Some Old Mass Spirituality

The other day I was chatting with a priest who also celebrates both the older and newer forms of the Roman Rite. Most priests with experience in both will readily admit that their learning of the older form greatly enriched their spirituality and added depth to their understanding of the Holy Mass. A simple comparison of one of the Offertory prayers old and new will suffice. But before I do that I want to share a thought that I also shared with that priest.

In the older form there was book after book of “spirituality of the Mass” published — often as meditation material for priests. There was an entire spirituality that took the prayers of the Mass as the starting point and attempted to plunge the depths from there. No doubt, the atmosphere of silence that permeated the celebration of Low Mass — which had been the most common form celebrated in this country and many others for some time — afforded the “space” needed to begin to engage in this meditation and then carry it over into one’s private prayer. In the newer form of the Mass, by comparison, there is constant “noise”; not “noise” in the sense of cacophany — let us be clear — but in the sense that there is simply not much time for silent reflection on what is being said. Even when there is silent reflection, such a flood of words precedes it and follows after, that it’s hard to focus and meditate upon just one text at a time.

I cannot name a single book from this same “spirituality of the Mass” genre published for priests using the newer form of the Mass as its starting point. It is something that is greatly lacking — much like silence in our celebrations. We need pregnant pauses for sacred silence so that we can reflect and hear God, who speaks to us in the sound of silence. It would also help priests if there were spiritual reflections of greater substance published on the newer form of the Mass. (If there are some, don’t hesitate to let me know!)

Here is the offertory prayer for the host in the old Mass: first in Latin, with a YouTube that features yours truly pronouncing the words with the prayer’s wonderful rhythm; then there is an English translation so that you know what the prayer says. I then provide the prayer for the same action in the Ordinary Form of the Mass. Then there is a brief excerpt from one such “spirituality of the Mass” book of yore (my translation from Italian). Enjoy!

OFFERING OF THE HOST IN THE EXTRAORDINARY FORM:

Súscipe, sancte Pater, omnípotens ætérne Deus, hanc immaculátam hóstiam, quam ego indígnus fámulus tuus óffero tibi, Deo meo vivo et vero, pro innumerabílibus peccátis, et offensiónibus, et neglegéntiis meis, et pro ómnibus circumstántibus, sed et pro ómnibus fidélibus christiánis vivis atque defúnctis: ut mihi et illis profíciat ad salútem in vitam ætérnam. Amen.

Hear this prayer spoken (by me):

Translation:

Accept, O holy Father, almighty eternal God, this unblemished Host, which I, Thy unworthy servant, offer unto Thee, my living and true God, for my innumerable sins, offenses, and negligences, and for all here present, as also for all the Christian faithful, both living and dead, that it may avail both me and them for salvation unto life everlasting. Amen.

Compare with the Offertory Prayer for the Host in the Newer Form of the Mass:

Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the bread we offer you: fruit of the earth and work of human hands, it will become for us the bread of life.

It’s not bad, it’s just much simpler, does not offer much upon which to reflect in comparison with the older prayer, and also is not really related to it in terms of continuity.

Here, then, is my translation of a brief excerpt from the book, “Let Us Make Reparation!” (in Italian: “Ripariamo!”) by Father Giuseppe M. Petazzi, S.J., published in Milan in 1933. I saw the Italian text on the blog Cordialiter.

How, O my God, can the priest ever at this moment call that tiny piece of bread, now on the paten, an “unblemished Host” – and for such an offering he asks of you graces of eternal salvation for himself and for all the faithful, living and deceased? O my Jesus, with this holy prayer you reveal a great and consoling truth to me. Yes, on the paten at the Offertory one really sees nothing but a little bread destined to change into your adorable Body. In virtue of that destiny it can already be considered an unblemished Host, capable of obtaining every grace. So then I and every small detail of my life can constitute an unblemished host, if from the start of this day I begin it with you, O Lord, on the altar of sacrifice. O wondrous power of Holy Mass! O ineffable love and condescension of my Lord! Everything with you and for you becomes unblemished, precious, and acceptable to the infinite majesty of God. Truly, O Lord, I am your unworthy servant, indígnus fámulus tuus: what gifts could I hope to offer you, when on one hand I am nothing but a wretched creature and on the other I admit to having committed many faults? Yet you not only deign to place yourself as an offering of infinite value, so that I can obtain every grace and mercy, but in the act of placing yourself in my hands, you deign to enhance all that you find in me, so that my poor offering might become acceptable and fruitful in the sight of God.

In ancient times the faithful, at the moment of the Offertory, approached the altar in procession to offer the bread and the wine — the matter of your sacrifice — and to express thereby their union with you, the Holy Victim. Well then, now I also want to offer, O Lord, my own mystical matter for your sacrifice; that is: all of my actions, all of my sufferings, all the promises, the sighs, the pulses of this my poor heart… They are paltry things, I know, O Lord. But I offer them with you; I offer them with your offering. Thus they will be an unblemished Host that will rise, having been accepted, to the throne of God. I intend, then, O Jesus, to give to all my actions of this day and each day of my life those holy intentions that you have when you complete your holy sacrifice upon this altar. Everything that I will do and suffer — I wish that all of it primarily be with you and for you an expiation of my innumerable sins, offenses, and negligences…. You invite me to offer my small pains in union with yours, so that they can thus become a holy and unblemished Victim.

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6 Responses to Some Old Mass Spirituality

  1. I disagree, of course, there is plenty of space for sacred silence if the priest celebrant and/or the choir would allow it. The cacophony you speak of in the Ordinary form begins when the priest gives a mini-homily to begin the Mass telling the people what they should hear, rather than let the Holy Spirit direct the listener. It continues when the priest jumps right into the creed rather than sit after the homily with the ridiculous invitation “let us stand” when all are already standing. The Sacred silence of the extraordinary form was often disrupted by the constant turning of pages or the flipping of prayer cards, or the reading of newspapers because no one understood the words being said. Most importantly the sacred silence was not maintained because the prayer said in was in the first person, leaving the man or woman in the pew irrelevant.

    • “of course” — you never miss an opportunity to disagree! Truly, though, it saddens me to read of such contempt for the Church’s historical liturgy from a cleric of the Church. As if it all were of no value, just a bunch of mumbo-jumbo no one understood. Very simplistic verdict on your part, to be sure — besides the fact that you didn’t respond to much of what I wrote! Alas!

  2. JACK PRIEST says:

    Very, very beautiful and powerfully spiritual! Brings back fond memories.
    The church is magnificent!!!!!!!!!!

  3. Tom Greene says:

    Thank you Father.  Like many of your previous posts I will not delete this.  I like to reread them. Omnia Christus est nobis, Tom Greene

  4. betsywellsstokes says:

    Very enlightening and inspiring. Thank you, Father!

  5. Susan says:

    Thank you for your work on the importance of silence and hearing God speak to us individually at Mass.

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