Diversity on Display – Priests Learn to Sing the Latin Mass

The Traditional Latin Mass can seem challenging to many priests today for several reasons. First many have not studied or mastered the Latin Language. The Latin of the Mass and Breviary is not difficult Latin but it can take a few years for most to feel comfortable celebrating Mass in that language. Second, the ceremonies of the Traditional Latin Mass are much more detailed than the more simplified rituals of the modern Mass. There are more genuflections and signs of the cross, there are details about where to stand at the altar even how to extend one’s hands. These too are not impossible to learn but it takes a little training and a while before a priest might feel comfortable. Third, even if a priests gets comfortable with the low (recited) form of the Mass, the music of the sung form can also provide challenges. Here too the chants are not hard but they are slightly different than the tones used in the modern liturgy.

All these challenges can be met with a little training and time. The following video shows a workshop designed to teach priests how to sing the Traditional Latin Mass

More Liturgy in the Movies

Here is a clip from the Movie “Joan of Arc” depicting the coronation of the Charles VII of France in Reims. I am not sure how accurate the Liturgy is since I am not familiar with coronations nor am I even sure if there is such an actual Rite in the the Roman Ritual. Nevertheless it is beautifully filmed. It also displays a time when the Church and State were often closely allied (too closely??). But it was what it was.

Charles VII ascended to the French Throne after the death of his father. However his nephew also claimed the throne. After some  intrigue he had insisted that he was King but was really a toothless tiger due to the presence of the English Forces in France. Joan of Arc, after a vision was given permission by Charles to lead forces against the English.

Joan of Arc then set about leading the French forces at Orléans, forcing the English to lift the siege and thus turning the tide of the war. After the French won the Battle of Patay, Charles was crowned King Charles VII of France on 17 July 1429, in Reims Cathedral as the de jure king. This scene is depicted in this movie clip

Joan was later captured by the Burgundians who handed her over to the English. Tried for heresy she was burned at the stake on 30 May 1431. Charles VII did nothing to save the one to whom he owed his throne.

The Mass in Slow Motion – The Incensing of the Altar

Holy Smoke! What is all that incense about? The reaction is rather mixed when it comes to incense. So love it and some love to hate it. But the bottom line about incense is that it is a symbol of prayer. As the incense gently rises it images our prayers going up to God. As the incense slowly settles in is a fragrant symbol for God’s graces. And don’t fan that incense away! Take a breath! It is holy smoke. Like holy water that literally showers a blessing on us, so too does the fragrant incense, blessed by the priest bring us God’s blessings as we breathe it in. Perhaps it is a blessing best received in moderation but it is a blessing.

So here at the beginning of the Mass the priest may incense the Altar. Why? What is the history of this action and and what is our intention in using incense?

In the first place, the use of Incense is another way of showing prayerful reverence to the altar which is a symbol for Christ. This is done by circling the altar and swinging a smoking censor of fragrant incense . In addition to the altar, the Cross is also incensed at this time. The use of incense does not take place at every Mass. It is an option and although it may be used at the discretion of the celebrant, it tends to be reserved to special occasions and to more solemn feasts of the Church. The General Instruction indicates it is to be used “when the occasion warrants it.” In the old Latin Mass the use of incense was restricted to solemn and sung Masses. Today there are few restrictions on its use but ironically it is seen less often. Its use then, tends to be oriented to a heightening of the solemnity. As with so many externals, vestments, flowers, music, and the like, there is intended an aid to the senses in grasping the greatness of the feast. Incense lends itself especially to religious symbolism for prayer and such imagery is used in the 141st psalm: Let my prayers rise like incense before you O Lord...(Vs. 2). See also Rev. 8:4 “The smoke of the incense of the prayers of the saints ascended before God from the hand of the Angel.” It is therefore a sign of our prayers rising to God and His blessings descending upon us. The incensing prayer to be recited by the priest at the incensing of the gifts that was recited by the priest in the Extraordinary Form of the Latin Mass beautifully describes this image: “May this incense, blessed by You, ascend to You O Lord, and many your mercy descend upon us.” In addition, its burning symbolizes the burning zeal which should consume the Christian, the sweet fragrance is the odor of Christian virtue. Here too the prayers of the priest in the Solemn Latin Mass as he hands the thurible to the Deacon at the Offertory includes this image: May the Lord enkindle in us the fire of His love and the flame of everlasting charity. Amen.

The use of incense in the culture of the early Church was common in wealthier homes as its perfume was in demand. It was a strong part of burial traditions and it was a major component in both the Jewish Temple and in pagan worship. It was probably its connection with pagan worship that limited it use in early Church. However, with the virtual disappearance of paganism after the 4th century, incense found its way gradually into the Liturgy being carried especially in processions. By the 9th century incense was in use at least at the beginning of the Mass and by the 11th century there is explicit mention of the incensing of the altar. During the Middle Ages the use of incense at other points during the Mass was introduced. Likewise the objects of incense became more numerous. Now persons, relics, and the oblations were incensed as well as the altar. The Tridentine Missal prescribed that when incensed was used it was to be used at the following times:

  • 1. The altar, cross, and celebrant are incensed at the beginning.
  • 2. The Gospel is incensed just prior to its being sung.
  • 3. At the offertory, the oblations, the altar, the cross, the priest, the deacon, subdeacon, choir, and the assembly are all incensed in this order.
  • 4. The host and chalice after each consecration are incensed as they are held aloft.

