People have been trying to impress upon me and others too, that the “new” form of the mass is horizontal whereas the traditional Latin mass is vertical. I’ve given this a great deal of thought. From the perspective of language (not Latin, but words) the traditional Latin mass orients the person’s focus toward the transcendent. There is no mistake about this.
But there is another mistake, which is to say that the current form of the mass fails to orient us toward the transcendent.
There are two ways to “touch” the transcendent. One can reach up, or that which is transcendent can reach down to man. Whether man reaches up or God reaches down, the vertical dimension of worship and Catholic spirituality has never been abrogated. Rather, the action can be uplifting or incarnational.
I think that it would be fair to say that today’s form of the mass, if and when it’s celebrated as per the General Instructions for the Roman Missal (GIRM), has a very dynamic vertical dimension, because it places the focus on God breaking into human history: the Incarnation.
Everything begins with man reaching out to God asking for forgiveness, during the penitential rite. This rite is found in both extraordinary and ordinary forms of the Roman rite. Next, we move to sacred Scripture. In the ordinary form of the mass, the scriptures are proclaimed in the language of the people. In the TLM, Latin is usual. For those who understand Latin or have a missal with the translation, following the proclamation of the scriptures is not a hardship.
Here is where the weakness of both those who love the extraordinary form and those who love the ordinary form of the mass is most visible. Unfortunately, catechesis in the Latin Church has been very weak in the area of Sacred Scripture. To say that many of the religious education books published in the United States could have just as well been produced by Disney Enterprises would not be much of an overstatement. They fail to convey the fact that God speaks and we must listen and then respond.
For many Catholics, traditionalists and other, the proclamation of the Sacred Scripture is like story time in elementary school. Our priests and deacons add to the reduction of the proclamation, because they often fail to mention that what we are about to hear and what we have heard is God’s voice, not the lector’s or the clergyman’s. Those people are conduits through which God wants to speak to His people. The vertical quality of the Word of God is obscured by a lack of appreciation on the part of the congregation, poor delivery from those who read it, and very often sermons or homilies that sound more like motivational talks than Divine messages from God to man.
Those who see and hear the voice of God in the proclamation of the Scriptures are definitely praying, because prayer is simply lifting one’s mind and heart to God. We don’t have to do more. God does the rest. During the proclamation of the Scriptures and the homily God calls out to man, as he called out to Adam in the garden, to Abraham, Samuel, and Moses, and to the apostles. He communicates His love for man and repeats His promise to be save us.
But God also communicates the conditions necessary for salvation. He reveals to man the moral law that we must observe to be saved. He offers the means to reconcile, if we violate that law. He also reveals the consequences for those who violate the moral law and do not repent.
It is during this message that says, “I AM your God and you are my people,” that the soul is intimately tuned in to the voice of God. But the soul must have a springboard to make the leap from here, into the Word of God. The springboard for the soul is not an object, but awareness. We must be aware that it is God who is speaking and that we are commanded to listen carefully. This is not story time, history class, catechism class or motivational speech to improve your fortune and acquire a younger and better looking wife. This is the literal voice of God that becomes Incarnate in the Word. This Word will be offered to the Father in an unbloody sacrifice under the appearance of bread and wine. Then again, God responds by offering us the Word as spiritual nourishment in Holy Communion.
The horizontal dimension of faith plays an important part in the ordinary form of the mass. We come to God as a people to fulfill the two Commandments that God gives us, “Love God above all things and love your neighbor as yourself.” To understand that we relate to each other, not by how we interact at mass, but because of who we ARE, the People of God, and to convert our manners so that everything we do and say reflects God rather than us, adds the horizontal dimension necessary to complete the cross. This is called ecclesial consciousness.
The ordinary form of the mass provides us with the means to touch and be touched by the Transcendent who speaks directly to us through the Scriptures. The Word that is proclaimed in the Scripture points our attention to the sacrifice on the altar, which is the life of the Word Himself laid down for our Redemption. But the Word does not remain in the grave. It rises and reveals himself to us, glorious and triumphant at every elevation of the sacred host. He invites us to eat and drink His body and blood under the appearance of bread and wine. Such great wonder and mystery becomes visible to those who are familiar with the Sacred Scripture, who have an ecclesial consciousness and who attend mass to present themselves to God, not to fulfill an obligation or to experience the warmth and friendliness of parish life. Parish life that nurtures the soul is that life which begins with the acknowledgement that the Word has become flesh and is speaking to us. This is not a replay or a reading of some historical event. This is reality, more real than the pains of a woman in labor.