Saturday's Mass in the Extraordinary Form

I caught last Saturday’s special Mass in the Extarordinary From, telecast from the National Shrine on EWTN. The Mass gained more than expected attention because of the last minute removal of the principal celebrant, Cardinal Castrillon-Hoyos, because he is embroiled in controversy regarding the need to report crimes by priests to civil authorities.

I am a child of Vatican II, so the old Mass is unfamiliar to me. So, I did not bring any nostalgic sensibilities to my viewing of it. And, without such a sensibility, I confess it left me cold. The music was glorious, of course, but we have equally beautiful ancient music at the Novus Ordo Latin Mass and at the English Mass at St. Matthew’s Cathedral every Sunday.

The thing I was most interested to see if whether or not the ad orientem posture, with the celebrant and the people facing in the same direction, really would make the Mass seem more focused on Christ in the sacrament and less on His presence in the gathered community of the faithful. It seemed to me that the focus was almost uniquely on the principal celebrant. Yes, there were more than the usual number of genuflections towards the altar, but most of the bowing and scraping, the knelt deacon putting on the bishop’s buskins, the multiple hand washings, etc., all of that seemed to put the focus on the celebrant not on the Lord.

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And what is with the cappa magna, the long vestment of watered silk that must stretch twenty feet behind the bishop as he processed into the sanctuary? I haven’t seen a train that long since Diana, the Princess of Wales, walked down the aisles of St. Paul’s Cathedral when she wed Prince Charles. Just so, the image is one of a royal court, an image that seems not just incongruous to our times, but almost offensive, as if Mass was about dress-up time. It does not suggest that the Church is a Church for the poor. I much prefer Cardinal Sean in his brown schmata!

If some people find their faith edified by the Extraordinary Form, I am all for it. Whatever floats your boat. But, if our reclaiming our sense of Catholic identity rests in the restoration of the ritual I watched Saturday, then it doesn’t look good for the Church.

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