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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

EF or NO or Byzantine Rite or Punt?

I have come to the conclusion that for me, it is highly doubtful all the externals of any form of Mass would be completely satisfying to me. I have to just go with "were the elements validly consecrated?" and go with that as my main focus - as it should be. This does not mean that all forms of the Mass are without stress or pleasure - far from it. As far as worshipping goes, I think each Mass, for me, has its strengths and weaknesses.

To review where I'm coming from - I'm middle aged, old enough to have experienced the EF in my youth, I did take Latin in college, because I felt those of my generation got cheated of that. My mother's family was Eastern Rite, and I've attended off and on. For the most part, I've taken part in the OF of Mass, and have been at the same parish for for 36+ years. Since just before Lent this year I've started to attend daily Mass quite frequently during the week in the EF form.

Let me outline for me what I like and dislike regards the various liturgies -- I'll start with the Byzantine.

Strengths: I REALLY like the give and take between people / priest in this Mass. Dignified, and the people aren't assumed to be spectators watching a show. They have an imporant role in doing their responses, and the prayers and psalms they say and sing are dignified and elevated language is used. Women are also given a part in being allowed to do the readings. The liturgy is quite often in the vernacular, so "instant" understanding. I love all the incense. The average eastern rite church uses more incense in a week or two than the average western church does for a year. When the priest reads the gospel he faces the people. It's for THEM. Not some mythical barbarians to the north. He looks you in the eye. And contrary to what traddy EF martinets (not all EF lovers are martinets by any means but a subset of them are) say, we ARE an Easter People. That "Standing aright and in awe" didn't come from the freakin' hippies. Blue gets to be a liturgical color. (Not that I think it belongs in the west, save for Marian feasts, but the light pale blues are rather nice!) I love the processions the priest and servers do at the little and great entrances. They also don't have all that hand shaking that too often descends into a free for all. I love all the icons and the buildings are painted most gorgeously. The calendar has all those neglected saints from the East. The priest is of course, the one charged with doing the consecration, but there is no question all this sumptuousness is something Joe and Jane Blow in the pews actively contribute to. I also love the prayer before Communion by the people. No question that one believes in the Real Presence. Can't miss it. And "big up" to those six-winged, many eyed angels who are singing, etc. Oh. and their Holy Week Rites are THE BEST, hands down.

Drawbacks: You can't see parts of the Mass for SQUAT behind that iconostasis unless you are IN the sanctuary. 50 percent of Catholics would NEVER have that chance. Put a mirror over the altar, huh? It would also be neat to see the priest cut the bread and the prayers he does right before the start, but that ain't happening unless you ARE the priest. I can hear nice muttering though. Oh. and the main drawback? The method of Communion delivery. Which is why my mother favored the Latin Rite. The spoon that goes in EVERYONE'S mouth? In this day of AIDS? Are you joking? Let's just say I'd be inclined to go to a hippy kumbaya Mass if I'm in San Francisco -- as long as it's valid. My very first memories of attending Mass were Masses in the Eastern Rite. If you want to be terribly technical, I belong to the Eastern Rite.

OF: Good points. As a lay woman, I am treated evenly with laymen during the Mass. I can serve, help as usher, be lector, or serve as EM, or sit in the pews. I've done all of them. My FAVORITE thing (and this was truly a revelation to me) was I*CAN*SEE*EVERYTHING. I've had to laugh a few times when Blessed Fr. Tim, his hermeneuticalness, said he didn't like concelebrating in large groups when he couldn't see the bread and wine. Well, DUH. No kidding! I like to see all that too. There is a fairly good amount of give and take between priest/people. Odd as it may seem to some traditionalists, at a "low Mass" I really want to say/sing the Gloria, Creed, Angus Dei. I'm not an idiot, nor am I a bump-on-the-log. Include me in. I like this Mass best WHEN the priest READS WHAT HE'S SUPPOSED TO AND DOESN'T AD-LIB. Sorry for shouting, but you know how it is. I'm not going to go berzerk if the priest says "Good morning" - as long as he keeps it in check. I like the offertory procession. I like the prayer of the faithful WHEN it is done decently, and not as if a member of the Democrat National Committee wrote it. OVerall, I rather like the variety in readings you get in the daily Mass. I think the EF does pretty well, but hit that time after Pentecost, and it gets tedious and "I just heard these propers before....." If you have a solid priest who does not have the need to be "Mr. Personality" during the Mass, I quite like this Mass. The KEY is the priest. BTW, St. John, the Evangelist, in San Diego, is EXCELLENT for the OF. Dignified. Elegant. All their assistants are well trained. Lectors, servers, EM's. All come, go, do their part with dignity and look like they know what they're doing, because they DO know what they're doing. Unlike some parishes I can name.

