Sunday, February 19, 2006

My First Tridentine Experience

Today, I went to St. Michael the Archangel parish for Sunday Mass. Now, I've always been a more traditionalist person I'd say, and I had an idea of what I was getting into today but nothing I knew from reading about it could have prepared me for what I witnessed there.

St. Michael's is a Tridentine Rite parish. That means they celebrate the liturgy according to the 1962 Missal, exclusively in Latin. If you have been to a modern day Roman Catholic parish, then you've probably heard songs like "On Eagle's Wings". Well, there was none of that here. At this Mass, they sang Palestrina and William Byrd, Gregorian Chant and some Organum. This is the same Mass that was celebrated for over 500 years before the 1960s. That means that people like Columbus and all the Louis' of France celebrated this Mass. It was absolutely amazing and beautiful.

The church itself is made up mainly of young people my age, not older people who "remember the way it used to be." Almost all of the women wore headscarves, with no low cut shirts or jeans this included the little girls. One of the things I took away from this experience was that in this place, more than any other, I felt a real reverence for God. We walked in, and there was silence. The congregants were praying, silently and on their knees. This is not so atypical for Catholic parishes, but if you are a protestant or another religion, you may not have experienced this. When the Mass started, the first thing I noticed was the literal army of altar servers that appeared. There must have been 7 or 8 of them. The procession was beautiful, and brought in with the amazing choir singing in the loft. I had to turn around just to make sure Anthony Rooley's Consort of Musik was not behind me. I half expected Emma Kirkby, my favorite soprano singer, to wave and smile when I turned around.

Despite not knowing when to kneel, or the fact that we missed grabbing a Latin missal from the vestibule, we followed along as best we could. During the celebration of the Mass, which was almost all sung, the people prayed and watched awesome anticipation of Communion.

The homily was so perfect and Christ centered. It really made me realize what the point of sermons is: to prepare us to receive Communion. It did exactly that. Once that was over, the liturgy resumed and the people went to the communion rail and knelt down by rows to receive.

When the Mass had ended, the faithful did not get up and leave noisily like in most places I've been. They stayed there kneeling in "thanksgiving". We stayed around for a few more minutes, kneeling with everyone. Incense was in the air, and the whole experience just overflowed with reverence and devotion. It was absolutely amazing.

This is the Parish Website,
St. Michael the Archangel Roman Catholic Parish

It is worth visiting the website JUST to listen to the choir. I can't believe these people live in my area and "perform" every week in church.


Moneybags said...

As someone aspiring to become a priest, I am very close to the Tridentine Rite. I love it, and I appreciate this post of yours.

Thank you!

David Raber said...

Not to rain on your parade or anything, but don't you think it's possible to give a little too much significance to the form of the mass (the quality of the show)?

I know there are some traditionalists who seem to go so far as to attach a theological significance to the use of Latin and other elements of the mass--just as there have been some Anglicans very attached to a certain version of their prayer book.

As far as newer music goes, I have heard it derided as "campfire" music. Let's remember that "Gregorian Chant," or whatever other type of liturgical music you could mention, was once itself a new type of music (and no doubt derided in its time).

Let's face it, creative musical people who also love God will always want to make their own music to worship God--and just as certainly, the best of what they come up will will be appreciated years and years from now.

One more point about the Latin. I see some value in a universal language for the mass, as a sign of unity; on the other hand, the vernacular is more easily understood, and closer to the people as their everday language, so there is benefit in that too.

In sum, the mass is the mass if it is the mass of the church, and we can have our personal opinions about its style and accoutrements and its emotional impact on us, but these don't essentially add or subtract from it. It is the Eucharist there for us, a great gift--thank God for it.

And my heartfelt congratulations on your joining the church.--Dave

Matt said...

Hi David,

Please understand that this post if from over a year ago, well before I entered the Church this past weekend.

So yes, having only been to Novus Ordos before this I was awestruck. Who wouldn't be?

That being said I do not believe the Novus Ordo to be invalid. I often went to a NO mass before my catechism lessons on saturdays. No problem. I will go many more times for sure.

As for the campfire tunes at mass...well...I wouldn't characterize them like that. To me, those little missalette and "music edition" books in the pews sound like rock music without drums accompanied by organ. I agree with you that in every time period people are going to want to write their own music to worship God. We could use more of that, especially with the coming liturgical renaissance.

However, there was secular music 1000 years ago that wasn't aloud in the Church. I believe that should be the case now. Some music is completely inappropriate in a Catholic Church. That may include some of those "campfire songs" but it also includes some of the greatest classical composers of all time. We wouldn't want a Mahler symphony played at mass, right?

As a musician and someone who has studied music history, I have to disagree with your point that Gregorian Chant was once derided like the music we have nowadays. First off, Gregorian chant and its musical starting point are way older than the church. It is based, as all music is, on the equations of Pythagoras to create a scale and later perfected. Peoples' ears eventually warmed to different combinations of steps and pitches which naturally gave way "progress" musically. So basically what you have is a natural progression since ancient Greek times carried on into what I'm singing now in my Liber Usualis. That is a real short course and I didn't do it much justice. Finding the continuity between chant and On Eagles Wings is a little more difficult to do. But that doesn't make it inappropriate in and of itself. Thats a matter of taste I guess, which is what it all boils down to.

I agree with you 100% that the mass is the mass. The Church says the NO is the standard today, then so be it. I accept that. I have never seen one done entirely with due reverence (except on EWTN) but I believe it can be done.

"The whole truth is generally the ally of virtue; a half-truth is always the ally of some vice." - G.K. Chesterton