Traditional Latin Mass at Notre-Dame de Paris to commemorate Summorum Pontificum

July 7, 2017 was the ten-year anniversary of Pope Benedict XVI’s motu proprio (Apostolic Letter) Summorum Pontificum. Those of you who love the traditional Latin Mass know the importance of this letter.

On that anniversary a traditional Latin Mass was celebrated as a commemoration and celebration at the Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral. Here it is. It’s worth watching full screen with the audio up.

Things I observe:

  • The Mass is not stuffy or old feeling. It is certainly traditional, but does not seem at all out of date. The word is “timeless.”
  • A traditional Latin Mass seems more appropriate in Notre-Dame de Paris than does a Novus Ordo Mass (which one can find on the Notre-Dame website linked above). I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. That is, the “fittingness” of the form of the Mass (NO or TLM) and the church setting.
  • The Mass is beautiful. I am not against the Novus Ordo Mass. I have experienced some beautiful ones. I also participated in the choir at a Latin Novus Ordo Mass recently celebrated in my parish. However, this Mass above is truly beautiful and feels appropriate when one thinks that the King is present in their midst.
  • They have someone to direct the singing of the congregation. We could use that in the TLM I go to once a month in a nearby parish. It can get confusing without someone directing for those of us who are still learning the TLM (which is most of us).
  • The church is full. Maybe this is always true for this famous and grand cathedral, but on a hot and humid July day in Paris (many of the congregation fan themselves) this church is packed. Apparently not a few folks in France like the old ways.
  • At times I wonder if they are used to celebrating the TLM at Notre-Dame. I see little moments that seem to indicate not everything is going 100% smooth, that they are trying hard to make it work — and they do. I could be reading into it as well.
  • There is a mix of old chant and more “recent” polyphony (18th century, etc.). At least one of the polyphonic songs (really a prayer) I sang in the choir at our Latin Novus Ordo Mass.
  • I have never been to France, but I love this church. I studied it in art history class. What beauty and grandeur. A church truly appropriate to celebrate Mass in. Someday I may get there.
  • I love the moments of silence. This is one more reason the TLM is an antidote to our modern world. Silence is necessary for our humanity and our worship of God.
  • Latin! I love that I can follow the Mass even though they are French and I am not. We have a shared faith, and shared language, and a shared worship. This is true in many ways with the Novus Ordo Mass, but Latin brings us all together.
  • There is no altar rail. I don’t know if there never was, or if it was removed at some point (French Revolution? Post Vatican II?). I see some people having trouble kneeling to receive communion — bad knees, age, etc. I can relate. But kneeling is appropriate.
  • I love the humanity. Parisians dress better than where I’m from, but I see all kinds — well dressed, casual, sloppy, women with veils, most without, some folks with praying hands, some with arms crossed, some confused, some seeming to know exactly what is going on, etc., etc. All very human.
  • Excellent video coverage. Beautiful.
  • I must be strange to enjoy watching a complete Mass, but I did.

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Star Wars, Pageantry, and the Mass

In the summer of 1977 I was a boy of eleven looking for things to do with my friends. So, when a sci-fi samurai western fantasy movie, panned by critics and expected to fail big, came to an old single-screen theater without any air conditioning in my hometown, I and a friend just had to check it out. I loved the movie so much I saw it six times that week, and twelve times that year. Of course the movie was Star Wars.

To say the film was immensely popular is an understatement. Why it was such a hit and spawned perhaps the greatest movie franchise in history seems obvious now. The film had great characters, sets, costumes, action sequences, soundtrack, and it followed the classic hero’s journey, which meant the story had deep and broad timeless appeal. But I would also argue that its pageantry played a big role in the film’s success. In particular, the final scene before the credits, in which the principal characters get their recognition and rewards, is a scene of formal, royal, and solemn pageantry. It ties up the story in a perfect bow.

In case you need to be reminded:

I want to posit the need for this scene to exist in order for Star Wars to have succeeded. You see, human beings are designed in such a manner that proper pageantry feeds our souls, clarifies the world, and focuses our passions towards nobility — and our souls are designed to love nobility. Think of an Olympic Games medal ceremony. Is it needed? Absolutely. Does it determine who won? No. But it is the most proper action for the sport at that moment, in that setting — it is about the glory of sport. In Star Wars this final ceremony casts the rest of the story in the right light. Theses characters are not merely winners, they are glorious. And the audience is ennobled as they carry some of that nobility, now in their hearts, beyond the closing credits and into their daily lives. In short, that final scene is what the movie is all about.

