Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Experience of High Mass

I've been reading again, on and off, about the Anaphora of Addai and Mari (the most ancient and most frequently used Eucharistic Prayer of the Assyrian Church of the East, and which famously lacks an Institution Narrative; a certain ex-Cardinal, now ex-Pope, politely explained that the Words of Consecration were not present explicitly and ad litteram but "in a dispersed euchological... manner" – I defer to his theological acumen), and the theories of some liturgiologists about the development of the Roman Canon, accepting for the sake of argument both that Addai and Mari is orthodox and valid (as the Roman Church has pronounced, back in 2001, when Bl John Paul II approved the decision of the CDF about this), and that it preserves evidence of the evolution of the Eucharistic Prayer, whereby the oldest forms developed without initially having the Verba Domini present as a coherent Institution Narrative: as I say, this is evidently controversial, but, per impossibile or at least per improbabile, it is an interesting thought experiment (Gedänkenexperiment) to posit an unrecorded stage in the development of the Roman Canon, earlier even than the evidence adduced by St Ambrose in the late fourth century (when he records the central portion of an earlier version of the Canon, from what is now the Quam oblationem, through the Qui pridie and Simili modo, to the Unde et memores and a shorter combination of the Supplices and Supra quæ), which would have – like Addai and Mari – omitted Qui pridie, Simili modo and Unde et memores.

Pursuing this thought, and recalling that the section of the Roman Canon from Quam oblationem to Supplices inclusive – that is, from the equivalent of a consecratory epiclesis, through the Institution Narrative, anamnesis, oblation, prayer for acceptance and equivalent of a communion epiclesis – may be termed the "Canon within the Canon", as the modern rubrics require the celebrant and all concelebrants to recite it together (the rest of the Canon consisting of intercessions for the living and the dead, with commemoration of the Saints, and a concluding doxology, to say nothing of the Preface and Sanctus), it is at least curious to imagine what this section would look like if, as in Addai and Mari, it still appeared sans Verba and sans anamnesis:

Be pleased, O God, we pray, to bless, acknowledge, and approve this offering in every respect; make it spiritual and acceptable, so that it may become for us the Body and Blood of your most beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Be pleased to look upon these offerings with a serene and kindly countenance, and to accept them, as once you were pleased to accept the gifts of your servant Abel the just, the sacrifice of Abraham, our father in faith, and the offering of your high priest Melchizedek, a holy sacrifice, a spotless victim.
In humble prayer we ask you, almighty God: command that these gifts be borne by the hands of your holy Angel to your altar on high in the sight of your divine majesty, so that all of us, who through this participation at the altar receive the most holy Body and Blood of your Son, may be filled with every grace and heavenly blessing. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Ironically, the Anaphora of Addai and Mari is if anything more explicit in affirming its intention to do as Christ commanded, offering up His Body and Blood, celebrating the Mystery of His Passion, Death and Resurrection, and calling down the Holy Spirit to render fruitful the oblation for the communicants, than this entirely hypothetical and indeed anachronistic reconstruction of the central parts of an earlier Roman Canon (since the equivalent paragraphs as reported by St Ambrose are shorter and simpler), as that ancient Eastern Anaphora includes such words as:

O my Lord, in thy manifold and ineffable mercies, make a good and gracious remembrance for all the upright and just fathers who were pleasing before thee, in the commemoration of the body and blood of thy Christ, which we offer to thee upon the pure and holy altar, as thou hast taught us... 
that all the inhabitants of the world may know thee ... and we also, O my Lord, thy unworthy, frail and miserable servants who are gathered and stand before thee, and have received by tradition the example which is from thee, rejoicing and glorifying and exalting and commemorating and celebrating this great and awesome mystery of the passion and death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ... 
And let thy Holy Spirit come, O my Lord, and rest upon this offering of thy servants, and bless it and sanctify it that it my be to us, O my Lord, for the pardon of sins, and for the forgiveness of shortcomings, and for the great hope of the resurrection from the dead, and for new life in the kingdom of heaven with all who have been pleasing before thee...


But whatever of this, in plain truth, until the reforms of the 1960's, the Words of Consecration (following now the plain and obvious teaching of the Church, rather than rather confusing reinterpretations thereof) were not heard by anyone except the priest and perhaps those listening in at his side (as M.C. at our monthly Missa cantata, I can overhear the celebrant quite easily – according to the rubric, he ought read the Canon is such a quiet voice that he can hear himself, but no one else can, which is quite a difficult rule to fulfil evidently), and the experience of well over a thousand years was the same for all in attendance: the Consecration was accomplished in awe-filled silence.

