A Brief Post on the Problem of Too Much Liturgical Diversity

The Novus Ordo is currently the “ordinary expression” of the Roman rite in the Catholic Church. As such, that means that most priests within the Roman rite will celebrate this form of the Mass, which means, in turn, that this will be the form of Mass that is most widely seen.

This fact alone would make one expect uniformity in its celebration. Moreover, the Novus Ordo is but a single rite of the many rites in the Western Church. Thus, a person wouldn’t expect a great amount of diversity when looking at this one rite. Yet find diversity he will. In the present situation of the Church, there are as many forms of the Novus Ordo as there are parishes to celebrate it.  Indeed, one might reasonably say there are more differences between various celebrations of the Novus Ordo than there are differences between older Western rites that are entirely distinct from each other.

Permit me, my friends, to give examples of this great diversity. In the Novus Ordo, you have several options. You can choose among the following for any celebration of Mass according to this missal:

  • Celebration with the priest ad orientem or facing the people
  • Celebration entirely in Latin or entirely in the local language
  • Celebration with a mixture of Latin and the local language
  • Reception of Holy Communion on the tongue or in the hands
  • Reception of Holy Communion kneeling or standing
  • Celebration where the music is either the Propers found in the missal or four hymns of choice
  • Celebration with boys serving at the altar, or girls
  • Celebration with both boys and girls serving at the altar
  • Celebration where the priest alone distributes Holy Communion, or where he is helped by laypeople
  • Celebration where the priest may use the Roman Canon or one of the new replacement Eucharistic prayers
  • Celebration where the Confiteor and Kyrie are said, or where one of the a new penitential acts is used instead
  • Celebration that begins with the priest saying, “The Lord be with you”, or one of the new options

I needn’t go on. You get the point. Please note that the list is arranged in such a way that the traditional practice is mentioned first. Note also that the “or” options are what most parishes use, which is especially troubling since, by using the “or” options, these parishes introduce inevitable differences from other churches (particularly as regards the choices of music, penitential form, Eucharistic prayer, language, and gender of altar servers).

What if there’s a really traditional church that wants to have only the traditonal options (the first choices on each part of the above list)? That’s all well and good, but a Novus Ordo said like that will look nothing like the Novus Ordo a few miles away. Is it really good for the Church to have so many different forms within a single rite?

My suggestion, then, would be the following [maybe the next Holy Father could implement them… :) ]:

  • Mandate ad orientem (after reasonable preparation)
  • Mandate reception of Holy Communion kneeling on the tongue (giving good explanations as to why)
  • Mandate that the priest alone may give Holy Communion, and not laypeople (after giving a good explanation as to why)
  • Mandate that only the Propers may be sung, in Latin, and to a set tune, instead of the constantly-changing four-hymn platter we’re constantly served
  • Mandate boys only as altar servers (after giving a reasonable explanation why)
  • Mandate the Roman Canon as the only Eucharistic Prayer
  • Mandate the Confiteor and the Kyrie as the only option for the penitential act
  • Mandate “The Lord be with you” as the initial thing the priest says to the people, getting rid of the new options

That leaves the question of Latin vs. local language. I would say the Canon should be in Latin, but the mandating of that should wait, so as not to bombard the faithful with too much change at once.

I’m convinced that the Novus Ordo would be uniform and beautiful if such mandates as listed above were made. Anyone want to agree?

As always, thoughts are welcome.

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18 thoughts on “A Brief Post on the Problem of Too Much Liturgical Diversity”

      1. And also, I’m not entirely in favor of the TLM as it currently is, either. I like it a heck of a lot better than the Novus Ordo, to be sure, but it isn’t perfect.

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      2. IT’S THE MASS!!! x) Insofar as it has a higher potential for being more respectful & beautiful than the Novus Ordo (and in Latin), I LOVE it. Insofar as it is the Mass, it does not matter to me which one, as long as the Novus Ordo is respectful. But you have to admit: LATIN ROCKS and so does the LTM. :)

        Maybe this country does need a jolt to wake them up… might do us some good. ;)

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      3. Amen to all the above. :P

        And yes, the TLM does rock, but, for one thing, I don’t like the fact that only the servers respond. Now hear me out! I don’t even know that I have a concrete problem with it, and I’m certainly not going to say assistance at Mass hinges on saying the responses, and I can even see the sense in not saying them, but it’s very strange sitting there silently the whole time and whenever I assist at Mass in this form I need to really repress the urge to say, “Et cum spiritu tuo” whenever the priest turns ’round.

        Now I know I’m allowed to, but I’d usually be alone with that. Heck, even if the people only said, “Et cum spiritu tuo” and nothing else, I’d be okay. :P

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      4. Oh, and if you’ve not seen this, it is one of the most awesome commentaries on the Mass I’ve ever seen. But you’ll need a half hour–it’s the entire Low Mass.

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  1. LOL, at my parish, ALL of the people respond to the Latin, unlike many other parishes that say the TLM. I am so lucky and I overlook it all the time XD

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  2. “And yes, the TLM does rock, but, for one thing, I don’t like the fact that only the servers respond.”
    It depends on the Mass and the traditions. At our Missa Cantata (aka High Mass, but not Solemn High) the people DO chant the responses to the priest whenever he turns around and addresses them. At some (most?) other parishes, only the choir chants the responses. I rather miss the responses when I’m visiting another parish. Also, I think there is a version of the Low Mass — the “dialogue Mass” — where the people do say the responses. I guess it’s just not the usual.
    But there are some parts of the Mass, like the prayers at the foot of the altar, where I think it’s just the server’s job to respond…

    Awesome, Daniel!

