Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A bug or a feature?

Msgr. Pope is talking about whether or not people should be reading along in missals during the Mass:

So, I like books!

But, paradoxically, when it comes to books in the liturgy, I say, “Away with them!“ Clearly the clergy need the sacramentary and the lectors, the lectionary. Musicians too most often need some printed reference materials. But in the end, the faithful, if you ask me, should strive to worship without books, other than a hymnal. The liturgy is meant to be seen and heard. Some claim they cannot follow without the books and “worship-aids.” But I suspect the problem, then, is poorly presented liturgy, poorly trained lectors and clergy, if you will. The goal is to go “hands-free”and to allow the liturgy to unfold. Incessant references to texts and the “order of service” steal away some of the mystery, and cause us to look down at texts, rather than up and outward at the liturgy before us.

This is one of those things I've seen crop up before among Catholics. Interestingly (to me, anyway) lay people usually like missals or books with which to follow the Mass, and it is the clergy who seems to think we ought to be doing without them--though that's a totally non-scientific observation on my part.

I understand the point about wanting people to immerse themselves in the liturgy, to pay attention to what is going on by observing the liturgical actions and hearing the Word of God proclaimed--and the sense that if one's nose is buried in a book one may miss out on what is going on, or fail to unite oneself properly with the liturgical action. But I am not swayed by arguments which say that we don't need books now because that people didn't really use books at Mass until rather recently--because people were also from a largely-illiterate population attending a Mass in Latin where many of the prayers, addressed to God, were whispered--and this in churches in which the microphone was a few centuries away, so that even the parts the people were technically supposed to hear weren't coming across loud and clear, so to speak.

The question to me is: was the relative inaudibility and foreign language of the Mass of old a bug, or a feature?

If you read comment threads like this one, you will find at least a couple of people longing for silent Low Masses in the Extraordinary Form, because the silence and the idea that people don't need to respond in any way frees them up for meditation and praying the rosary. Considering how hard today's champions of the Extraordinary Form have worked to tell people that, no, Mass isn't supposed to be an opportunity for private meditation or rosary recitation and that they are supposed to be following along in a missal, that has to be troubling. But even Msgr. Pope admits that those attending the EF Mass will need a missal--which brings me to another question:

Is the fact that people can theoretically attend the Ordinary Form of the Mass and not need a missal or, indeed, anything but a hymn-book to enter into the worship a good thing? In other words, is Mass in the vernacular with proclamations of the Word from a pulpit with a microphone that are clearly audible to the congregation a bug of the new Mass, or a feature?

It seems to me that we can't say, on the one hand, that the Church's highest act of worship is best celebrated inaudibly while people read along in missals and at the same time say that the Church's highest act of worship is best celebrated audibly while people follow along without any such aids. But perhaps I'm missing something important--tell me what, in the comment box!


Deirdre Mundy said...

The missal is a Godsend when your ears are clogged, you're banished to the back with a baby, you have a first grader who really needs help paying attention, or if (like me), you're a person who needs the extra physical reminder to keep you focused on the Mass so that your mind doesn't wander off on various and sundry paths.

Missals, even more than hand holding, should be about personal preference.

Pauli said...

Missals are cool. Use one if it helps. Father doesn't need one, good for him.

The Ranter said...

Interestingly enough, the only people I hear (in my part of the country) advocate for no missals is the liturgically liberal crowd...I think in part because it's easier to pull the wool over the majority of the Mass going crowd about what is actually supposed to be happening at Mass. *shrugs* So take that for what it's worth.

The Sicilian said...

I rarely use the missal, but if I hear a Gospel reading that really strikes me, I like having the missal to refer to in order to double check which Gospel, chapter and verse for my reference. I think it can be a valuable aid, and think therefore it should be available to be used at one's choosing.

Regarding private meditation or reciting the Rosary during Mass, the current pastor in my NO parish once mentioned during a sermon that one's focus during the Mass was to be on the Mass, and the Mass ONLY, and he specifically mentioned that saying the Rosary during Mass was not acceptable.

Dawn Farias said...

I lean toward not having missals, particularly for practiced Catholics, because yes, it helps keep you a part of what's going on.

The readings are not surprises and can be found readily before leaving for Mass.

Everything else is pretty much the same so simply learning the order of the liturgies would help keep someone on track.

I do think they could be very helpful for people not speaking the native language or people not familiar with the order of the liturgies.

I like having a sheet of paper with the reponsorials and songs, though.

Ultimately, though, whatever's most helpful to an individual is the best choice.

