Thursday, April 24, 2008

Sunday Mass at St Patrick's Cathedral, 13th April

It's nearly two weeks since I assisted at the Solemn Mass at St Patrick's Cathedral, Melbourne, but I did say I'd post about it and 'review' it, so here goes...

(Bear in mind that this was the first Novus Ordo Sunday Mass I attended since January, and the first Novus Ordo Mass I've attended for almost a month. Also note that I have previous experience of attending - and serving - Mass at the Cathedral in Melbourne, both under Archbishop Hart and, before him, under Archbishop Pell, prior to his translation and elevation.)

I was with my mother and father, who'd met up with me in Melbourne, and I brought them along with me to Mass; Dad isn't Catholic, and this would be the first Mass he's come to for some years (occasionally in the past he came to Christmas or Easter Mass), while Mum normally attends either a parish Mass (so she can have a sleep-in), or goes to the early Mass at the Carmel in Launceston, where she and I prefer to go if we're not too tired!

So that Mum and Dad (and I) would see better, at my suggestion we sat in the south transept, facing toward the new sanctuary - Pell had the old sanctuary extended into the crossing, and there sits a fine marble altar. The old sanctuary contains the choirstalls, and the old high altar is the place where the Sacrament is reserved. (Even for the Traditional Latin Mass, the new altar and forward sanctuary is used.)

On the altar were the customary seven candles - yes, in Melbourne at least it's always done for a bishop. There was no altar crucifix, but on the pillar off to the gospel side there is a very large permanent stone or marble crucifix, which is the one censed and venerated during all Masses.

Amusingly, in the Novus Ordo this Sunday I'm reporting about was Good Shepherd Sunday - so I kept an Octave for the Good Shepherd, having celebrated it the previous Sunday in the old rite! The Introit and Communion sung at the Cathedral were the same I'd joined in singing the previous week.

At 10.55 am, a small sub-group of the cathedral choir (all of whom are men or boys, each vested in surplice and red cassock) formed a schola in front of the pews in the south transept, just next to the organ console. They sang the Gregorian Introit Misericordia Domini, omitting, however, the Doxology (as is allowed in the Novus Ordo).

As soon as they finished, the regular cantor, likewise vested in red cassock and surplice, went to his place at the front of the sanctuary on the epistle side and asked all to stand and sing the processional hymn, number 838 from the Catholic Worship Book, "There's a wideness in God's mercy". This is a favourite of mine, a lovely hymn by Fr Faber (as altered by later editors) to a very pleasant tune. As the (somewhat small) congregation sang (the nave didn't look full-up, and neither transept was), in processed the cathedral choir, who filed around the outside of the new sanctuary and ascended by side stairs to the choirstalls in the old, followed by the thurifer, crucifer, cerifers, other servers (all in soutane and surplice), the M.C., Fr Laurence Cortez, a priest (the Dean, I think) holding aloft (rather showily and vulgarly) the Book of Gospels, and His Grace Archbishop Hart, resplendent in vestments with pallium, mitre, crosier, and episcopal dalmatic peeking out under his large flowing chasuble; behind him came two servers bearing vimpae, whose job it is to take away and give back the mitre and crozier as appropriate. The archbishop and ministers entered the sanctuary, genuflecting before the altar, and then His Grace censed the altar before repairing to his throne, against the pillar behind the altar on the epistle side.

Once the hymn ended, Hart began Mass, singing "In the name..." and "Peace be with you", to which all responded in the same chant. He then spoke a brief introduction, before reverting to singing Penitential Rite B: "Lord, we have sinned against you... Lord, show us your mercy and love... May almighty God have mercy on us...". Then - as is the custom at St Patrick's when the choir is singing a long Mass, whatever the modern rubrics may dictate - he and everyone else then sat down, while the choir sang the Kyrie and Gloria from Victoria's Missa O quam gloriosum (a regular item in their repertoire). His Grace at the end of the Gloria (which strangely he did not intone, though with his good voice he could have) rose, and then sang the Collect.

The Liturgy of the Word was the first place in which I think an improvement could have been made. The first and second readings were read well by a nice lady, but really to have a vested lector do it would have been better - she was willy-nilly the token female in the sanctuary for sure! She was escorted up and down the stairs by one of the servers, bowing to His Grace and so forth as is good etiquette. The responsorial psalm was led and sung by the cantor, to a not unpleasant modern tune (from the CWB, no. 590). The Alleluia and versicle were likewise led and sung by him, but the choir added a final Alleluia from Purcell; meanwhile, the priest assisting the Archbishop played deacon - as he did throughout, except when offering up the Sacrifice of course! - and received his blessing after incense was blessed, and then processed to the handsome brass eagle lectern (by the pillar in front of the altar on the gospel side) with cerifers and thurifer as per usual, first retrieving the Gospel Book from the altar, where it had been laid at the start of the Mass. He sang the initial and final versicles, but read the pericope itself. Irritatingly, he again marched about heaving the Book high in the air, and at the end lifted the Book up as if to proffer it for veneration; no one sat till he had carried it back to the Archbishop for him to kiss it, as is right.