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  3. And actually, I wouldn’t at all want the people to recite the prayers at the foot of the altar. Let that be between the ones who will enter the sanctuary. And indeed, now that I’ve given this more thought, I think we should ONLY say, “et cum spiritu tuo”, and “Laus tibi, Christe” and “Deo gratias”. The rest should be the servers’ and choir’s job.

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  4. I realize this is an old discussion, but one thought: I only recently discovered the dialogue Mass, which was the form used on a retreat I went on. I found it a bit baffling; I’m sure I’ve never heard it before. But most of the talking is only at the beginning and then everyone is quiet again. I’m wondering if it was the case when the TLM was the only form that there were actually a lot of variations?

    I once heard Mass (TLM) in which during several sections the leader of the choir (which was otherwise singing hymns at appropriate times) led the congregation in prayers together, as if to kill time while the priest did his thing. That was unfamiliar and confusing. I recall reading that there was a custom in some places where someone stood to the side and narrated or said inspirational things to keep people “involved.” I’ve seen people pray rosaries during the Mass. Others read along in their Missals or stare at the art on the walls.

    I am usually in the schola these days, so I’m following the Mass in the Liber Usualis. But if I don’t have to sing I prefer to leave the Missal aside and just kneel in silence. That’s one of the huge appeals of the older form of the Mass for me, is that it has such a contemplative quality.

    Your blog is always interesting. Thanks.

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    1. I don’t mind old discussions being resurrected. :) They often help me see ways I might’ve evolved, as in this case. When I wrote two years ago that I didn’t like the lack of congregational responses, for example, that was when I was not nearly as familiar with the TLM as I am now, and had only attended it a few times. As circumstances turned out, there was a stretch of several months from mid-2013 to Easter 2014 where I went to the TLM almost exclusively, which really helped to acclimate me to what I had thought of as negatives. Now, if you were to ask me, I’d say I PREFER the “congregational quiet” of the TLM, as it really helps me to just PRAY, to just be a part of the action, in a way that’s made more profound by the lack of having to think about saying a text at the right moment.

      Anyway, that was a bit of a tangent. The Dialogue Mass itself is a little confusing, because if I’m not mistaken, there are different “levels” of it. Some forms have the people saying the “Et cum spiritu tuo” and “Amen,” some forms have the people saying those along with the Ordinary of the Mass (Gloria, Sanctus, Agnus Dei), and some forms have the people saying all that, AND the servers’ parts of the prayers at the foot of the altar. I believe the Dialogue Mass became common in the 1950s, and with the 1964 reforms (which would pave the way for the Novus Ordo), congregational responses became the “official” way of doing it (even though the 1964 Mass was still the TLM, in substance). I remember hearing somewhere, too, that Pope St. Pius X liked the idea of the Dialogue Mass, but I can’t verify that at the moment and would hate to attribute ideas to His Holiness. lol. But if you were to ask me now, again, I would say I do NOT prefer the Dialogue Mass anymore, and find it more prayerful to let the servers do the responses.

      As for your comment about the choir leading the congregation in prayer…I’ve never heard of that! I can’t help wondering whether that qualifies as a type of abuse. It’s gotta be distracting for the priest.

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  5. Thanks for the interesting reply! The dialogue Masses I heard were with the congregation responding during the prayers at the foot of the altar. Otherwise I’ve only ever heard the congregation participate in the Ordinary and in the simple sorts of “Et cum spiritu tuo” and “Amen” responses.

    As to distraction, a friend of mine who teaches at a seminary says they train focus the same as they train the poker face when you tell them weird stuff during Confession. My friend said the only time he’s seen a priest really lose focus due to distractions was when a light fixture fell from the ceiling and nearly landed on a parishioner. I’ve seen priests pause when someone in the congregation (or one of the servers) passed out or fell down the stairs. But otherwise they seem able to just continue right along despite stray dogs and cats running in and out of the sacristy (seriously), musical disasters in the choir, toddlers running into the sanctuary (the mother screeching to a halt at the foot of the steps, waiting for someone to hand the child back!!), older children running up and down the aisles or playing electronic games, cell phones ringing, and even – I kid you not – raised voices and raised fists between two women in a pew (I think one had shushed the other, and that led to offense being taken). It’s rather an admirable level of concentration. They do say Mass every day, which is 365 a year, so I’d guess a priest gets to the point of being able to stay right there in the prayers even while having half an ear on other things going on. Maybe. It would be neat to hear more from the perspective of the clergy. I’ll have to ask some if I get a chance.

    Anyway, liturgy and its history is always fascinating. I’m very curious where things will be in 10, 20 or 50 more years. Cheers!

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    1. The “focus training” sounds legitimately fascinating.

      I guess, too, with the TLM being ad orientem, the priest would already be able to focus more easily on what he’s doing, without having visual distractions “out there in the congregation” in front of him. I also saw a little kid try to run into the sanctuary at a TLM once, but before things got too awkward, a server graciously escorted him back to his mother (who by this time had gotten up in a mad scramble to prevent anything amiss from occurring). But the priest and everyone else were completely undaunted by it and just kept doing their thing.

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