The Canon was not originally said secretly, sotto voce: that roughly seventh century record of Roman ceremonial, the Ordo Romanus Primus, indicates that it was chanted in the same tone as the Preface, as is logical. However, in the Gallican Church the Institution Narrative, aptly enough called the Mysterium (and regarded as so holy it has only been found recorded in one surviving manuscript), was recited inaudibly, and evidently this practice spread, either from the non-Roman to the Roman West – or from the East, since the Emperor Justinian tried in vain to prevent the Anaphora at the Divine Liturgy being recited in a low voice (rather than chanted, presumably, as all the audible parts were and are).

I recall that Dix claimed this practice of praying the Eucharistic Prayer softly rather than in a loud voice developed first in Syria and environs, and spread from Jerusalem and Antioch throughout the Church – partly for reasons of brevity (a long prayer, such as the Anaphora of St Basil, which was originally used on all Sundays in the Byzantine Rite, takes a long time to say, let alone chant), partly because the choral parts were growing in complexity and length (tempting the priest to "get on with" saying the prayer, while the choir continue singing a not yet polyphonic but certainly elaborate setting of the Sanctus, for instance), and also partly out of a sense of devotional awe and dread.

The Eucharistic Sacrifice was emphasised as the mysterium tremendum et fascinans, the awe-inspiring appearance and Epiphany of Christ in His very Flesh and Blood in the Sacrament of the altar, worthy of worship, worthy of every reverence: the proleptic chants of the Cherubikon, as sung in the Byzantine Rite, amply demonstrate this attitude of holy fear and love. In the East, the actual words of consecration (according to the more typically Western theory) are still chanted aloud, from within the iconostasis; in the West, they were not, but instead the innovation of the Elevation of the Host (and, later, of the Chalice) was introduced in the twelfth century – the two by-then-sundered portions of Christendom thus in their respective fashions half-veiled, half-revealed the Eucharist made present at the consummation of the Divine Mysteries.


Put simply, the Western Mass (leaving aside the Byzantine East and the rest for the moment) divides into the choral and chanted parts, perceptible to the ear (the Introit, Kyrie, Gloria, Collect, Epistle, Gradual, Alleluia or Tract, Gospel, Creed, Preface, Sanctus, Lord's Prayer, Pax, Agnus Dei, Communion, Postcommunion and Ite missa est); and the sacred Action itself, for the most part effected in silence, spoken in secret by the cultic priest.

The parts said in a low voice may themselves be divided into two groups: the first – the Secret, Canon and Embolism (Libera nos) – are the immemorial constituents of the Mass, while the second – the prayers at the foot of the altar, the blessing of the deacon at the Gospel, the offertory prayers, the various prayers before, during and after Communion (some of which, as famously the Domine non sum dignus, came to be said aloud, but not chanted as the older chanted parts were), and the Placeat, blessing and Last Gospel (again, some of these came to be said aloud) – were gradually added over the course of the Middle Ages. (Local forms of the Roman Rite, such as the Dominican, codified in the thirteen rather than the sixteenth century, have shorter and simpler collections of such prayers.)

In the Ambrosian Mass (as said at Milan, both in its older and in its reformed version), the Secret and the Embolism are chanted aloud – the latter is chanted aloud on Good Friday even according to the  traditional Roman Rite. It appears that the Secret and Embolism were probably chanted aloud (as was the Canon too, originally), but motives of reverence and brevity led to their secret recital in the Roman Mass.

When able to join the congregation at High Mass, rather than – as too many do – read along furiously in my hand missal, ignoring the music (good or bad), I prefer to participate in the Sacred Liturgy precisely as Holy Church surely intends: by listening to all that is chanted aloud, and – when sacred silence descends – by praying as I am able. As the mediæval English canonist Lyndwood so wisely wrote, the Canon is silent Ne impediatur populus orare, Lest the people be impeded from praying. (Of course, when serving as M.C., as next Sunday, I have perforce to be busy about directing the celebrant and servers – one attendee, ex-army, congratulated me on my sergeant major manner, which may or may not be the ideal!)