Bad points: Clowns who want to recieve on the hand and don't know how to are going to screw it up for the rest of us. Any priest who used a "frisbee Host" deserves to be beaten bloody. And when the wounds start to heal, his flesh should be ripped open again and salt poured in for the slow learners. Ditto for people who assist who don't know that any Communion Cups must be finished at the altar, and not left to the side like unfinished cocktails for after Mass. Hand holding. I don't do it unless a child offers me their hand, because I don't want to hurt their feelings. But I absolutely REFUSE to do any "handraising" on "for thine...." I don't care if I end up breaking some old lady's arm. Mine ain't going up. The offertory prayers aren't as good as the EF, nor is the Canon. Vastly better in the EF. Priests who ad-lib. Priests who ad-lib do more to wreck the flow of this Mass than anything. The whole "tone" is taken from how the priest acts. I don't mind praying for Mrs. Murphy's toe operation once at the prayer of the faithful. However, I don't want to at the beginning of the Mass "Let us gather together(*gag*) and remember Mrs. Murphy's toe operation" then say it again during the prayer of the faithful, then in the commems. during the canon[! don't go there with me, but I could tell stories this last year, now the Sainted Fr. S. is gone], then in the announcements before the final prayer.

Overall the OF can be wonderful -- or a total dog's dinner. Trick or Treat. God help you if the wrong people are in charge and you have no other options. Trick or Treat on the song selections and settings too. Sometimes Panis Angelicus or the Ave Maria, if you are really lucky, or even good solid songs like Holy God, We praise Thy Name. But too often sappy settings to the Our Father or Gloria.

EF: Good points: Love the grace and dignity. Father isn't going to make up diddly, but just say-the-Mass. It's pretty quick, which makes it ideal for early morning if I will be going to work later. I don't have to worry about Father blathering on. As it happens I had 5 quarters of college latin, which helps immensely. I'm constantly picking up subtleties and nuances. I rather like the older calendar with its octaves and all those saints. Because without them the feria days would be mighty boring reading the stuff that was read on Sunday. I'd say overall the OF is superior in the readings BUT the EF is pretty even until after Pentecost...then there's a fair amout of constant repetition. Which, in a way is good, sometimes -- if the passage is particularly eloquent. It's WORK, though, but for me, I like it. As I mentioned, I think the EF offertory prayers and Canon are far better.

Not so hot points: A strength, is also, paradoxically, a drawback. It's work, in that for me I DO have to understand it all.... No clacking rosary beads, thank you very much. I'm with Pius XII. Fortunately, today, I think most people who opt for this form of Mass DO do "the work." But my Latin isn't always good enough to get that "instantaneous understanding" for parts of it, yet, so I have to peek at the English, but I'm working on it. Maybe some day I'll get there. Women: as in "are more or less expected to only do traditional woman things." As in not serving. Which. Sucks. I don't mind so much now, because with my bum right knee I'd be "out" anyway. But I'd NOT be inclined to go to the EF form exclusively if I had daughters. I think EVERY youngster should be encouraged to serve, because your head has to be "in the game" 100% of the time. I started serving the OF of the Mass when I was 18, and didn't pick up some subtleties until then. And as for Paul...there'd BETTER be some "restful waters" up there in heaven, because I'd like the visceral pleasure of holding his head under those waters. I wouldn't have to worry, because in heaven, death has been conquered, so I wouldn't have to worry about drowning him. He couldn't have just said "you ladies with the elaborate hairdos are distracting, cover up if you've got one of those" NOoooooo. he had to yammer on re: how MEN reflect the glory of God so they should be uncovered, otherwise it was shameful, but that women were basically worms, and any glory they reflected from God was recieved as some crumb that fell off their husbands. THREE TIMES did I refuse a veil when I first started attending the EF. The 3rd guy was basically sent whimpering, so finally even the slow learners "got the message" that hell will freeze over before I don a mantilla, hat or kleenex. I'd also be willing to wager that a good number of the women who only attend the EF form would stumble at some point giving the servers responses. Also: why in Hades, if one has the EF form is there NOT more give and take as there was with the dialogue Mass? Strange as it may seem, in the EF form, it might be nice to do the Gloria, Creed, and Agnus Dei, and NO, I don't want to sing them, just say them at a low Mass on Sunday. But the people are SHUT OUT. Ditto the Confiteor. I don't like the priest NOT facing you during the epistle or gospel, particularly. Darn it. FACE US. Sheesh. As regards "seeing stuff" so far I've always been able to bag the far right front row seat. And I, personally, can see, but we can't all have that seat, can we? So it's ALMOST as bad as the Byzantine for seeing what's going on. Oh, and that "silent canon." I don't know about you, but I'd rather hear the canon than: barking dogs, an Ice-Cream Truck, and dumpsters backing up-- all of which I've heard during the "silent" canon. . But then maybe that's just me. The clerics grabbed ALMOST all the liturgy away from the people as they knew less and less latin -- so they treated the pew sitters as if they were all ignorant! Irritating, but that was the legacy. Not entirely unjustified in times when few were literate, and all they could do was clack their beads -- but I don't particularly find the low Mass on a Sunday satisfying in the give and take between congregation and priest. It's just "not enough" for me in that regard.



