Well, it’s just after 9 AM–the time when I might just be getting out of bed on any other Saturday–and I’ve just returned from my first Mass in the Extraordinary Form (EF)!  My parish offers it every morning, Monday-Saturday; or rather, an FSSP priest offers it at my parish.  I figured the familiar surroundings would make me less nervous about going, and that the daily Mass might be simpler to start out with.

First, I want to say that before Mass, while praying and making my petitions and offerings, I remembered in a special way those who have inspired me to explore the EF–Pope Benedict, Father John Zuhlsdorf (Fr. Z), Seminarian Matthew, and of course, all of you dear readers who responded to my recent post with so much encouragement and advice!  :D  I might not have gone to Mass this morning if it weren’t for all of you.

And now for my impressions…

Well, it was very different from the Ordinary Form (OF), and I felt a little clumsy and a little lost at times.  That didn’t trouble me, because it was only to be expected, right?  Maybe I could have taken more time to prepare myself a little better beforehand, but I didn’t want to start coming up with excuses not to go!  I felt like this was something I really needed to do.  And as with all the “threshold-crossing” moments of my life, the devil was already giving me enough grief about it, trying to discourage me and distract me–I wasn’t going to give in!

No matter how clumsy and lost I might have felt, I did not feel like an outsider.  Reading some other people’s accounts of attending Mass in the EF, I’ve gotten the impression that they have felt sort of like outside observers, like aliens in a foreign land.  I think that is wont to happen if one regards the EF as something foreign or alien.  I regard it as part of my own culture and civilization, part of my patrimony, my inheritance, my treasure.  This is the kind of Mass my family and ancestors knew.  Like many things handed down from previous generations, it may seem new and different, maybe strange or hard to understand in ways, but it’s still mine.  It’s part of me and I’m part of it.

More than anything I was fascinated and full of wonder!  I don’t know if I will ever let another Saturday go by without attending morning Mass in the EF.  I feel drawn to it now.  I want to leave behind my clumsiness and disorientation.  I want to know and understand it better.  And I want to participate and enter into it even more fully.

I’m baffled at how some people have said that they don’t get to participate in the EF.  If anything, I think it demands much more focused and alert participation than the OF.  The priest prayed most of the prayers silently, and I was reading them to myself.  Reading is a different process than listening, a different encounter with the words and, in this case, the prayers.  I consider it a more active process.  While I read along, I was carefully listening for cues like bells ringing and the priest’s uttering aloud the opening words of certain of the prayers.  I also glanced up to watch for gestures like bows or genuflections or what part of the altar he was standing at.

The overall effect that this process had on me was a dual one:

On one hand, through the act of reading, I felt like the prayers were more my own and that I was playing a more personal, individual, and active part in the Mass.  In the OF, it’s easy to sort of shut down and slip into a more passive watching and listening to the priest, as if he’s the one who actually “performs” the worship, especially the Eucharistic Prayer, and we’re just the “audience.”  I suppose that’s possible with any Mass, but by reading the prayers myself, I felt more unified with the priest, more like I was acting with him and imitating him.  He read the prayers, I read the prayers.

On the other hand, I felt more that I needed the priest there.  I needed him there at the altar to pray on my behalf.  I needed him as a leader and as a much more experienced pray-er.  I wanted and needed him to stand for me and to cover over all the imperfections in my own praying: the clumsiness, the distractions, the getting lost.  I needed to put my trust in his prayers and actions.

Now obviously, we always need our priests, and we always need to entrust to them sacrificial duties that they alone can fulfill, and the mysterious sacramental works that their prayers and actions alone can bring about by the grace of God–such as the consecration and transubstantiation of the Eucharist.  We always have to have faith and trust in the priests’ Holy Orders.  Otherwise they’re  just these guys dressed up in fancy frocks, serving up bread and wine.

But this morning’s Mass really emphasized that for me.  I saw the priest and his role in a different way.  And I realized what a blessing the priest is–what a leader, an advocate, and intercessor we have in him.  And I realized how much I needed and wanted him there for me.  As he prayed before the Crucifix, I sensed that he was carrying my prayers and those of everybody else on his shoulders.  I’ve never been to a Mass celebrated ad orientem before, so I’d never really thought about that before.  Acting in persona Christi, he was bearing all of our prayers, as well as anything else we were thinking of or carrying in our hearts and souls–any troubles, any petitions, any needs.  He was bearing them for us at the altar.  That was a pretty awesome realization.

By far my favorite part of the Mass was when the Host and the chalice rose above the priest’s head.  It looked almost as if they did so by their own power!  In those moments, the priest sort of disappeared, and the Body and Blood of Christ appeared, among the ringing of the bells.  It was a beautiful, mystical experience.  I’d heard people talk about that, but I couldn’t have imagined what it was really like to behold it!  The elevation of the consecrated Eucharist is always a powerful event for those who have the eyes and the faith to see… but with the priest facing ad orientem, it was… more mysterious!  You can’t actually see the priest raising his hands–that might not sound like a big deal, but it really does have a big effect.

There were many other things I was impressed with:

For one, the altar boys–yes, I can say altar boys, because that’s who they were!  There were two young men, and three little boys, all dressed in black cassocks and white surplices.  Not only did they look very sharp, they really knew their stuff!  They were all focused and very reverent and dignified in the way they carried themselves.  While the older ones assisted at the altar, the little ones sat and read along in their missals.  I was extremely impressed by how responsible and well-trained they each were!

Second, the priest’s vestments were absolutely gorgeous.  He had a beautiful bright red “fiddle-back” chasuble, embroidered with gold, with a cross on his back–which helped me visualize him bearing our prayers.  He wore a biretta with a pompom as he entered and exited the sanctuary.  And after Mass, he gave us Adoration and Benediction dressed in a gleaming ivory cope, also trimmed in gold and with a cross on the back.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say again: vestments matter.  And it’s not because I’m shallow and just think they’re pretty.  I regard Christ as my King, and I also regard the priest as His official representative on earth.  If the priest wears rich, beautiful vestments, I see it as an image of, and a tribute to, Christ the King’s glory.  Even if a priest were vain or prideful about his vestments, that’s not how I would see them.

Third, the beauty of the language–both the Latin and the English translation I read along with.  It was so elevated and reverent.  Uplifting and, well, sacred.  Perfectly befitting prayer and worship.  Now I really, really can’t wait for the new translation of the OF missal!

Well, these are my main impressions of the EF.  As I said I do want to attend more Masses in this form, including some Sunday Masses!

If I have any additional thoughts, I will post them too!  Thanks again for your help and encouragement!  :)