Parish Mass – Neither Low nor High
After receiving some private comments by email, I think I should pause the walk through the Mass and share a couple notes about the project. As I had said, this is not intended to be descriptive, as there is far too much variation and sloppiness, not to mention simple personal idiosyncracy out there. These blog posts are meant to be, insofar as possible, prescriptive. That is, this is what ought to be done.
Now with that out of the way, let me address a question I was sent, “is this for Low Mass or High Mass.” Frankly, my answer has to be neither. Now, I am familiar with the traditional distinction here, but perhaps I ought to appropriate the term “Parish Mass” to use in place of either of the traditional terms. Here’s my reasoning. There aren’t many places that can mount a proper High Mass, with three Sacred Ministers and a fully trained acolyte corps, but that doesn’t mean that the laity should be deprived or the clergy should get lazy. On the contrary, places that cannot mount a full High Mass will need to try even harder, because the glory of Christian worship is that it is directed to God, not ourselves. We owe him the best we can manage, and if that means tweaking it up a bit more than is strictly comfortable, then so be it. God forbid any parish be satisfied with just squeaking by. Shame on them! Better to stay home and watch TV than to do a bare bones or the least common denominator and call it worship.
So by “Parish Mass” do I mean some sort of hybrid? Well, no to that, too. I don’t mean mix and match. Let’s look at particulars. If there is a Deacon available, by all means, he should take his proper ministry–and all of it. Any text that can be sung, should be, and if that means extra work to do it and do it right, by all means, sing it! And I don’t mean just the dialogues or the major propers, I mean the minor propers, and the Creed, and the Our Father. He who sings prays twice. I also think a proper Parish Mass needs to have incense. Our Orthodox brethren are absolutely right that there is no such thing as Divine Liturgy without incense. I know the modern Roman Rite allows parts to be sung and incense to be used in any places without regard to whether other parts are sung or incense is used, and I think that valuable, so long as the rubric isn’t used in a minimalist way. Don’t try to figure out what the least is one can get away with, but rather maximize the Mass! Sing everything you possibly can. Offer incense at every point in the liturgy you can. And not just on high holy days, but on every Sunday. Every Sunday is a festival of the Resurrection, so every Sunday Mass should be our maximal Parish Mass. Ring the bells, light the candles, fire up the thuribles, tune the organ, and give to God the glory he revealed in the Revelation to St John the Divine! If your parish doesn’t have a Subdeacon, why not? I would go further and suggest that every parish should have a Deacon as well. Look around and see who may have a calling he doesn’t know he has. You may be surprised how God will bless your worship if you give up getting by and give him the best!