Monday, April 02, 2007

A Rite Histrionic and Disoriented

By Nicholas Postgate

The title of this article highlights two aspects of the new rite of Mass. The word “histrionic” refers to the Novus Ordo’s inherent tendency to place emphasis on the priest as a talker and performer, with ample room allowed for extemporaneous words and free-form bodily posture, in contrast to the Tridentine rite’s insistence on the priest as an “animate instrument”1 who fulfills a definite hieratic function at the altar through his recitation of ecclesiastically determined sacred speech and his careful observance of detailed rubrics fraught with inherited meaning.

The word “disoriented” refers specifically to a Mass turned away from the East and towards the people, thus towards the West. Since, for all the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, the East represents Christ the Daystar who rises into our world and receives our worship,2 while the West represents the darkness and those who love the dark by fleeing from God’s light, this turning of the priest’s back to the cosmic symbol of Christ and his second coming and towards the people is code language for anthropocentrism, the worship of man’s inner potentiality, and the subordination of the immutable divine source of perfection to the ever-changing human “experiment”3 Saint Thomas quotes Saint Augustine: “The East (that is, Christ) calleth thee, and thou turnest to the West (namely, mortal and fallible man).”4 In the words of Diderot, encyclopedist of the Enlightenment: “Man is the single term from which one must begin, and to which all must be brought back.”5

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According to Cardinal Ratzinger, the feminist clamor for women’s ordination could only have occurred after the lowering and lessening of the priestly office to a vehicle of community power.

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Research on the new liturgy by such mainstream theologians as Aidan Nichols, Lauren Pristas, and Jonathan Robinson, building on the work of earlier critics like Klaus Gamber, has established the deep and pervasive influence of Enlightenment theory upon the members and fellow-travelers of the Consilium, the team that produced the new liturgical books.6 It is no surprise that a liturgy set within this Enlightenment context, which at once accentuates the people and invites the priest to become a “presider” over this people’s republic, cultivates a distinctive celebrity ethos, the aura of the politician who, in modernity, is not so much a moral agent as an amoral actor. The presider or president is the center of attention and must act and react accordingly; he is, more than ever, the man in charge, the holy politico. According to Cardinal Ratzinger, the feminist clamor for women’s ordination could only have occurred after the lowering and lessening of the priestly office to a vehicle of community power. If it is a matter of lording it over the congregation, the vain, power-hungry extrovert should stay as far as possible away from the old rite, with its sober beauty, classical restraint, and ascetical attention to details unseen and unheard, and throw himself with gusto into Bugnini’s talent show, where the great I Am (Me) has almost untrammeled opportunity for exhibition.

The old rite stresses the unworthiness of the priest himself, and continually asks that he, and the rest of us, be made worthy by a divine initiative of mercy. The priest may well be vain or egoistic himself and that may affect his entire ministry, especially outside of liturgical functions; yet the classical order of Mass goes constantly against the grain of fallen nature, it constantly asks of the priest a self-abnegation out of obedience to the aw of the liturgy, it almost forces him to enter its rhythm and the lilt of its language, so dominating is the ceremonial aura. It would take a fairly corrupt priest to ignore, trifle with, or undermine the old ordo Missae. Think about it: in the traditional rite, the priest himself, all gloriously attired and set apart as a consecrated mediator, of whose superior status there never was the slightest doubt, nevertheless beats his breast, bows low, asks for the grace to offer the sacrifice worthily, purifies and prepares himself throughout the liturgy until the act of consecration, when Jesus speaks in propria persona – as though the liturgy were saying: “You, O human priest, in spite of all your prayers, are still unworthy; I, the Incarnate Word, the Eternal High Priest, must step in and act for you, offering myself to the Father.” When this liturgy formed the minds and hearts of the faithful, there was hardly a whimper about the “need” for women priests. Could one have then coveted the priesthood as though it were a position of merely human authority, a matter of facilitating a simple ritual action, as it now appears to be on account of the new liturgy? The old rite in its solemn silence almost shouts that the priest bears the burden on his own shoulders, as Christ bore the weight of the rood. What lay person would stand up and say, “Give that burden to me, it is my right, it is unjust for you to hold it to yourself”?

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The new liturgy almost cannot help drawing attention to the personality of the celebrant because the vernacular is his comfort zone, the realm of his daily speech, and if there is one thing he has been encouraged to do from day one in the seminary, it is to “connect with the people,” to “speak to them where they’re at,” ... So he must also offer Mass in that same spirit.

