Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Why I Promote the EF Mass

You may have noticed that I am a tireless promoter of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass.

In fact, I really think “promoting” the EF Mass is not enough. I think instruction and participation in the EF Mass really should be required of all Catholics. Yes, I know, that’s pretty extreme. I’ll try to explain.

I barely know how to express what I feel when I attend an EF Mass. I find it hauntingly beautiful, spiritually uplifting, other-worldly…a host of other adjectives. Perhaps the word I’m searching for is – wait for it! – “ineffable”? Let’s see: “Ineffable: Too great or extreme to be expressed or described in words; too sacred to be uttered”.  Yes, that pretty well sums it up.

But these “feelings” I get at the EF Mass are not the reason why I think the EF Mass needs to be promoted, explained, and offered to the Catholics who’ve never experienced it. Oh yes, I do want others to feel what I feel, but it is certainly possible that some will never get that sense of ineffability. Still, they need to have the experience. They need to understand more about the EF Mass.

Why? Because we do not remain children all our lives.  And because it is essential to our Catholic identity.

 About this we have much to say, and it is difficult to explain, for you have become sluggish in hearing. Although you should be teachers by this time, you need to have someone teach you again the basic elements of the utterances of God. You need milk, (and) not solid food. Everyone who lives on milk lacks experience of the word of righteousness, for he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those whose faculties are trained by practice to discern good and evil.  (Hebrews 5:11-14)

Many years ago, I worked at a daycare center. One little girl was in a serious car accident at age 3; she’d been badly burned and almost died, and recuperated at home for months. Then came the big day when she returned, scars and all. And she arrived with a problem her mom wanted us to help correct: she would consume only milk. She did not want to eat any solid food. This was the result of her trauma, the pain she experienced, the fact that she could not tolerate solid food for a while, etc. Now she was 4 years old, thin as a rail, and she needed to eat “real” food. Slowly we were able to wean her away from her milk and get her to eat the same foods the other children were offered for lunch and snack.

But this little girl was resistant to our efforts. VERY resistant.  She wanted her milk. And so are many adults in our Church resistant to the “solid food” of “real” worship. They want their bottle of milk, the “comfortable" Mass they’ve become accustomed to, with the 4-hymn sandwich, the fluffy homily, and the feel-good atmosphere. They don’t want to be challenged, they don’t want to have to chew on the meat of some spiritual truth, and they don’t want to have to think about what the Mass really means. They “know all that” – but not really.

I know there are devout people who attend the Novus Ordo Mass and have a healthy spiritual life. Despite liturgical abuses and impoverished homilies, they experience some sense of the ineffable in the NO Mass. And these people have expressed this thought to me, wondering why I still push the EF Mass; they assure me that they are indeed being challenged and are growing spiritually. I believe them.

BUT…the Mass is where earth touches Heaven; Mass should give us a glimpse of Heaven, at least in some small sense.  I want that glimpse to be as clear and sharp as possible, and I think the EF Mass accomplishes that task better than the Novus Ordo.

Consider this analogy: Think of best vacation spot you’ve ever visited (or the most sublime sunset you’ve experienced, or the most exquisite meal you’ve ever eaten; any indescribable experience will do, but let’s stick with the vacation analogy). Now imagine describing this vacation spot and your experience of it to someone who has never been there. Your words will not substitute for their own personal experience. They may say, “Oh yes, I went to a place like that one time”, or “Yes, I can imagine how beautiful that would be.” But their imagination will fall short of the actual experience.  If you have photos, that will help – it will bring their experience close to yours. And video footage will bring them even closer. But still, they will not have experienced the physical reality of that vacation spot.

It’s kind of the same thing with Heaven. We can’t experience Heaven here on earth.

           [A]s it is written: “What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what
           has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who 
           love him,” this God has revealed to us through the Spirit (1 Corinthians 
           2:9, citing Isaiah 64:3)

But the Mass can supply the spiritual equivalent of some of those verbal descriptions, photos, and video clips. The Mass is supposed to help us imagine what God has prepared for us. 

