surprised when I told them that a good majority of the crowd was born well after Vatican II happened. One of them said, "Well, perhaps it's a good thing it's making a comeback. At least you young people can enjoy this Mass without any of the baggage that we associate this Mass with."

Sorry for going on and on here, but I definitely wanted to share my experience with this Mass.

Pax vobiscum.


Brian Michael Page said...

One big question - what was this "association" and "baggage" that these older folk were whining about?

Lyn F. said...

Brian, on the RPInet forums, Joe D., Randy, and Katherine hit the nail right on the head.

Joe made reference to the abuses in the pre-Conciliar TLM that people remembered with distaste. Randy made reference to the association with oppressive, rigid,and condemning attitudes (which was also the primary source of condemnation among people in my Faith Sharing group). Katherine went on about what the renewal really should have been about ... and in the context of the Extraordinary Form, the point she brought up makes sense.

Have a read and let me know what you think.