Monday, February 24, 2014

Mass for the Chair of St. Peter in Steubenville

Fr. Jonas Shell, the associate pastor of St. Peter's in Steubenville, offered a Missa Cantata in the older form to mark the patronal feast of his parish. It was one of the most beautiful liturgies I have ever had the privilege of assisting at. Oh, how I wish everyone in the whole world was able to assist at Sung or Solemn Mass in the traditional form of the Roman liturgy! The whole world would be converted!

For once I was not serving and I was in the congregation. The removal of myself physically and mentally from the altar freed my senses to take everything in. The smells, the bells, the chant. The vertical liturgy really took shape before my eyes and drew me towards Heaven, and the overlaps between the choir and priest's prayers fit together so well. I was more fully deprived of the prayers said by the priest; someone on the altar or occasionally a front pew can hear the prayers clearly, even if they are said quietly. Even when I could hear something, it was much more of a mumble than anything.

The Mass setting, which I believe was Mass Cantate Domino, was very simple, but it was gorgeous and was as close to plainchant (in at least parts of it) as one can get in five-line modern notation.

The servers did an outstanding job, and I have so much to learn from their work at the altar when I am called to serve. I only knew they were there because I could hear things like the thurible or I could see them in front of me. Otherwise they weren't there. Nothing was done to draw undue attention to themselves, and it felt  like a ballet or a play, which is entirely appropriate considering the drama that is the Holy Mass.

But it was quite interesting, because it was not well-announced, and so the usual 8 AM on Saturday morning crowd came, including the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George, a Franciscan community here in Steubenville. I know one of their sisters fairly well, as Sister Bernadette was in one of my classes last semester. What a joyful witness to the Gospel! Love them!

I talked with Sr. Bernadette today and was so thrilled. She said that it was their first High Mass, and they were completely taken by surprise. When they walked out, one of the other sisters commented she felt as if she wanted to die and go to Heaven.

I told Sr. Bernadette how thrilled this made me, for it is a treasure of the Church unleashed by Benedict XVI that I want everyone to experience, and really, to say I was thrilled was an understatement. And she thanked me for my joy and enthusiasm, and all I could say was, "to God who gives joy to my youth." Really: it all starts and ends in the true and living God. Also, pssh. Sister Bernadette is joyful all the time. I think it's part of the rule of her community. :)

The Lord is good for this. For giving us Father Shell, for giving us an able schola and an able serving group at St. Peter's. For giving us people who are willing to try the older liturgy. And of course for His presence body and blood, soul and divinity, in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar.

And to be honest, catching people a bit unawares is better, because in my experience some people hear "Extraordinary Form" or "Latin" and they run away. (Not the sisters per se, but just people in general). What are you going to do when you get to Mass and are surprised? Get angry and leave? Hardly, I hope.

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