The Mass We Make

Many thanks to Arlene Oost-Zinner for raising the question anew of the value of worship aids at Mass.

Personally I love them because they can act as a vehicle for all of the propers to be written out. Contrary to some underinformed claims, the 1962 Missal contains far more Scripture than is heard at those Ordinary Form Masses in which the proper texts are omitted. This is because the proper texts are almost always composed entirely of Scripture. Instead of one Responsorial Psalm, the proper texts of the Mass offer the equivalent of 5. I enjoy reading the Communion Antiphon much more than singing one of the same old songs about bread and wine.

Unfortunately, however, worship aids in themselves express something quite contrary to the true spirit of the Liturgy. Worship aids strongly suggest that the Mass is something we make, according to our own lights. Instead of receiving the Mass that is given, we make the Mass that we choose.

When we consider the proportion of the time at Mass which is spent in singing, these choices can seem to take precedence over the text of the Mass itself. And then considering that sung music affects us much more deeply than spoken words, then we might say that the one person who has the most spiritual effect on the people at Mass is the music director who makes these decisions.

Isn’t this an extraordinarily arbitrary situation for the Mass, and for the People of God who attend? Are they receiving the best of what the Church’s pastors have in store for them?

35 Replies to “The Mass We Make”

  1. When one considers the unintelligibility of Latin to the vast majority of Catholics mostly since the 8th century, give or take, I'd have to say the post-conciliar liturgy has it all over 1962. Throw in the possibility of three or more songs or hymns based on Scripture, and the potential infusion of the Bible into the Mass has never been greater.

    And it may well be that instead of a mindless ordering of Psalms from 1 to 150 in ordinary time, that many music directors actually have a better bead on the Lectionary, if not the Bible by a careful programming of Scripture-based music.

    Maybe its time to call into question the Mass the Vatican bureaucrats have chosen, and instead open up the discernment a bit wider.


  2. KP "Instead of receiving the Mass that is given, we make the Mass that we choose."

    CS "Maybe its time to call into question the Mass the Vatican bureaucrats have chosen, and instead open up the discernment a bit wider. "


  3. Well, now, you're moving the goal posts there, Todd. I thought your assertion was that there is much more Scripture after the Council–but really that is not so.

    The use of the Psalter as a sequential reading over time is not "mindless." It's monastic. It has very deep roots, much more so than the "thematic" reading of the Sundays of the year. The Lectionary is only one aspect of the Scriptural riches of the Church. Even over a three-year cycle it's quite limited.

  4. I'm just looking at the goal posts from the perspective of a keeper. Were we talking American football? Sorry. I can stick to that field of play.

    No, I think we have more Scripture after.

    I also think a prudential argument can be made that a monastic sequential Psalter fits for a community that prays daily, and prays the Hours. The Propers at Mass strike me as problematic for two big ways. First, it is a leftover from the 1962 Rite and if we were serious about using them (which I'm not convinced we, the Church, were) we would reform them. Two, I think we need more than Psalms and Gospel snippets. More canticles and lyrical passages from the Scripture would expand the offerings in a way that the post-conciliar Lectionary opened up more of the riches of the Bible.

    The Propers are all about some level of preservation of a musical repertoire. A very worthy treasure to be sure. But not as good as it could be. And human-driven in the sense that it's more about the music than the actual Bible verses sung.


  5. The Propers are part of the "1962 Rite"? The Propers have been integral texts of Latin Rite liturgies since the middle of the first millennium of Christianity.

  6. Rumour has it that Piero Marini will be the next Prefect of the CDWDS. In that case he might co-opt Todd onto his team and between them they could create liturgies worthy of the 21st century.

    It would be a great boost for the Extraordinary Form!

  7. KP: "The 1962 Missal contains far more Scripture than is heard at those Ordinary Form Masses in which the proper texts are omitted"

    CS: "No, I think we have more Scripture after."


  8. That would be a very interesting assignment. But the ordinary course would be to get on a consulting committee.

    Anyway, no thanks. I prefer ministry at the margins. Except for the wine and the views of Tuscany and the churches and fountains of Rome, give me an American college town any day.

    And Kathy, to clarify: the Propers need reform. Readings have also been a part of Latin Rite liturgies, and probably for a good bit longer than Propers as they are constituted today.

    Getting back to Kathy's title, the Propers are as much a human manufacture as anything in the Mass.


  9. "Todd could care less."

    Thanks, actually. That is literally true.

    Cardinal Marini may be the new CDWDS head. That would be … interesting.

