NO Improvements?

Father Claudio Diaz, Director of the Office of Hispanic Ministries,  concelebrates Mass following a blessing of the new Hispanic Cursillo Secretariat at St. Hedwig Parish on Aug. 14. (Karen Callaway photo)

Those of you who know me will know that I purposefully attend the “Extraordinary Form” (EF) of the Mass several times a year. This form of the Mass is sometimes known as “The Tridentine Mass” and is the Liturgy which our grandparents would have typically attended.

There’s much to commend the Extraordinary Form and I would love to see it become more available. However, as much as I love the older form of the Mass, I have to say, that when it’s done well, I actually prefer the “Novus Ordo” (NO) Mass (although I typically go to Byzantine Liturgy on Sundays). This is the amended liturgy which came about following the Second Vatican Council and which is more typically found around the world today in Roman-Rite Catholic Churches.

Although I generally prefer the Novus Ordo, I think it’s safe to say that every Catholic has been to a typical parish Mass where the liturgy has, well, left a lot to be desired… These banal liturgies have considerably nurtured the feeling among more traditional Catholics that the Novus Ordo was a considerable misstep in the development of the Roman liturgy. However, personally I think that when it’s done well, it’s thoroughly beautiful.

In recent months I’ve been in an extended email exchange with a friend who infinitely prefers the Extraordinary Form. During our discussion, I gave some suggestions of some simple things which can be done to elevate the typical Mass-going experience and I thought I’d share them here. Not all of these are Novus Ordo-specific, but in my opinion they would resolve many of the problems which are more commonly associated with the new form of the Mass…

1. Stillness before Mass. Walking into the church shouldn’t be like walking into a market place…

2. Decent music please. It should be music which can actually be sung by the congregation. As much as I love Contemporary Christian Music (CCM), I don’t think much of it is suited to congregational singing. I think it’s much better to stick to chant or well-known hymns.

3. The choir should generally be tucked away, preferably out of sight. They are called to lead the congregation in the music, but it is not a performance and they shouldn’t be the focus.

4. Say the black, do the red. The liturgical texts of the Church are ancient and beautiful. Priestly improvisation isn’t needed.

5. Well-trained altar servers. They should all be wearing smart, black shoes. No flip-fops or sneakers.

6. The Mass Readings should be audible and intelligibly read. Every Lector should receiving training.

7. The homily should address the Scriptural texts for that Mass. It should explain the context of the Readings and apply them to contemporary life. The homily should have solid catechetical content that actually teaches and challenges the congregation. Feel-good platitudes are not allowed!

8. A short period of silent reflection following the homily can help people take to heart the message preached.

9. Solid intercessory prayers.

10. Ad Orientem Liturgy of the Eucharist (yes, even in the Novus Ordo).

11. A relatively restrained period of sign of peace. It’s a part of the Novus Ordo that I love but it has a habit of descending into a free-for-all that lasts for an indeterminate amount of time that I find can be really distracting.

12. Please don’t try and hold my hand during the Our Father. I know you mean well, but just don’t…

13. A reverent recitation of the Eucharistic prayer. These prayers are the most important words a priest says in his entire life. It’s not very engaging if it’s read like a grocery list or a tax form.

14. Feast days should be special. Use all the incense and bells you have!

15. Limited use of lay extraordinary ministers of holy communion. It’s distracting having so many. Communion might take a little longer to distribute, but that’s okay!

16. A good period of silence after Communion, there’s no need to rush on.

17. If there are notices, please just highlight the important ones. There’s no need to read the bulletin verbatim.

18. Invite all those new to the parish or visiting to come for tea/coffee afterwards. This will both provide a warm welcome to visitors and, by encouraging those who wish to socialize to go to the church hall, the reverence of the tabernacle and the worship space is more likely to be preserved.

19. If the priest waits a few verses of the recessional hymn before walking down the aisle, it encourages the congregation to actually stick around to the end of the hymn.

20. The priest should stand by the door to meet people as they leave, keeping a keen eye out for any visitors.

Do you agree? Disagree? Do you have any other suggestions?

15 comments

  • oh I really like this list! I completely agree with all of these points!!

    • After premature posting, here’s the article in its fullness!

      • Excellent article. What is the relationship of the Latin Mass to the Extraordinary Form? Is the EF always in Latin?

        • Thanks John, welcome to Restless Pilgrim 🙂

          Unfortunately, the phrase “Latin Mass” is a little generic in that it can refer either of the following:

          1. The usual Novus Ordo Mass, but which is simply said in Latin rather than English, French, Spanish etc.

          2. The Extraordinary Form Mass (which, yes, is always in Latin)

          I would say that when someone says “Latin Mass” they typically are referring to the Extraordinary Form. Usually you’ve got to look to the context to be sure.

