Monday, February 6, 2012

Ramblings about the Beauty of the Mass (with brief interruptions for toddler misbehavior)

Mass was so beautiful yesterday...  I spent a little bit of time trying to think of how to put it into words, but words fall so far short that I was hesitant to even write this post.

I'd never attended a "High Mass" before and actually asked some online friends if that was actually what the Mass we attended actually was and then started googling for confirmation.  It fit the descriptions I found perfectly.

When we arrived there were five altar servers in the hallway, with incense and candles and Father had just announced that a monsignor was visiting.  Then Mass began and there were three priests, all in the most beautiful vestments I've ever seen, the sort of vestments that made me want to break out some gold thread and figure out how to use the embroidery setting on my new sewing machine, in a feeble attempt at imitating the beautiful garments.

Most of the Mass was sung (that was my clue that it was a high Mass, because I remember reading somewhere that a High Mass is sung) and I'll admit that I spent a good deal of time marveling at how everyone knows to do everything at the exact time, and how it's so graceful and beautiful and almost resembles a sort of dance (in a not liturgical dance sort of way!) because everyone moves together so perfectly.

We were in the Narthex, which ended up being a very good thing, because while Mae Bae did "alright" (and by alright I mean: pulling my snood, and my nose and trying to poke my eyes, while putting her feet on my stomach to try and push off and dive towards the floor... but at least doing all these things quietly), Sadie had a less than stellar day, in which she repeatedly stage whispered:  "Is it over yet?!?!"  This would have been slightly understandable since this Mass was a bit longer, if it hadn't begun 30 minutes into Mass, which is definitely inside the timeline that she normally sits still for.

The highlight of the misbehavior was when we went up for communion (which is normally when she's really quiet) and Paul was carrying her.  I was very thankful for this fact because the memories of a particular Mass, when she was allowed to walk and she made a break for it in an attempt to run around the front of the church, still dance through my head.  When we made it to the front of the Church she started saying in a rather loud voice:  "Put me down!  I want to be down!"

Now if I had to guess the reason for the scene I would have to say it's probably because there were not one but two new priests at Mass, and Sadie seems to think that new priests mean a chance to convince them that she's really of an age to receive (I've noticed lately that she only does it with new priests, who she doesn't recognize, and she's stopped trying to pull one over on the priest that usually says the EF Mass at our Chapel, because she knows he won't be fooled.).  But being held by Daddy pretty much lets everyone know she's not big enough, and she was outraged.

After a talk outside she sat quietly for the remaining few minutes, and things went fairly smoothly, despite a threatened Mae Bae tantrum.

A few hours later we were sitting on the couch when she told me:  "You can't warn me at Mass.  We have to be quiet.  Shhhhhh!" followed by: "And you can't yell at me either.  We have to be quiet!"  I'm sure that my whispered: "Shhhhs" probably do feel a bit like yelling since she knows that she's doing something she's not supposed to be doing when she hears one.  But I digress... back to the reason for this post...

Mass was so beautiful.  I couldn't help but thinking about how much I would long to see this Mass if it were suddenly gone, and how people must have felt when the High Mass became so uncommon for so many years...  I know that all the various types of Masses are equally valid, and maybe it's silly that my heart still feels such a longing to see this particular Mass again, but I couldn't help but thinking that it would be much harder to give up such dazzling beauty that so wonderfully expresses the mystery taking place on the altar.

While my understanding frequently falls short, there was something about this Mass that spoke to my heart, that drew me in, despite the distractions that are normally more than enough to leave me ready to pull out my hair by the end of an hour.  This is surely my own shortcoming.  But I've been to too many Masses that ended up being a near occasion of sin for me, with a completely ad libbed liturgy, or a guitar with an ever increasing volume playing over a priest who's resisting the words of a prayer being changed into a happy clappy song, to not appreciate the difference.

Oh how I hope we end up settling somewhere where this Mass is held, at least occasionally!  Or more than occasionally!  Is it something that's usually rarely done, even in parishes that have EF Masses?  Or do some parishes have it regularly?


