Let me stipulate from the start that it is not a good idea to go to Sunday Mass and reflect on problems with the liturgy in which one is actively participating. Guilty as charged. In mitigation, I can only plead that it is a hazard of thinking and writing about liturgical worship. Mea maxima culpa.
This was a large and beautiful church in a large and beautiful American city. The Mass was Novus Ordo, labelled by the parish as “solemn”; it followed what was apparently a more family-oriented celebration. There was a choir of men and boys and around a dozen altar servers, all pre- and teen-aged boys. There were readers (male and female, in their 50s I would guess) and, I think, six extraordinary ministers of Communion, also male and female, all at least 50 years old. The priest faced the people throughout. We had incense, torches (lots of them) and bells. We sang a psalm and three or four hymns, all in English. As far as I could tell, everything was done to the letter of the GIRM. There were kneelers and lots of kneeling.
Nothing problematic so far. The problem was that, somehow, the entire liturgy lacked architectural integrity. It didn’t add up.
First, there was a great deal of to-ing and fro-ing throughout the Mass. For example, at the presentation of the gifts, there was a procession of six altar servers who hadn’t formally participated until this point in the proceedings. They marched to the narthex, then turned and led the (lay) bearers of the gifts to the priest. The servers then snapped to face one another in a crisp military maneuver, allowing the gift bearers to walk forward between them.
There was an extra procession of torches and incense at the start of the Sanctus. The thurifer led the procession out of the sanctuary at the final hymn. Getting the extraordinary ministers into and out of the sanctuary was a complicated ballet; somewhat bizarrely, the male EMs stood on one side of the altar and the female on the other. A server stood on a raised platform as though he were conducting the congregational singing, but simply lifted a hand when we were to sing and lowered it when we were to wait for the choir. The choir marched in and out, to and from the loft and back. People in ordinary clothing came onto the sanctuary during the preparation of the altar, then left again. Many things happened. Nothing quite added up.
Second, there was no clear start to the liturgy. While the organ prelude was going on, various people, some in vestments, some in civilian clothes, wandered on and off the sanctuary. The choir started by chanting the introit for the day, quasimodo geniti, but the congregation didn’t seem to recognize this as part of the Mass; they continued to talk quietly, and despite printed admonitions not to make audio or video recordings, a number of people turned and lifted their phones to video the choir. Eventually there was a hymn and we shuffled to our feet. It was an odd mix of informality – inappropriate for a solemn Mass, I think – and excessive formality.
Finally, the language of the Mass was confusing. We veered from English to Latin and back again. This mélange was worst at the Our Father:
Priest (said): At the Savior’s command and formed by divine teaching, we dare to say …
Congregation and choir (sung): Pater noster, qui es in caelis, sanctificetur nomen tuum. Adveniat regnum tuum. Fiat voluntas tua, sicut in caelo et in terra. Panem nostrum quotidianum da nobis hodie, et dimitte nobis debita nostra sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris. Et ne nos inducas in tentationem, sed libera nos a malo.
Priest (said): Deliver us, Lord, we pray, from every evil, graciously grant peace in our days, that, by the help of your mercy, we may be always free from sin and safe from all distress, as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Congregation and choir (sung): … quia tuum est regnum, et potestas, et gloria, in saecula.
Yes, I know that “deliver us” is an “embolism”, something interpolated, not part of the Lord’s prayer. But to change languages midstream?
It didn’t help that the sermon also lacked architectural integrity; the priest seemed to be struggling to decide whether we had come through Easter Sunday or were still at Good Friday, contemplating the five wounds of Christ. It didn’t help that he took most of the Canon (EP1) at a rapid clip, then slowed dramatically at the words of institution: “This (long pause) is (long pause) my (long pause) body”, etc. And of course the language of the current English translation is itself a muddle of formality and informality, with lots of word salad tossed into the mix.
To be sure, I have seen much worse: Masses so informal that they were almost unrecognizable as Catholic liturgy; or celebrations “tradded up” with maniples, Catholic knights with plumed hats and ceremonial swords and almost limitless nodding and bowing and genuflecting and donning and doffing of liturgical hats.
I can’t define architectural integrity in a Mass, but I’m betting that readers can help. For me, it has something to do with a clear beginning to the celebration – there’s nothing wrong with a good loud bell to say, “pay attention, Mass starts now.” There should be a consistent level of solemnity throughout. Perhaps most important, there shouldn’t be anything superfluous; ceremonial actions need to contribute to the whole. Beautiful ritual is good; frills and furbelows are not.
Finally: I don’t think this has anything to do with the Novus Ordo vs. the older form of Mass. I have seen old rite Masses lacking architectural integrity as much as this one did. Contributors to Pray Tell don’t delete comments, but I hope that the moderators will be draconian in cutting comments that call for a return of the old rite. That isn’t the question under debate here.
In your experience, what adds to or destroys architectural integrity in a liturgical celebration?