Geoff G. said...

The question to me is: was the relative inaudibility and foreign language of the Mass of old a bug, or a feature?

I'll just point out that the reason St. Jerome translated the Bible into the Vulgate in the first place was so that the uneducated masses (vulgus) could understand it. The fact that the Mass continued to be sung in Latin into the 20th century is probably the best example of hyper-conservatism at work that I can think of.

If the original Church had cared so much about the language of the Mass then surely we'd be hearing the it in Greek (spoken by Paul, the Evangelists, and possibly by Christ and His Apostles as well), not Latin.

One more point however, which only applies to pedants like me. The reason I've gotten into Latin and Greek literature to a far greater extent than I have into English is precisely because I have to work hard at understanding every word and its function in its sentence.

For people who have the education, I think hearing and reading the Mass in Latin almost forces them to pay closer attention to what, precisely, is being said. That's not true when you're rattling through prayers in your mother tongue: there's a tendency among a lot of people to just switch off and go on auto-pilot because you assume that you pick up the whole meaning without being fully engaged. That's not to say that you can't go on auto-pilot in Latin as well (habit and familiarity have a way of doing that), but it's a bit less likely.

Obviously, however, for those with little or no Latin at all, understanding is pretty much impossible.

Anonymous said...

Frankly, I can't help but also smelling what The Ranter smells--the odor of teen spirit...err...Spirit of Vatican II's "active participation" which unfortunately has become a euphamism for "The Mass is a sharing of a meal and is about us rather than a sacrifice."

Nathan said...

Erin, I think it might help to consider the difference in cues between the Ordinary Form and the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite.

What I mean by that is, in the Ordinary Form (Novus Ordo), the cues for following are auditory. Partially it is beacuse the rubrics are not so detailed, but mostly because you have to hear which option the Celebrant is using at a given moment (is it Eucharistic Prayer I or III, for instance). For someone accustomed to the OF, a missal may seem to be only a supplement or study aid.

In the EF (Traditional Latin Mass), the cues are visual. Partially because of the language, but mostly because of the fact that a good number of the prayers are inaudible (or may occur during the choir's singing of the Sanctus or Agnus Dei), you need to look at what the sacred ministers are doing to know exactly where you are in the Mass. In that case, having a Missal is useful, even if you're an old hand and know the prayers pretty much by heart.

I don't think you can generalize and say "Hand Missals are great or Hand Missals are simply a crutch" without accounting for the differences between the forms.

That said, I do like a Missal at the OF simply because it helps reduce distractions and I can have a double-check to make sure I understand the Collect or reading.

In Christ,

Anonymous said...

Reading the missal as I listen to the readings helps me stay focused during Mass. Often my mind wants to wander to laundry, meals, what's next for the day but the missal, something I am holding,touching, reading helps me to stay in the moment. It helps me to offer pray and worship to God.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

On the whole, I think you are correct. It is common in many Protestant churches for the minister to begin a sermon by saying "Get out your Bibles," and even to notify the congregation in advance of which pages to mark for following along in the sermon.

Generally, what I end up doing, without even thinking about it, is read through the text the minister is working from, then keep on reading, just like I did in 3rd grade. I always read ahead of the class, because I read quickly.

I get a lot out of that, but I'm not paying attention to the sermon.

If a service is an act of worship, then it should be more like a drama, albeit one in which the audience has a defined role, rather than a study hall.

On the other hand, I'm not opposed to read-along sing-along performances of Handel's Messiah.

Sarah said...

As someone who probably has ADD and whose mind wanders relentlessly, I don't know how I would pay attention to the readings without a missal. I'm also a very visual person and find it much easier to pay attention to something I'm reading than something I'm listening too. Without a missal, I literally could not tell you what any of the readings were about most of the time. It's just extremely hard to pay attention. Add our kids at mass to the equation, and it's much worse. So I think no missals is a dumb idea. I would feel like I hadn't even been to mass.

Anonymous said...

I read the daily readings as part of my morning prayer. If I don't get around to it before mass, I often read along in my missal. I seem to get more out of the mass if I have pre-read the readings. I too tend to be a bit ADD (Oh look! Cute baby! Ooh, nice shoes!...etc.)

I know people in my parish who have almost a militant desire to confront anyone who hauls out a missal, as though it is a terrible infraction. I laughed at an earlier comment, that it seems to be the liberal types who disagree with missal use, because this is my experience as well.

Whatever your position on the use of missals, I hope no one is spending too much time fixated on what other people are doing at mass.