Encountering God through Mass in Extraordinary Form Print
What's That All About
Thursday, Mar. 10, 2016 -- 12:00 AM

What's That All About column by Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

The seventh and last in a series by Fr. John Zuhlsdorf about the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite.

In this series we drilled into what's up with Bishop Robert C. Morlino celebrating Holy Mass in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, especially when he celebrates "at the Throne."

We have looked into what his "throne" is, the symbolic meaning of vestments, gestures, levels of solemnity, Latin. Let's wrap this up, since by now you pretty much know "what that's all about."


It is impossible to plumb the depths of Holy Mass or to say, especially in short columns, everything that might be said. Therefore, in this last offering, allow me to add some points which you may not have heard before.


Mass in Extraordinary Form

They help to explain why we also need many more occasions and places where Mass is celebrated in the Extraordinary Form. It was Pope Benedict's desire, in freeing up this ancient form of Mass, that there should be an organic "mutual enrichment," whereby much of what was lost might be again made vital and fruitful in our day.

One of the things people say after they experience Holy Mass for the first time in the Extraordinary, traditional Roman Rite is that it is hard. They are used to having everything immediately given to them, virtually every text audible with amplification, everything visible, not a verse of any song left out.

All manner of people are brought into the ceremony in an attempt to expand "active participation." The style of liturgy might seem chummy, rather than formal, easy, rather than challenging.

Holy Mass is 'hard'

Thus, when some people object to the use of the Extraordinary Form, they say "It's tooo haaard for people!"

Well, yes. It's hard. So? Why should Mass be "easy"?

In the Extraordinary Form there are long periods of kneeling and silence. You can't always see or hear everything. For many, in this day of screens and incessant distraction, not being able to see or hear everything that is going on is really challenging.

The hard elements of stillness and self-denial, in the midst of the rich symbols and texts and music, provide us with a long-neglected way of encountering God and Mystery.

What does Holy Mass do? The eternal and transcendent are brought into contact with the mortal and immanent. God comes to our altar and the Sacrifice of Calvary is renewed. How is that "easy"?

Meeting God in different way

Of course Holy Mass is "hard"! The elements of the traditional Mass that modern people find so counter-cultural and foreign are precisely what can help us to break out of comfort and complacency in worship.

They open us to meet God in a different way, to have an experience of awe. This manner of meeting God is harder, but we need it. Why? Because our liturgical worship of God puts into order all our other activities and relationships in life and it helps us prepare to die a holy death.

We owe to God our highest, deepest love, more than we give to any other person. We owe to God proper worship. It is due to Him. Worship demands from us our very best. It should bring us to encounter God, who is at the same time, present and absent, alluring and frightening, beautiful and awesome.

Encountering God

Moses went to God barefoot and in awe when he encountered Him in the burning bush. Later, when Moses wanted to see God face to face, God only allowed Moses to glimpse His back as He passed by a crack in the rock through which Moses peered (Exodus 33).

We are like Moses. This is what Mass is like. It is the spaces between all the texts and vestments and symbols and actions where we, during Mass, can glimpse the Mystery that is in our midst. The hard elements of stillness, silence, help us shed the distractions that keep us from pondering our state before our Creator.

Every Mass should help us to an encounter with the Mystery that is both alluring and frightening. This is why we keep our crucifixes and our tabernacles front and center in our sanctuaries. They help us through and beyond the prospect of our own moment of reckoning with the God of Power and Might.

Fr. John Zuhlsdorf, "Father Z." a Catholic priest ordained by St. John Paul II, has a background in classical language and patristic theology and worked in the Vatican's Pontifical Commission "Ecclesia Dei." He has been a weekly columnist for The Wanderer and the UK's Catholic Herald and runs his award-winning blog (fatherzonline.com). He lives and works in the Diocese of Madison and travels, giving talks, conferences, and retreats.