When one attends Holy Mass, there are two essentials that one may reasonably expect, namely good music and a good homily. This expectation is not demanding, and in fact it is not demanding enough. To understand better this point, let us take a deeper look beyond these two elements (music and homily) towards the Liturgy itself.
In terms of liturgical worship, we seek out the supernatural, something with spiritual substance and depth. Deep down we hunger for a Liturgy that is rich and steeped in tradition. This desire flows from our love of God which spurs us on to offer the very best to Him.
“When the Eucharist is being celebrated, the sanctuary is filled with countless angels who adore the divine victim immolated on the altar.” –St. John Chrysostom
In the contemporary world, one can hear a great sermon plus entertaining music at a “mega church.” As Catholics, we are attracted to a liturgy that will satisfy our spiritual hunger. The Mass should be out of the ordinary (literally, “extra-ordinary”), rather than ordinary.
Instead of Jesus coming to us at the Mass on a natural level, we want to be supernaturally caught up to the mystical heavenly banquet that takes place right before our very eyes at Mass.
“It would be easier for the world to survive without the sun than to do without Holy Mass.” –St. Padre Pio
A priest’s primary role is to help us get to heaven by way of the Sacraments. His job is to administer the Sacraments, especially celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass–the Eucharist. All other side ministries and projects a priest may start or be involved in are secondary to his primary, sacramental role.
You should expect more from the Mass, and here’s how.
If one wishes to experience something “ever ancient and yet ever new,” attend a Mass wherein the priest faces the East. This is known as ad orientem worship. For the past several decades, most priests celebrate Mass versus populum, which means “facing the people.” We are more familiar with this posture. For over a millennium, however, Mass was always celebrated ad orientem and this direction has a lot of beautiful and rich symbolism.
“For as the lightning cometh forth from the east, and is seen even unto the west; so shall be the coming of the Son of man.” –Matthew 24:27
This way we all face the same direction in joyful expectation of Christ returning to us from the east.
If one has never been to a Mass where the priest faces ad orientem, it may look like the priest is turning his back to the people. This may cause people to feel offended, like they do not matter. A priest with a charming or charismatic personality comes across stronger when he is facing you. This may seem warm and inviting, but the priest has a very important duty to perform, and that is to offer the Eucharistic sacrifice at the Mass.
When a priest celebrates ad orientem, he empties himself of his own personality, and you get a clearer picture of the Mass being a sacrifice. At Mass the priest stands “in the person of Christ” or, in Latin, in persona Christi. As the priest steps up to the altar to offer the Eucharistic sacrifice on our behalf, he is in essence entering the holy of holies. Standing before God Almighty to offer Him the greatest sacrifice–the Eucharist.
When we all face the same direction, in other words, facing God, the priest and the laity together offer worship to Him. When the priest faces the people, the Mass can come across as a theatrical play, or a simple call and response. The priest “calls” and we “respond.” When the priest faces ad orientem, it is not to insult, but to lead us in worship and adoration.
God deserves the best music at Mass. By “best,” I do not mean the organist’s capabilities or the cantor singing in key or loud enough for the parish to hear. Rather, I speak of what best pleases God, what best brings out our internal participation from the external.
There are so many different musical genres to choose from. But the genre of music that deserves the most respect at Mass is not the most-trendy, upbeat music. The sanctuary of the church is a sacred place where the Eucharistic sacrifice is offered to God. Sacred music best fits a sacred liturgy.
At Mass we embark on a sacred journey where we take part in a thanksgiving sacrifice–the Eucharist. Music that is sacred fits properly with the sacredness of the liturgy. Some contemporary styles of music do not necessarily resonate the sacred, but they are entertaining. Being entertained at Mass can distract us from what is happening at the altar. Sacred music will heighten our senses far above the outward feelings and emotions we get from, for example, the praise and worship style of music.
“The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially proper to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services.” –Sacrosanctum Concilium, par. 116
Chant and polyphony are preferred by the Church, but there are plenty of traditional hymns that properly fit the criteria of sacred music. Sacred music has a mystical “awe” about it, because it is simply that–sacred. It does not convey being “entertained” at Mass as the Mass is not about being entertained, it is about worship, adoration, and sacrifice. Sacred music reflects this fact.
Lex orandi, lex credendi is a Latin phrase that means “the law of praying [is] the law of believing.” In other words, good liturgy leads to good theology, or, the way you worship is the way you believe. If Mass is beautiful, reverent, and sacred, one is more likely to see clearly (and hopefully accept) the doctrines of the Church, especially the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
In the Latin Church, there are two expressions of the Latin Liturgy—the Extraordinary Form and the Ordinary Form. Many Catholics today are more familiar with the Ordinary Form as it is the use most seen and practiced today. I would, however, like to focus upon the Extraordinary Form for a moment as I believe it most closely represents what I have herein discussed about liturgical worship.
What is beautiful about the Extraordinary Form is that it incorporates both ad orientem and sacred music. Moreover, it is almost entirely in Latin and there’s something sacred about Latin in the liturgy. It is the liturgical tongue of the Latin Church. At the Extraordinary Form, one uses all five senses, especially at a High Mass wherein there are more “bells and whistles.” One will see a liturgy that is beautiful and reverent. Liturgy should not feel plain and mundane. No, it should lift us up from the mundane to God. Liturgy that will truly feed us, yet leave us hungry for more, is a Liturgy worth attending.
God has given us a most beautiful Liturgy in the Extraordinary Form to offer worship to Him. Rather than say I “deserve” the Latin Mass, it is this beautiful Liturgy that helps me offer my best to God.
by John Connor