    Not as interesting is the degeneration in the conversation here. Time to leave.


    Chapters: 89, Verses: 3,779

    Pre-Vatican II Missal:
    848 verses used, 22.4 %

    Current Lectionary, Sundays, Major Feasts:
    2,184 verses used, 57.8 %

    Current Lectionary, Sundays & Weekdays:
    3,393 verses used, 89.8 %

    Chapters: 61, Verses: 1,493

    Pre-Vatican II Missal:
    270 verses used, 18.1 %

    Current Lectionary, Sundays, Major Feasts:
    468 verses used, 31.3 %

    Current Lectionary, Sundays & Weekdays:
    846 verses used, 56.7 %


  11. I read this and think about something that a nun said at a deanery gathering of musicians, clergy, and rel. ed. Folks: The liturgy is not lacking; we are lacking. Maybe I'm buying into that too much, but it seems to me that the Propers as they stand are fine. Maybe it's up to us to 'connect' them with the readings. Maybe they just 'are.' The Ordinary texts don't especially reflect the tone of the readings either. In my current situation, I try to program at least one hymn or song based on a proper of the day, usually entrance or communion ( because they're printed in our throw-away missals.)
    I guess for me it's this: the Church gave us the Mass, inspired by the Holy Spirit. Far be it from me to second guess that.

  12. Todd, I believe an evangelist can find places to minister "at the margins" at any point on the globe, at a rich parish as well as huts consecrated in a rainforest. Both HHFrancis and the heroic priest beheaded in Syria teach this to us everyday. Now, on with the subject at hand.
    I really appreciate Adam's advice because it suggests an obvious answer to your specific contention that the Propers need reform, namely the continuum of their and other reforms is ongoing. We are in the midst of their reform. In other arguments you have pronounced them deficient and disjunct so as to appear out of accord with the revised lectionary, particularly out of certain seasons and in ordinary time. I can't think of a single CMAA "expert" of whom I listened to who would disagree with some of your point, but only within specific contexts. However, I would ask you to concede my point that the Propers are, in fact, enjoying the process of reform. How?
    Through the wisdom of many fine liturgists past and present since VII, and the Holy Fathers including the one whom you've stated you held little regard as a liturgist, B16, there is a consensus that the Psalter is the wellspring of all Christian worship, and the Psalms, just as the gospels have their analogues in the OT, also find their analogues in the NT in Jesus' words, his sermons, his parables and most explicitly in His actions. Well, the Propers as constituted (and I regret your use of the term manufactored) in the Latin Graduale do not easily cross over into the vernacular missals for all the reasons mentioned here and elsewhere. But to put them at odds with hymns and scriptural allusions as thus insufficient for scriptural quantity heard at Mass, or that their monastic heritage and weekly order deprives the believer of scriptural quality seems nonsensical to me. So, you have the Adam Bartlett's, the Samuel Weber's, the Columba Kelly's et al, in addition to your Deiss's, Foley's, Joncas' and doubtless many other lingual scholars working to reform the Propers so that the option, whether you recognize it as a heirarchical priority or not, can be reintroduced rightfully to the faithful in a process much st and/or legitimate that they were discarded decades if not centuries before and after the Council.I think the disdain that seems to eminate in your choice of critical rhetoric is crucial for dialogue. Worship is a human endeavor that we who respect God's desire to be loved in return choose to offer Him. But the texts we employ we acknowledge, one way or the other, to be divinely bestowed. I see no benefit in pitting one form of those inspired and then authored gifts at odds with each other. I do see a benefit of respecting both our traditions and those of our forebears in monotheism, as well as the thoroughly discerned widom of the Church over time, at odds.

  13. People might be interested in my blog, I have compiled some resources that might make this sort of comparison between EF and OF easier. There is a table of all the propers and readings in the EF organised by the liturgical year, and also a scriptural index of the same, as well as some other articles and resources I have spotted on the internet.

    Everything is available for free – I hope people find the site useful!

  14. Sensible observations, Charles. Benedict XVI's status as a liturgist was acknowledged by none other than Piero Marini. I think we should restrict the term 'liturgist' to the small number of genuine liturgical scholars (some of whom addressed the Sacra Liturgia conference in Rome last week) rather than apply it indiscriminately to parish 'liturgy planners' (whose very existence is problematical in liturgical terms) and music directors.

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but don't the classic Roman Rite Mass Propers need to be seen in the context of the Office, particularly the long monastic Office of Matins/Vigils?