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In the new rite it is altogether different. First, for all intents and purposes, it is taken for granted that everyone is completely worthy, “on top of it,” since, apart from a couple of fleeting references (agnoscamus peccata nostra, ut apti sius ad sacra mysteria celebranda...; Domine, non sum dignus – said once only), mention is hardly made of sin and repentance. The pride and presumption at work in the new missal is the direct fruit of secular humanism, which refashions God after man’s image; Feuerbach and Schleieracher reposing in the sanctuary, where the tabernacle used to be. The dumbed—down missal could be (and sometimes is ) read by anyone; the rubrics, said to be “simplified,” are in reality inadequate and unstable, allowing opportunities for the celebrant to show his stuff, to pepper the Mass with personal messages, to add the Hallmark touch; the vestments, liturgical furnishings, and architecture follow suit, in a crescendo of self-satisfaction, banality, and secularism.

Victims of the Vernacular

The use of the vernacular for the Mass, which entered into the Latin Church at about the same time as the anemic “praise music,” helps ensure that sacramental ceremonies will be the opposite of what the Second Vatican Council asked for: superficial, chatty, smug, and lacking in spiritual savor. Given the prevailing absence of spiritual discipline – an absence sadly epitomized in the new Missal’s glaring rubrical minimalism, which, in turn, forms a lackadaisical clergy – the vernacular cannot but encourage emotionalism by taking one into the realm of the subjective. The more a celebrant “gets into” the texts, glossing, doctoring, riffing on them, the more artificial and staged and self-conscious the whole thing seems. It becomes like a one-man show or a stage act, not a sharing in the “past perfect” of Calvary or the “future perfect” of the Kingdom made present here and now. A priest who simply reverently reads the Missale Romanum and makes those prayers his own, subordinating himself utterly to the ritual of Holy Mother Church, becomes the mouth-piece of a living Tradition emanating from the living Lord. This requires asceticism for the priest, yes, but it requires the same from the congregation: they too must deny themselves, take up their missal (as it were), and follow the priest, in order to enter the mystery of the cross reenacted on the altar of sacrifice. No one gets to shine or warble; everyone has to kneel and adore.

The new liturgy almost cannot help drawing attention to the personality of the celebrant because the vernacular is his comfort zone, the realm of his daily speech, and if there is one thing he has been encouraged to do from day one in the seminary, it is to “connect with the people,” to “speak to them where they’re at,” to “be one of them.” So he must also offer Mass in that same spirit, filling it with familiarities, colloquialisms, witticisms, anecdotes, holiday greetings, bits of news – and from there the infection takes hold of fixed parts of Mass, too, whose formulations begin subtly to reflect whatever pastoral-theological-gastronomical perspective the priest happens to have developed. The problem has obvious roots: in the West, for over a thousand years, no systematic attempt was made to employ a noble vernacular in our rituals7; hence we did not develop the Eastern custom of total reverence towards liturgical texts in the mother tongue.8 In fact, one of the colossal mistakes of the failed reform was thinking that just because vernacular worship with lots of congregational singing works in the East or among Protestants, it would therefore work fine among Catholics, which ignores the towering fact that for centuries the Catholic soul had been formed by silence, reverence, kneeling, gazing, and, in a way that was far more profound than any of the reformers realized or cared to admit, by the Latin language itself, and to a lesser extent, by Gregorian chant, its connatural companion. To make a sudden shift away from these habits of soul was to ensure not only discontinuity with the past but also a death by starvation of those spiritual virtues specific to the Western Church. She went from having some virtues to having none.

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in the Latin rite church we have witnessed the reduction of the divine sacrifice, the sacred banquet, to a human meal – and, what is worse, not the traditional meal that creates brotherhood, but the fast food and chatter of modernity that leaves our souls alone and untouched, however energetically we shake hands and “stay connected.”

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Speaking broadly, the Novus Ordo has established a kind of laziness among priests and laity. Many older people, whether cleric or lay, would prefer not to go back to the Tridentine Mass because it is more spiritually and physically demanding. It is, as Robert Hugh Benson once wrote, a sacred dance that requires utmost concentration in its execution, and begs for careful preparations beforehand, not to mention years of preparation for the major ministers. The Novus Ordo is a perfunctory social event that can be performed with comparatively minimal preparation. One sees the same difference between traditional acolytes and contemporary “altar servers.” The former had to be well trained, even drilled, in their elegant, synchronized motions, particularly for solemn Masses (though not all the little boys could pull it off), whereas the latter can be shown the ropes of the Novus Ordo in a matter of minutes, since it amounts to little more than hoisting a book or holding a cruet. In both the priest’s and the server’s case, there is a difference too in habiliments. The traditional priest wears any layers of often rich and beautiful materials that have to be worn in a special way, and the server has at least his old-fashioned cassock and surplice, but the modern priest dons a few items topped off by polyester drapery, an his modern male or female assistant wears a robe of some sort that never manages to hide his or her gym shoes.9

