Posted by Brian Williams
Recently I have been reminded of one of the most beautiful aspects of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass: it’s beautiful predictability.
As my pastor has been on a much deserved vacation over the last two weeks, our Sunday Latin Mass has been offered by a visiting priest from the Pontifical College Josephinum. While I have no doubt that Father has a wonderful personality, I really wouldn’t know, even after his visit.
Truth be told, the traditional Mass provides little opportunity for personality to intrude. From language (Latin) to direction (ad orientem) to the Eucharistic prayer (the Roman Canon), the Latin Mass imposes structure and familiarity for both the celebrant and the faithful. A beautiful predictability is established, thereby fostering a sense of peace. It is this peace and familiarity which assists us to enter into the supernatural Mass.
As I have previously written about, Dr. Peter Kwasniewski brilliantly argued this same point when he noted:
“There’s a peacefulness and naturalness that come from knowing what you’re going to get or what you’re supposed to do. As a layman, there is nothing more consoling and conducive to prayer than showing up at a traditional Latin Mass and simply being able to rely on the sameness of everything that will happen, from start to finish — everything for the glory of God and the sanctification of the people, even in the humblest conditions…(it) all works, everything comes together with a blessed inevitability, and one can surrender to the Mass, to prayer, to the Lord. It is a recipe for sanity and sanctity in a world that is characterized by escalating insanity and unholiness.”
Many today experience the opposite of a “blessed inevitability” when a visiting priest offers Holy Mass, or when they attend Mass at a parish other than their own. While some defend diversity in worship as simply being reflective of local norms or inculturation, that cannot be argued when we are speaking of parishes within the same diocese, or even the same city. Too often it seems that it is the personality of the celebrant, or the liturgical preferences of the community, that determine how familiar (or how foreign) the liturgy will be.
In the Extraordinary Form of the Mass there is little outside of the homily itself which permits for a priest’s personality to enter. From my discussions with priests who offer the traditional Mass, this “limitation” is hardly viewed as negative, but rather as a welcomed relief. Much as it does for the faithful who assist at the Latin Mass, the consistency and constraints of the ritual fosters true freedom more than it inhibits it for priests who offer it.
May more of the faithful discover this beautiful predictability in the coming years through greater access to the Extraordinary Form of the Mass.