  • “10. A relatively restrained period of sign of peace. It’s a part of the Novus Ordo that I love but it has a habit of descending into a free-for-all that I find can be really distracting.”

    I’m for completely eliminating the sign of peace. Not that I don’t want my fellow Catholics to have the peace of Christ, but even a restrained sign of peace, like I experience at daily mass at USD, is distracting.

    Don’t get me started on the Our Father hand holding. Does that make me a curmudgeon?

    • I’m for completely eliminating the sign of peace

      Have you experienced it at the Maronites? It was one of my favourite parts of the Liturgy!

      Don’t get me started on the Our Father hand holding. Does that make me a curmudgeon?

      Yes, but don’t worry, Joe and I will curmudge with you 😉

  • Yes! Dead-on. I arrive about an hour ahead of Mass for some quiet Rosary/Divine Mercy/Adoration prep-time. It’s great until the cadre of ‘ministers’ arrive to: scamper through the Sanctuary (stage area), set up the mics (‘Check, check…’), open and close the Tabernacle, set up the guitars in the ‘band area’ (within the sanctuary), etc. What’s with this quick-blink towards the Tabernacle when crossing in front? Even the 14 year-old girl altarboys can’t give a respectful genuflection?

    THEN begins a slow backyard bar-b-que atmosphere of waving and greeting and catching-up. Finally, the ‘reader-guy’ (or gal) starts the ‘show’ by asking everyone, “Out of respect for the Blessed Sacrament…” to silence their cellphones and stand and, “…introduce yourself to those around you.” More hubbub ensues.

    Now, I’M the bad guy who stays kneeling in prayer with my Rosary? I love to stay after Mass for a time to pray, but I have lately taken to leaving after receiving Communion so as to avoid the flea market atmosphere which breaks out before the priest has reached the back of church. I was raised to NEVER leave Mass early, but I might as well be trying to pray in the crosswalk outside of the church parking lot.

    Sorry, had to vent.

    • I heard of one church which solved the problem by putting up a sign in the narthex:

      Before liturgy, we talk to God. During liturgy, He talks to us. After liturgy, we talk to each other

    • When I was part of a music group, we got to the church really early to setup. Then, by the time we were setup (and everyone else started to arrive), we’d run through the music for Mass so that the congregation got to learn it in advance.

      We were also setup in the Lady Chapel, tucked away at the side. It worked well because it gave our cantors easy access to the lectern, but also kept us out of view.

      I love to stay after Mass for a time to pray, but I have lately taken to leaving after receiving Communion so as to avoid the flea market atmosphere which breaks out before the priest has reached the back of church.

      I generally find that you can avoid most of it if you sit at the front of the church. It’s generally those at the back who scarper. I once sat at the back and that entire section of the church had emptied out before the end of the first verse of the closing hymn!

      • Alas, no such luck. I sit in the 6th pew to the side. In my parish, the remnants of the Communion rail is only an inconvenient physical obstacle. The forward exit is right up front so as to create a bottleneck for hoi polloi. I’ve stared into the eyes of people whose nodding and bobbing heads are right in line with Our Lady’s in the front of church. They awkwardly avert their eyes from mine but continue their row of conversation.

        I did discover by accident one possible bright side to all of this. When praying the Rosary, I generally imagine myself to be next to Mary while meditating on the Mysteries. Once during the Sorrowful Mysteries, I considered how Mary might have been feeling as the noisy crowds were cheering on the way to Calvary. The ruckus of my parishoners before and after Mass actually enhanced my prayers. I’d like to think that I am WITH Mary as her consoler during the Crucifixion…and in the present situation.

  • I had a series of responses from a friend on Facebook:

    1. A certain amount of decorum, certainly, but Sunday is Little Pascha and should be a joyful occasion. Greet one another as brother and sister, so that you can skip that godawful handshake thingy you Latins like to do. As for bad behavior in church, read what the Fathers had to say about what was going on in the fourth and fifth centuries, and give your brethren in Christ some slack

    I’m not demanding absolute silence. I’m all for joyful greetings. I’m thinking more about people standing around having loud conversations in the body of the Church while others are trying to pray. There’s plenty of time for chatting afterwards in the Narthex or Hall.

