Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Extraordinary Form

Here's hoping that this doesn't get a million and one page views. I'm going to write about something, for once, that is truly close to my hearts.

About 2 months ago, we lost my grandmother. It was sudden, and unexpected, and it was a sharp stab in the back. I recall sitting, sweating, in Kettering General Hospital accident and emergency to be told, eventually, by my grandfather, that it was over.

Thus I was thrown back into a world that I had abandoned about 2 and half years ago. A kick in the pants, in the right direction. I was thrust back into the Roman Catholicism that I had been baptised into when I was 11, confirmed when I was 12 and followed until I was 19. At that point in my life, I had just moved away from home and going to church every Sunday was not high on my priorities.

But I made a confession, and came back into the faith early in May and I have enjoyed, what my Grandfather refers to as, my conversion back. Part of this, involved me finding mass in the city in which I live, which is Leicester. I found my nearest church; a Dominican Priory, serving the two universities in the city. I can still remember, when I went there in first year. I attended the extraordinary form with an then girlfriend who was a protestant, to really satisfy our mutual curiosity about the traditional forms of the mass. We found it to be an interesting experience, but it didn't push us away from what we were doing.

So, with some trepidation, I came back to that mass. And I was surprised. For it was profound, and for the first time in my Catholic experience, I was able to focus on the sacrifice of the mass; the literal offering, the transubstantiation that occurs upon the altar. A friend, who visited me (an atheist friend, I hasten to add), noted that it was powerful and very reverent and medieval. He walked away with an interested look on his face, and I was even more surprised that it should have an effect on a man who is vehemently anti-God.

But I must be careful at this point, not the defame the ordinary, vernacular form of the mass. For the same offering takes place in both. The same presence, the same intent. The presence of Christ is the focus of worship, NOT the liturgy. To worship the liturgy would be wrong.

But to bring to my main point, I was reading a book on the symbolism and rituals of hinduism (I refuse to narrow my reading because of faith based concerns, all knowledge is great). I came across a line that really rang true to the very core of my being. The salient point being, that in modern hinduism, much of the significance of the rituals and the imagery had been lost and had become mere ritual with no thought. And it occurred to me: could this be the source of the profundity that I experience with the extraordinary form of the mass? Could it be that the extraordinary form allows for the significance of the rituals to be seen with more clarity? Certainly, in my opinion. But perhaps not the opinion of everyone else. (It doesn't have to be).

Certainly, the vernacular has it's place, but it is my opinion (and let's be very clear here that this is MY OPINION) that the meaning behind the symbolism has been lost and it is too easy for people to listen to their own language and not to reflect on the sacred mystery of the mass (cf. Mark 4.12). Perhaps it would be relevant to say that it is an attempt to understand that which is not understandable and that any attempt to do so can only fail. This being said, the current, and ordinary form of the mass is very popular with the bulk of people within the church and I would discourage any person from feeling that either the traditional or the modern form is better than the other. It is the same sacrifice. But I do wonder whether some of the perceived irreverence comes from a lack of understanding, and blind ignorance, than from shortcomings in the ordinary form of the mass. With the extraordinary form, one does get the sensation that this is special and the use of latin to celebrate the rite takes it above the language spoken by all the people. It is a sacred and special time, and the use of latin reinforces this. Once again, this is my opinion so it is not truth, nor fact (heh, I would love, if I had more time, to blog on truth and fact. Anselm of Canterbury has got me thinking...)

I will add now that I find the traditional form of the mass to be uplifting and joyous, and I have time to consider and ponder the true mysteries of the faith; I feel closer to God there than any other time. Given the choice, I would take this over the ordinary or modern form. But if the modern form was all that was available then I would accept it with joy and happiness. After all, it was the mass that introduced me to the faith.


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