Here’s a description of the beatific vision – the direct knowledge of God which the angels and the souls of the just enjoy in Heaven: 

Imagine a man in whom the tumult of the flesh goes silent, in whom the images of earth, of water, of air and of the skies cease to resound. His soul turns quiet and, self-reflecting no longer, it transcends itself. Dreams and visions end. So too does all speech and every gesture, everything in fact which comes to be only to pass away. All these things cry out: "We did not make ourselves. It is the Eternal One who made us." And after they have said this, think of them falling silent, turning to listen to the One Who created them. And imagine Him speaking. Speaking Himself, so that we could hear His word, not in the language of the flesh, not through the speech of an angel, not by way of a rattling cloud or a mysterious parable. But Himself. The One Whom we love in everything. Imagine we could hear Him without them. Reaching out with speeding thought we come to Him, to the Eternal Wisdom which outlasts everything. And imagine if sight of Him were kept available, while all lesser sights were taken away. Think of this encounter, seizing, absorbing, drawing the witness into the depths of joy. Eternal life would be of a kind with this moment of understanding. (from Book IX of St. Augustine’s Confessions)

Now, that’s Heaven.  It’s not the Disneyland Heaven we describe to little children, who can only tolerate “milk”. It is the Heaven of the justified, purified soul, which yearns for and finally obtains the beatific vision. 

The EF Mass brings us closer to that Heavenly reality. It is structured to reach ever upward, whereas the NO has the tendency to be bogged down in human affairs and focus on our own earthly existence. (Yes, I know, the NO can be said reverently and experienced at a higher level than most people do, but it is also much more susceptible to liturgical abuse and a focus on the human rather than the divine.) 

I want the EF Mass available to everyone, not just to me. I want it introduced, explained, promoted, and provided for all the faithful. I want this because the Eucharist is the source and summit of our Christian lives, because the Mass is our highest form of worship, and because the Sacred Liturgy is who we are as Catholics. 

Our “source and summit” do not flow from simple ditties sung to folk guitar accompaniment; our highest form of worship is not dignified by liturgical dance, hand-clapping, foot-tapping music, or impromptu prayers ad-libbed by a Father Feelgood; and our Catholic identity is not captured by imitating Protestant worship that lacks the fundamental understanding of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, or the true understanding of the Church as the Bride of Christ.

I want the EF Mass because by saving the liturgy, we will save the world.

How about you? Are you ready for some solid food?


  1. Sound, stirring and truly excellent Jay but we also need to "force" all priests to say the EF Mass. At present there appears to be a particular aversion to solid food from the bulk of the clergy.

  2. Thanks, Annie. And Richard...I agree! But I think we need to look at the bishops first. I know for a fact that some priests are reluctant to express even a faint interest in offering the EF Mass because their bishops are not in favor of it. And they know that some among the laity will go straight to that bishop to complain about any "creeping traditionalism" - and the priest will NOT get support from his bishop. I think that's a major obstacle, Summorum Pontificum and the Instruction notwithstanding.

  3. I just wish the EF wasn't 3 hours from Grangeville, ID

  4. Do we really need the EF mass to maintain reverence, devotion stability and orthodoxy in the Church. Is it the only way? I think it should have been revised in 1570. However,not all the critical materials were avalable then. 1970 can evoke all the values I just mentioned. Unfortunately over the years the NO rite has been presented in a sloppy manner. And sometimes the NO has been "superseded" by weird "Spirit-filled" liturgies. I also suggest that the various Eastern liturgies also capture some of the values of the 1570 rite. What I look for in a liturgy is objectivity with congregational participation,in preference to the spontaneous, subjective liturgies which have been forced on many of us. I feel that in liturgy I have a right to the true teaching of the Catholic church over subjective deviations and interpolations which distort the faith and frequently make active participation impossible.

  5. Joe...I can sympathize!
    Phil, I think the answer to your initial question is "yes". We do need the EF Mass. I have been to the NO Mass celebrated ad orientem, in Latin, with sung Gregorian chant propers - all the trimmings, so to speak - the most reverent NO Masses I have ever been to. There was still something missing. If you haven't read Laszlo Dobszay's "The Bugnini Liturgy and the Reform of the Reform",you might give it a shot. He speaks as from a liturgical viewpoint, rather than focusing solely on theology. He makes a lot of sense. (I think there are theological problems, too.)


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