Monday, December 26, 2011

Papal Liturgy, or, As they do it at the Oratory

I didn't watch the Papal Midnight Mass, being busy with Christmas present-opening and then lunch with family and friends (after myself attending Midnight Mass at Carmel, then serving the Dawn Mass in my parish), but heard from my parish priest that it was splendid, and that the music was much, much improved over the usual proverbially bad standard of the Sistine Choir.  Having been thus alerted, I've just looked at the pdf file of the booklet of the Mass, and find it to be a very sumptuous celebration indeed – if I didn't know that His Holiness and the good Marini weren't quite capable of planning it themselves, I'd have sworn some English Oratorians had choreographed the liturgy!

The Mass was preceded, as ought everywhere to be done (as the modern Divine Office itself recommends), with the Office of Readings (formerly known as Matins): and this was wholly chanted in Latin, except for the two readings, which were done in Italian and English respectively.  Then came the chanting in Latin of the solemn proclamation of the Lord's birth (lifted from the Martyrology), the singing of Tu es Petrus for some reason, and then the Mass itself – which, but for four parts, was wholly in Latin.  What parts?  The first and second readings were in vernacular languages (English for the first, Spanish for the second); the homily, strange to say, was in Italian; the Prayer of the Faithful was in a combination of Latin and several modern languages (of which I will say more anon); and the final hymn, after the Ite missa est, was that one great favourite Italian Christmas carol, Tu scendi dalle stelle.

The Prayer of the Faithful was introduced by His Holiness in Italian, and concluded by him with a prayer also in that language (the sole prayer Benedict prayed in Italian, not Latin, in the entire ceremony); but a cantor sang Dominum oremus, to which all responded Da pacem, Domine, in diebus nostris; and when the petitions were then made, a deacon introduced each in Latin, before a longer vernacular intercession was read (the first in Polish, the second in French, the third in Korean, the fourth in Portuguese, the fifth in German), concluded by the cantor and people singing in Latin as before.  It appears progress is being made toward having the deacon lead the intercessions, as by rights he should.

What I found especially noteworthy was that there was no nasty responsorial psalm – instead, musicians take note with glad hearts, the Gradual was chanted!  This, while perfectly permissible according to the rubrics, is extremely rarely done in the modern Mass.

It appears liturgy at the Vatican is just about restored to the most traditional interpretation of the Novus Ordo consonant with its rubrics – hence my reference to the sacred liturgy as solemnized in the Oratories in England.

Already the Holy Father sets the Catholic world a good example by communing the faithful as they kneel devoutly, placing the Sacred Host on their tongues; already (as all men know) he stands at the high altar of St Peter's and in so doing celebrates the Holy Sacrifice ad orientem.

This was definitely a Reform of the Reform liturgy.

Much, much Gregorian chant, and sacred polyphony; the Roman Canon... a dazzlingly impressive modern liturgy.  Long forgotten be the ghost of bad Marini and of his influence upon the, ahem, unfortunately not very liturgically-minded Blessed J. P. II!

(If one wished to quibble, some points could be noted: it would be better still to sing the full Gregorian setting of the Alleluia rather than that simpler melody actually used, and, before the Motet, it would be more correct to chant the actual Offertory.  Further, given that in Rome there must be many seminarians who are instituted lectors, let such, vested, read or sing the first and second readings; and the polylingual intercessions, tiresome in their prolixy, would be best omitted – as it is, evidently a compromise was made between having the deacon take his rightful place and maintaining the modern custom, if it can be described as such, of having several layfolk read long-winded petitions one after the other.) 


Matthias said...

This morning -Wednesday 28th December Holy Innocents Day,I went to 10 am Low Mass at St Aloysius . It was a Sung Mass ,although Fr tattersal announced beforehand it would be a Simple Sung Mass. The group Psallamus sang and it was,as all services are at st als uplifting. One thing I notice when I attend Mass at st pats is that straight afterwards everyone gets up and elaves. At st als there is a dignified silence and people SLOwly leave after . Can anyone enlighten me as to this difference. being a new catholic.

Joshua said...

Dear Matthias - by the way, I will be in Melbourne the last weekend of January, and hope to meet you at St Aloysius - I think that the difference in congregational behaviour you notice is very significant.

Basically, it seems to me, there are two attitudes toward receiving Holy Communion: the automatic, and the reflective.

When people go forward to receive Communion without much self-reflection (and dare I say it this is what can be seen at a typical Mass, especially on Sundays in parishes), they walk forward, say "Amen to "The Body of Christ", go back to their pew, maybe kneel and maybe pray, and, as soon as Mass is ended, off they go. I think many receive Communion without much awareness of why, or of the truth that they are receiving Christ into themselves. God forbid I be dismissive of others and their private thoughts, but I have too often seen bored and listless faces in communion queues that hardly reflect joy at their nearness to the Saviour's Real Presence.

When people go forward to receive Communion, fully cognizant of Whom it is they are about to receive under their roof (and dare I say it, this is what one finds more often on a weekday at Mass, and at Latin Masses, which people make the conscious decision to come and attend), they are not as it were automatons, but active participants in the sacred liturgy, the divine mysteries, and when they have received Our Lord, they go back to their pews, and find the only fit response in sacred converse with Him in prayer, and not just for a short time, but in a more extended quiet prayer after Mass as well.

john said...

Hi Josh,

1. "Tu Es Petrus" is now sung at all papal Masses when the Pope processes in.

2. The Pope generally gives all homilies at the Vatican in Italian.

3. Merry Christmas and keep up the good work!

Joshua said...

Dear John:

I do attempt humour from time to time; my references to "the singing of Tu es Petrus for some reason" and "the homily, strange to say, [being] in Italian" were definitely tongue in cheek!

Must I put a smiley face in my blog posts to signify the obvious?

john said...

maybe i should have known better.

btw, its brennan here. Don't know why 'john' popped up.