I want to argue that something like that final scene in Star Wars, something like that kind of pageantry, is both proper and necessary to the Mass.

A Mass can be very simple and humble. Even the hood of a jeep on the battlefield can serve as a makeshift altar.

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Using the hood of a jeep as an altar, a Roman Catholic chaplain saying mass at the inauguration of an American cemetery, Omaha Beach, Normandy. Photo by Robert Capa, 1944.

A Mass can also have all the royal pageantry of a coronation. Think of the coronation of a Medieval king. There is pageantry, awe, solemnity, beauty, and reverence. There is also appropriate action: kneeling, proclamations, prayers, and a crowning — which requires the physical object of a crown.

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The coronation of Charlemagne, Christmas day, 800 A.D. Painting by Friedrich Kaulbach, 1861

And with a coronation there is also a change in ontology. In others words, a man actually becomes a king. The pageantry is not merely symbolic. In some very real way a man has actually changed — a man made king, king made flesh. This sort of understanding is something that was lost on the way to modernity. This is something we moderns do not understand well in an overt sense.

But we still act sometimes as though it is, in fact, true. In other words we believe it, though we might want to admit it for what it is. Our actions give us away. Watching the Olympics I am struck by how many times it’s mentioned that once an athlete has become a medal winner they will always be one, and that cannot be take away from them. They have changed from a non-Olympic medalist to an Olympic medalist. They are set apart. They are now an Olympian. They walk the earth as a different creature.

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1980 Winter Olympics Hockey Medal Ceremony

There is another activity we do that speaks volumes to this reality, and that is with our liturgical action in the Mass. Catholics believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. We believe in transubstantiation, that the bread and wine truly become the body and blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Knowing what we know, the Mass becomes a pageant of Christ the King. We celebrate His death and resurrection with kneeling, proclamations, prayers, and a sacrifice. It has all the solemnity and reverence of temple worship, of a wedding, and of a coronation.

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A Traditional Latin Mass properly celebrated

Catholics are always faced with the questions of 1) do you truly believe in the Real Presence and, if so, 2) how should behave when in the presence of your king and savior and your God? Treating the Mass for what it is obligates Catholics to certain behaviors. We may not want to be overly prescriptive and proscriptive, but it’s fair to say that we all can figure out basic ideas of of action, dress, and other factors based on our culture, history, and humanness.

God does not need our worship. We don’t go to Mass because God needs us to go. Rather, God gave us the Mass so that we might draw closer to Him, and that we might be fortified against the pressures of the world. The Mass is a gift, and worship is like a healthy diet and exercise. The closer our worship is to what is most proper, the better it is for us.

A truly solemn Novus Ordo Mass can provide this fairly well, but nothing compares to the beautiful and appropriate action of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, a.k.a. the Traditional Latin Mass. Here is an example* from a parish in Paris:

Notice how this Mass has a kind of similarity to the pageantry of the Star Wars scene above, especially once the organ begins (okay, I know it’s no John Williams score) and the procession enters the nave and sanctuary. People only do these kinds of things in the presence of royalty. A Mass like this is one of the most human activities any of us can experience. It is strangely foreign to our daily experience, but then again it is Heaven on Earth, and thus not quotidien. Still, we are made for this. God created us to need this kind of liturgy (the work of the people) and to be fed by such appropriate pageantry.

To not see this truth is to be broken in some substantial way. Modernity breaks people. The Devil breaks people. Sin does too, but modernity, as a tool of the Devil, has a special desire to rid humanity of right praise towards God. Evangelical Protestant attempts at worship recognize the need at some level, but fail because of some fundamental theological flaws, namely the disbelief in the Real Presence in the Eucharist. This disbelief has many consequences, including the development of a non-sacramental view of creation and our faith, and this leads to a false anthropology to such a degree that true Christian pageantry is lost and even disdained. Without the Real Presence there is no King in the building and thus no worship except, perhaps, our own vanity. Poor theology breaks people too.

*This example is of a SSPX Mass. I’m not including it to promote the SSPX, but they do know how to celebrate a Traditional Latin Mass, and I truly love the inclusion of the very human life that infuses the Mass — people arriving, families, sounds and textures, etc.

