I attended the first part of a talk on comparing the celebration of the Eucharist Pre-Vatican II and Post-Vatican II. The talk was conducted by Father Paul Staes, CICM, who celebrated his 45th sacerdotal anniversary last year. He was ordained in 1961, before the Second Vatican Council. So unlike a number of the people who are pro-Tridentine Mass today, but never really lived in the pre-Vatican era, this guy actually celebrated the Tridentine Mass then. I quote him saying, “Over the years, celebrating the Mass becomes more and more beautiful to what it is now.”
This post contains mostly notes taken during the talk for the people who wanted to attend the talk with me, but were unable to, and also for those interested in the topic.
To start with, I recall one of Father Paul’s sharing about how a pro-Tridentine Mass person came up to him to say how beautiful the Latin language is, and how the Church should all return to celebrating Mass the ‘old’ way. So Father Paul begins to speak to this person in Latin, and the person is stunned, unable to understand what Father Paul says. To which Father Paul goes, “Oh, I’m sorry. You don’t speak Latin?”
Father Paul began his talk with describing what it was like in the days before Vatican II. Back then, when he served as an altar server in his home town in Holland, he, together with the other altar servers, marched to daily morning Mass. In the church, they could only read prayer books, and twice a week, they had a dialogue Mass with the priest. This means that the priest said something in Latin, and the altar server responded.
“Most of the time,” says Father Paul, “We stood for the gospel, we knelt for the consecration, we went for Communion, and then we went to have breakfast. Others prayed the rosary during the Mass except for the moment of consecration.” He said this to highlight the fact that most people at that time did not understand what was going on during the Mass, except for the key points mentioned above.
Make no mistake, however, he noted, the Tridentine Mass was beautiful when there was a good choir, and the priest did things rightly. But this was the ideal; most of the time it was not this beautiful.
Back then, when people went for Mass, they had to pay for their seats. Money-collectors would spend most of the Mass squeezing pass people in their pews to collect payment for the seats. Three collections were made: one for the parish, one for the priest, and one for the Society of St. Vincent De Paul. The money collectors would stop only during the sermon and during the consecration.
After the sermon, the assistants would bring the ciborium out while the priest goes about with the celebration of the Eucharist. The people would be receiving Holy Communion during this time, and by the time the priest himself receives Holy Communion, everyone else would have already finished receiving it. Sunday Mass was usually over in about 35 minutes.
It is true that people did come for the Mass back then. They talked in the back, but they came… most probably because there was no better entertainment back then, since television was mainstream yet.
In 1962, at the start of the Second Vatican Council, the bishops from all over the world were gathered at Rome. In the morning, the bishops would serve their private Masses. As there was no concelebration of Masses back then, one bishop would celebrate the Mass, while another bishop was his altar server. When the first was done, they would switch roles. In some places, three priests would occupy one room and face three different walls to celebrate Mass, while one altar server stood in the middle to serve at all three Masses taking place at the same time.
After all the bishops celebrated their Masses, they would go over to St. Peter’s for the celebration of another Mass. There, the bishops talked with one another, or prayed the breviary. The beautiful choir would sing out all the songs, but the bishops present could not sing in response. And they were frustrated. “Why can’t we sing our faith?” they asked.
All the documents had been prepared in advance for the Second Vatican Council. All the bishops had to do was agree on the documents, sign them, and then everyone could go home within a few months. But the bishops revolted, and refused to elect the committee that had been prepared. They decided to talk about the liturgy, and before the first session was done, a new document was already ready. [Please check with historical details for accuracy. This is just the gist of what took place.]
Father Paul went on to talk about how the Tridentine Mass was outlined in great detail. When he was ordained, he had to celebrate a week of private Masses supervised by an older priest who would make sure that he did not miss a single step before he could celebrate a public Mass.
During a Tridentine Mass, the celebrant says everything, including the readings. The choir and the lectors may be present for the Gloria, and the readings, but they didn’t count. The celebrant still had to recite everything, because he was the celebrant. It came to the point where the celebrant even said (in Latin): “The Lord be with you” and he would respond to himself “And also with you”.
“When all this was done properly, it was very nice,” says Father Paul. “It was a beautiful show, and people liked it; they liked the show.”
The Mass: from a holy sacrifice to a happy meal?
There are six main criticisms of the Novus Ordo Mass as follows:
‘Old’ Mass vs ‘New’ Mass
|1. Atmosphere of reverent worship||1. Social, classroom atmosphere|
2. Profound reverence for Real Presence
|2. Indifference towards Real Presence|
|3. Fidelity to Catholic doctrine||
3. Systematic omission of Catholic doctrines
|4. Antiquity||4. Novelty|
|5. Stability||5. Constant change|
|6. Priest is sacrificer||6. Priest is presider|
Father Paul stressed that in the ‘old’ Mass, people were more individualistic. They were indifferent towards their neighbour, and they prayed alone to God. The celebrant prayed alone to God, and the people present usually prayed the rosary in their own private prayers to God, yes, during the Mass. This was because they didn’t understand Latin.
