EARS AGO, as a boy, I was part of an FSSP parish. In those days, their American seminary hadn’t been built, so priests from all over — France, Switzerland, Boston, New Zealand — passed through our parish, which was located in the center of the United States. I served Mass for these priests and created a little notebook filled with their Latin pronunciation “mistakes.” 1
One day, four priests were staying there, and someone suggested they pray their office together. All agreed. Bear in mind, these men came from four different countries: Germany, Australia, France, and Texas.
They entered the Church, pulled out their books, and prayed the Divine Office. The priest from Germany had a nicer voice, and seemed to be given the more demanding sections. I hadn’t even realized the priest from Texas could sing, but he did just fine. 2 It was truly inspiring.
This, my friends, is the meaning of liturgy.
There was no sense of “performance.” There was no unhealthy feeling of “entertainment.” There was no attempt by these priests to “outdo” one another, or impress anyone by belting out a solo. They didn’t applaud at the conclusion of each psalm or hymn. 3
LITURGY, therefore, can be defined as “people who love Jesus Christ coming together and praying the ancient texts assigned by the Church.”
I DON’T REMEMBER ANY OF THEM suggesting that popular tunes be substituted for the ancient chants, or that “upbeat” instruments be used (to make the liturgy more interesting, relevant, or engaging). Nor do I recall any of the priests recommending that the ancient prayers be “adapted” for the sake of “proper inculturation,” in spite of the fact that each came from a different country.
Again, they simply walked into Church, opened their books, and sang the prayers assigned by the Church. And it was beautiful. And they each received grace. And I did, too.
EVEN THOUGH I WAS ONLY A YOUNGSTER, I was greatly moved. The Gregorian prayers were such a perfect vehicle of unity. At least, to me they were. Perhaps I’m not as sophisticated as professional liturgists, who eliminated Gregorian chant in the 1960s. Perhaps if I were smarter, I’d realize that Gregorian chant is a “weapon” (as an SttL drafter referred to it several times in 2010).
After the Council, significant liturgical disintegration set in, often because of changes too quickly introduced. For years, it was not possible to simply “walk into Church and pray the assigned prayers” because the proper books were not available.
Now — at last ! — after five decades, we are witnessing an unbelievable flood of resources which allow us to reclaim our Roman Rite. I’m particularly excited about the Jogues Illuminated Missal, which will begin shipping this week. This book allows every man, woman, and child in our pews to come to know & love the liturgy in an exciting new way!
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 Years later, I’d come to understand these weren’t true “mistakes,” but merely a reflection of each priest’s nationality.
2 Some sections were done recto tono.
3 Congregations in South Texas normally applaud for the singers during Mass. Today being Mother’s Day, the Communion Meditation at a local parish was Mary, Did You Know? (sung during Holy Communion) and everyone applauded at its conclusion.