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Latin Novus Ordo

Ghent angels singing

I’m the one on the right, squinting, grimacing, and hacking my way through the Missa Secunda Kyrie by Hans Leo Hassler, O Sacrum Convivium by Remondi, Ave Verum by Mozart, Laudate Dominum by Diego Ortiz, and Cantate Domino by Pitoni, plus a lot of traditional Gregorian chant, and other works.

On the first Friday of February of this year my parish celebrated our church’s feast day (Our Lady of the Presentation) with a Latin Novus Ordo Mass. I already wrote about how I decided to join the choir. We, the choir, were not perfect by any means, and it was really a lot of hard work, but it was still beautiful and deeply rewarding. Interestingly, I had a small Twitter exchange tangentially related to this Mass.

Fr. Dwight Longenecker had posted the following tweet:

I have a gut feeling that many, many grass roots Catholics are longing for more traditional liturgy, and its my opinion that this need is best met by the Ordinary Form being celebrated in a traditional manner. This is what B16 wanted–for the two forms to influence each other.

His tweet caught my eye, especially in light of just having participated in such a Mass as he mentions. I cannot say that I want this kind of Mass over a Traditional Latin Mass. For me the jury is out. I love both. I am regularly attending a TLM at a nearby parish once a month, and I hope my parish does more of the Latin Novus Ordo Mass as well. I also hope we have the TLM in our parish again someday.

Anyway, I replied:

My parish just celebrated our parish’s feast day with a beautiful Latin Novus Ordo Mass. I volunteered for the choir. First time for me. Very solemn and beautiful. After recessional folks waited for the choir to finish Cantate Domino. Then applauded. Folks are longing for beauty.

Someone replied to my tweet:

“Then applauded.” Says all about the NO.

[“NO” meaning the Novus Ordo.] I should have expected this response. For man TLMers such things as applause at Mass is a sign of the “Spirit of Vatican II” times, which they despise. I get it. I’m mostly on their “team,” up to a point. But I thought about it and it occurred to me that the negative response was premature. For the applause, though perhaps not entirely appropriate (I don’t really know), did not actually happen at Mass, but after Mass had ended. Plus, applause can be a “thank you,” not only praise.

So I replied:

It was not praise for a good “performance,” but a thanks for what had been done (very hard work to bring a difficult Latin Missa Cantata to our parish). Mass was over. Priests had exited. Would have been appropriate at a TLM in a similar context. Says more about people than NO.

Parishioners also thanked the priests on the way out of church for bringing these “lost” riches back to our parish. Similar gesture as thanking the choir.

Baby steps in light of the damage done. It’s not yet TLM, but a step towards it.

Recognizing that, with charity, is good.

I believe I am right about this, but am willing to be corrected — though I might put up a fight. Anyway, another person also replied to my first tweet:

Applauded?

I replied:

Yes. Mass was over & the priests and servers had left the building, the people were standing & looking to the choir loft enraptured like they hadn’t seen/heard something like this for a long time (which they hadn’t) or ever. The applause says a lot about what people are craving.

Fr. Longenecker did not respond to either mine or the others’ tweets.

I know many who are ardent supporters of the TLM (as against the Novus Ordo) believe a Latin Novus Ordo Mass, though certainly more beautiful and solemn than the all too familiar happy-clappy Novus Ordo Masses common since the late 1960s, is still a kind of bastardized Mass, finally ill suited to proper worship. I don’t expect them to agree with my statements above. Perhaps I might not even agree in a few years either (though I doubt it). But for now I’m on a journey of faith and learning, and I have to say I loved our beautiful Mass on that first Friday in February.

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The Worldview of the High Middle Ages

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Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry, Octobre, the Musée Condé, Chantilly, circa 1440

The following three videos are of an amazing lecture series by Dr. Andrew Jones on the worldview of the High Middle Ages. It is fairly technical, but this is important. We inhabit our modern worldview(s) like fish inhabit the sea. It takes a lot to grasp one’s own worldview, let alone understand another so foreign to our sensibilities as the Medieval one. The depth of Dr. Jones’ talks provide much of the necessary perspective to understand a traditional Christian perspective that is, I believe, essentially foreign to modern Christians.

