Sunday, August 7, 2016

Domine non sum dignus

Two days ago my pastor celebrated Mass in the extraordinary form for the first time. I, and the other altar server, had never served at a vetus form Mass before. Father's MC for the night had served often at the extraordinary form, but not for a couple years and had never been an MC before. There were prayer cards everywhere. It was over an hour long even without a homily. It was absolutely beautiful.

One of the things that struck me was how little attention I gave to the congregation. Normally I'm hyper self-aware and my childhood has trained me into thinking it's better to not be noticed. I've come to love altar serving because even though people notice you, they don't notice you. Not if you're doing what you're supposed to anyway. Everything is scripted. Where you stand, when to speak. Even the bells which bothered me at first because what screams, "Look at me!" more than ringing bells? But I don't ring them so they'll look at me. I ring them to alert them to the part of the Mass they should know is occurring. 

For the past three years I've found it very beautiful to fall into the role and let it direct me. The more I am able to fall into the Mass, the less anxiety I have over what people will think and how I should react to that and where should I be looking right now or how should I be holding my hands. I've found some ways to use that mindset to accomplish other things, like talking to people, or chanting where anyone can hear me. 

I don't know how to explain why the vetus was different. It wasn't until distribution of Communion, when I had to maneuver the paten around babies, and having to notice if a person was taller or leaning in more, that I realized I hadn't been paying attention to them before. It can't be the lack of dialog because there was a scattering of responses throughout the Mass. And I noticed when someone came in late, and there was a regular backdrop of noisy children in the back and adults trying to quiet them or moving them to a different area. 

It's just, somehow, I didn't have any need to pay attention to them. The Mass was going to proceed with or without their attention. The bells would alert them to this or that, but if they didn't heed them, meh, not my problem. There were responses I had to say, but if others said them or not wasn't important. I think it's because I was there for the priest, but not just for the priest. I've been MC before at our Easter Vigils which necessitates paying a lot of attention to the priests' needs as well as the other servers. That night though, I was there for the Mass itself.  

This is something I've been learning as I attend daily Mass more regularly. Being tired or otherwise distracted has helped me learn to focus more on prayer. And I guess that was emphasized more when altar serving for this Mass. Talking with another server last Sunday, we both admitted we'd originally taken up the service as a way to "have something to do" during Mass. As we've grown we've come to love the role for how it helps us focus on the Mass. Two nights ago, I feel I learned more about how the role fits into the Mass. So I wasn't just falling into the role, I was falling into the Mass. 


It's obvious to anyone that attends a Mass celebrated by this priest that he's focused on what he's doing, and on God, not on the congregation or himself. It's why we love him. And the amount of love and dedication he's shown by taking on the task of learning the vetus Mass, it's just amazing. 

I plan on doing a short series of posts about the struggles he's had learning the Mass, and advice on how you might be able to support your local priest should he want to do this as well.  For now, I'll leave off with an explanation of the title. The one point at which I was very aware of the congregation was after the Ecce Agnus when the priest says the Domine non sum dignus three times for the people. This actually isn't said by the servers at low Mass so I'm not entirely sure where it came about for the congregation to say this. In a non-dialog low Mass, technically the congregation doesn't say anything out loud. Though, technically they have no rubrics at all so it's all whatev, so long as they're not bothering anyone right?

Well, this congregation, en masse it would seem, vocally participated in the Domine non sum dignus. As I mentioned, there had been a scattering of responses all along. A reflexively said et cum spiritu tuo here, a whispered Amen there. There was a long pause before the Ecce Agnus as the priest struggled to hold the ciborium comfortably while keeping his finger and thumb together. I actually was preparing to reach a hand up to support his hand if I needed to, to help prevent him from dropping it. But he got it all situated and presented Our Lord to us. Then another slight pause as the MC points to the next prayer he is to say. So he begins by saying, "Domine non" then pauses a bit and starts it over.

And the congregation was so loud in joining in I nearly jumped. If you'd ever seen me passively watching a horror movie, you would understand why this is such a big deal. I don't really react to things. But this was just so out of nowhere, and it was wonderful. Not sure the priest felt that way, but I hope he did afterward. At the time I could tell he was having to concentrate very hard to say the prayer three times, as the congregation more confidently and more quickly said it at a volume that filled the room making it difficult to focus on anything else.

The other servers and I at dinner afterward agreed that somehow the congregation was conveying their love for this priest in that moment. Like they'd been seeing him struggle but were awed by the attention he was giving to the Mass. And then along comes this part they know, and the priest is facing them uncertain but not hesitant, just taking his time to get it right, and they're like, "Let us help you Father!" 

Having had to kneel for a rather long time (many on the bare floor because they didn't know those things on the chairs were kneeler pads, not back pillows), in the mostly silence that is low Mass during the Consecration and surrounding prayers, they put aside any distractions and were fully there to support this priest. It was wonderful. I hope he will continue to receive support for this, and all his efforts. Pray for our priests and for our Church. One prayer, one Mass at a time, we will continue the fight for Truth.  

Non nobis Domine, non nobis, sed nomini tuo da gloriam. 

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