Monday, February 13, 2012

Nothing Compares with the TLM

My husband and I went to an NO Mass last Saturday evening; with the extraordinary form (TLM) not available to us, we were forced once again to choose the least offensive Mass we could find in our area. (See Why I Dread Sunday Mass)

The previous Sunday (February 5), we were able to attend an EF Mass. Aaaahhh. It was good. But having to attend an NO Mass this past week brought the contrast all too sharply into focus.

I’m reading a book recommended to me by a friend: The Desolate City: Revolution in the Catholic Church, by Anne Roche Muggeridge (RIP), published originally in 1986.  One review of the book (here) suggests that the author’s main thesis is “that an anti-Catholic revolution has taken place in the Church and that since 1968 various local and national sectors of the Church have fallen de facto into the hands of revolutionaries”.  (There’s another summary and review here.)

Sadly, Muggeridge’s commentary on the state of the Church is as true today (if not more so) than it was 25 years ago. And she speaks my mind exactly in some places. For instance, in mentioning that there was one priest who managed to say the NO Mass in a reverent and orthodox way, she still concludes that (my emphases throughout):

Thankful as one is for a decent place to go to Mass, this situation is destructive not only because of its necessary impermanence, but also because it has led to a revival of Donatism, whereby one finds oneself sitting out Holy Communion if one has doubts about the validity of the Mass in progress, and judging the validity of the Mass by the way the priest says it. This is dreadful. One is forced to fall back upon Catholic legislation worked out long ago to deal with situation like this, though it seems to lead in a circle. The Mass is valid if said according to the mind of the Church. But how does one know if the priest is actually saying it according to the Church’s understanding? In general, the outward sign of inward accord is adherence to the Church’s rule of worship. But what if the priest departs significantly from the prescribed form in the wide extra-legal fashion tolerated by most bishops? And far more serious, what if the Church’s legal from of worship is theologically divided against itself?  (p. 134-135)

Ring around the rosey?
One big difference between the NO Mass and the EF Mass is the ostensible change in the focus of the worship. In the EF Mass, the focus is God, pure and simple. Everything points upward, lifting our minds and souls from our earthly lives and encouraging us to look to our heavenly homeland. In the NO Mass…well…not so much. We are focused more on ourselves, and everything is brought down to our level. The lines between the clergy and the laity are blurred as unvested lay faithful traipse through the sanctuary, serving as readers and extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion; we face the priest as an audience facing a talk-show host; we turn to each other (e.g., at the sign of peace), and hold each other’s hands (at the Our Father); we listen as someone reads the bulletin just before the end of Mass (for fear that we will neglect to read its very important contents on our own); and we have shown up for Mass in attire that anticipates our afternoon recreation rather than the Heavenly banquet spread before us.

At an NO Mass as it is typically celebrated in this geographical area, I try to keep my head down and my eyes closed. I find it jarring to see a lay person handling the Eucharist as a minister of Holy Communion. I find it jarring even to see a deacon or acolyte doing so! And I find it jarring to see the deacon, acolyte, or lay ministers purifying the vessels after Communion. And why are we receiving Our Lord in our hands?!

Isn’t this the same Body of Christ we have in the EF? Of course it is! So why is it permissible for Mary Quite Contrary (who refuses to use masculine nouns and pronouns in the Credo) to handle the Eucharist and the sacred vessels in the NO Mass, while only the priest does so in the EF Mass? At the NO Mass, I lower my head in embarrassment that we would subject the King of the Universe to such disrespect.

And there is so much noise! Almost everything in the NO Mass is said aloud, and yet, so much is missing in what is said. It may seem strange, but I miss the prayers that the priest prays in the EF Mass, even though I never hear them spoken out loud. And having everything said in English detracts from the mystical reverence that I sense in the EF Mass. It brings it all down to our earthly level, rather than bringing us up to the heavenly banquet.
Muggeridge says she believes that the NO Mass “was devised by ideologues and installed by dupes” (p. 135), but that she still believes that the NO Mass is a valid when celebrated according to the mind of the Church. Yet, there is a problem, and she perfectly captures the dilemma of the faithful Catholic who must tolerate a poorly-celebrated NO Mass:

…I think that the paradigm shift attempted by the revolution is nowhere more clearly or dangerously taught than in the reformed liturgy, but I also believe, as I must if I wish to remain Catholic, that the Holy Ghost has not allowed His Church on earth to lose its power to make present perpetually the Sacrifice of the Cross. Therefore, I go to the new Mass…although I know from experience that attendance demands a constant struggle to maintain the Catholic world view against the current liturgical expression of it. It is difficult to imagine a more ironic religious predicament. (p. 135)

She is not alone – not when she wrote those words, and not in the present! There are many people who have been struggling with the impoverished NO Mass for decades. Me? I have only struggled with it for the last 5 years or so. It's not getting any easier.

There is much talk these days of the two forms of the Latin rite – the forma ordinaria and the forma extraordinaria – influencing each other.  Frankly, I don’t see how that influence can go in both directions; I can only see the older form bringing the newer form back into conformity with what the Church has taught for centuries. Although she was not discussing the liturgy per se in this quote, Muggeridge sums up the problem with this comment:

Underlying the notion that if the Church debated longer there would be an end to religious crises is the very modern proposition that truth is the end product of a dialectical process that results in the unification of opposites into a truth transcending both, a concept foreign to Scripture’s self-understanding, or to that of the Catholic Church at any time in its past. The Church does not consider itself a debating society. The rare general councils called when doctrinal confusion becomes intolerable “are not conferences where theologians beat out an understanding, a modus vivendi. They are assemblies where authorized, or rather authoritative, witnesses testify to what the Church actually believes on the point at issue.” The intention is always, in the words of the Council of Trent, “to preserve the purity of the Gospel.” When the Church (after many years of arguing with him) announced in 1979 that Hans Küng was no longer to be considered a Catholic theologian, it was acting in a manner entirely consistent with its conception of its mission in history.

How can we ever reconcile a Mass where only the priest’s hands touch the Body of Christ with a Mass where the man in the pew can do so?

How can we ever reconcile a Mass that is focused on God with one focused on man?
I doubt that the mind of the Church is amenable to such a compromise.

God, grant us more priests who see the truth, beauty, and splendor of the extraordinary form of the Mass. Grant us bishops willing to promote it. Grant that the eyes of the faithful are opened to its transcendent truth.



  1. Deacons can distribute Communion in the EF too To be fair. Clergy have always been Ordinary Ministers...:)

  2. Joe - In the ordinary form, the deacon is an ordinary minister of Holy Communion; but in the EF Mass, he is an EXTRAordinary minister of Holy Communion, and serves in that capacity only rarely.

  3. Upon reading this article, it is for this reason why I cannot in good conscience remain a Eucharistic Minister in my parish. I have now surrendered this position.

    Patrick Gacosta


Please be courteous and concise.