Some of you know that I am pastor in an African American Parish. Our liturgies are dynamic and very celebratory. We don’t rush the Holy Spirit and so the masses often go well beyond an hour and our principle liturgy is often two hours. People respond during the homily with “Amen” and “Yes Lord!” They often clap hands during many of the songs. Over all it is a very charismatic experience.
I also celebrate the Old Latin Mass on a monthly basis, usually in the Solemn High Form where in there is a Priest, Deacon and subdeacon, six torch bearers, incense Gregorian Chant and a polyphonic choir that usually sings a Mass from the Renaissance period by Palestrina, Victoria, Viadonna et al.
Now both communities wonder about me. “How can you celebrate Mass THAT WAY?!” they both say. The attendants at the Gospel Mass think the Latin Mass to be a bit stuffy. The Latin Mass folks think the Gospel Mass is off the hook, far too exuberant and some even think irreverent.
But having lived in both worlds as a priest for over twenty years I see more similarities that you might at first imagine. “Similarities?!?!” you might say, “Impossible. These forms of the Mass are worlds apart!” Not really. Let me explain.
The Latin Mass became very formalized over the centuries. What I am about to explain really has to be done in a spoken format. You can’t actually just read it. So I hope you might view the video I have made at the bottom of this post. But here is my point: the origins of the Old Latin Mass show forth a very exuberant and charismatic quality. Consider the following:
1. Gregorian Chant has an ecstatic quality. Long melismas extend syllables sometimes for more than an page. Al-Le……….Lu……….ia………….. Some have likened Gregorian Chant to singing in tongues. While it is true that these sung texts were eventually written and formalized it seems clear that their origin emerged from an ad libitum (free) improvisation by the cantor who was (ideally) moved by the Holy Spirit. It is a kind of ecstatic praying, a yielding to the Holy Spirit who, although we do not know how to pray as we ought makes but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. (Rom 8:26).
2. Many of the Prayer of the Latin Mass are quite exuberant, almost flowery and exhibit a kind of charismatic enthusiasm:hostiam puram, hostiam sanctam, hostiam immaculatam, Panem sanctam vitae aeternae et Calicem salutis perpetuae.(!) (this pure sacrifice, this holy sacrifice, this spotless sacrifice! The holy bread of eternal life and the Chalice of perpetual salvation! An exuberant and almost charismatic sense of joy at what lies upon the Altar. Earlier the priest said: Te igitur, clementissime Pater, per Iesum Christum, Filium tuum, Dominum nostrum, supplices rogamus ac petimus, uti accepta habeas et benedicas + haec dona haec munera, haec sancta sacrificia illibata (You therefore most loving Father, through Jesus Christ you Son, Our Lord, we humbly ask and beg that you might have as acceptable and bless these gifts, these offerings, these holy and unspotted sacrifices(!)) There is a vigorous enthusiasm and ecstatic joy in these prayers. Where five words might have sufficed 25 words are use. Surely these prayers emerged from a very enthusiastic and charismatic experience.
3. One of my favorite forms of music is Renaissance Polyphony and it is often quite exuberant and written in dance time. I’ve posted an example of it in the videos below. And don’t tell me that the Church music from the Baroque period isn’t toe-tapping. Mozart’s several Regina Caeli’s, his Church Sonatas, A Scarlatti Mass, Beethoven’s Mass in C….all wondrous and exuberant in their way.
Over the Centuries the Latin Mass came to be very strictly regulated and some of the spontaneous and charismatic qualities were codified and formalized. But such was not always the case. In each era the Church showed forth joy and exuberance in ways often subtle to us now. But when they were first experienced, before they were formalized there was a kind of charismatic quality to it all.
To those who think the Latin Mass dull, I tell these things. To those who think the Gospel liturgies too exuberant I tell these things. I hope to build bridges. There are more similarities in the roots than we might think. One of the fruits of the Spirit is Joy. And when God is truly encountered in the sacred liturgy, joy can’t be far behind.
As I say this post is better heard than read and here is a humble(!) video version I made. The video is old and grainy since I recorded it on a old iphone ten years ago.
Another video follows that illustrates the exuberance of Renaissance Polyphony often written in dance time: Byrd’s Haec Dies (This is the Day the Lord has Made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it).
The third video is Agnus Dei for Hassler’s Second Mass