At our parish of Our Lady of the Rosary in Greenville the Catholic Mass is celebrated in a traditional style. We do not celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass, but the Novus Ordo Mass as informed by the Traditional Latin Mass.
So, when you attend the high Mass on Sunday mornings at OLR, Greenville you will see Mass celebrated in a beautiful new Romanesque church building. The mass is said ad orientem–with the priest facing in the same direction as the people. There will be at least ten altar boys (sometimes as many as twenty) ranging from third to twelfth grade. The pipe organ thunders from the choir loft where one of our four choirs will sing the Mass parts in Gregorian chant supplemented with ancient sacred polyphony from the tradition and classic congregational hymns according to the season and readings for the day. There will be incense (usually a generous amount of holy smoke). Parts of the Mass are recited or sung in the ancient languages of the church: Greek for the Kyrie Eleison, Latin for the Gloria, the Sanctus, Agnus Dei and Paternoster. The people come forward to an altar rail where (according to their choice) they receive communion reverently either kneeling or standing, on the tongue or in the hand.
The church will be packed full–sometimes only with standing room–one of the things most visitors remark on is the preponderance of young people. Single young people, high school kids, young families with armful of children.
Why do we worship this way? I will be writing a series of blog posts about the particulars: altar servers, music, architecture, etc etc. but first a general comment on why we worship in this traditional manner.
In an age when so many Catholic masses are celebrated in churches that look like a cross between an auditorium and a crashed flying saucer–masses where the music is best called “holy soft rock” or “Catholic Broadway tunes” and where the style is informal, relational and relaxed why do we do the opposite? Is it because we “just like fancy stuff”? Is it because we’re snobs and have a penchant for high falutin’ music and being better than everyone else? Is it because we’re just hopeless reactionary “backwardist” self righteous hypocrites? Is it because all we care about is dressing up in fine vestments, lace and “smells and bells”–and “we don’t care about the poor.”?
All those challenges and charges are easily answered. Of course we care about the poor. A fine traditional liturgy does not preclude the social justice demands of our faith. The people at OLR Greenville are proud of their active St Vincent de Paul Society, the food pantry, Mother Teresa House–the referral center for the poor the parish has established–not to mention our parish school’s “Universal Scholarship” a special scholarship fund for students from ethnic minority families.
We don’t worship in this style because we’re snobs or liturgical aesthetes. We worship in a traditional style because worship is a transcendental experience, and traditional Catholic worship aids the transcendental aspect of divine worship. How so? if the architecture connects with the 2000 year traditions of Catholic architecture then it transcends the trendy designs of modern American utilitarian architecture. A Romanesque church connects us with an earlier age and helps refresh the deep roots of our faith. It is the same with sacred music. Architecture, art and music transcend our everyday, utilitarian approach to life. That which is beautiful, good and true in this world connects us experientially with the source of Beauty, Truth and Goodness.
Traditional ceremonial lifts the heart and mind to God in a way that is not immediately as obvious as a form of worship that outwardly seems more relevant, up to date and “with it.” That which is up to date will soon be out of date. Traditional worship sidesteps that problem and immerses us in that which is never out of date and therefore take us to the threshold of the eternal.
I realize some folks who are enthusiastic about the Traditional Latin Mass may ask why we don’t simply go ahead and celebrate the Extraordinary Form (the TLM) The answer is, in Greenville, SC we don’t need to because Prince of Peace parish here in Greenville is one of the locations in the diocese where the Traditional Latin Mass is celebrated regularly. Also, while I am in favor of the liberalization of permission to celebrate the TLM and support those who advocate for it, I am also aware that there are restrictions on is celebration. More importantly, however, is my concern for the people. Most American Catholics are not ready or prepared for a regular celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass. However, a good number are pleased to have a Novus Ordo Mass celebrated in a traditional style. Finally, I believe the Novus Ordo Mass celebrated in a traditional style is the Mass that is most consistent with the norms set forth in the documents of the second Vatican Council–a council I thank God for.
For a fuller explanation of our thoughts and theories of traditional Catholic worship check out my book Letters on Liturgy here