    2. The only fit music for the Mass is some form of Western chant, preferably sung congregationally and a cappella. The Mass is meant to be sung in its entirely, as a chanted dialogue between the celebrant and the people. Therefore, there is no need to worry about what hymn the organist is going to choose, since there won’t be any hymns, and there won’t be any organist–or guitarist, either

    While I can agree with the sentiment, the documents from Rome do speak of the pride of place of the Organ. Also, although I’m not sure how ancient it is, in my Byzantine parish we do tend to have some a cappella “hymns” (i.e. non-Psalm-based songs) at the beginning and end of Liturgy).

    3. Actually, the choir can be anywhere. In Byzantine churches, it usually placed in the kleros–a space at the front of the nave, to the right and to the left. You might consider splitting the choir in two, so that you can sing certain parts of the Mass antiphonally

    I prefer them as much out-of-sight as possible, particularly if someone is conducting – I find it too easily distracting.,

    4. Precisely. Just make sure you have the original rubrics of the Novus Ordo, and supplement them with the Liturgical Instruction issued about the same time

    5. What exactly do they do, though? I’ve served in a range of Eastern liturgies, including Byzantine, Assyrian, Maronite and Coptic, and was usually busier than a one-armed paper hanger, but in my observations of the Roman rite, I really don’t see that there is much for them to do. You might want to consider upgrading the vestments, which, let’s face it, are a bit fur-fru. I would never have become an altar boy at the age of forty if I had to wear those things.

    The main jobs:

    1. Acolytes (entrance, Gospel procession, washing the hands, exit)
    2. Thurifer (same as acolytes as well as incensing prior to the Eucharistic prayer)
    3. Cross bearer (entrance, exit, dealing with the offertory and altar).

    6. The readings should be chanted, which avoids a host of problems. And anyone can be taught to chant, whereas not everyone can be taught to read. The secret to success, I have found, is to “read the reading before reading the reading”.

    Chanting can introduce its own problems. I’m happy with either, just as long as they’re done well which, as you point out, primarily requires the Lector to read it beforehand. “St. Paul’s letter to The Philippines indeed…”

    7. A good homily should have three points, no more and no less. And if you can’t think of anything imaginative to say, remember that the Fathers have homilies on virtually every passage of scripture, so don’t be afraid to steal. The odds of one of your congregation being a patristics scholar and calling you out are slim.

    I’m not especially tied to the three-point sermon (which I associate more with my Protestant days), but someone listening should, at the end, at least be able to say what the main point of the homily was. And yes, steal freely from the Fathers!

    8. Don’t add things to the liturgy that are not in the rubrics. Homily is over, time to begin the Liturgy of the Eucharist

    While I agree with the general principal, I wouldn’t call a thirty second delay much of an addition. I’d also say it pushes back on the modern notion that we need to be entertained at all times. If the priest has said anything even remotely important in his homily, having half a minute of quiet to consider what he’s said seems to me to be a very good thing.

    9. Don’t you like intercessory prayers?

    I do, but I’ve heard plenty which were trite, politically motivated, mini-sermons etc. I haven’t experienced this as an area for fruitful creativity.

    10. Ad Orientem is assumed in the original rubrics of the Novus Ordo. As with the Tridentine, versus populum was allowed for educational purposes, but was never intended to be the norm. When the rubrics direct the celebrant to turn and bless the people, it is easy to deduce that he isn’t facing the people in the first place.

    Of all the changes to implement, do Number 10 first.

    Yup!

  • Not bad. I have no problem with your first point, but I do know people who treat going to church as though anything but the most serious of faces at all time is an affront to God. I wonder what they think, when they sing “Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth”?

    I know that the Latin Church gives pride of place to the organ, so you would hardly believe that the organ didn’t arrive on the scene until the 13th century, and was considered quite controversial. However, Popes and kings liked it, and everybody else fell into line. But I wonder how you can chant properly, with that pipe organ drowning out everybody?

    You can put the choir in the loft, if you like–just make sure the choir director knows his job is to lead the congregation, not to give a concert for their edification. So stick to simple SATB arrangements of exactly the same music the people are singing, and before you know it, they will be leading you.

    As to non-liturgical hymns, they have become common in the Ruthenian and Ukrainian Churches, but they are latinizations (and, in typical fashion, they copied a Latin abuse). In the Byzantine rite, there is no processional or recessional, and the only hymns are the ones that form the text of the liturgy, like Only Begotten Son, the Cherubic Hymn, Our Father, the Communion Hymn, and Let Our Lips Be Sealed. Since there is nothing like the Koinonikon in the Latin Rite, singing Eucharistic Hymns while distributing communion is probably a good accommodation.

