In the Ordinary Form we are generally singing a Joyful hymn at the beginning. Most Churches completely ignore what the Church says about that first song, choosing as a norm option four, disregarding any instruction about the Roman Gradual or Simple Gradual, entirely overlooking the fact that we have rejected the Word of God. While this song is going on the priest enters the sanctuary, moving mindlessly toward the altar to kiss it and then retreat to a presider’s chair where he readies himself to address the people.
The Extraordinary form teaches us something entirely different. Here the priest hesitates to approach the altar. In this place he is reminded that he is completely unworthy to approach the Holy of Holies and he asks the Lord to distinguish his part from a people that is not holy. Discérne causam meam de gente non sancta. Moments later he will bow deeply at the waist and confess his sinfulness. He will profess that it is only with the Almighty’s help that he is even able to approach the Divine majesty. Only then will he climb the steps to the altar, and only after recalling the sacrifice of the martyrs who have gone before him and intercede for him on behalf of his sinfulness does he finally kiss the altar.
There was a time in the ancient church before Saint Pius V, when these prayers at the foot of the altar were done in the sacristy. Then the Mass began with the Introit. Possibly because these prayers out of sight may have been constantly omitted, the 16th century reform placed them at the foot of the altar in the sight of God and everyone else.
Nowadays, even though the rubrics make a specific call for silence in the sacristy and in the vestibule, these places are often the place for chit chat about the weather, the sports rivalries or whether or not the candles have been lighted. The Sacristy is hardly considered a place of prayer.
Maybe the increase use of the Extraordinary Form may invite us to consider that atmosphere of prayer, and invite us to bow our heads and acknowledge our sinfulness before we so joyously bound into the sanctuary with great abandon, this time preparing ourselves to address the Almighty God, instead of the people to which we ourselves belong.