  15. I'm not sure why many Catholics, hierarchy included, seem to shout from rooftops how much more Scripture there is in the Pauline Mass. I get the impression they are yelling at Protestants: "Hey, look at us, we love the bible, too". Now there are a myriad of reasons why the Church has weakened, and bled members from Catholicism like an oil gusher, but I believe that Catholics were better off, and the world would have been better off, if there had been no revision to the Mass, and yes, I'll say it; the world would have been better off if there had been no Vatican II. The Church would have held much firmer against abortion and homosexual totalitarianism. Also, Catholics in the pew in the 50's knew their bible as well as Catholics in the pew today.

  16. While I cannot agree with all you say, I agree with you that it is a confusing time and that recovering a healthy sense of Catholic identity is part of the solution.

    The times immediately following a Council are often quite unsettling.

    Consider the value of "intensive" reading of Scripture rather than "extensive" reading, for example, and the strikingly Benedictine rhythms of the 1962, in which the times and seasons of the year were linked for each believer with a particular epistle and a particular Gospel. Consider the relatively shallow liturgical sensibility that guided the pairing of Old Testament passages with Gospel passages with often a thematic rather than a theological unity.

  17. "When one considers the unintelligibility of Latin to the vast majority of Catholics…"

    As someone who was in high school while Vatican II was in session, I dispute your assertion. It is true that in the years since the Council, few in the laity of paid any attention to the study of Latin, and sadly, for much of that time, the same could be said of the seminaries. However, the Novus Ordo and its implementation have brought to the liturgy a quite sad ordinariness. Reverence and any real sense of worship have all but disappeared from the pews. Very few pray before Mass in any meaningful way; many just carry on much as they would in the parish hall.

    Maybe it's time to institute good catechesis, especially with respect to the liturgy, and go back to the Mass as I knew it before the wreckovation.

  18. Now there are a myriad of reasons why the Church has weakened, and bled members from Catholicism like an oil gusher

    It's pretty small when you compare it to mainline Protestant denominations where people are leaving as if the buildings were on fire. You are right that this whole "There's more Scripture in the contemporary liturgy!" is an argument looking for a salient point. Thankfully, the booze of false ecumenicism is starting to wear off as more and more denominations veer off into Leftist Looneyland where not only is Scripture mangled into something unrecognizable, its barely recognizable as Christian.

  19. As usual, Kathy manages to hit the nail on the head without being unduly provocative. I do wonder, though, how long the 'unsettling' times will last – I was 14 when the Council ended in 1965 and my whole adult life seems to have been spent dodging the fall-out. Bishop Fellay has suggested 70 years, by which time I shall be 84, presuming I live that long (doubtful).

  20. Todd is generally mistaken in his views. I was in the same boat as you. Only a moron couldn't follow the Latin Mass with a Missal. I could chant 5 Latin ordinaries by heart at the age of 10. I guess Catholics were smarter then.

  21. Mr. JohnO, one is inclined to agree that is we who are lacking and not the liturgy. Perhaps it is symptomatic of our "Reject & Throw Away" society. What we do not understand immediately and/or that which requires some effort in understanding, we reject or we throw away. The consequences of such an attitude is, in the long term, debilitating and degrading. One only needs to look at the matter of "choice" and unloved foetuses to see the full impact of "rejected and thrown away". Sure, it takes work and effort and sacrifice to figure out the Latin (one neither speaks nor understands a word of it, but that is no impediment to fulfilling liturgical norms when required). And most certainly, great effort and sacrifice is needed to bring into the world and love unwanted babies. The point here is less about Latin and babies than about "choice" and "sacrifice". "Choice" un-makes the Mass. "Sacrifice", in EVERY sense of the word, is Mass. Thank you.

  22. From what I have seen, it is only the mainline Protestant denominations that the Novus Ordo mass was trying to accommodate that are in trouble. The denominations that have tried to stay closer to traditional morality and teachings seem to be doing substantially better. They are either holding their own or growing. LIkewise, the more liberal Catholic parishes are generally loosing members like the building was on fire while Latin mass parishes are generally growing rather quickly. If ours doesn't grow by at least 5% per year, we feel like we are stagnant. I hope all our Latin Mass parishes are also growing. It is such a blessing.

  23. Secondly, in over forty years of serving as a choirmaster (of choirs, sacred & secular), I have yet to come across a choir which would reject outright repertoire put in front of them on the basis of language alone. The notion that a language (and the music attached to it) is "unintelligible" (whether to the average American or some other nationality) is a pernicious poison which has been intravenously administered with neither the consent nor the knowledge of the patient. I find it hard to believe that a choir with no notion/knowledge of a particular repertoire would reject it outright simply because it didn't understand it. Thirdly, many have given ample airings to the Haugen & Haas, and continue to do so. While others, like Mr. Culbreth, go for a broader selection of the old and the new. Let me put it to you Mr. Todd, if it's never been tried, what irreparable loss would there be if you gave Pater Noster a break? Thank you.