His Grace then reassumed his mitre (having held his crozier during the Gospel) and went to the lectern to preach - he very rarely preaches seated at his cathedra, except for ordinations, etc., despite this being liturgically more appropriate. Surprisingly, it was a short and very straightforward homily; normally, Hart tends to have such an embarrassment of riches in terms of content that his sermons are hard to remember, though very good.

The Creed, spoken, followed - obviously it would be better if this were sung, but this is never done, alas: I recall that the CWB includes Credo III.

An explanation for the brevity of the homily: His Grace then came with some of his ministers to before the altar, to bless and admit new choristers and new leaders of the choir. For each there was a question and response, then came a prayer, the blessing of choir medallions with holy water and a final blessing, all obviously modelled on the institution of lectors and acolytes. All well and good, but I must say I no longer entirely like such ceremonies, however good, inserted into the Mass (as these days is done with Baptism, Confirmation, etc. - and, of course, as has always been done with Holy Orders, but arguably the latter has a special intrinsic link with Mass).

The Prayers of the Faithful followed; the nice lady returned and read the nice short undidactic petitions, eight of them, while His Grace introduced the whole ritual and concluded it with a prayer. Notably, as the CWB provides (no. 571) and as is always done at the Cathedral, the cantor sang "Let us pray to the Lord" after each petition, all responding in song "Lord, hear our prayer".

The Offertory followed. There was an Offertory procession (while it was mustered, the altar was set), and the rite continued as per usual once His Grace and ministers, in front of the altar, had received the gifts brought up. The incensation of the elements, the altar, the crucifix, His Grace, the clergy and people was fulsome - as he always does, Hart censed the oblata in the old manner, with three signs of the cross and three circling swings. Meanwhile the choir sang the motet Surrexit Pastor bonus by Lassus. The "Pray, brethren..." was spoken, the Prayer over the Gifts sung.

His Grace then sang the usual dialogue before the Preface, and the Preface itself. The Sanctus was mainly in English, using the plainchant music of Mass XVIII, but the final Hosanna in excelsis was an extract from Victoria's Mass O quam gloriosum, sung by the choir in Latin. In the meantime, the thurifer and four torchbearers processed in from the sacristy (at the back of the south transept) and took their positions: the torchbearers in front of the altar, and the thurifer behind it (if there had been a deacon, he would have done the censing at the impending elevations). During the Eucharistic Prayer the incense went up continually in a great spreading pillar of cloud, as is the norm in Melbourne - to digress, at one Cathedral Mass the enthused thurifer put so many coals in the censer that it cracked from the heat and fiery combustion of the incense, to the fury of the sacristan!

Eucharistic Prayer III was used, spoken in English: unlike some I see this prayer as of course orthodox per se and legitimately approved, whatever may be said of the untraditional invention of new 'canons' like this; it is in my opinion (especially with reference to the Latin) the best of the new prayers. The emeritus Archbishop Little having just died, the appropriate inserts for Masses for the Dead were used - query: are they for use at any Mass pro opportunitate, or should they only be used at a Requiem? All was done very correctly; at the elevations, His Grace turned to the north and south transept when showing the Host (shades of the old Papal Mass!) - years ago, at an ordination Mass at a Melbourne church, I saw him, then an auxiliary bishop, do a complete circle while elevating the Host, so that all arrayed about might see, worship and adore; but I think he may have decided that that was a bit OTT ("over the top"). As he was accompanied by one priest, that priest read that part of the prayer given normally to concelebrants. The Memorial Acclamation (a most unfortunate innovation, only loosely based on Coptic Rite analogies, etc.) and 'Great' Amen (that fond invention of modern liturgists based on one slender text of St Jerome) were sung in English, but the choir tacked on a polyphonic Amen, salvaged from the unused Credo of Victoria's Mass. The torchbearers (and thurifer, of course) left during the 'Great' Amen, as is done in the modern form of the Roman Rite, rather than remaining until after Communion, as in the traditional form.

The Lord's Prayer, Embolism, Prayer for Peace, "The peace of the Lord be with you always", and "Offer each other the sign of peace" were all sung: the last-named, by the priest, qua deacon, at the lectern! The usual restrained exchange of handshakes followed among the congregation. Then the choir quickly took up the Latin Agnus Dei, singing the first and third lines from Mass XVIII, and the middle line from Victoria's setting. (This was probably done to save time, since else the "This is the Lamb of God..." would have been unduly delayed.)