DG said...

Nice round-up, GOTO. Any tips for me who's likely to attend Ukrainian Catholic divine liturgy (is that similar to the standard Byzantine?) for the first time in the coming weeks?

gemoftheocean said...

Well, when you go in, you bow to the icon that's close to the front in the middle of the aisle, then you kiss it. Go early, and take a good look at the liturgy book in the pew. The order of Mass is roughly the same, but the prayers are not infrequently different, but the same thing is happening. You shouldn't have trouble following the flow of the Mass. But look beforehand and sit next to someone who knows it if you can, so you can flip to the right page, because there can be skips. I'd say, sit towards the center aisle, and a little to the back, so you can get a great view of the various processions. And when you go to Communion, softly say your name to the priest as you go up to recieve. :-D [you'll find out why later] then tilt your head WAY back so that your eyes are almost looking at the ceiling. Look at the people in front of you to get the idea. open your mouth quite wide, and make sure your tongue is held very low against the bottom, as if you are reaching the tongue to line the bottom of your chin. You might even ask a friend before hand if you've got the position right. The priest will spoon up a Host and Communion wine. Stay VERY still. He will not touch your cheeks, lips, mouth, tongue if you do just what I said (unless he is a klutz!) only move when you can see the spoon lifted out again.

Are you going up to Holy Angles by any chance in San Diego?

gemoftheocean said...

Oh, and the tongue stays ENTIRELY in your mouth, just "out of the way!"

DG said...

Perhaps, but maybe the one in La Mesa (St. John the Baptizer).

Thanks for the tips!

Fr. Erik Richtsteig said...


Have you been to a Maronite liturgy? While Eastern it is Syriac not Byzantine. I think this might be what you are looking for.

gemoftheocean said...

Fr. Erik, you know that's one I have been meaning to try. There is one in El Cajon. I get the impression from a friend of mine, that it might be a little too "Our Lady of the Cadillacs" for me, but I think it might be a "go" just to experience it in lieu of the hootenany Mass that has been instigated every 3rd Sunday of the Month.

DG, is the La Mesa one a fairly new church? I know there used to be, I think a Ukrainian Rite church up in the boonies of no man's land south of 8 in little illegal alien land, but I never knew the times. Or if it was in slavonic or English.

Rubricarius said...


May I congratulate you on what I believe is quite a profound analysis.

All I would add is that the Roman Rite is supposed to be sung, not read from a book (although I do appreciate your implicit point about people going to work.

I would also suggest you compare the structure of the Byzantine Holy Week services with pre-Reformation (i.e. pre-Tridentine) praxis.

Patricius said...

Thank you for an excellent post.

entropy said...

The priest isn't supposed to say "Good morning, isn't this a beautiful day today?" (you might think I'm being sarcastic but I'm not)

I think it's interesting that you won't wear a mantilla. Because you think it's degrading? I've always thought it was kind of nice and humble.

Really interesting analysis. Thanks!

gemoftheocean said...

Hi Entropy, it's not the veil that's degrading per se, it's Paul's remarks that I find offensive, ergo I'm not going to play ball with him on that score. Yes. He would have hated me as a parishioner, because I'd have told him what he could do with the pony he rode up on! But if you wear one and it makes you feel closer to grandma or whatever your reason is fine. I just had my fill of that in my youth and when I learned the "why" of the custom, I stopped doing it. Feh.

Actually, I don't like the "hello" stuff either but if a priest happens to do just that and doesn't throw in too much crap, it's not a hill I'm prepared to die on if everything else is jake otherwise.

Thanks also Rubricarius and Patricus. Glad you guys enjoyed the post.


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