Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Appreciating Repetition

I currently serve as pastor in three different parishes; St. George Catholic Church, my primary parish, as well as St. Susanne's and St. Patrick's, my two parishes that I serve for Bishop Edward Rice, the Bishop of the diocese of Springfield/Cape Girardeau. Although it keeps me very busy, I appreciate serving within the local diocese at the same time that I serve in my own jurisdiction of the Ordinariate. I believe that this helps to show that even though there are a number of traditions that are different between the diocese and the Ordinariate, we are all part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

Because of this mixture of my duties, there are times when I am saying Mass at one of the diocesan parishes (from the Roman Missal) and I "slip" into the wording or actions of the Ordinariate form of the Mass (from the Divine Worship Missal). In spite of a few significant differences between the two forms of the Mass, a number of places are quite similar and it is easy to get them switched, especially when there is only an hour between the times when I celebrate the two Masses!

Recently, I noticed something about the Roman Missal (i.e. Novus Ordo) Mass as I was saying the Divine Worship Mass, just an hour later. The "preface" is a prayer that is said in the both the Divine Worship Mass and the Roman Missal Mass right after the Sursum Corda where the priest tells the people to "lift up [their] hearts". In the Roman Missal there are five options for the "preface" during the Easter season. In the Divine Worship Missal, there is only one option. I assume that the choice for five options was made so that there could be a certain variety in the Easter season, and also that the choice for one option (for the Divine Worship Missal) was made because there was only one preface in the Anglican and English Missals (which itself probably stemmed from the practice of the Sarum Missal, though I have not confirmed this).

What is the big deal, you may ask? What does the difference in a pastor's choices have to do with you? Think of this: if you are used to hearing the same preface each Sunday (and a number of weekdays) for seven weeks in a row, and then not again for another year, then you think of it as "that is the preface for Easter time"; you get used to it, and do not think of it as repetition (if you think of this at all). It does not seem to be redundant because it is just "a prayer" that we say at this time of the year.

If, however, you are hearing a sequence of the five different options for a preface for seven weeks, then when you hear one a second time (and a third, fourth, etc. because you have to repeat some when you only have five to last for a span of seven weeks!) you will think, "I heard this one before, how about a different one?" In other words, a set of prefaces that have to be repeated every few days (not to mention all the other parts of the Mass that have a few different options) makes one desire more variation rather than less. It actually makes it harder to be content with just one "Easter preface", and causes the desire for a different Easter preface for each day of the seven weeks! In this situation we do not think of the repetition as "applying it more deeply to our souls" (the way the Church would want us to do), but rather as annoying redundancy.

So when I was standing up there saying Mass a while back, and noticed that the preface I had chosen for the day was the same one I used last Sunday (though none of my parishioners would ever actually complain), I even found myself thinking "I've read this one before". Whereas when I said the same preface in the Divine Worship Mass that I have used for the last number of weeks, I had the response of "ah yes, those comforting words that I have begun once again to memorize and make part of my own prayers." Two very different situations, and they will each effect our spirituality in a different way; are we hearing beautiful repetition, or annoying redundancy?

I am not saying that variety is automatically evil, nor am I saying that everyone who hears the same prayer repeated each Sunday will always be more holy than others. I am merely pointing out how multiple choices are prone to backfire and create more discontent rather than less. The solution that I have recently chosen when I say the Roman Missal Mass (with its multiple options) is to lessen them on my own. Sometimes I will do the same preface for an entire week (!), and then switch the next week. Sometimes I will just limit myself to one each year and allow it to do the work on our souls that it was intended for.

How do you respond to a prayer you have heard before? I have a number of favorite Mass collects (the opening prayer in the Roman Missal, and the second prayer in the Divine Worship Missal) for certain days of the year. I only get to hear and say them one week out of the year, but when I see them again each year they sound like old friends come home; like a book that I like to read every few years brought down off the shelf for another enjoyment. It stays for a week, is appreciated, and then returns to the book, to await another visit next year. What a joy to appreciate repetition!