Once I was criticized by a “confrere.” He complained that during the Mass I do not make eye contact with the people. Let me be clear, this priest as a matter of policy would never concelebrate. He attended Mass in the congregation, in lay clothes. This priest believes in gay marriage and women’s ordination. So, in my own humble opinion, I judged that this priest has no understanding of the Eucharist.
“Of course, I make eye contact with the people,” I answered. I make eye contact with the people when I am addressing the people. But I do not make eye contact with the people when I am addressing the Lord. He explained that when he was in the seminary they were instructed to make eye contact with the people during the Eucharistic prayer. Yes, I had been formed in the same way, but had come to understand that that particular prayer was not addressed to the people.
This is another reason the Extraordinary Form is important.
In the Extraordinary Form, the priest and the people face the Lord together. In the Extraordinary form, there are five moments when the priest turns toward the people. It amazing to learn that these moments correspond with the five times the Lord appeared to his disciples after the Resurrection. In each of these moments before turning, the priest tenderly kisses the altar. (“Excuse me for a second, Lord. I have to make sure the people are following this.”) Then facing the people, with eyes downturned, the priest says “Dominus Vobiscum.” Yes, even then there is no eye contact. They are not there to have a relationship with this sinner. In this moment they respond to the Lord, “et cum spiritu tuo.”
In removing me for cause from the parish where I served faithfully for eleven years, where I explained ad nauseam all the reasons for any change in the liturgy, the provincial made it clear that I had separated the people from the liturgy and that they had been turned into bystanders, and mere observers. Any instruction on internal participation had fallen on liberal deaf ears.
In the Ordinary Form we often look toward the people, put a grin on our face, and try to look up at them as we are proclaiming the Gospel. What this means is that my relationship with these people is as important as the Words of the Gospel. My brothers, proclaim the Gospel boldly. But do not dare invest it with your own personality. You may make eye contact with the people when you look up at them and say, “The Gospel of the Lord.”
Look at the people when you say “The Lord be with you.” But do not look at them when they respond. Make it clear they are not responding to you but to the Lord, to the Most High, to the Divine Majesty. Look at them when you say, “Pray, Brethren.” But do not look at them, lower your eyes for their response. Let them know they are in the presence of the Most High who has called them to pray.
Maybe do these parts in Latin that are repeated every time. Teach them to make the responses in Latin. Take it very slow. They have been subject to 50 years of horrific formation. I know, your bishop may complain, your provincial may accuse you of the most horrible things and remove you. Be glad and rejoice, for behold your reward is great in heaven.
Any notion that it is nostalgia sending people to the Extraordinary Form is not paying attention to the relative youth who hunger for its reverence and tradition. Photo by Gina Lopez.
People often accused me taking people backward to Pre-Vatican II days. They often say that the parishioners cannot understand the Latin. That kind of understanding is an idol. Even if it is entirely in the vernacular and we are lulled into a belief that we can understand it, we have put ourselves to sleep. If you can understand it, it is not God. I am sure that a stranger who has never been at a Mass in Latin may feel a little lost, but a parishioner who attends and participates in Mass over a long period time is able to grasp the liturgy deeply. It is more like love than understanding.
I am of the opinion that a Catholic who is a Disciple of Jesus, and has a relationship with Him learns how to participate in the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, they will be able to participate more completely in the Ordinary Form.
A parishioner once told me that people seem more engaged at the Solemn Mass than at other Masses at the parish. Yes, by that time we had been at it for nine years, but this congregation of multiple languages and cultures was able to sing the Kyrie, the Gloria, the Sanctus, and the Pater Noster by heart, just like Paul VI asked for. They could even sing the Credo and were beginning to sing it by heart. Vatican II imagined a judicious use of the Vernacular but the Latin Rite was supposed to remain in Latin. If the Propers and the Ordinary are in Latin (and Greek), but the Readings and orations are in the Vernacular then that is what the reformers imagined. A Catholic who does not know some of the Latin Parts of the Mass as outlined in Pope Paul’s letter in 1974 is truly an impoverished Catholic.
It is the priests and the professionals who would tell me that people hate this. If only the people would stop telling me that they love it.
Photo taken by Mother Theresa Christe, September 14, 2017, Solemnity of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, Domus Romana Sacerdotalis, Vatican City.
Why Rome? This was my second trip to Rome in 2017. This time I accompanied two Marian sisters on a pilgrimage to the Eternal City, first to attend the events associated with the 10th anniversary of Summorum Pontificul, and secondly to visit the four major patriarchal Basilicas, the goal of every pilgrim.