His Grace thereupon made the invitation to communion, to which all responded, and then proceeded to give the Sacrament to the ministers and people. The M.C. and the other priest also assisted in distributing Holy Communion, as did the cantor, who presumably is an extraordinary minister thereof. (No communion plate was used.) At St Patrick's, communion is never given to the laity from the chalice, as this would entail an impractical number of chalices and extraordinary ministers, to the detriment of proper understanding of liturgical roles and the doctrine of concomitance. (I seem to recall that the M.C., or perhaps another, went up to the tabernacle at the old high altar and back to get the needed ciboria of extra Hosts.)

The aforementioned schola sang the Gregorian Communion Ego sum pastor bonus, adding a psalm-verse and then repeating the antiphon, just as they had done with the Introit. After that, all were invited to sing together CWB no. 685, "Gift of finest wheat", a passable Eucharistic hymn from one of the Eucharistic Congresses held in America in the immediate postconciliar period.

The Prayer after Communion was sung; only then, as the Novus Ordo provides - and not, as is frequently done incorrectly, before the Prayer - a brief notice was given by His Grace about the upcoming funeral of Archbishop Little. Then he sang "The Lord be with you... Blessed be the name of the Lord... Our help is in the name of the Lord... May almighty God bless you...", imparting the triple episcopal blessing, turning to each transept as well. The priest concelebrating, again acting as deacon, from the lectern sang the dismissal, in English.

The recessional hymn was the rousing "Hail Redeemer, King Divine" (CWB no. 703). As first the choir, then the Archbishop and his ministers processed out down the nave as they had came, His Grace blessed the good folk as he went.

After the hymn, the organist played Bach's Prelude in G (BWV 541). The solemn liturgy concluded at about 12.15pm, so lasting an hour and a quarter - just as the Missa cantata at my own church does! (I think Fr Rowe preaches longer sermons.)

My father's comment: I would have brought a packed lunch! (I think he found it a little long...)


Suggested improvements to what was basically the Novus Ordo at its best and at its conservative limit in Australia, in rough order of do-ability:

* Above all, Mass ad orientem: the new altar has a large footpace all round it sufficient to allow Mass to be said facing liturgical East, and this in my opinion is the next big reform of the reform to be broached. It would greatly, grandly stress the sacrificial, aweful, mysterious, hieratic cultus of the Mass as divine worship.

* An instituted, vested lector to read, rather than a token layperson; after all, the hordes in the sanctuary are all men in vestments, and this ought need no apology.

* The Gospel sung (by a deacon, there's usually one present or available).

* The Creed sung.

* The deacon to read (sing?) the petitions of the Intercessions - it is completely silly and a bit of tokenism to take this his proper ministry away from the deacon and give it to a layperson, who fits in among the hordes of vested men about as much as a pork-chop in a synagogue.

* Gregorian Propers: at least the Offertory, and possibly the Gradual and Alleluia; would anyone really miss the Responsorial Psalm, that "exercise in short-term memory" that just hasn't worked out very well in practice ever since its introduction?

* More Latin! (Until the late nineteen nineties, just before I first moved to Melbourne, there had been a Novus Ordo Latin Mass at the Cathedral every Sunday since the liturgical reforms, but sadly it was given up.)

* Some sort of improvement so that the integral Mass setting of Victoria, say, could be sung: this would mean, above all, reciting the Eucharistic Prayer silently while the Sanctus and Benedictus roll forth... (This requires rubrical adjustments, an enrichment of the ordinary form by the extraordinary.)


Schütz said...

An excellent summary of the situation. Yes, I myself noted at mass the other day the large amount of room right around the altar. Made me wonder if (then) Archb. Pell might not have had the final reform in mind!

Note however that one reform (which you noted but forgot in your final list) has made its appearance: AN ALTAR CROSS at the recent World Youth Day Cross and Icon mass. See the picture at:

More than one cross was welcomed that evening!

Joshua said...


Thanks for your very kind comments and intriguing news. What hope do you see for some of my pia desiderata?

Anonymous said...

Just a small additional comment!

His Grace sung Mass at our parish (a couple of months ago) in pretty much the same way as described above. A great example of faithful leadership!

Joshua said...

Quite right; but, then again, my own former P.P., now +Lismorensis did the liturgy just as well all the time too; as does, for instance, Fr Walsh at Mentone, etc.

The point is, why then are so many priests so astonishingly bad at saying Mass?

Anonymous said...

Joshua, why are they so bad? Maybe they just don't care or are over-worked? I really don't know. It is not that hard: read the black, do the red!

BTW: I heard Fr Walsh preach (at an Anglican Catholic parish) on the Immaculate Conception. I am not easily impressed by sermons (or so I thought) until I became a Catholic. Lots of solid preaching that is truly the voice of Christ calling his people to obedience and faith.