This past weekend, instead of assisting at the Mass I usually attend at our local parish, I drove to another nearby town because I had thought I heard they had started having a Latin Mass. Not having ever seen one in person, I made the trip.
It turns out it isn't a Latin Mass. What it is, is a reverently done Novus Ordo Mass, with an eye toward the traditional and ancient liturgy, rather than toward the accommodation of pop culture sensibilities. A New Mass that yet gives pride of place to Latin and to Gregorian Chant.
The priest still faces the congregation, but many of the prayers and responses are in Latin. There is a large crucifix behind the altar, flanked by statues of Mary and Joseph. The tabernacle is directly behind the altar. In other words, it only takes a few seconds to figure out that you are at a Catholic Mass. There is no mistaking it.
There was a small Gregorian schola singing. Were they the greatest I'd ever heard? No. Was it cool, anyway? Definitely. Again, when you hear Gregorian Chant, you know what is going on... you know you are there to worship. There was also a young man (probably college age) who was playing the Pipe Organ... only on a synthesizer. The technology has come so far, though, that if your eyes were closed you would have a very hard time telling the difference. He did a great job, and this - again - added to the palpable sense of reverence. Beauty is important.
It's likely I'll be assisting at this Mass often, now. I have no major gripes about our parish, I'm pretty much with Mark Shea where liturgy is concerned... just give me my lines and my blocking and I'm generally content. But lately I've felt the need for a little more help in the area of assisting my imagination (and that of my family & kids) to truly grasp the importance of what is going on at the altar, and Who it is we are gathered together to worship.
Engaging the whole mind and imagination is part and parcel of true worship (not "imagination" as if one is whipping up a fantasy, but in terms of simply calling to the forefront of the mind what one already firmly believes... stirring up the ashes of faith that too often grow cold). A meaningful, substantial liturgy helps to do this. Ancient forms of music help, statues help, candles and stained glass... Are these necessary? No... one can worship huddled in a bomb shelter. But, am I grateful every day for things that I have that are not strictly necessary? Very much. Art isn't necessary. Poetry and music and dancing, good beer and wine and the cup of hot coffee I have in front of me now aren't necessary. My daughter doesn't have to lay her head on my shoulder during Mass... but I'm very grateful she does.
The Incarnation wasn't necessary. The salvation of mankind isn't either... heaven can get along just fine without us.
This tendency toward minimalism in everything - this work of paring everything down to its bare bones - rather than purifying or freeing the imagination (as is often claimed) is destructive and stifling. It is a kind of mania to think that we should take what is true in a bomb shelter (that one can worship in any blank and spartan environment) and universalize it in such a way that our churches are now as blank and spartan as bomb shelters.
This minimalism begins to extend even to the area of the creed. It is true that one may be saved at the end of one's life - at the very moment of death - by simply and sincerely calling on the name of the Lord... ("forgive me!!"). It is also true that "to whom much is given, much is required". We are not all drowning men. The Church and the Sacraments are not just nice options.
Anyway, I was moved at this not-Latin Mass, and my worship was greatly helped. After many years of making do with whatever was offered, I'm at a place where I need this additional spiritual nourishment. I don't think we should at all come to the worship of God focused on what we receive rather than what we bring, but this more reverential and traditional Mass helps me to bring more, and to worship more truly.