This is not the first time I participated in the grand procession from a local church to the Basilica of St. Peter. People in front of me and behind, to the right and to the left come from a variety of countries and speak many different languages. In many cases normal conversation is difficult, yet we share a common belief and a love for beauty and tradition that transcends any of the differences
In Rome I am able to walk where the saints walked. And because of Summorum Pontificum I am able to celebrate the Mass the saints celebrated. In 2012, when learning to celebrate the EF, I spent two weeks in Rome on Vacation, and there I was able to celebrate the EF every day for those two weeks. Rome is where I solidified my learning and fell in love with the Extraordinary Form.
In the house where I stay there are many priests saying mass at the same time, so there is a spirit of silence that descends upon the chapel. This silence allows for the search for God. And the precision and repetition of the liturgical forms takes a hold of me and conforms me to the liturgy and not the other way around. And the fact that this liturgy is celebrated in the same place where St. Peter, St. Paul, St. Philip Neri, St. Robert Bellarmine and St. Gaspar del Bufalo lived, walked and died is a grace that calls me to follow them and their example ever more closely in my daily life. The world is in a dangerous habit of forgetting God. It is here that we are directed toward God alone.
There is an astonishing difference between the Ordinary Form and the Extraordinary Form.
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.
I, personally, had no desire to learn how to do the Extraordinary Form. My intention was to celebrate the Ordinary Form in the manner that Sacrosanctum Concilium imagined it: In Latin, with English readings and orations. If it stayed the same Mass after Mass it would be in Latin. If it was for this mass only it would be in English. Of course, Mass would be celebrated “ad orientem.”
I learned the Extraordinary Form because a Bishop asked me to, telling me that there were 100 families in the region asking for it. So in 2012 I celebrate my first Extraordinary Form Mass. On a two week vacation I celebrated in the Extraordinary Form every day so that I could really learn it and be comfortable with it.
Three things happened. First, it completely transformed my priesthood and it affected the way I celebrated the Ordinary Form. Every Mass became completely Christocentric. Many people recognized this and it caused a greater spirit of prayer in believers. Secondly, boys who served the mass began to think of vocations to the priesthood. Ordinary boys who would play and roughhouse with great abandon became little soldiers of Christ with great seriousness in the celebration of the Mass.
Thirdly, it caused a reaction of visceral anger and anguish on the part of liberals who were now convinced that I was completely nuts. Their angry letters caused my provincial superior to judge me in a manner that had little relation to reality. So from 3000 miles away he made decisions which changed the nature of the parish and disrupted my life. And I am grateful. Because I landed in a place that appreciates the Extraordinary form, that loves reverent prayer and even has 24/7 adoration. And I am no longer subject to that provincial.
This was the last full day. We were to go to the final Mass, but there was a foot race. Because of the foot race many roads were closed. Verizon does not have control of the GPS towers and my phone consistently told me and Uber drivers that I was three block from where I actually was. So an hour later and after four Uber drivers passed right by us saying they could not find us, we went back to the Domus and said a quiet private Mass. Then we headed out to what turned into a St. Paul day, first to the Patriarchal Basilica where we had the soldiers reminding us what kind of world we lived in. ST. Pual Outside the walls was beautiful. But even more impressive is the Abbey of Tre Fontane. This is the sight of the Martyrdom of St. Paul.. We had a beautiful visit, then we entered the Trappist Church and were present for one of their midday prayers. After returning home for a short rest, we headed out for the final dinner and then a gelato before heading home to pack and prepare for the morning.
The Day with Fr. Z., The wonderful Mass. The Music was outstanding and really reflected the text. I had prayed and celebrated a low mass in the morning, and then hearing the same texts sung to the choral rendition of Aurelio Porfiri was just stunning. Fr. Z showed off some seminarians who were recipients of his Biretta project. . We also met up with some Regina corespondents from the International scene.
The beautiful day ended with a trip to Piazza Navona, and a marvelous dinner at Jon Lewis's favorite place, La Scaletta.
Omnia Christus Est Nobis
Christ is everything for us!
Burying the Alleluia
Sacristy Art I
Sacristy Art II
Sacristy Art III
Sacristy Art IV
Sacristy Art V
Sacristy Art VI
Years in Review
I am a Roman Catholic Priest from California. I spent 13 wonderful years years as a member of the Province of the Pacific in the Missionaries of the Precious Blood. The outline of my life can be traced here.