I find the Middle Ages worldview particularly fascinating in light of Rod Dreher’s timely and provocative book The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation. Dreher poses the idea that, since we live in a post-Christian world, Christians should recognize that fact and focus on what can be done to shore up the faith, including communities and practices that support the faith as a kind of bulwark against the prevailing winds of our time. This does not mean forsaking the culture and leaving it entirely to its own devices, rather he argues we should find other means of engagement than what we might be familiar with, while also focusing less on secular battles and more on building healthy Christian communities. Still, his vision is a kind of retreat into faith and Christian culture, and out of the culture wars and the insinuous power of secular society. Drehere uses St. Benedict as an examples and talisman for his thought experiment — leaving us with more of a Medieval monastic approach than a modern socio-political stance. I find his argument mostly convincing.

And yet, Dr. Jones’ approach is not about critiquing our modern world as Dreher does. He merely lays out the High Middles Ages worldview in such detail that one cannot help but compare it to our own. My reaction is basically this: Christians should jettison the modern worldview and embrace the medieval one. But this is no mere “Benedict option.” Rather, it is something far more profound. It would require a nearly total worldview, total cosmological reorientation of Christianity itself. In other words, what we call Christianity today is a far cry from what Christianity was in the Middle Ages, and we might want to grieve that loss.

Our modern worldview is the child of the Enlightenment. Modern Christianity, primarily Protestantism but also too much of modern Catholicism, is also a child of the Enlightenment, which was a child of Protestantism — a kind of serpent eating its own tail. In other words, once Western Civilisation gave up on the Medieval worldview it’s been a slow slog downhill in many respects. Does this mean we ought to go back to the Middle Ages? No. But we ought to look deeply into their worldview and critique our own.

For Protestants this will mean recognizing the more Biblical worldview is a traditional Catholic one. For Catholics this means the traditional Catholic worldview is one that far too many Catholics today (perhaps most) do not know or live. Perhaps what the Church needs is a new Renaissance — a rediscovery of what was lost, and then letting that discovery reanimate the Church and our lives. This could, then, become what brings Christians back to the same table, once again spiritual, liturgically, and visibly united in Christ.

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Remembering a teacher

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My daughter Wilder Rose speaking of her music teacher and the joys he gave her, and her sorrow of losing such a good and fine teacher.

A couple of weeks ago my kids music teacher died. He was a brilliant, generous, uniquely gifted man who was loved by many people and many families in and beyond our town. He was primarily a percussionist who played in various bands, played many other instruments than drums, taught numerous students over the years, and also handbuilt wooden canoes.

A year ago we purchased a traditional drum kit for our son who was 6 years old at the time. We began looking for a drum teacher. This man came highly recommended. We had some worries because our son is young and prone to fidgetiness (some might say he’s a touch ADHD). However, this teacher was perfect for our son, working with his natural tendencies, and helping him discover the music within him. Then he offered to add our daughter for just a few dollars more. So we bought her a guitar. Our daughter is deeply musical and sings, plays piano and fiddle, and has great natural gifts in music. But as she began guitar something beautiful began to happen. Suddenly her musically talent blossomed like it had not before.

This man, a musician, husband, and wonderful teacher, gave my children, and our family, the gift of himself. After he died we cried and cried, and then we began to discover just how much he meant to so many other people in our community. Today we went to a memorial geared more towards his students, who are mostly kids. There was a drum circle, sharing, tears, laughter, and good fellowship.

The world needs more teachers like him. His loss, as is the loss of any human being’s life, is very significant, but our community also lost a special teacher. We also lost a wonderful musician.

As a Christian I know that this life is not the end. I know that death is the severing of one’s soul from one’s body, and that someday they shall be reunited. The memorial only addressed this sense of continuation in terms of us remembering him and carrying with us what he put into us through his teaching and his person–which is no small thing. But I realize that our society today adds to the natural difficulty of dealing with the tragedy and sorrow of death the lack of deeper knowledge of God’s goodness and the ultimate end in which we are made share.

I pray for his soul. I pray that God will have mercy on him, and bestow His graces upon his soul, if only for the generosity, kindness, and love he showed my kids.

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Can I do this? A bumbling neophyte tries to sing the Missa Secunda

Several evenings ago I walked into my parish church to do something I’ve never done before. Probably out of ignorance and hubris, and not a little blind hopefulness, I decided to lend my voice to our parish choir. But not for the normal Sunday choir. This time I joined in because I had heard at Sunday Mass the announcement that coming up in about four weeks was going to be a special Novus Ordo Mass (feast day at St. Mary, Our Lady of the Presentation) that would be in Latin along with Latin (and Greek) chant, and that if anyone wanted to join in the choir they would be welcome, and that our choir director would be offering a chant schola in preparation for the Mass.

So I reached out via email and was invited to join.