In the old rite, the priests are clearly working: their role is a difficult one, they are about serious business – “the Father’s business.” They almost always sweat profusely at a High Mass. In the new rite, whether he sweats or not, the priests appears to be going through motions that are not serious work, motions that are really aimed at catching and keeping the people’s attention and carrying on a sort of dialogue with them. The manner in which ministers at the altar work, pray, bow, etc., reflects and represents the reality of what is taking place. I am reminded of an observation of Monsignor Benson again: at an old Mass, the priest hobbles out, climbs up the steps and goes to work. He has got a serious job to do, and he does it – not primarily for the people, not with a view to them, but with a view to the work to be done, the opus operatum.10 This is why he faces eastward, toward the Christ who has come and who will come. Christ is his master, his “employer,” if you will. The priest answers to Hi. Is the priest at the new Mass answering, literally or metaphorically, to Christ, or to the people? The priest’s physical disorientation, his turning his back to the Orient and towards Man, inverting the priority of the Mass and the masses, symbolizes with a poetic justice worthy of Dante the state of the Western soul and the essential crisis of the Roman Church in this Dark Age.

Meals and Mysteries

A feast or a banquet is a real event of human togetherness, of fraternizing at leisure, and, if we are blessed with faith, of truly celebrating life as a gift from God. In traditional societies there was always time for a feast, just as there was a place for fasting. Providence would have it so. For its part, the Last Supper was a meal. Yet Christ decided to institute the sacrament of His love in the context of a Jewish feast that was already richly sacramental and formal in its practice, not at all what modern meals are like; and he transformed the elements of the meal into a mystical supper11 that made present, in anticipation his death on the cross the following day, thereby fundamentally altering the event from commemorative feast into a true and proper sacrifice, the sacrifice of Calvary. This was no “ordinary” meal to begin with; it had become absolutely extraordinary by the time it is finished. Christ’s command gave the Church power to elevate the human banquet into an instrument for making present, and furthering, the Kingdom of God. This consecration of the ordinary had, in turn, a notable effect upon ordinary life, illuminating it with a ray of the Church’s holiness, invigorating nature as a basis for grace. For it was the same people who found the meaning of their life at Mass and broke bread at table in the family circle.

The modern meal – a rushed affair of prepackaged microwavable foods and, on the off chance people are eating together, trivial chitchat – has nothing mysterious or even dignified about it. Do we think that our shift away from the family, the home and hearth, and the rhythms of country life have had no effect on our perception and practice of the liturgy: It is improbable that we can still appreciate a sacred banquet (O sacrum convivium, Saint Thomas sang), if even a worldly banquet is rarely spread. The “desacralization” of ordinary Christian life, the “demystification” of the Mass: which one comes first and brings about the other – or are they simultaneous and co-causative? This much, at any rate, is clear: in the Latin rite church we have witnessed the reduction of the divine sacrifice, the sacred banquet, to a human meal – and, what is worse, not the traditional meal that creates brotherhood, but the fast food and chatter of modernity that leaves our souls alone and untouched, however energetically we shake hands and “stay connected.”

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Man’s highest activity is the silent contemplation of divine reality through the power of his mind elevated by grace, and this the activity towards which the liturgy should be leading all of us.

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A Novus Ordo liturgy celebrated in dis-oriented churches where the altar has been replaced by a mere table and the priest, breaking with nearly 2000 years of tradition, faces the people and talks to them instead of facing East and speaking softly to the Beloved, is nothing less than a visible betrayal of the invisible essence of the Mass.12 All oriental and occidental liturgies are absolutely one in regard to the irreducible priestliness of the priest and the “altarity” of the altar. The priest at the altar clearly has a special priestly task to perform that demands all his attention; he is focused entirely upon it, and thus sets the right example for all. He is doing something that no one else can do, yet paradoxically in doing it properly he opens up the mystery to everyone who participates in the liturgy, and enables them, through him, to approach the altar and offer the sacrifice. But when texts conspire to emphasize the mundane at the expense of the transcendent, the horizontal to the detriment of the vertical, the ceremony becomes a Protestant exercise in commemoration padded with “moving” or “relevant” sermons.13 What follows is not that everyone finally worships equally, but that no one effectively does so; the single sacrifice that unites heaven to earth gets lost on the table, in the meal, in the neighborly chatter. A high altar or an altar behind an iconostasis, surrounded by sacred ministers dedicating themselves unstintingly to the giving of thanks to the Most Holy Trinity,14 visibly and vividly expresses what the entire church building, the entire liturgy and by extension, the entire Church, are for, and that from which they originate; a table and a platform frequented by a motley assortment of people does not do this and cannot do this.15

