29 July 2007

A Trad Morning

The choir that I usually sing with is off for its summer break at the moment, so until September I am not obligated to be at a particular location at a particular time on Sunday morning. I decided to explore some places other than my own parish.

There is a Catholic high school half a mile from my house that has Sunday Mass at its chapel, at 9am and 11am. The 11am Mass I have been to before, and it is a run-of-the-mill, pretty quiet Mass in English, although the priest is a better preacher than many. The 9am Mass is in French for the first three Sundays a month, and on the 4th and 5th Sundays Mass is celebrated according to the 1962 Missal.

Today being the 5th Sunday, I put on an ankle-length skirt, 3/4 sleeve blouse, and comfortable sandals, tied a scarf around my head (I've talked about buying a mantilla for ages but never got around to it), grabbed Grandma's missal off the shelf and walked to the chapel. Unfortunately, the website said the Mass started at 9:30, and I arrived precisely at 9:30, only to see the sign in front of the chapel that clearly said 9:00. I started to turn around and go home, but then I thought perhaps I should stay. Even if I only saw half the Mass it might be worth it, and I could hang out at Trader Joe's until the 11am Mass if I needed to.

I am so glad I stayed.

When I first walked in and sat down, I wasn't sure what was going on, but there was a fellow standing in the last pew on the other side of the chapel chanting, and chanting quite well. After a bit I realized he was chanting the Alleluia and the priest was slowly getting into position to read the Gospel. Good sign #1, #2: Chant, and the fact that half an hour into the Mass, the Gospel hadn't been read yet.

The priest chanted the Gospel. It was loud enough for me to hear even though I was at the back of the chapel, although the acoustics meant most of the words were fuzzy by the time they got to me. I caught just enough to make sure that I had found the right page in my missal. After the Gospel, we sat and he read the Epistle in English from the ambo, then we all had to stand again as he read the Gospel in English. His homily was good, starting off with Jesus knowing about the future destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and somehow arriving at temptation, forgiveness, and an exhortation to go to confession. I missed the transition; a bird flew into the chapel through an open window, and I was saying prayers to St. Francis that it would find its way out soon.

The Mass proceeded. More chanting from the fellow in the back of the chapel, joined this time by three or four ladies seated near him. Good sign #3: nobody stared at me when I sang along on the Credo (they used Credo III, thankfully--it's the only one I can sing without music in front of me).

Good sign #4: everything the priest was supposed to say out loud, he sang, and the congregation responded in kind. There was no rosary-rattling.

I had a little trouble following along in my missal, usually having to skip ahead few pages every time he said something out loud because I had underestimated how fast his sotto voce voice was, but I managed to stay mostly on track. I sang along on the Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei, which were the traditional ones for the season rather than the ones from the Requiem.

The Mass took an hour and a half, if you include the singing of the Salve Regina and the praying of some prayers for the bishops and the singing of the hymn Holy, Holy, Holy after the reading of the Last Gospel. It felt relaxed and perfectly paced. I complimented the gentleman who had been doing most of the chanting afterwards, and told him I used to sing with a schola in Spokane, but I couldn't talk to him long because I felt like I was going to cry--it's been months and months since I heard the Propers chanted. Since last October, in fact.

This is the first genuinely good experience I have had with the 1962 Missal. It was a dialogue Mass, the priest sang well, his Latin pronunciation was clear and easy to understand, and he was obviously well-practiced and very comfortable with what he was doing. His vestments were bright and fit him well. The altar boys were trained and competent. The schola was tiny but they sang in tune and the chants didn't drag. Honestly, I am so happy. Until now I was unconvinced that the Tridentine Mass was, well, beautiful. I had never seen it. But now I have. I will admit that I still prefer a Novus Ordo chanted in Latin, but that is available almost nowhere (the two that I saw were in France).

So, to the trads out there, I get it now.

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