From the Pastor: Postures at Mass
There is a booklet that every priest uses to help him celebrate the correct Mass on the correct day. It is called an “ordo” and it lays out which “class” each day’s Mass falls into, which Mass may be celebrated each day, which Mass must be celebrated on certain days, which color is worn for each Mass, whether or not there is a Gloria or Credo, which preface is said, and if there are any commemorations. It also includes other helpful bits of information whenever something unusual pops up, to make sure the priest doesn’t overlook some important detail. Whether celebrating the newer Mass or the Traditional Mass, a priest relies on the ordo (different ones, obviously!) to guide him in all things. There is a strange little notation in the FSSP (Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter) Ordo, which I use for the Traditional Latin Mass, for the beginning of Lent. It reads: “In churches where the faithful are accustomed to stand for the Collects and Postcommunion prayers at Mass, they should be instructed to kneel for these prayers on the ferias of Lent and Passiontide (not, however, on Sundays or feast days).” Because of the exemption for Sundays, this doesn’t affect most of you who are reading this, since the majority of people are not able to make it to the feria (weekday) Masses. But it points out something (“...where the faithful are accustomed to...”) which I have explained before (bulletin of 8/23/15): the Traditional Latin Mass has strict rubrics for the priest, slightly less strict rubrics for the servers, and almost no rubrics for the faithful in the congregation. When the congregation sits, stands and kneels is more by custom than by rule and so can vary from place to place!
This seems strange, so very strange, to those who, like me, were brought up in the Novus Ordo Mass. We were told exactly when to sit, stand and kneel, and everyone did it in lockstep. No matter where you traveled in the US (for our bishops asked for more kneeling to be required than in the universal Church rubrics), you knew exactly what to do and when to do it. These are a few of the things you were instructed to do by your parents and/or the rubrics in your missal, or, more likely, the missalette: Dip your fingers in the holy water when you first enter the church; make the sign of the cross on your forehead, breast, left shoulder, then right shoulder; genuflect on your right knee before entering and upon exiting a pew; kneel in silent prayer before Mass began; make the proper responses at the priest’s invocations and at the end of the readings; sign yourself with your right thumb on your forehead, lips and breast before the Gospel; etc.. Yes, the people in the pews did everything the same (or at least knew they were supposed to do everything the same even if they didn’t do it). In the NO Mass it was the priest who seemed to have no rubrics to guide him!
You didn’t have to travel to find priests not doing the same thing (i.e., the same posture, position, gestures, vestments, and vocalizations) as other priests. You could find different priests in the same parish who seemed to play by a different set of rules or you could even find a priest doing different things at each Mass he celebrated. The priest may celebrate the first Mass on a Lenten Sunday with violet vestments but then switch to a chasuble and stole with verticle stripes of brown, red, orange, and yellow for the next Mass (claiming it was an “African” vestment and used because the congregation was multi-cultural). The priest at the neighboring parish might have a multicolored chasuble that same Sunday, but this one made of tiny images of children from different races, for the so-called “children’s Mass” and he might have his stole over the top of his chasuble, where the other priest wore his underneath. Where did they preach from? At the ambo (pulpit), in front of the altar, or walking down the aisles were all common practices. Various priests prayed with their arms outstretched wide, some extended them just a little, some with their palms upward, some with the palms outward. There are, of course, many more examples I could give and that you are already thinking of. But I am out of room.
I will continue along this same line in next week’s bulletin, answering some questions about just when you really should be sitting, standing and kneeling (and speaking/singing!) at the Traditional Latin Mass. (I think the Novus Ordo Mass goers have it down pat now.)
With prayers for your holiness,
Fr. Edwin Palka