Monday, May 02, 2011

The EF: "I couldn't understand a thing!"

I've been thinking for several months about writing something on the question of what level of 'cred' one should attach to the judgment of a tyro visiting the EF Mass for the first time; and an occasion has presented itself to precipitate a post in the near future.

The question is an interesting one. Personal impressions have to count for something, of course; but for what, exactly? Subjective reactions are usually based, whether consciously or not, on some sort of objective datum. What objective criteria exist for adjudicating between rival judgments? Intellectual transparency? Aesthetic excellence? Theological substance?

As I say, it's an interesting question. Every Protestant Fundamentalist thinks he understands what Catholicism is all about, more or less, without bothering to investigate what it is that devout Catholics love about their faith; and I suppose the Fundamentalist would return the favor in his opinion about Catholic dismissals of Fundamentalism. What happens, however, when a Fundamentalist who loves his faith goes on to embrace the corrective 'more' of Catholicism without recoiling in disgust at his erstwhile affiliation, as though it were nothing but error and blight?

But I am jumping the gun here. More anon.


Joe @ Defend Us In Battle said...

Prof. Blosser,

I am horribly confused by your post. I felt like I was reading something in chinese. I believe I get the basic ideas in your post, but could you possible clarify what you said?

sorry for being so daft.

Pertinacious Papist said...

My apologies. There is a lot compressed into those three paragraphs without any help with transitions.

Briefly, the situation is this. First time visitors to the EF often have an immediate negative reaction, or, at best, a reaction of bewilderment and puzzlement. I know, because that was my reaction. They take their own years of experience in the NO as a benchmark by which to assess the EF, and they assume that exposure to a single EF Mass gives them the 'equipment' necessary to offer a competent assessment and evaluation of all its 'defects.' In fact, they're closer to being clueless about what they've just witnessed.

My reaction to this can range from mild amusement to outrage depending on what sorts of statements are made.
This leads me, in the last paragraph, to draw an analogy to a Fundamentalist thinking that he knows everything there is to know about Catholicism from his own shallow puddle of exposure to Fundamentalist caricatures of Catholicism.

That's the gist of it, although, at least in my case, this raises a whole lot of other questions about religious epistemology -- what gives a person the competence and necessary prerequisites to offer credible evaluations and judgments.

Ralph Roister-Doister said...

Here's one way to look at it, PP. The uniqueness of the Catholic Mass is summed up in a single word: transubstantiation. Christ is among us. Not just “Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again”, but Christ is here, in this place, now. The bread and wine is now His body and blood. We are no longer in an earthly space, but a sacred space. We are no longer in chronological time, but in simultaneity, a sacred time when all worshippers are united in one sacrifice. Pius X is on my left, and Athanasius on my right, if you will, and we are oblivious of one another, because we are focused on the God Whose sacrifice has made this moment possible.

The problem with the NO liturgy is that it is a liturgy bowdlerized for the sake of protestant sensitivities. It trivializes the sacrifice by focusing on the meal. It trivializes the sacred presence by focusing on the fellers and gals sitting in the pews. It collapses sacred space into those same pews, and sacred time into the pedestrian moment. It is, as you are inclined to say, PP, valid, but not authentic.

When I speak of sacred time & space, etc, etc, I have to stress that my reaction to this is not emotional, for emotions are peripheral and untrustworthy. It is more of an intellectual assent, not to a dry, logical, if-and-then exercise so much as to an encounter with unconditional, bedrock truth. But it is hard to express oneself clearly on this point without ending up sounding like he has taken a Mircea Eliade enema.

The Gregorian Mass (EF, if you must) is a liturgy based on Catholic worship over centuries. It does not trivialize the sacred time and space of the Mass by violating it with tittering jokes, obligatory handshakes, "teaching moments" and other detritus of the pedestrian moment. It brings us to the sacred space and the sacred simultaneity, like Peter, James and John encountered when Jesus brought them to the mountain -- isn't that enough? If some people respond by saying the rosary on their knees instead of following the badly translated Latin and the committee-written prayers of a throwaway missal, who is qualified to criticize them for it?

The Catholics who shrug their shoulders at all this are Catholics who suffer from a protestantized sensitivity. They truly don't get it. Due in no small part to the laxity of Church leaders over the course of four papal reigns and four decades, they have become Catholic ignoramuses.