  1. I barely have access to an EF Mass (and because of this I've only ever been once...when I was 13), let alone a Solemn High Mass. I really hope to be able to experience both (and on a predictable basis) in the future.

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience!

  2. The FSSP parish I attend has a High Mass every Sunday; I sing with the polyphony choir and regular choir, so we either do a chant Mass setting or a polyphonic Mass setting each Sunday. It's gorgeous! :) A Solemn High Mass is quite a treat, and we definitely don't have those every Sunday, but even just a High Mass is lovely!

  3. Okay! Now I have a question! The links I read didn't differentiate between a high mass and a solemn high mass and acted like they were the same.... so I don't actually know which I went to. But I thought someone here might know the difference? I love learning about this! But I keep realizing how much I don't know!

  4. TThat is basically the kind of Mass that Josh and I attend on a fairly regular basis. The only difference is that the High Sung mass that we attend is in English. It's at An Anglican Use Parish (The Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter which The Pope announced on the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God.). The church we attend (Our Lady of Walshingham) is actually where the new North American Ordinary (Fr. Jeffrey Steenson) has his Chair. And St. Mary's Seminary (which is where I help run the accent reduction program) is where the new Ordinariate's seminary is located.
    Soon the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter will be building a church in my area . Right now Fr. Van Vliet, F.S.S.P is saying masses at a another church in my area during off hours.
    So that beautiful Mass is celebrated often around me quite often. I have to agree Cam it's a very wonderful, and uplifting mass. I do have a few questions for you. Are you sure that all of the men were priests? I find that the decan and Sub-decan's vestments at those masses really do look a lot like priests. I am not saying that they weren't priest because that is very possible. (That just goes to show how formal the mass feels). If anyone would like to see picture of one of these masses held at my church you can ask. (ok now I'm a major Rambler)

  5. The terms "Solemn High Mass" and "High Mass" generally refer to the same thing. You can tell it is a High Mass because there is additional personnel at the altar; this Mass is served by priest, deacon, and subdeacon, and usually there are more servers as a result (there will certainly be an MC, crucifer, thurifer, and two acolytes with candles; there may additionally be a half dozen torch-bearers who kneel at the foot of the altar at the consecration with "swing torches," which are more or less just candles on sticks).

    This is distinguished from a Missa Cantata, which is a sung Mass done by just a priest (and a varying number of servers, depending upon circumstances and Father's preferences), and a Low Mass, which is just a priest and one or two servers and no singing.

    Hope this helps, and be assured of continued prayers from your servant, a seminarian.

  6. A high mass can be two hours long, has singing, and can only be done once per day. A low mass is typically one hour long, may or may not have music, and can be done multiple times per day like the NO mass.

    I used to go to the EF low mass at St Joseph's in Auburn, CA. Unfortunately, they lost the one priest who was doing the mass in the area and for a while they were having a priest come in from the bay area. I think they still have it but it's not something I can attend anymore due to time constraints and a 15 month old toddler to chase.

    I loved going to the mass. It was very contemplative for me. I loved the rhythm and peace of everything around me. I had to study about it to get the hang of what was going on. I can see why people get so frustrated with it. It's like a Protestant coming to a Catholic Mass. Totally, outside their realm of understanding. It takes long months of study to feel comfortable with all the ups and downs, kneeling, prayers, postures, whispers, and proclamations. We had a lady complain that she couldn't hear what the priest was saying during a part of the EF. He turned to her and told her he was not speaking to her but to God and it was therefore private. :) I loved that. I wish people had more patience and desire to understand the beauty of this particular form of the mass. I wish all parishes had it but it is up to the priest to put it together.

    You are very lucky, even if you get few chances in the future to go to such a mass.

  7. Thank you all for all the information! It did help! I thought that was what it was, but I feel like there's still so much I don't know, since we only started attending the EF when we moved, and I don't have much reading times to look things up these days!

