One of the golden opportunities of the new English translation of the Roman Missal is to study again the “nuts and bolts” of how Mass should be celebrated.  Over the past decades, we’ve become used to many things in the celebration of Mass.  Some are legitimate variations;  others are not.  And beyond this, liturgical renewal is not static, but ongoing.  Indeed, the renewal that was embraced at the time of Vatican II had been going on for decades, and liturgical renewal continues today.

It’s with interest, then, that I see the announcement on Ottawa’s dioecesan website of a Mass on the First Sunday of Lent:

CHANTED MASS IN THE ORDINARY FORM, CELEBRATED ‘AD ORIENTEM’: Celebrated by Fr. Pierre Ingram, CC.  First Sunday of Lent, Sat., Feb. 25, 7:00 p.m. at St. Mary’s Church. Accompanied by a small men’s choir; 20 minute intro on chant and booklet with music for full congregational participation. Info: (613-728-9811).

This announcement is interesting on several points.

1.  The Mass is signified as being in the “Ordinary Form” recognising that we now have two official Forms of Mass (the other being the Extraordinary Form).  One of the great achievements of Benedict XVI, in my opinion, has been regularizing the situation of the so-called Extraordinary Form, so that those who wish to worship in this way are now free to do so, and priests are to assist generously groups asking for this.

2.  The Mass will be celebrated ad orientem, in other words, facing “liturgical East” – priest and people on the same side of the altar facing in the same direction.  [I cringe at the description “the priest with his back to the people” because it’s as true as saying that everyone in front of me in the church has their back to me … well, they do and they don’t].  I hope we’ll see a lot more of Mass celebrated ad orientem.  I personally believe that this change [to Mass “facing the people”], even more than Mass in the vernacular, seriously affected in a negative way our understanding of what we are doing when we offer the sacrifice of the Mass.  I believe that even an occasional use of celebrating ad orientem, with appropriate catechesis, could greatly contribute to people’s understand of, and participation in, the Sacred Mysteries.

3.  The Mass will be accompanied with chant.  Vatican II’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (no. 116), whilst not excluding other kinds of sacred music, stated that Gregorian chant is “specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services.”  Unfortunately, hymn singing has come to almost universally replace the singing of the Entrance, Offertory and Communion Chants.  It will take a lot of hard work by liturgical musicians (and assemblies), but it is time – I believe – to start learning the chants.  Of course, there will always be a place for hymns – here and there – but they should be seen as secondary to the proper chants of the Mass.

As I said above, liturgical renewal is ongoing and not static.  Just as we embraced liturgical renewal in the decades following Vatican II, we must not allow ourselves now to get stuck in the immediate past.

Well done to the organisers of this Mass in Ottawa … and I hope that it is an initiative that gets taken up in many other places.