At a Novus Ordo liturgy, with its ever-ending verbiage, from the improvised greeting of Father to the often poorly coordinated set of Scripture readings to the meandering homily to the “prayers of the faithful” and so on, we are battered and bored with words, words, words, not captivated by the quiet condescension of Christ. We are surrounded by human words that, more often than not, distract us from the One who becomes really, truly, substantially present among us as the ultimate Mysterium Fidei to which our silent, wonder-filled gaze of worship is the only suitable response. As a consequence, the medieval ritual of elevating the consecrated host and chalice – a drawing or photograph of which was once able to function as the universal symbol or synopsis of the entire rite of Mass – has become, if one may judge from appearances, an irrelevancy, perhaps an embarrassment, for any celebrants. It is inconsistent with the “supper” idea: when you are having supper, you generally don’t elevate the food in front of your table mates. Jews during the Passover Seder lift up the matzo, but no one needs reminding that early one hundred percent of the Church is Gentile, and that our Lord, the prince of His own people, inaugurated a new form of worship that both fulfilled and abolished the Jewish ceremonies. For us Gentiles, the symbolism of offering a gift in sacrifice to God by raising it up high over the head, towards the heavens, makes good sense. When the priest is versus populum, the rationale for such a gesture is much harder to see. As we know, many priests fail to elevate the consecrated host and chalice at all; a slight lift of each, and then one speeds into the “acclamation.” There is no ceremonial slowness, the catch-your-breath-and-cross-yourself interval during which the heart is lifted up in adoration of the crucified Savior hidden beneath the veil of bread and wine.16 We have an hour for verbiage, platitudes, and folk songs, but we have not thirty seconds for silent adoration.

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Whenever and wherever the faithful are able to be touched in their soul by chant, by candlelit morning Mass, by the stillness of the priest praying the Roman Canon, by the simple but poignant gestures of the sacred ministers, by the fervor of the collects and other prayers printed in well-thumbed handheld missals – when things like this are firmly in place and appreciated for what they are, there is neither need nor desire for any “reform.”

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One reason the liturgy has become so banal is that the “ordinary mysticism” of Western liturgical life was gradually lost. This was something that was slipping away long before the Council, although not everywhere and certainly not for everyone. Whenever and wherever the faithful are able to be touched in their soul by chant, by candlelit morning Mass, by the stillness of the priest praying the Roman Canon, by the simple but poignant gestures of the sacred ministers, by the fervor of the collects and other prayers printed in well-thumbed handheld missals – when things like this are firmly in place and appreciated for what they are, there is neither need nor desire for any “reform,” excepting the most obvious, and the most miniscule, adaptations for time and place, new saints or new feasts. Making allowance fro differences of temperament, state of mind, and degree of devotion, it is plain that the predominantly quiet participation of the faithful is, in healthy circumstances, as deeply active as it will ever be. One only makes it superficially active (that is, one actually makes it spiritually more passive) by forcing people to stand up and talk, shake hands, lift hands, wave hands, and so on. Man’s highest activity is the silent contemplation of divine reality through the power of his mind elevated by grace, and this the activity towards which the liturgy should be leading all of us.17 The most community-building activity is the inward contemplation of divine love, which have power to transform their bearers into icons of Christ.18 When men have no longer tasted something of the sweetness of contemplation – how revitalizing it can be just to gaze at a crucifix with trust in one’s heart, or to make a visit to a church and be at peace before the tabernacle, half-noticing its red lamp flicker – they will throw away or put into a museum anything that relates to it, like people going through very old family heirlooms who can’t figure out their importance and toss them aside with a shrug of the shoulders.

In this period of history, when God has permitted that Catholics be driven by their very shepherds into an arid spiritual desert, a secular wilderness of jackals and thorns, it is our task to preserve – in the sanctuary of our hearts, if we cannot preserve the sanctuaries of our churches – the treasures that have been handed down to us in better days by better servants, and to keep them safe for a generation that will taste the fruits of a watered garden once more.


