I found A liturgical abuse… very interesting on my old friend’s blog. As usual, Patrick is a tad categorical. He sees it from the point of view of a layman, and myself from the point of view of a priest who rarely has anyone at Mass. That leads to another issue, on which I have already written in Mass without a congregation. Anglicanism since the Reformation banned it and Roman Catholic canon law has only loosened the ban since the new Code of 1983. Before then, a priest who was on his own like Fr Charles de Foucault had to apply for an indult to say Mass without a server.
Should Mass be forbidden unless there is everything required for High Mass with music and full ceremonies? That would be excessive. Most of the masses I celebrate are solitary. I have the cruets on the altar and make my own responses. It isn’t ideal, but daily Mass helps me to maintain a priestly identity, however minimal, as well as being the sacrificial prayer to God of the entire Church including the saints and the souls of the departed. Should I stop saying Mass? I have already answered the question, and that answer is largely determined by the place where I live.
The subject is this article is really the use of a specific “low mass” model when celebrating Mass with a congregation with or without a server. The problem goes back a long way to the various late medieval scholastic theories of the distinction between the one Sacrifice of Christ on the cross and the application of that sacrifice through the sacrifice of the Mass. The more Mass is celebrated, the more the Redemption is “effective”. I frankly find the subject boring, but can recommend Fr Joseph de Sainte-Marie, L’Eucharistie, Salut du Monde, Paris 1981. I am sure that an English translation exists of this work.
During the period after the Council of Trent, churches in towns put on as many low masses as they had priests and one high mass (capitular, conventual or parochial). People could freely go and receive Communion at the side altars if they were at peace with their consciences, and lay Communion was rare until the beginning of the twentieth century. There arose a tendency for some people to prefer low mass to high mass for reasons of expediency or because they preferred quietness for their devotions to a liturgical service with ceremonial and music.
I touched on the “low mass ideology” when I wrote my mémoire at Fribourg University, but found I had little to add to the usual dialectics between traditionalists and those promoting pastoralism and modern liturgical forms like Mass facing the people. Rocks and hard places, Scylla and Charybdis, you name it. During the time I spent with the traditionalists, I found the medieval theories and practice perpetuated – the “blessed mutter of the Mass“, high mass ceremonies as something added to the “primitive” form. If we study the Tridentine ritus servandus, we will see the essential structure being a priest saying low mass with the sacred ministers “adding ceremonies”. This was the greatest defect of the Tridentine codification, and it went unnoticed. When I did my research in Fribourg University Library (no internet in those days), I discovered the collusion between late medieval scholastic theory and practice and those of Luther, Calvin, Cranmer and others. I wrote:
The Mass came to be regarded as an occasion of private and subjective devotion: such an attitude would lead inevitably to the protestant conception of the Eucharist. The logical development would have been to remove the external action, leaving the individual to his devotions.
Looking at my footnotes, I referred particularly to Dom Gregory Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy, London 1945. Dix quoted the English Puritan divines as having said:
The minister is appointed for the people in all publick services appertaining unto God, and the Holy Scriptures both of the Old and New Testaments intimating the people’s part in publick prayer to be only with silence and reverence to attend thereunto.
That is a direct consequence of the “low mass mentality”, even though the rites were mutilated and emphasis was placed on community, communion and memorial. This quote expresses an even greater degree of clericalism than in the medieval Church! It is true that such a notion led to the drab and dreary services of the eighteenth century or the average Roman Catholic parish since the 1970’s. Mass facing the people alone would not reverse this underlying mentality.
What about my own experience? Most of the masses I say are celebrated by the priest alone and without music, though I do make the effort for some feasts to use incense and sing the ordinary and proper of the Mass, either in Latin or English. Whatever I do, I either have no one in the chapel or occasionally my wife and mother-in-law (for whom I say Mass in French according to the best translation I have compiled myself from other sources). It is still a low mass. The only difference is that it is something imposed on me rather than something I have chosen for theological and spiritual reasons.
This is not confined to my own situation, but also to many other places or worship and priests who are struggling with practically nothing. It isn’t the ideal, but we do what we can.
I wouldn’t sail the Atlantic in my twelve-foot boat – if you get my meaning. But, I would do it in a ship with the right skills and crew. That is something else…