On the weekend I had the privilege to sing in a Gregorian schola for a special Traditional Latin, or “extraordinary form”, or “Tridentine”, Mass at the University of Toronto. The event seems to have been a good success. The music turned out fairly well, apart from one highly dissonant interval accidentally produced by yours truly. The church was full, and many of those who attended had never been to an extraordinary form Mass before. Afterward, there was a Q&A session at which people were given an opportunity to ask questions and make comments.
A few observations, based on my own experience and the comments I heard from others:
— First, the Mass was organized and served by young people, and a good proportion of the congregation was young. This is perhaps not too surprising, given that it is a university parish, but nonetheless it was encouraging to me to see that many young Catholics taking an interest in this very traditional form of worship.
— This was not my first extraordinary form Mass — it was perhaps my tenth or so — but those for whom it was their first found it confusing. Everyone was supplied with a missal containing the order of service, but I gather that without the overt cues from the priest or cantor, a fair number of people lost track of what was happening. This is an issue that more familiarity and a little education would remedy.
— Some people remarked that their confusion was, in a sort of perverse way, edifying, because it emphasized the objectivity of the Mass: the consecration was happening whether they understood it or not. An interesting point, but definitely a silver lining.
— One person complained at the post-Mass Q&A that the liturgy did not encourage enough “active participation” of the congregation. A few people expressed privately to me that they felt more like observers than participants. I think this is a common feeling for those who are used to the ordinary form of the rite: without the cues to do something, one can have a sense of vacancy, waiting for something to happen. But I am inclined to attribute this to wrong expectations: in the older rite the priest is not the focus of attention to the same degree as in the newer one; watching him is bound to get dull. The older rite grants the congregation long periods of prayerful silence. If you’re not praying in that way, you’ll be left with a vacant feeling. Again, I think that greater familiarity with the older rite would help to ameliorate this problem.
— On a similar note, a few people said that there were not enough chances for the congregation to sing or respond. Some felt left out when the schola sang the chant, and I understand that reaction — that’s why I joined the schola. But it is not the case that in the newer form the congregation does sing those texts; they are almost always simply dropped from the liturgy, so they don’t count as a lost opportunity. I believe that the Our Father and the psalm are the two texts which the congregation says or sings in the new form but not in the old. On the other hand, the congregation gets more “Et cum spiritu tuo“s in the older form.
— The priest decided to sing the readings in Latin. This was standard before Vatican II, but when Pope Benedict revived the extraordinary form a few years ago he permitted the substitution of readings in the vernacular. It seems to be simple good sense to take advantage of that permission. (Although it was lovely to hear the Scripture sung to those old tones.)
— A few people remarked at the Q&A session that they liked kneeling to receive the Eucharist, and they liked receiving directly on the tongue, rather than in the hand. (At this church, which doesn’t even have kneelers in the pews (!), it is standard practice to receive in the hand while standing.)
— One elderly woman spoke up, with emotion in her voice, and said that hearing the Gregorian chant again, after so many years, had touched her deeply. I was humbled by that, of course, but not to the extent of demurring. The chant is wonderful, and we ought to restore it to “pride of place” in the liturgy, in accordance with the wishes (and instructions) of Vatican II.
Salt and Light Television was on hand with their one-eyed monsters, but I don’t know anything about their broadcast plans. If anyone who attended the Mass is reading this and wishes to leave a comment, you are most welcome to do so.