  24. Wreckovation…yes, sadly yes. Attending Mass at St. Agnes Catholic Church in Minneapolis demonstrates what was really intended by V 2. So uplifting and Sacred…. "…to God Who giveth joy to my youth…" Oremus!

  25. To be fair to Todd, he does represent a line of liturgical thinking which existed before the Council, although the 20th century liturgical movement was by now means united in what it wanted to achieve. A majority did not want to dismantle the Roman Rite and replace it with something else, which is what happened in the second half of the 1960s. That is why those who are serious about liturgy nowadays tend to take 1962 as a starting point and then look both backwards and forwards. Choirs and congregations do not have to be completely conversant with Latin to understand the Ordinary nor even the Propers; in fact the legitimacy of the vernacular, all the more so since the corrected translation, paradoxically makes the Latin more intelligible.

    Those with a phobia about Latin either don't want to connect with the liturgical and musical heritage of the Church, or feel guilty that they were never taught it and that their much-vaunted education is deficient. It's an adult thing – children think that singing in Latin is 'cool'.

  26. Actually, it's older than monastic practice. Singing the psalms together — the correct psalms for each of the hours — was a well-loved lay practice among early Christians — and they brought it with them from Judaism. The monks and nuns just kept it up when the rest of us dropped it. So laypeople picking it back up again would be perfectly normal, just like including the propers in Mass is perfectly normal.

  27. Those with a phobia about Latin….Latin is 'cool.' Here, here! The church choir I direct was 'raised' on Haugen, Haas, et al. They enjoy singing now in Latin, chant, and we're working the polyphony. They want to learn what Catholic music and liturgy is and could/should be.

  28. More power to you elbow, JohnO! We sometimes forget that most Catholics who still attend Mass do so at their local parish church, and accept what they are given as the norm. It's strange to see those whose cultural milieu is Covent Garden or Glyndebourne leave their cultural faculties in the church porch and submit to pop, faux-folk and kindergarten music (although few join in). And contrary to what some commentators here may assert, bad music is never redeemed by the text.

    Watch out for the dinosaurs in the congregation, however. Though small in number, they tend to be vociferous. Fr Smith's article above accurately describes the state of play, but the average parish will be slow to catch up.

  29. Agreed. Those with Latin phobia shouldn't be Latin-phobic: the secret is that you'll catch on, and faster than you think. Just be curious; go in with an open heart and mind, and you will be fine. Knowing at least the ordinaries of the Mass in Latin or even prayers in Latin will also force you to think more closely when you pray them in English. Sometimes, even so much as a different word order will help reorient you, or lead you to ask questions about what we believe.

    Besides, I've come across enough instances where some with Latin phobia will be all excited that they attended a Mass in Spanish or Italian– that it was "neat"– when it's not like they understand Spanish or Italian, either.

  30. I was away from the Church from my early teens until three years ago (I'm 57). When I went to Mass for the first time in decades I arrived at the church about 20 minutes early to sit in the quiet and pray. When I entered the church I was shocked- It was like entering a bingo hall- loud conversation, laughing etc. The Novus Ordo mass was oddly vapid and bloodless (no pun intended). Truly, much has been lost.

  31. Evidence abounds that the New Mass (what Dobszay calls the "Bugnini Mass") was seen by the bishops, clergy and lay "ministers" of the United States as a giant opportunity to suppress Roman Catholic liturgical endowment. The opportunists created, as Dobszay shows, yet another of many "Reform Liturgies" that emerged in the 400 years following the Protestant Reformation. (This may stem from the general deficiency in education of the majority of Catholic Bishops, clergy and laity, as observed by Cardinal Newman when he entered The Church in 19th C England.)

    The mechanisms, among others, were 2 powerful ones: 1st – total suppression of the Roman Canon via implementation, to erase the Church's memory about the Eucharist Sacrifice from the minds of its children; 2nd – exploit the vernacular translation to empty out more spiritual content from the other Mass parts. The effect was to disable the average Catholic's ability to connect back to the Catholic identity handed down through the ages.

    The Novus Ordo, unless celebrated using The Roman Canon, has no almost no cultural content as a Roman Catholic Rite. It is an American (Rev. McManus) concoction.

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