Monday, July 07, 2008

Te Deum: One Year Later

It has been one year since the Holy Father issued the motu proprio (that is, a decree totally on his own initiative) Summorum Pontificum, which allows for the general, if extraordinary, celebration of the classical usage of the Roman Rite (commonly known as the "Tridentine Mass" or simply "the Old Mass"). Much is being written upon reflection among devout Catholics, including Father Zuhlsdorf of WDTPRS, Shawn Tribe et al at The New Liturgical Movement, and Pat Archbold of The Gregorian Rite.

Last October, I began my tenure as Master of Ceremonies for the Traditional Mass at the parish of St John the Beloved in McLean, Virginia. A master of ceremonies is a lower cleric or (in my case) an untonsured surrogate, who assists the priest at the altar, and discreetly supervises the choreography of the other altar servers in attendance. A bishop will typically have and/or make official visits with a designated MC, usually a deacon or a priest. Outside his private chapel, the Holy Father always has one, usually a Titular Archbishop (one with title, but not territory) appointed for the task. It has been a thoroughly rewarding and spiritually edifying experience. Not only am I entrusted with standing at the priest's side on the top step of God's altar giving directions in the missal and all, but I have the privilege of overseeing the training and development of over two dozen altar servers.

Elsewhere in my diocese, despite the full support of our Bishop, the response to the papal decree has been described by one critic as "tepid." There are currently only two other places in northern Virginia that offer the Traditional Mass every Sunday. In most areas of our lives, re-inventing the wheel is hard enough. Learning to say Mass all over again, especially when you're already busy enough, is no exception. But you really can't tell people that. They want what they want, and having been put off for years, often by the lamest of excuses, they want it now. I can sympathize with them to some degree, because I know how thankful I am to have my opportunity.

Still, every Sunday morning, I leave the house at 10:30, drive past the Cathedral Parish where I'm registered, to go eight miles to another parish. I arrive at 11, make preparations, take charge when the previous Mass lets out (on a good day) at 11:30, ring the bell at the stroke of 12, stay on my feet (except for the homily) for ninety minutes, finish clean-up at 2, and finally get home at 2:30.

I'm away from home for four hours. I do this every Sunday. For this, I gave up being a lay reader at a parish where they expected me to step up to the altar before Communion and shake hands with the priest for the "Sign of Peace" (an illicit directive which I politely ignored), and contributing to the inane chatter that characterizes contemporary Catholic worship by making superfluous announcements that were repeated in the bulletin, invariably followed by the celebrant's additional remarks on why they need more money to fix something. Yada yada yada...

Except for a couple of times off during the summer on other pressing matters, I wouldn't miss what I'm doing now for the world.

(VIDEO: Traditional Latin Mass filmed on Easter Sunday in 1941 at Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Chicago. The film presents the ceremonies of the Missa Solemnis or Solemn High Mass in full detail with narration by then-Msgr Fulton J Sheen. Celebrated by Rev J R Keane of the Order of Servites (hence the white habits and cowls), the ceremonies are accompanied by a full polyphonic choir, orchestra, and fifty Gregorian Chanters. Abridged from original to comply with YouTube file size requirements.)

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