Thursday, February 17, 2022

Something Extraordinary: Reflections on the liturgy

I basked in the flow of twinkly lights and newlywed joy as my white dress swept across the reception hall's floor. Greeting the many friends and family who had come, I was approached by a non-Catholic neighbor. Her face was aglow as she began talking about our wedding Mass. I sat back, in awe of God, she murmured. 

Our wedding, a Nuptial Mass in the Extraordinary Form (sometimes referred to as the Latin Mass) moved her. In some way, it touched her heart and soul. The beauty of this liturgy brought us together, despite our different religious backgrounds, in worship and awe of God. 

Several months earlier, my then-fiancé and I stood at the doors of the St. Peter's Basilica as morning light broke through the sky. A a small smattering of people-mainly religious sisters-stood nearby, waiting. Finally, the doors opened, and we burst into the cavernous basilica. A stream of priests flooded from a side door and began distributing themselves among the many small altars that dotted the perimeter of the room. My fiancé and I stood there briefly, trying to figure out which Mass we wanted to attend. As we stood in silence, a young priest approached us. 

Do you know how to celebrate the Latin Mass? he asked my fiancé. 

We looked at each other and grinned. 

No, he responded. But we'll come!

An altar server suddenly appeared, and we followed as the priest led us to a small side altar. There, in the gentle hush of the early morning, we participated in this ancient form of the Mass. The gentle cadence of the Latin language and the silence of the liturgy moved our hearts in prayer. The four of us were brought together with the whole Church in this prayerful liturgy, this offering of sacrifice and praise to God. 

Years before that gentle morning in St. Peter's Basilica, I had begun learning about the depth of Catholicism. I discovered that there was more to this Church than I had personally experienced from my little corner of the pew on Sundays (Imagine there being more in this 2,000-year-old Church than I had personally witnessed! Shocking, right?). Some friends had told me about a local parish that, in addition to its Novos Ordo Masses in English and Vietnamese, also offered Mass in the Extraordinary Form (preconciliar form). I was intrigued, and when an out-of-state family friend unexpectedly showed up one Saturday evening to visit, she also looked at me squarely in the eye and announced that she could take me to Latin Mass in the morning. 

The next morning found me kneeling in a quiet church, absorbed intently in this liturgy that was simultaneously familiar and all-new. I flung down the little red booklet that was provided to help me "follow along," and simply focused my eyes and heart on a simple prayerful presence at this Mass. It was a "Low Mass," so there was no music and very little audible dialogue. Yet, the absence of noise was not barren, but rich--and afterwards, I was beaming. I couldn't stop gushing; my heart was filled with joy. I had been, literally, in Heaven. Every liturgy, no matter which language or rite it is in, is a gift; 

"every liturgical celebration, because it is an action of Christ the priest and of His Body which is the Church, is a sacred action surpassing all others; no other action of the Church can equal its efficacy by the same title and to the same degree." (Sacrosanctum Concilum #7)

Yet, there was something different about this centuries-old form of the Mass that I attended. The solemnity, reverence, silence, and intensely prayerful atmosphere hit my soul with the tremendous reality of what was happening in that church, with Who was being made present on that altar in the sacrament of the Eucharist. It truly was something extraordinary.

Not everyone has experienced a similar joy when attending this form of the Mass, but no matter what our personal preferences or opinions may be, the fact still remains: for Roman Catholics of the Latin Rite, this Mass in the extraordinary form, with all of its Latin and hushed dialogue between the priest and the altar server, with all of its rich signs and gestures, is part of our heritage. It's part of our history, and it's something that we all can learn from. 

Pope Francis, in his 2021 motu proprio, Traditionis Custodes, indicates a desire "to press on ever more in the constant search for ecclesial communion." I, too, desire ecclesial communion and greater unity. Unity is an intention constantly on my heart and in my prayers. We need to grow in the unity that God calls us to (see John 17). In fact, when I first read this motu proprio, I felt confusion and sorrow, but also hope--that this would, somehow, bring about greater unity and communion, even if I couldn't see how these restrictions would achieve those things. 

In Summorum Pontificum, the 2007 motu proprio that made the extraordinary form of the Mass more accessible, Pope Benedict XVI also writes about the importance of unity: 

"He [the parish priest] should ensure that the good of these members of the faithful is harmonized with the ordinary pastoral care of the parish, under the governance of the bishop in accordance with Canon 392, avoiding discord and favouring the unity of the whole Church." (emphasis is my own)

I have no doubt that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI continues to pray for unity of the whole Church, and I truly believe that Pope Francis does, as well. So do countless Catholics in the pews at both "Latin Mass parishes" and those at "Novus Ordo parishes," like me. We are all sinners in need of God's mercy, so let's pray for each other, and try to work compassionately towards greater unity as a diverse Church of many rites, people, and cultures. 

1 comment:

  1. There is so much beauty in our heritage as Catholics! It is so incredible how that can touch people who do not have much exposure to Catholicism. It makes me so excited planning my own nuptial mass. I so hope people come away from it being moved, too!