As I walked in to the church I heard beautiful music resounding throughout the nave and sanctuary from the regular choir rehearsal as they were finishing up. After blessing myself and genuflecting before the Blessed Sacrament, I turned, looked up, and saw this.

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With not a little panic mixed with excitement I realized I would be going up to the choir loft. What had I decided to do? Reality was setting in. I had never been up there, but have wanted to. I had not sung in a choir since, probably, about 4th grade for some silly event. As I worked my way towards my destination I was asked a couple of times if I was a tenor or bass. I could only shrug. I had no idea. Oh no, I thought to myself. I’m an idiot. I’m a fool. At my answer a look of slight worry crossed the faces of my questioners. Had I made a huge mistake?

On the back bench lay items of sheet music and a binder. I picked up my copies and went to my place. Everything was new to me. I did not know these people. I had never been in the choir loft, I was an imposter. Perhaps I didn’t even know how to sing. However I was welcomed warmly. Okay, at least they’re nice.

Then I looked down at the sheet music. Oh no. This was not the medieval square note sheet music. Not that I know that ancient form well, but because of my curiosity about historical Christianity I know a little. And it’s rather simple to follow if you know the basic format. Rather, this was the Missa Secunda by Hans Leo Hassler, and it looked like this:
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If you want to know how it’s supposed to sound, here’s a recording from another choir:

 

Okay. For those of you who can read music easily, have sung in adult choirs, know that you are a tenor or bass or whatever, then you might be curious at the sudden and profound panic I felt.  (Perhaps you are merely laughing at my foolishness.) I realized I would have to reach deep into my past, to those few piano lessons of many decades ago and remember foggy snipits about breathing at the right time, etc. 4/4 time. 3/4 time. Half notes. Whole notes. God help me, and God save this choir from me.

The choir director, a very kind and super encouraging man (fortunately for me), brought me to a side room and had me sing Mary had a little lamb, just to determine there my voice might fit. He said I could be a tenor or bass, so he put me with the tenors. And there I was.

We began with the traditional chant Salve Regina to warm up. That helped. I know that one, and it’s not too difficult. Then we dove into the Missa Secunda. Another great blessing for me, I was next to a woman who knows the music very well, has a great ear to be able to listen to me while she sings herself, and a kind and generous spirit to guide me through my stumblings. If she had not been there I might have completely failed and not come back. Later others told me, yeah she’s great.

So, rehearsal one is over. Three more to go. Will I be able to do this. I asked several, including the choir director, after that first rehearsal if they think I can contribute. They were all very encouraging. I also found online resources to help me do “homework” between rehearsals.

God help me, but I loved it.

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Missa Cantata: Singing the Traditional Latin Mass

At a local parish in my neck of the woods (not the one I belong to, but nearby) the Traditional Latin Mass, or Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite Mass, has begun to be celebrated the first Saturday of each month. Celebrating the TLM is not a common occurrence here or elsewhere. The “version” used is the Missa Cantata, or sung Mass.

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This is a kind of High Mass, and includes incense, the priest singing portions, a choir singing portions, receiving the Eucharist on the tongue while kneeling, and everything but the homily is in Latin. And I love it.

I’m not a traditionalist. I don’t think the Church should go back in time, uncritically adopting the form of the old merely because it’s old, even if it seems to be an antidote to the various illnesses of our contemporary world. However, I’m a big fan of tradition, and I do think our modern age is sick, and that we’ve lost many of the riches from the past, riches that are good for us and conform to our humanity.

So, about that lost past… The experience (so far I’ve been to two of these masses) is rather rough around the edges, which I find wonderful in a way. We are learning together and trying to get it right. My friend is the main altar server and directs the younger servers. We are also watching them learn. When does one stand, sit, kneel, speak, etc.?? The first time I went we were all over the map. The second time we were better. Fortunate, Fr. Mark knows what he is doing and gets through Mass without issue.

I want to be honest. I cannot say that after having experienced the Ordinary Form in the vernacular I was transported to some transcendent cloud of Catholic ecstasy by the TLM. But I can say this: It is so obvious that the TLM more completely and concretely fulfills the way God designed us to worship, and speaks more clearly to the reality of who Christ is and our relationship to him, than does the modernist way the Novus Ordo Mass tends to be celebrated (which is not the way entirely envisioned by Vatican II).

I would love to see more parishes beginning to add the TLM to their weekly masses. I think it’s good for the Church and the people.

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