Friday, December 31, 2004

Two Masses, One Spirituality

I was fortunate enough to be able to attend Midnight Christmas Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis on Lindell Boulevard. The experience was of breathtaking splendor. The music, directed by Dr. John A. Romeri, was beautiful and varied, and took excellent advantage of the acoustics of the huge church. The basilica itself is of great beauty, ancient tradition, and is a catechesis in stone and glass. I was seated at the front of the west transept, unable to see the Altar, but was amazed to hear voices above my head, as well as behind from the choir loft. Unfortunately, I arrived a half hour before Mass but did not know about the carols and lessons before the Mass itself. There were about seven scriptural lessons with carols between them. The Mass itself had chanted readings, and a friend with whom I attended was overjoyed by the beauty and solemnity of the readings and music, and for that time received the gift of peace and lack of anxiety. Archbishop Burke's homily was not soft, but challenging and fitting for Christmas. The slow procession of the altar boys and clergy to the sanctuary was fitting of such a happy yet solemn occasion. The entire Mass was dignified, holy, and respectful, as well as beautiful.

The next day, the Sunday within the Octave of Christmas, I attended the Mass celebrated by the Canons Regular of the New Jerusalem; this was the first time I attended their mass since their move from La Cross to Saint Louis; their Sunday and Holyday masses are held at the Passionist Chapel in Ellisville. Thinking that Mass would start at 9:30 instead of 9:45 a.m., I arrived a bit early and was surprised to find myself the second person in the chapel -- although happily it filled up quickly afterwards. The Canons Regular Mass was starkly different from the Archbishop's Mass...the traditional Liturgy of 1962 instead of the New Mass; no musical instruments and only a choir of two Fraters instead of several choruses, grand organ and instrumental soloists; and the entire Mass was chanted in Latin instead of in English. The chapel itself is Modern but not Modernist, being made of contemporary materials and design and spare ornamentation, but not of iconoclastic meeting-house style. I thought that it was a fitting chapel for the style of Mass celebrated by Dom Oppenheimer -- a complex liturgy said with only a few human voices in the simple, but noble, Gregorian Chant style. The chapel, altar, and vestments were not made to impress, but they did not have to. The chanting of the two Fraters was very beautiful, understandable, well-studied, and precise. The Mass itself, done in the ancient manner, was the center of attention. They prove that money and a large staff are not required for celebrating Mass in a holy, beautiful, and fitting manner.

Both masses, although far apart in scale, language, and music, represented the same Sacrifice, and both were done with respect, dignity holiness, and beauty.

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