Low Mass, Any Form, RIP

In “Support Dropping” combox, Gavin wondered

(D)oes Todd also support the banning of the Ordinary Form Low Mass as well?

My short answer is yes. Though I see the query as a trick question of sorts. A clarification:

The Roman Missal no longer makes a distinction between High Mass and Low Mass. From my reading of the Missal, the GIRM, and the documents, I see an ideal held out to the clergy and faithful of Catholicism: sing the Mass with full and active participation at every opportunity. The High/Low dichotomy of the 1570/1962 rite is a needless and impoverished boxing-in of the celebration of liturgy.

While I recognize the efficacy of the Mass celebrated under conditions of privation, either imposed from within the Church or without, a more perfect celebration takes place when the full flowering of ministry and participation is allowed to take place. It’s eminently sensible of Rome to employ the principle of progressive solemnity: do what you can, when you can, eyeing the hierarchical nature of the liturgical year, and taking into account local sensibilities and abilities.

Daily Mass, for example, ideally includes a sung psalm, alleluia, and Eucharistic acclamations. Probably a song or two, too, because this is an accustomed practice from the four-hymn sandwich years. Obviously, the priest singing the dialogues is an easy step to take as well.

If there was a significant observance at a daily Mass (Annunciation, or a major feast) maybe musical accompaniment would be added for these sung pieces. A holy day Mass would look like Sunday: a full set of liturgical ministries. For the purpose of faith formation, Masses with children and teens would be more developed than the usual daily Masses. In most places already, they look like Sunday Masses, as well they should, considering they are the apprenticeship for young Catholics. It goes without saying that additional effort is put into major solemnities–and most parishes instinctively recognize the importance of Christmas and Easter, if not First Communions, Confirmations, and the pastor’s anniversary.

Before 1970, you had two choices: High or Low. The modern Roman Rite is far more sensible in this regard. The local leadership chooses an appropriate level of celebratory effort. We don’t quibble about High and Low; we aim in between much of the time, and hope that next year we get a little higher.

I think this has been a successful principle for Catholic liturgy over the past forty years. I’m not enough of an expert on the TLM or its practitioners to know if they would start gurgling at the suggestion that elements of the Low Mass and High Mass can and probably should be intermixed. I can tell you that after two decades of Massgoers accustomed to some a cappella singing (at minimum) at daily and early Sunday Masses, I’m not sure the silent Low Mass has anything whatsoever to offer me or my parishes or the Catholic Church at large. The modern Roman Rite has already improved and reformed it. It’s a dead consideration in my view.

What the Traditional High Mass might offer is a sense of reverence, style, and solemnity. But the best OF liturgies already do this. Rather than look to a form for inspiration, I’d prefer to look to Christ, and the observance of his Paschal Mystery. At the top of my list of liturgies to emulate are the Easter Vigil, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday and season, Christmas, and the major events when participation is vigorous, the preparation has been thorough, and the assembly is deeply motivated and spiritual. If you’ll pardon my borrowing a frequent criticism of traditionalists, the allure of the EF strikes me as more people-centered.

All that said, the Roman Rite gives pastors the leeway to make pastoral adjustments. I’m aware of parishes in which people choose not to participate, or their involvement is minimal. I don’t have the answers for them. I would wonder that such communities suffer a grave spiritual lack, and it would be the task of the pastor to help them reinvigorate an appropriate expression of faith in worship. It might be that resistance to music or other forms of participation is grounded in negative experiences of the past. In some cases, the busy schedules of modern life prevent people from entering fully into the Eucharistic mystery. In which case, the onus for the liturgical leadership is to ease people into a fully Catholic expression with the highest quality at judiciously chosen opportunities.

It might beg the question: is a quickie Mass better than none at all? We might ask the question of any of our bugaboos (certain hymns, certain priests, etc.) and we know that some people indeed think not going to Mass is better than its celebration.

As for my own perceived antagonism to the EF, I have little more to say. I see it as inferior to the modern Roman Rite in many ways. I think it works for intentional communities more because these folks are more open to God’s grace, but I suspect that is, in part, due to the commitment level they bring as a community. If one of our students were to ask me point blank if I thought the TLM had anything to offer our parish, I would have to honestly say, “Vanishingly little.”

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Liturgy. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Low Mass, Any Form, RIP

  1. Liam says:

    One of the reasons I believe simple plainsong (vernacular and Latin) settings of the ordinary are the foundation of liturgical music in parish life is that they permit the congregation to sing at daily Mass without the need for an accompanist. The New Plainsong Mass by *David* Hurd was very useful for this, for example.

    I have no personal interest in the EF, though I don’t object to its being made available as necessitated by sustained interest or need. As I’ve said before, perhaps having it regularly available in one parish in every deanery/vicariate forane of a diocese would probably more than respond to most of the interest and need.

  2. Todd says:

    Agreed on the music and the rest.

    The availability of the EF is a given, and if you pressed me pastorally, I would count myself among the 25%. I’ve never gotten the sense that TLM advocates have been in a receptive mode for liturgical reform, even by their own definition. And in turn, it’s really unclear to me what the EF offers the OF.

  3. Sam Schmitt says:

    “I’m not enough of an expert on the TLM or its practitioners to know if they would start gurgling at the suggestion that elements of the Low Mass and High Mass can and probably should be intermixed.”

    As a matter of fact, this intermixing goes on quite a bit with celebrations of the TLM, from what I’ve heard. Most often this means that the ordinary is sung, but not the propers.