    Regarding the three points, I actually got that from Metropolitan Kallistos of Deiocleia. In good Eastern fashion, I think everything should be in threes. . . unless it’s in twelves, or forties.

    Regarding silence after the homily, thirty seconds is probably about how long it would take the celebrant to get back to the altar, find his place in the book, and get going again, so, basically, just be quiet until he talks again.

    I agree that intercessory prayer should be short and pithy, like the petitions in our litanies of special intention. More than two or three sentences is pushing your luck.

    And, of course, the sooner the priest turns around so he’s facing the right way, the better.

    Good piece. I’ve always told my Roman Catholic friends if they devoted half as much energy to perfecting the Novus Ordo as they do whining about it and yearning for the return of the Tridentine, the liturgical state of the Latin Church would be much improved. I believe the people are ready for this kind of reform. Unfortunately, too many of the clergy are not.

    • Not bad. I have no problem with your first point, but I do know people who treat going to church as though anything but the most serious of faces at all time is an affront to God. I wonder what they think, when they sing “Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth”?

      Sure, I know what you mean. This is why I think the narthex is so important. At my parish, that’s where we do the welcoming and where some people gather for a bit of pre-Liturgy chit-chat. They do greet each other as they come into the main body of the church but, on the whole, the atmosphere is one of prayer prior to the Liturgy.

      I once heard of a parish where they had a sign on their entrance door: “Before Mass, we talk to God. During Mass, God talks to us. After Mass, we talk to each other”.

      I know that the Latin Church gives pride of place to the organ, so you would hardly believe that the organ didn’t arrive on the scene until the 13th century, and was considered quite controversial. However, Popes and kings liked it, and everybody else fell into line.

      Yeah, I’ve also found that puzzling…

      But I wonder how you can chant properly, with that pipe organ drowning out everybody?

      At the monastery where I grew up, the monks used a very “light” organ to help with the base notes of the chant. They only “pulled out all the stops” for hymns.

      You can put the choir in the loft, if you like–just make sure the choir director knows his job is to lead the congregation, not to give a concert for their edification. So stick to simple SATB arrangements of exactly the same music the people are singing, and before you know it, they will be leading you.

      That’s what we do at my parish and I think it works very well. I’d say that my experience of the Byzantine Church is that the Cantor’s main job is make sure that the pitch and tempo of the first few notes are correct. After that, the congregation does the rest.

      As to non-liturgical hymns, they have become common in the Ruthenian and Ukrainian Churches, but they are latinizations (and, in typical fashion, they copied a Latin abuse)

      Ah, I did wonder. Do you know when these started to be introduced? I rather like their inclusion, since they usually relate to the Feast or season that we’re in. This means that the congregation don’t have to wait until the Troparion to find out if there’s anything special that day.

      Regarding the three points, I actually got that from Metropolitan Kallistos of Deiocleia. In good Eastern fashion, I think everything should be in threes. . . unless it’s in twelves, or forties.

      LOL. That’s it, the next time I give a presentation to a bunch of Eastern Catholics, I’m going to do a 40-point sermon.

      Regarding silence after the homily, thirty seconds is probably about how long it would take the celebrant to get back to the altar, find his place in the book, and get going again, so, basically, just be quiet until he talks again

      At a parish I used to attend, the priest would walk back to the celebrant’s chair and sit briefly before standing back up and leading the people in prayer. It was brief, but I really did appreciate those few moments to let the teaching and exhortation sink in before we proceeded with Mass.

      Good piece. I’ve always told my Roman Catholic friends if they devoted half as much energy to perfecting the Novus Ordo as they do whining about it and yearning for the return of the Tridentine, the liturgical state of the Latin Church would be much improved.

      Yes, by a thousand percent! The most common complaint I hear is that the N.O. experience is typically “less reverent”. I think that can be fixed with just a few tweaks.

      I believe the people are ready for this kind of reform. Unfortunately, too many of the clergy are not.

      I’d concur, and I find that the people are very quickly turned to this way of thinking, simply by being exposed to some good liturgy and teaching. A turning point for me was at a small Mass at a retreat center with maybe five other people. The priest celebrated the Mass Ad Populum and at the end we were invited to spend as long as we wanted in the chapel before going to bed. The priest came around to our side of the altar and led us in a brief prayer before the tabernacle. It was a real “light bulb moment” for me – Ad Orientem suddenly made sense. I had a similar experience the first time I used an altar rail: “This makes so much sense! Why did we get rid of these?”

What are your thoughts about this article?