From the Pastor: Question and answer
There have been a few questions raised now that Epiphany has become the Center for the Traditional Latin Mass™ in Tampa and people have come from the surrounding area and numerous parishes to attend this Mass of the Ages. Here is question number one from those who previously attended the TLM at a local parish: Why don’t we (the congregation) make the responses at the low Mass when we used to do it at Incarnation? Answer: Because I said so. Yes, for those of you who are raising children, you know this is a pretty stock answer to any question which you would rather not answer because either 1. you don’t know the answer or 2. the explanation would be beyond the ability of the child to grasp or 3. you are short on time (or patience) or 4. for any other good parental reason whatsoever. As a child, that was not ever the answer hoped for nor was it a fulfilling answer. Sooooo here goes a “real” answer.
I don’t know the TLM very well. I have no formal training in it and I did not grow up with it. All I knew about it when I started came from books and the insights of several adult altar boys. I think I celebrated the Low Mass for about two years before I ever had the opportunity to even attend one and see if I was “doing it right.” While some of the old books I consulted mentioned a “dialogue Mass” in which the congregation responded, it was almost always put forth as a novelty that never really caught on most places. Exceptions to the “silent Mass” seemed to be mostly limited to places where altar boys were not available, such as cloistered convents and all girls’ schools. At such places one or two Sisters or female students were allowed, if properly trained in the responses, to kneel outside of the altar rail and make the responses in place of the altar boys (who were themselves, in fact, making the responses in place of additional clergy). Upon seeing that the “dialogue” in the Mass was originally between priests and between the priest celebrant and God the Father, it made sense to me that the congregation remained silent. Altar boys (men) who helped train me came from a TLM which was a “silent Mass” and the first TLM which I finally attended was a “silent Mass” so I naturally started with and continued with a silent Mass.
I have a book in front of me by Rev. J.B. O’Connell (one of the main sources in celebrating the TLM) in which, in a section detailing proper use of the organ at Mass, he writes in passing, “At low Mass, in which the people are not participating by common prayer or song...” and contrasts it with a “sung Mass.” This is a pretty clear indicator that at the low Mass the people are silent, neither responding to the prayers, joining in with the responses, nor singing as if taking on the role of the (non-existent) schola. But later he adds an appendix on “the active participation of the people in the Liturgy.” In this section, based upon a late 1958 document, he changes his tune, so to speak, and gives directions to be followed if the people are to engage in a “dialogue” at Mass. He first states that “participation” in the Mass is already achieved when the people “spontaneously share in the Mass by due attention to its principal parts and by their external behavior” (in other words, by silently praying, sitting, standing, kneeling, striking the breast, making the threefold sign of the cross on the head, lips and breast at the introduction to the Gospel, dressing appropriately, keeping custody of the eyes, etc.). Then he gives other ways of participating, which fall in line with the methods described in the Baltimore Book of Prayers which I explained to you the first weekend we celebrated the TLM here. “If possible, they ought to follow the Mass in a Missal--at least in a small Missal arranged for the use of the laity--but if they cannot do this they should meditate on the mysteries of Jesus Christ and say prayers in keeping with the sacred rites. Better still they should pray aloud and sing hymns in common--prayers and song in accord with the different parts of the Mass at which they are used. Such common prayers and hymns should not, however, be said or sung when the celebrant of Mass is reciting aloud important parts of the Mass, especially the presidential prayers (such as the Collect, Preface, Postcommunion). And silence is desirable from the Consecration to Pater noster.” Whew! So in the low Mass the congregation can “better participate” by praying together the rosary or stations of the cross, for instance, as long as they know when to shut up? Now I have to ask all of you who either are currently or were formerly lost trying to do what he says is the simplest form of participation, namely, following in the Missal: would you be able to understand and pray the Mass more fully if everybody started singing hymns and/or praying the Litany of the Sacred Heart together at some point and then abruptly came to silence and then started again somewhere along the line? Would you ever truly learn the various Mass parts and their significance? I don’t think so.
In case you haven’t yet figured out why my short answer was a simple, “because I said so”, let me continue with O’Connell. He goes on to explain four different methods of “dialogue Mass”, each getting “more complete”, and ends by stating, “it is not of obligation, nor is any one of the four possible forms imposed--it is for the rector of the church to judge which of these is feasible at any time--but if it is used it must follow one or the other of these forms and other parts of the Mass may not be recited aloud.” So if and when I decide a “dialogue Mass” is going to be used I believe I must first teach you all four forms and be sure you do not mix them. Without going into detail but giving you simple examples of how the four forms differ, it is not allowed for you to respond at a “form 2” Mass (saying altar boy parts) but also pray aloud the Pater noster as in the “form 3” Mass. Want to say the Domine non sum dignus? Not in form 1 or 2, you don’t! Can’t recite the Introit and Offertory in Latin? Too bad, but you just lost out on the number four form! Too confusing for my blood. So, at least for now, I simply tell you to remain completely silent throughout the entire Mass. Why? Because I said so.
With prayers for your holiness,
Fr. Edwin Palka