While attending to all that is chanted, I also tend to look to the words of the Secret in my missal, and of course I know from long experience the words of the Canon and Embolism (and much else), and by the gesture and posture of the priest and ministers I know exactly what is going on at each stage. Sometimes, though, as was done in the early Middle Ages, I will pray psalms rather than pray along with the Canon: the psalms of preparation for Mass, as found in old Missals, are eminently suitable for this.

Consider the Mass as falling into two parts (as is the traditional division): the Mass of the Catechumens, during which nearly all is aloud (obviously the Introit masks the preparatory devotions of the sanctuary party); and the Mass of the Faithful, during which far less is, relative to that which is accomplished in mystery, in the pregnant silence.

The fore-Mass contains psalm chants selected with an eye to the liturgy of the day (the Introit, Gradual, Alleluia or Tract), cries for mercy (the Kyrie), songs of prayer and praise and faith (the Gloria Patri of the Introit, the Gloria in excelsis, the Creed), the Collect – the first and only time the celebrant prays aloud until the Mass proper begins, assuming it to be High Mass – which sums up the orientation of the feast, and the two lessons, the Epistle and Gospel (chanted by subdeacon and deacon respectively). Christ appears to us in the solemn proclamation of His Gospel; His salvific teaching is imparted to us by His minister, His priest, in the homily or sermon. Therefore, while Mass is fundamentally oriented toward divine worship, the Mass of the Catechumens has a partially didactic quality also.

When the Mass-Sacrifice begins at the Offertory, the chant of the Offertory ought, in a sense, occupy us, rather than the proper liturgical role of the priest (saying his private prayers as he arrays the elements, prepares himself and censes the oblations and altar, ere he too is censed) or his assistants. True, knowledge of the ritual and its forms of prayer informs the spirit of worship, facilitating actual participation; but I would argue that, just as one may well join in singing a hymn in the modern Mass during the preparation of the gifts, while the priest and ministers prepare according to the simpler rules and words appointed, so too in the older form of the Mass it is fitting to attend to the Offertory chant (and motet) rather than too closely to monitor the activities in the sanctuary.

I well recall two devout Italian ladies, who at Mass (OF) sat side by side, hand missals open – and reading in a low but still audible voice every single word the priest said, even at the Consecration! That to me seemed rather odd.

Instead, when the priest concludes the offertory, and in that marvellous chant tells us "Up hearts" (Sursum corda), to which we reply "We have them toward the Lord" (Habemus ad Dominum), then is the time to hearken to his words of praise, as he gives thanks to God for His marvellous works in the Preface, mingling our praise with that of the angels: then we join in the liturgy of heaven, singing the Sanctus.

Silence descends: the bell rings; the priest bows low; he genuflects, then elevates the Sacred Host – to Which incense is offered in adoration. Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini. Now is the time to worship and pray! As I mentioned in my perhaps less than immediately apposite prolegomena above, the fact that the Roman Canon is all but silent, and the words of consecration themselves are never heard, instead focusses attention on the "Do this" of the Lord's command at the Last Supper: the Mass is no mere verbal sacrifice, but a sacred action.

After the Canon, the Lord's Prayer is sung; soon enough, the priest gives us (as Luther of all people rightly noted) a pre-communion blessing, in the words Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum; and again we plead for mercy with the Lamb of God now present, once slain yet ever alive, as our Christian Sacrifice present on our altar, as the choir sings the Agnus Dei. Thus fortified, we proceed to receive Him in Holy Communion.

Again, the communion chant is for us, to assist us in our devotion; while the priest's chanting of the Postcommunion (only his fourth prayer aloud, counting the Preface and Pater noster as well as the Collect) leads us in the sentiments that we ought have after receiving Our Lord in the Sacrament. The deacon dismisses us with those concise and mysterious words Ite missa est. All else following is added devotion.

This, I think, is a sane and sensible way to hear and participate in Holy Mass. (At Low Mass, some modifications must be made in this method; while in the Ordinary Form, as is unfortunately evident, the banality of much of the music, and the perhaps overly didactic atmosphere engendered by the relatively larger amount of text proclaimed aloud, can sometimes distract – that said, I find that an unpleasantly sloppy Mass ratchets up in tone once the Liturgy of the Word is over, and the more stable, less easily mucked-with Liturgy of the Eucharist begins.)

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