A Priest Recounting His First TLM
by Andy Milam
Some years ago, I read an article in a Catholic publication by a priest who describes himself as “liberal.” He had finally responded to the request of some of his parishioners to celebrate the Extraordinary Form.
One reason that certain commentators have put forward for the Moto Proprio on the Extraordinary Form is the Pope Emeritus’ desire (reinforced by Pope Francis) to renew the priesthood, presumably part of that is to increase vocations, and to deepen the spirituality of priests, and therefore the Church. Father went on to say:
“Having decided to offer the Extraordinary Form, I began the arduous project of recovering—and reinforcing—my Latin grammar and vocabulary so that I could celebrate the Mass in a prayerful and intelligible way. As I studied the Latin texts and intricate rituals I had never noticed as a boy, I discovered that the old rite’s priestly spirituality and theology were exactly the opposite of what I had expected. Whereas I had looked for the “high priest/king of the parish” spirituality, I found instead a spirituality of “unworthy instrument for the sake of the people.”
The old Missal’s rubrical micromanagement made me feel like a mere machine, devoid of personality; but, I wondered, is that really so bad? I actually felt liberated from a persistent need to perform, to engage, to be forever a friendly celebrant. When I saw a photo of the old Latin Mass in our local newspaper, I suddenly recognized the rite’s ingenious ability to shrink the priest. Shot from the choir loft, I was a mere speck of green, dwarfed by the high altar. The focal point was not the priest but the gathering of the people. And isn’t that a valid image of the church, the people of God?
The act of praying the Roman Canon slowly and in low voice accented my own smallness and mere instrumentality more than anything else. Plodding through the first 50 or so words of the Canon, I felt intense loneliness. As I moved along, however, I also heard the absolute silence behind me, 450 people of all ages praying, all bound mysteriously to the words I uttered and to the ritual actions I haltingly and clumsily performed. Following the consecration, I fell into a paradoxical experience of intense solitude as I gazed at the Sacrament and an inexplicable feeling of solidarity with the multitude behind me.”
Isn’t that how we should be approaching Holy Mass, whatever form we are assisting at, whether it be the Ordinary Form or the Extraordinary Form? We should not look to the priest to entertain us or to captivate us. We should not look to the priest to preside over us.
We should look to the priest to do what he is called to do and that is to call God down from heaven. We should be entering into silent prayer. We should be uniting our hearts and minds and souls to the miracle of the altar! What Father does or does not do in the sanctuary is of little consequence, as long as he does two things:
- Says the words of consecration properly and
- Follows the rubrics as prescribed.
We can be assured then that Father Celebrant is doing the will of God and ministering to us as he is ordained to do.
Vatican Council II speaks to us about the importance of silence. The Popes since Vatican Council II have reiterated the importance of knowing what our role should be and how to best commune with God, the Father. We need to open our hearts and minds and souls to that action. We need not feel that we must *do* something at Holy Mass (some extraordinary ministry)….but rather we must *be* at Holy Mass to worship.
Once Father understood what it was that he was called to do, he wasn’t afraid of or discouraged by the Extraordinary Form any longer, but rather, he was opened to a whole new world of ministering which he had refused to participate in, previously. We, as faithful Catholics, need to understand that a Mass which existed for more than 400 years as the only normative vehicle for the confection of the Eucharist can do no one harm or lessen their Catholicity.
And isn’t becoming a better Catholic, more in tuned with our Catholicity, what we’re really after?
Andy Milam is the Coordinator of Public Relations, Marketing, Fundraising and Tourism at the Shrine of the Grotto of the Redemption, an active member of the Knights of Columbus, and the Liturgical Coordinator for Una Voce Des Moines.