  1. St. Thomas, Summa theologiae III, q. 64, a. 8, ad 1. [back]

  2. Summa theologiae II-II, q. 84, a. 3, ad 3: “There is a fittingness in adoring eastwards – first, because the divine majesty is indicated in the movement of the heavens which is from the east; second, because paradise was situated in the east according to Gen. 2:8 (Septuagint), and so we signify our desire to return to paradise; third, on account of Christ, who is ‘the light of the world’ (Jn 8:12, 9:5) and is called ‘the Orient’ (Zach. 6:12), who mounts above the heaven of heavens to the east (Ps. 67:34) and is expected to come from the east, according to Mt. 24:27, ‘As lightning cometh out of the east, and appeareth even into the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of Man be.’” [back]

  3. It may be objected that moderns are so “cosmologically challenged” that they no longer register any of the significance of these things; Ratzinger, in The Spirit of the Liturgy, observes that city-dwellers are hardly aware of the rhythms of sun and moon, stars and seasons. True indeed; but actions are symbolic, and liturgical actions doubly so. We cannot effect a 180˚ change in priestly position (not to mention every other aspect of liturgy) without profoundly altering the subliminal and conscious messages transmitted thereby. In reality what occurs is the substitution of a new worldview to replace the old, cosmically rooted one; it is an essentially anthropocentric, technocratic, rationalist worldview, where man ignores not only nature but the God who is the author and redeemer of nature. [back]

  4. Summa theologiae II-II, q. 189, a. 10, corp. Elsewhere, in Contra retrahentes, Saint Thomas cites the passage again: “Saint Augustine, in his book De verbis Domini, has this passage: ‘The Orient calls thee; wilt thou wait for the West?’ Now by the Orient is meant Christ, as we know from the words in Zach. 6:12, ‘Behold a man, the Orient is his name.’ By the West is signified man, declining to the grave, and liable to fall into the darkness of sin and ignorance.” [back]

  5. Dena Goodman, The Republic of Letters: A Cultural History of the French Enlightenment (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1996), 26. [back]

  6. One need only read the masterful article by L. Pristas, “Theological Principles that Guided the Redaction of the Roman Missal (1970),” The Thomist 67 (2003): 157-95, to see how deep was the influence of modern(ist) thinking on the composition of the missal’s prayers. [back]

  7. I am not implying that the West was mistaken in not having employed the vernacular in her rites; quite the contrary, as Pope John XXIII argues in his apostolic constitution Verterum Sapientiae of February 22, 1962. My only point is that we were never accustomed to a fixed and solemn vernacular, unlike, for example, the Anglicans with their Elizabethan translation of the Tridentine rite. [back]

  8. So profound is the respect of the Byzantine priest towards the text of the Mass books that even when he is celebrating the liturgy in his mother tongue he will never alter the wording or the rubrics (nor is any opportunity allowed him for doing so; such things are fixed in minute detail, as they used to be in the West). The only thing that will ever be “added” are the names of the sick, the deceased, or others who request prayers – and, of course, the homily in his own words. [back]

  9. As older Catholics know, tastes in vestments, not to mention styles of church architecture and sanctuary design, had been infected by a utilitarian superficiality even before Vatican II. And there have been other eras in the history of the Church where artistic/liturgical styles and tastes had grown decadent. Still, it would be difficult to imagine a more wholesale banalization, a more ruthless sacrifice of substance to ephemeral fashion, than we see around us today. [back]

  10. While it is true that preconciliar times saw a fair share of desacralization in the Roman Rite – when, for example, a celebrant would zip through the Mass at breakneck speed, making the requisite signs of the cross over the oblate so quickly that they were no longer intelligible as signs of the cross – nevertheless there was not a “culture” of banality that choked the church. Generally people were still able to experience the Mass, consistently, as a visible source of invisible grace and peace. [back]

  11. I take this phrase from the beautiful Byzantine prayer before communion: “Accept me as a partaker of your mystical supper, O Son of God, for I will not reveal the mysteries to your enemies nor give you a kiss as did Judas, but like the thief I confess to you: Remember me, O Lord, when you shall come into your kingdom; remember me, O Master, when you shall come into your kingdom; remember me, O Holy One, when you shall come into your kingdom.” [back]

  12. Ratzinger and now Father U. Michael Lang, not to mention other authors, have refuted the old argument that saw in the configuration of certain Roman churches, especially Saint Peter’s, evidence for a celebration versus populum. For in these churches, due to historical accidents, the priest, in order to stand ad orientem, had to stand also “towards the people” because the church was built upside-down, with the altar not up against the east end but all the way back at the west end. The key point was always to face ad orientem, to Christ the Orient. [back]