Some brief notes are made about the above six points. Father Paul recalled how for #2, respect for the Real Presence in the Eucharist led to some priests being too scrupulous about the host. He eventually had to stop celebrating Mass because he saw particles of the host everywhere. He didn’t allow a fan to be at the sanctuary, because the fan would blow particles of the host away.
Father Paul reminded those present that this overboard respect for the Real Presence led the Church to forbid children from receiving the Eucharist until 1910. In addition, people had to abstain from water and food from midnight, if they wanted to receive Holy Communion at Mass the next morning. They started to cheat, using timezones, e.g. it’s midnight in Indonesia, though not in Singapore.
He recalled how people would come for the 7am, 8am Masses and receive Holy Communion, but they would not receive it if they came for the 9am or 10am Masses, because they would have eaten something before then (they had to walk or cycle to church, remember?). Even if they did present themselves to the priest to receive it, the priest would not have allowed them to receive Holy Communion, because he knew that they had not fasted beforehand.
Also, in those days, although people did come to church, they did it because it was a mortal sin to skip Mass, and they came because they feared that they would go to hell if they skipped Mass. Yes, people came, but few people received Holy Communion. Now, everyone receives Holy Communion.
Father Paul notes that in the Western countries, priests who celebrate the Novus Ordo Mass do indeed make up their own prayers, resulting in gross liturgical abuses. He notes that some of the way things were done in the old way were ‘abominable’, just as how some of the way things are done today are also ‘abominable’. “But we can learn from this,” he says.
Anyone who says that the new liturgy is the result of the emptying of the churches has obviously not seen how the churches in Singapore are overflowing with people. Hence, it is not the liturgy that causes the churches to be empty. Just because we observe that people stop going for Mass after the new liturgy is implement does not mean that people stop going because of the new liturgy.
Father Paul made a reference to the Church of St. Mary of the Angels when he spoke about novelties (#4). Here is how it went:
Father Paul: The architecture in St. Mary’s is…
Some from the audience interrupts: Terrible!
Father Paul: … liturgically well-studied. The friars really studied it with the architect.
He also reminded that when people referred to the Tridentine Mass as coming from antiquity, it is not as though Jesus and his apostles were sitting and standing at an altar, all dressed up. Yes, the prayers in the ‘old’ Mass do go back hundreds of years, but the prayers in the ‘new’ Mass are based on the prayers in the ‘old’ Mass.
On the matter of stability and uniformity of the Tridentine Mass, Father Paul noted that there was indeed uniformity. “Whether you attended Mass in Kathmandu or at home, it was the same – you didn’t understand both.”
He observed that with regard to support for the Tridentine Mass or the Novus Ordo Mass, people have gone overboard one way or another. “Have things changed for the better or worse?” he asks. The old Catholic Latin songs may be beautiful, but there are new Catholic songs that are very good too. He referred to “Breaking Bread” for some examples.
People sometimes say that the old liturgy produced saints, full churches, full seminaries, but look at the new liturgy and see what is happening. The churches and the seminaries are all empty. Father Paul asks: “Is this really the fault of the liturgical renewal? Can we say for sure that if we stuck to the old Mass, which was full of respect but no understanding, we would not have empty churches and seminaries?”
He reminds us to think of some of the other things that have changed since the 1960s. Now we have television, he says, where actors on TV produce a better spectacle than the priest at Mass. However, he does concede that if present-day liturgy had better instruments and quality musicians, more people would indeed come.
Finally, Father Paul asked those present: Why do we love old things? He reminds us that the older we get, the better our memories become. We remember the good things and we forget the bad things. He notes that in recalling the past, we should neither glorify nor ridicule it. As he shared in the beginning, “My joy for celebrating the Mass has increased over the years, especially so now that I see the people, and I hear their responses.”
He encourages Catholics to read more about the Tridentine Mass and the Novus Ordo Mass on the Internet. He also cautions: “Some people who glorify the past also vilify the popes since then. They are against any ecumenical or inter-religious dialogue. They defend the church teaching that outside the church, there is no salvation. And since they hold that the current pope is outside the church, who then is inside the church? Them and those that follow their opinion, probably.
Father Paul reminds us that we should not exaggerate about the uniformity of the ‘old’ Mass because there were also many rites then, such as how the Dominicans did things differently by washing their hands before Mass. In addition, there are 28 different rites in the Catholic Church, and they are all authentically Catholic.
[end of Part I]
Part II of Father Paul Staes’ talk will take place on Tuesday, March 6, 8.00-10.00pm at the Catholic Spirituality Centre (1261 Upper Serangoon Road).