    I would love to go to one weekly! Just thinking about it makes me sigh!

  8. Just a few clarification points - a High Mass can be celebrated more than once a day, and there can be a difference between a "Solemn High Mass" and a "High Mass".

    A Solemn High Mass is celebrated by a priest and there is also a deacon and a subdeacon (as well all the servers). A High Mass has just the priest (and the servers).

    What you saw, Cam, was a Solemn High Mass, as you mentioned there were three priests - probably one of the priests was taking the "place" of the deacon and one was taking the "place" of the subdeacon. The rubrics are slightly different when more than one priest (or a priest, deacon, and subdeacon) is involved and the rubrics are also slightly different when a Bishop is involved.

    Hope this helps! :)

  9. Thanks Mary Jane! It's all so interesting! So that is what it was! I began by looking at Wikipedia, so I wasn't sure how good my original info was!

  10. I feel just as you do. Given my choice I would always attend this sort of Mass because to me it causes me to marvel at the glory of God and the amazing gift of Christ in the Eucharist and the incredible mystery of the Church and I simply love the beauty of it.

    Where I live we are lucky if the music is less bad than usual.

  11. I too, experienced such feelings when I attended my first High Mass.

    My family has been attending a TLM parish ever since. It has been five years and I am still learning about the EF Mass. I would encourage all, not to late their lack of understanding be the barrier that keeps them from attending Mass in the Extraordinary form.

    We attend the High Mass every Sunday and are blessed to have Solemn Masses celebrated frequently throughout the year.

    I give thanks to the Good Lord for the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter. Please keep the FSSP in your prayers.

    Ad Jesum per Mariam,

    p.s. here is a good read, The Latin Mass Explained by Msgr. George Moorman.

  12. Come to Greenville, SC. We have a parish that has a quiet Mass, low Mass, high Mass, and EF mass all on Sundays. They even do an EF Mass each day at noon!

  13. I second the book recommendation for The Latin Mass Explained. Great reference.

    We are in Pittsburgh, and have one of (perhaps the?) largest TLM community in the U.S. We attend the high mass every Sunday and generally I believe there is a Solemn High Mass on Christmas, Easter, and whenever the extra priests/deacons are available. We have been out of town the last two years worth of holidays, so I am not 100% sure.

    I had the same experience as you when we first began attending, and I think the reason is because we really understand our faith to start with, when you go to the EF it just plays out in front of you and you just get everything going on and it just really feels awesome in the truest senses of the word. I'm happy for you that you now have the opportunity to attend even a low EF mass. The Novus Ordo can be wonderful and my faith has been enriched particularly by some (and I do mean only some, lol) contemporary liturgical music, but the EF is just a tall, cool drink of water on a hot, dry day.

  14. If you can find an old copy of Bishop Fulton Sheen's "This Is The Mass" ( ) It is beautifully illustrated and walks you through the Latin Mass. I found a copy in a bookstore shortly after I started going to the TLM and it was very helpful and very beautiful!

  15. Cam, you are so right... It is so hard to put the EF into words, especially if it's a Solemn High Mass. Every time I am able to attend (like Brooke H, I attend in Pittsburgh, and yes the community is large!) it always gives me such encouragement to keep trying to be holy and to just reach out to God. I must say, the choir there is amazing (I have been to many EFs with amazing scholas) and meditating while they're chanting helps me to get deeper into the Holy Scriptures and the Mystery of the Mass.

    Over the past year, I have been finding how even assisting at the OF has become a joyful experience (when I tone out the externals which are not inherent to the Liturgy) and have found myself just loving assisting at Holy Mass or Divine Liturgy regardless of the Form/Rite.

    I hope you get more opportunities to go to the EF and that you continue to have such amazing experiences.

    Btw, your daughter is just like me when I was little...always trying to find any way possible with a "new" priest to receive the Lord! It's a great sign that she is so thirsty for the Blessed Sacrament and oh that blessed day when she will taste of the Bread of Heaven. That's actually very moving to me thinking about that.



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