Sunday, March 23, 2008

Holy Week (Ordinary Form and Extraordinary Form)

My Holy Week was spent in two different parishes--one in the usual ordinary form of the liturgy for Holy Thursday and the other in a parish using the extraordinary form for Good Friday and the Easter Vigil.

Holy Thursday: (Ordinary Form) A simple liturgy, somewhat subdued (no washing of feet or stripping of the altars--in fact it seemed that the altars had been stripped beforehand)--still a beautiful simple liturgy with chant and incense. A modest crowd.

Good Friday: (Extraordinary Form) Celebrated by a priest of the Fraternity of Saint Peter (in my experience--these priests do it well and speak Latin with great ease). Amazing how little this liturgy (which I believe was modified greatly by Pius XII) has changed. Everything in Latin, including the Passion, which the priest read changing his voice for each character. One part of John's Passion that jumped out at me, (and all you authors out there who have worked with an editor will relate) , was the exchange between the chief priests and Pilate. It struck me that Pilate's response is the motto of all authors--while the chief priests represent the editorial motto "Write not: The King of the Jews, but that He said: I am the King of the Jews" to which Pilate responds: "Quod scripsi, scripsi" literally "what I have written, I have written." The priest used the modified prayer of Pope Benedict in the Intercession when praying for the Jewish people--I'm surprised the "Heretics and Schismatics" as well as the "pagans" haven't been complaining about being prayed for as well. About 100 or so present, all seemed conversant with the Latin and to follow the liturgy with no problem--mostly young (read under 40 crowd).

Holy Saturday (Extraordinary Form): At 11 p.m. This was a first for me--I had been to the Good Friday liturgy once before it was reformed as a young child, but never to the Easter Vigil before the reform. I found it very interesting. Most of the same elements, blessing of the fire, candle, Exultet, vigil readings (four), blessing of the Baptismal water, font (before the "Mass"), then High Mass followed by Solemn Lauds--all in about three hours. The readings were all chanted by the priest. The service began outside and it was cold (in the 20's with wind). The thing that struck me most was how long the blessing over the water was and the various exorcisms by tracing the cross, flinging water to the four directions, breathing the cross, breathing the Greek letter psi while the Easter Candle was submerged, pouring the Oil of the Sick as well as Sacred Chrism into the water. Without any baptisms or confirmations the Mass was three full hours. Most of the liturgy involved the active participation of the faithful (a fairly small crowd of maybe 60 people) up until Mass began. Then as Mass began, we gathered became essentially spectators, the priest reading to himself, saying all the prayers to God and only every now and then were were a part of an "Amen" or "Et cum spiritu tuo." And its at that point that whenever I experience the extraordinary form that I always see why reform of the liturgy was needed--and this is one of the gifts that Pope Benedict is giving to the church by making the extraordinary form more available--reeducating us as to what the reform of the liturgy hoped to accomplish. I only wish that the baby hadn't been thrown out with the bath water and that is the problem--how beautiful it would be to have the Liturgy of the Word chanted in English, while at the same time chanting common Latin prayers as it seems the Council envisioned. There is much to experience in the Extraordinary Form and I hope many who have never experienced it will venture out to do so. I also hope pastors of the ordinary form will do so too--in order to recapture much of what is missing from their parish liturgies today.