Sorry to be less than fellowshippy about this, but I have always preferred clarity to evasions in the name of charity.

Anonymous said...

It has been clear to me that you are a very well read fella for quite some time. I'm beginning to suspect that you are related to Bill Buckley :). I plan to copy your latest post and send it to the young priest at our local parish.


JM said...


Nick said...

I think a lot of it is the conditioning someone has before they go for the first time, as well as what level they are at in terms of studying the Faith.

I remember back when I had never heard of the TLM and yet was watching JPII celebrate the NO in the Sistine Chapel for Christmas on EWTN. One of the scenes panned to the wall of a painting of someone receiving Communion on the tongue while kneeling. That sight was so amazing, yet I had no idea it was a reality. When I came to find out this was in the TLM, I was in total awe and couldn't wait. Another example was when I watched Sound of Music and at the start they showed them in the chapel praying at the foot of the altar - again, a piety and worship that made total sense yet is gone from the NO.

Also, when comparing just the prayers (not counting the lost but profound gestures: e.g. In the older rite, when the priest celebrates ad orientem, the priest turns around exactly five times to face the people. This, says Saint Thomas, signifies the five appearances of the resurrected Christ on Easter Sunday) the TLM prayers are more "meaty". The NO is basically an emaciated form of the 'strong and healthy' TLM. It's like the difference between a plain cheese pizza and a pizza with 'the works' - you get fed with both, but the 'works' also make all the difference in the world.

As many have said, the TLM uniquely defines (Latin Rite) "Catholic worship," where as the NO is more "Protestantized" and created in a labratory, not handed down and perfected over time.

The folks who panic that they couldn't understand anything are simply those who 'need milk, not solid food' as St Paul says. Nothing to get worked up over, but something we should strive to instruct. We need to keep in mind that they are good Catholics, but haven't yet come to understand and appreciate solid Catholic worship. And that will change!

Rachel said...

I went to my first Mass in 2006. It was Novus Ordo and confusing to me, coming as I did from an Evangelical background. There were so many memorized responses and prayers that went by faster than I could absorb them. And there was much going on, at the altar and in the hearts of the people, that I knew nothing about. I judged the Mass mainly by the homily (not very good) and by the level of participation in singing (there wasn't much, especially not during Communion.) The whole thing left me cold, and it didn't feel like I was really worshiping God. But I knew a big part of the problem was that I was ignorant and unused to the liturgy. So I kept going to Mass several times a week, and I read Dubriel's book "The How-To Book of the Mass", and thus I came to love it.

Then at my first TLM I had exactly the same problems-- wasn't used to it and didn't know what was going on. And the solution was the same: I kept going and I learned more about it on my own.

My point is that some of what the TLM is criticized for applies to the NO as well. Cradle Catholics just don't realize it because they're used to the NO already.

Anyway, looking forward to reading your further thoughts.

(Your closing reminds me of the famous Shakespearean actor, who, when he blanked in the middle of a speech, would declare, "More of this anon!" and leave the stage to check his lines.)

Sam Schmitt said...

"The Gregorian Mass (EF, if you must) is a liturgy based on Catholic worship over centuries. It does not trivialize the sacred time and space of the Mass by violating it with tittering jokes, obligatory handshakes, "teaching moments" and other detritus of the pedestrian moment."

You argument fails here since the things you mention are not part of the Ordinary Form.

Sheldon said...


Doesn't this depend on what you mean by the "Ordinary Form"? If you mean the originally promulgated form of the Novus Ordo, there was a whole lot more that was not part of it, including the removal of altar rails, the priest facing the people, the free standing altar, communion in the hand while standing on your feet, extraordinary eucharistic ministers, etc.

On the other hand, if by "Ordinary Form" you mean the form of the N.O. that it licitly assumes in most parishes today, then Ralph's comments are not all that far off the mark, do you think?

Ralph Roister-Doister said...

"not part of the Ordinary Form."

You fellows make me tired. Mike, help me out here.

Anonymous said...

You argument fails here since the things you mention are not part of the Ordinary Form.

That's right. Just like Code Reds are not in the Marine Field Manual.