By Br. Thaddeus Lancton, MIC
Several years ago, in conversations with my father, I remember his voice: "Et cum spiritu tuo we would say to the priests in Latin." Translation: "And with your spirit."
He would say this in his role as altar server. Today I find myself, like him, an altar server. But unlike my late father, I had never served a Tridentine Mass, the Mass that was codified at the Council of Trent and changed very little in the way it was celebrated until Vatican II, when a new form of the Latin Rite was introduced.
Thanks to Pope Benedict XVI, however, the extraordinary form of the Latin Rite is now available to all!
As my fellow Marians and I were preparing to celebrate the extraordinary form for All Souls' Day in our chapel in Steubenville, Ohio, I recall perusing the many paintings on our chapel walls. There was Blessed Stanislaus Papczynski (1631-1701), the founder of the Congregation of Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. There was Blessed George Matulaitis-Matulewicz (1871-1927), the Marian Renovator. And there were the Marian Martyrs of Rosica, Belarus, Blessed George Kaszyra (1904-1943) and Blessed Anthony Leszczewicz (1890-1943).
"This is the form of the Mass that they all celebrated," Fr. John Larson, MIC, remarked.
In our Steubenville house, I have been privileged to altar serve some Low Masses. But on Feb. 1, I was gifted to be the "epistle side" altar server for a High Mass. Once a month at the 4 p.m. Mass on Sundays, Franciscan University of Steubenville asks a priest to celebrate the extraordinary form.
As I served the Mass, I became transfixed on the San Damiano crucifix and the Statue of Mary, our Mother. I realized the dignity of the priest: Fr. John, with whom I eat, pray, and play Uno and Scrabble. There he was, offering the Sacred Body and Precious Blood of Jesus! I am struck by the reverence, attention, and devotion of those who attend. They all have the patience to wait as Fr. John singe handedly distributes Holy Communion to some 200 students.
During the Mass, there is an opportunity for silence. While I love the Novus Ordo, or regular Mass, this silence has taught me how to truly pray the Mass. It has taught me how St. Faustina experienced the Mass, and how the Divine Mercy originally began. As I perused our concordance of St. Faustina's Diary for the word "Mass," I noticed that many of her visions of Jesus were during the Sacred Liturgy, including:
June 4 . Today is the Feast if the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. During Holy Mass, I was given the knowledge of the Heart of Jesus and of the nature of the fire of love with which He burns for us and of how He is an Ocean of Mercy.
[March 22, 1937] During Holy Mass, I saw the Lord Jesus nailed upon the cross amidst great torments. A soft moan issued from His Heart. After some time, He said, "I thirst. I thirst for the salvation of souls. Help Me, My daughter, to save souls. Join your sufferings to My Passion and offer them to the heavenly Father for sinners."
The language of this extraordinary form speaks of a mystery, a mystery of mercy. While there is less "participation" by the laity, there is much more silence. In Isaiah 30:15, "For thus the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, has said, "In repentance and rest you will be saved, in quietness and trust is your strength."
I am learning that during these quiet moments, I should pray with the Holy Spirit, uniting my prayer to the prayer of the priest. Romans 8:26: "In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words ..."
Thus, I have learned to truly plead with a loving Savior for the salvation of the world. As I see the Hidden Jesus lifted up by Fr. John, I contemplate what is truly happening: Calvary is being made present. Christ's love, His Sacred Heart, is being offered by Fr. John to the Father for my own salvation, and the salvation of the entire world.
The shift from the Novus Ordo to this extraordinary form is rather difficult, but I am learning to combine this quiet with the groanings of the Holy Spirit, to truly experience the salvation won for me at Calvary. I am grateful that Fr. John is so interested in learning this form of the Mass, because I am learning to appreciate the Mass in a new way — as a sacrifice. Certainly it is a sacrifice on Christ's part, but it is a sacrifice of mine, too. When I step into the extraordinary form, I learn to leave my own time and my own concerns. Truly, I learn to rest as the priest says his silent prayers, and I am able to gaze upon Jesus on the Cross. This is not a time to rush, but a time to pray, to beg God for mercy upon us sinners.
"Why?" I ask myself during the Mass. The change is massive on the exterior level, but on an interior level, Christ is the same "yesterday, today, and forever." By experiencing the extraordinary form, I am learning about the ordinary form, and the change from one to the other helps me never to take for granted the wonderful gift of every Mass: the Divine Mercy Himself to us sinners.
Brother Thaddeus Lancton, MIC, is a seminarian living in Steubenville, Ohio.