Today, this “schedule” of incensations is retained with the exception of the incensation of the celebrant at the beginning. This is now done only at the offertory.

After incensing the altar the celebrant goes immediately to the chair.

The Mass in Slow Motion – The Procession and Entrance Song

I’d like to begin a series on the Mass explaining the meaning and history of what we do each Sunday. It is amazing how little Catholics know about or reflect upon what we do every Sunday. This is an attempt to add insight and understanding to our celebration of the Sacred liturgy.

The Procession and entrance song –  Something very remarkable happens at the beginning of every Mass. It is so normal to us that we hardly think of it. As the priest is ready in the back of Church to begin the Mass the congregation suddenly comes to its feet and sings a hymn of praise as the priest walks down the aisle. What is this? Surely they are not just welcoming “Father Smith” are they? No indeed. The congregation is welcoming Jesus who has taught that when two or three gather in his name that he is there in the midst of them. The priest represents Jesus and acts in the person of Christ. Therefore, through his Holy Orders the priest is configured to Christ and is a sacramental sign of the presence of Jesus. Jesus Christ is walking our aisle and we welcome him with a hymn of praise! It is quite fitting to recognize Christ who, robed in priestly vestments, arrives to minister to us in Word and Sacrament. So, don’t just see “Father Smith” see, rather, Jesus and let him minister to you.

Here is a little historical background to the development of the Entrance procession and music associated with it:

In the earliest days of the Church, and in the small, ruder buildings of the primitive Church under persecution, there could hardly have been much thought or possibility of formal processions. But by the 4thcentury after the persecutions against the Church ended, larger, and even sometimes large ecclesiastical structures arose. The sacristies (the place of preparation for the Clergy et al.) were usually located near the entrance of the buildings. This meant that the procession to the altar was now much longer and thus took on added significance and importance. Such a procession could hardly be conducted in absolute silence. Hence the addition of music was natural. But the organ had not been invented and instruments of any kind were generally not allowed due to their connection with pagan rituals. Music in the early Church was left entirely to the human voice and, hence, singing alone gave color to this entrance procession. The texts for these songs were taken essentially from the psalms. The verses of the psalm selected would be sung antiphonally during the procession to the altar. It often happened that an introductory verse (or antiphon) would be sung by one or a few voices to introduce the psalm. Gradually the Antiphons came to overshadow the psalm itself. The Antiphons became more and more complex and were increasingly given over to be sung by a specially skilled choir called the “schola cantorum” with only the psalm verses being sung by the people. There developed a practice of shortening the psalm to correspond to the arrival of the members of the procession in the sanctuary. Once they were in place the psalmodywas brought to an end with the Gloria Patri (Glory Be). Over time there was a reducing of the Entrance song to the following elements: An antiphon, drawn usually from scripture, only one verse of a psalm, a Glory Be and a repetition of the antiphon. Today there exists the option of: Singing this Entrance Antiphon, singing a hymn appropriate to the Liturgy or the season, or in the absence of song the Entrance Antiphon is used as a spoken or recited text.

The following video gives and example of the sound of the the Entrance antiphon (also called the Introit) as is was sung in the ancient Church and up to about 1965. It is Gregorian Chant and the text is

Gaudeamus Omnes in Dominino. Diem festum celebrantes sub honore Mariae Virginis de cujus solemnitate gaudant angeli et colaudant Filium Dei. Eructavit cor meum verbum bonum, et dico ego opera mea regi. Gloria Patri, et Filio et Spiritui Sancto Sicut erat in principio et nunc et semper, et in saecula saeculorum Amen.

(Let us all rejoice in the Lord, celebrating a feast in honor of the Virgin Mary concerning whose solemnity the angels rejoice and praise the Son of God. Psalm: My heart pours forth a good word and to the King I sepak my work. Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy SPirit. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen)

Today this form of singing is replaced by an opening hymn in most parishes although the singing of such Introits is still encouraged and permitted.

Holy Thursday

TODAY IS HOLY THURSDAY, which marks the beginning of the sacred Triduum, or “three days.” Earlier today Jesus had given instructions to the disciples on how to prepare for this most holy meal, which will be his last supper. Through the day they make these preparations (cf Mt 26:17). This evening Jesus celebrates the first Mass and Last Supper with his apostles. In the Mass of the Lord’s Supper conducted at our parishes, we remember and make present that Last Supper. We are in the upper room with Jesus and the Apostles and do what they did. Through the ritual of washing the feet (Jn 13:1) of 12 parishioners, we unite in service to one another. Through our celebration of this first Mass and Holy Eucharist (Mt 26:26), we unite ourselves to Jesus and receive his Body and Blood as if for the first time. At this Eucharist, we especially thank God for his gift of the ministerial priesthood. After the Last Supper (First Mass) the apostles and Jesus made a short journey across the Kidron Valley to the Garden where he asks them to pray and he experiences his agony (cf Mt 26:30). We too will process in Church with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament to a garden (the altar of repose) which has been prepared. The liturgy ends in silence. It is an ancient custom to spend an hour before the reposed Blessed Sacrament tonight. We are with Jesus in the Garden and pray as he goes through his agony. Most of our parish churches remain open until close to midnight. It was near Midnight that Jesus was betrayed by Judas, was arrested and taken to the house of the High Priest (cf Mt. 26:47).