    From the online discussions I’ve read, it seems that many musicians working with the TLM would not be adverse to the principle of progressive solemnity in that form of the rite (myself included).

  4. David D. says:

    Very interesting topic.

    The Low Mass offers at least one desirable liturgical element, albeit to the exclusion of and out of proportion to others, that is conspicuously lacking at many Sunday Masses: silence. “The importance of silence in the Liturgy cannot be overemphasized”(Sttl ¶ 118). Yet at many Churches the only opportunity for quiet meditation is in the parking lot before and after Mass. Too much extra-liturgical chitchat before and after Mass. Too much use of electronic amplification by priests, lectors, cantors, etc. Too many music directors who feel the need for wall-to-wall music.

    To follow up on Mr. Schmitt’s comment, in my own personal experience of attending several hundred EF Masses over the past 6 or so years, I have never once heard the ordinary sung without the propers also being sung. To the extent that this does happen I think it is the rare exception rather than the rule.

    Many Trads would no doubt scream bloody murder if the Low Mass were banned and SttL style progressive solemnity were permitted just as they would scream bloody murder if any change were made to the 62 Missal unless it were a reversion to some previous edition. While others certainly understand that at least some change is both inevitable and desirable, perhaps for the moment it would be pastorally prudent to avoid tinkering too much with the EF. Ironically, many EF parishes/communities may presently be better equipped to institute progressive solemnity than their OF counterparts. Almost all EF priests at least occasionally offer a sung Mass. Therefore, EF priests and congregants are already familiar with the sung dialogues and probably 2 or 3 of the more common chant ordinaries. By contrast, getting OF priests to sing the dialogues seems to be much more of a challenge than the relative simplicity of the task would suggest.

    I also question whether progressive solemnity would bring us any closer to the ideal of regularly celebrated sung Masses. The parishes that I’ve attended in my life seem to have settled at a comfortable level of low to moderate solemnity even on major feast days. How the Church moves closer to the ideal I don’t know. I guess that’s why liturgists get paid the big bucks.

  5. Todd says:

    David, thanks for contributing to the discussion. Your observations are more in line with those I’ve exchanged with on the net over the years.

    I don’t know that liturgists get paid “big bucks,” but we nearly uniformly agree on the virtue of silence. Lectors and psalmists in my parish are urged to leave about a half-minute pause in between readings. Our clergy provide ample time for reflection after homilies and at the end of the Communion Procession. The pattern is similar at daily Masses.

    It’s been more my experience that some priests and musicians have a greater concern for speed over silence, and sometimes, a few Catholics refer to silence as something of their own, a liberty taken to utter little or nothing in the praise of God. Liturgical silence is a corporate provision, not an individual choice.

  6. Liam says:

    And then there’s the silent Canon, a development that was resisted (sometimes emphatically so) in the western Church until the Carolingian era, and the great bulk of the justifications of or encomiums to it reek of post-hoc rationalizations of a later era. I acknowledge, per Trent, that the Canon quietly prayed is valid. I think it’s no longer opportune or, as they might say in Latin, expedient. Fortunately, one cannot try to incorporate that EF practice into the OF without clearly violating the rubrics and instructions for the OF.

  7. David D. says:

    What then was the actual impetus for the adoption of the silent Canon?

  8. Liam says:

    To the best of my knowledge, which is not all-encompassing, we don’t have documented contemporaneous justifications for it from the era in which it it became prevalent. The documented justifications, as near I can tell, come from centuries later, and are not necessarily internally consistent.* We do have record of repudiations of the nascent practice in the preceding era of late antiquity.

    * For example, the traditional practice actually required the Canon to be audible to the servers, who were proxies for the congregation in the preconciliar era, and Rome periodically repudiated the abuse of praying inaudibly – thus, the “mystery” supposedly created by the practice was one of degree, rather than absolute – and since the postconciliar liturgy has eliminated the role of servers as proxies for the congregation, it is fitting that the peculiar practice subside in turn.

  9. David D. says:


    Thanks. In trying to explore the issue myself I found some of your old comments from another website. These were quite helpful especially the linked article.

    If the audible Canon is required in the OF, and according to the GIRM this appears to be the case, it would be nice to hear it sung more often than not.

  10. Tony says:

    I’ve never gotten the sense that TLM advocates have been in a receptive mode for liturgical reform, even by their own definition.

    I have never been an opponent of organic reform of the 1962 missal. Unfortunately, the misinterpretation of Vatican II, and the drastic implementation of the Novus Ordo Missae damaged my faith to the point that I wandered in the spiritual desert for almost 40 years.

    Even now there are changes that could be done to the OF that would makes sense and draw the participants more fully into the mystery of the liturgy. I’d like to see that.

    And in turn, it’s really unclear to me what the EF offers the OF.

    If the OF is offered the way it is by the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate at the Mount St. Francis Hermitage, nothing.

    Before the younger priest learned the 1962 Tridentine Mass, he celebrated Ordo Missae Cum Populo which was effectively the OF, in Latin, with the Canon ad orientem. Our music setting was Latin plainsong led by an acolyte with a beautiful tenor voice.

    In the case of the usual trendy corner parish, the EF has a lot to teach regarding reverence, the *true* meaning of “active participation” and a focus more toward God where it belongs.

  11. Matt says:

    Isn’t the canon actually supposed to be chanted or spoken, but not actually sung?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s