  13. Protestantism has historically tended to see or set up an opposition between form, order, and law on the one hand, and freedom and spontaneity (“in the Spirit”) on the other. We have seen this opposition revived in elements of the Catholic charismatic movement. [back]

  14. Gratiarum actio ad Trinitatem – the title of a prayer by Saint Catherine of Siena, but also an apt description of the essence of the Mass as a propitiatory sacrifice in which the Son of God, in virtue of His human nature, offers perfect praise, thanksgiving, honor, and worship to the Holy Trinity on behalf of the Church ad all creation, thus pleasing to God perfectly and communicating that divine delight to all souls in a state of grace. [back]

  15. If it is objected that I am criticizing not the Novus Ordo but the way it is currently practiced, my response is that of Martin Mosebach: the very fact that the rite, with its innumerable options and “inculturations,” permits all this to occur, and that the Church leaders have seen fit to allow every sort of “adaptation” (including, in rare cases, Latin chant liturgies) precisely in accord with the “genius” of the Missal of Paul VI, proves my case. No authentic liturgy exults in formlessness. [back]

  16. Historically, the priest began to elevate the host and the chalice in response to a desire on the part of the faithful to see them and worship the true God hidden under the species of bread of wine. Naturally, the elevation of the species resonated with biblical/theological overtones: “Sicut Moyses exaltavit serpentem in deserto, ita exaltari oportet Filium hominis”; “Et ego si exaltatus fuero a terra, omnia traham ad me ipsum.” Of course, the strictly theological meaning of elevating the species remains regardless of whether the priest faces ad orientem or versus populum, but gone, in the latter case, is the supporting context that made the gesture so obviously appropriate. [back]

  17. In his hard-hitting ad limina address on October 9, 1998 to the bishops of the northwestern United States, John Paul II spoke about true and false notions of participatio actuosa and of the need to regard meditation and listening (to Gregorian chant, for example) as profoundly active. The call for the laity to “participate” arose because of the deleterious influence that the devotio moderna had on liturgical life, coupled with an approach to liturgy that emphasized the juridical over the artistic, the utilitarian over the aesthetic. If genuine participation was often lousy prior to Vatican II, the post-Vatican II liturgical reformers erred grievously by seeking to achieve participation through the deconstruction and minimalization of the liturgy. Many of the appeared to understand active participation to mean doing something: singing, reading, helping out with the distribution of Holy Communion. A premium was placed on the doing, even when it meant making the liturgy banal and simplistic to assure that such participation could be actually realized. They seemed to forget that people who go to the opera or the symphony, for example, not need to be involved with the production of the music in order to be actively participating in the event. [back]

  18. This description may seem to apply only to the Low Mass, but it does not. Even in a Solemn High Mass with a lot of plainchant and participation in the singing of the Ordinary – the kind of celebration, in other words, that is the norm and the ideal for the Roman Rite – there is plenty of time for meditation, for listening, for quiet prayer; and there is a spirit of stillness, too, that goes far deepen than mere absence of sound. In that respect, I do not think that a low Mass, however simple, and a high Mass, however elaborate, differ all that much in spirit, great though their external differences may be. [back]

Photo credits
  • Dancers performing during Mass celebrated by Cardinal Roger Mahoney, seated, during Youth Day at Religious Education Congress in Los Angeles, February 17, 2005. (from Archdiocese of Los Angeles website via TIA)
  • Kinabayo 2006, Concelebrating priests lead benediction for citizens of Dapitan City from all over the U.S. and Canada, gathered for 2006 "Kinabayo" festival in honor of their patron Saint James the Greater.
  • First weekly Tridentine Mass celebrated at St. Lawrence Church in Alexandria, after permission granted by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde in the Spring of 2006 (
  • The Immemorial Tridentine Mass, narrated by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen -- a magnificent live 1940 recording of a sung High Mass remastered for DVD (black and white).
[Dr. Nicholas Postgate (not to be confused with the eminent Assyriologist of the same name at Trinity College, Cambridge) is a professor of philosophy and theology at a small liberal arts college in the American West. The present article, "A Rite Histrionic and Disoriented," was originally published in Latin Mass: A Journal of Catholic Culture and Tradition (Winter 2007), pp. 34-39, and is reprinted here by permission of Latin Mass Magazine, 391 E. Virginia Terrace, Santa Paula, CA 93060.]