Phenomenology of Two Masses: Part V

I would like to revisit the openings of the two forms of the Mass. The EF involves an undulating differentiation and participation between priest and congregation. The priest states, for the first time, “I will go in to the altar of God”.

Then he prays “Judge me, O God, and distinguish my cause from the nation that is not holy: deliver me from the unjust and deceitful man.” Here, we are all reminded that the sacred space and action is just that—sacred. The world is not the cause and source of grace. Almighty God is, through his institutions wherein alone he promises grace to us. We are separating the sacred from the pro-fane.

After this marvelous prayer “Judica me”, priest and servers (whose voice is the people’s) exchange statements and prayers. The servers state, “I will go in to the altar of God.” Thus, the people are also included in the worship that goes on; they are differentiated from the priest and also shown as participants in his worship. Finally, the priest again recites the statement. Thus introibo ad altare Dei is said three times. A Trinitarian structure, completed just after an explicit Gloria Patri….

We see here the liturgy calling to our attention the differentiation and participation (communion) of priest and people.

The public confession is the same. First, the priest makes his confession to God. The servers (whose voice is the people’s) beseech that God forgive him. He replies, “Amen” to their prayer for him. Then, the servers (whose voice is the people’s) confess their sins to God. The priest beseeches that God forgive all the congregation other than he (vestri). Thus, the people pray for the priest, and the priest for the people. Finally, the priest commandingly issues an absolution for “our sins”, his and ours. A delicate duality of distinction and communion.

By contrast, in the OF there is no separation from the profane. It is as though there is a smooth transition from ordinary being in the world and official worship of God. There is no statement “I go in to the altar of God”. The nature of the worship as sacrifice is not brought out yet.

Next, all together, priest and people, confess to God their sins. The distinction of priest and people rests solely on the fact that the priest is leading the worship. Nor is there absolution.

If creativity involves distinction and order – and it does – then on the scores noted here the EF involves much more creativity than does the OF. The EF brings out both the mutual orientation of priest and people and also the qualitative distinction between them, both aspects constitutive of Catholic faith and reiterated at Vatican II (Lumen gentium, chap. 2).