The Advantages of the Solemn High Mass

This reflection is a direct continuation from yesterday’s article, “The Role of the Deacon and Subdeacon at the Traditional Mass”.

All Masses Are of Infinite Value but Differ in Solemnity

In practice, most traditional Catholics will find subdeacons and deacons in the context of the Solemn High Mass. The Baltimore Catechism #3, QQ. 925-926, in explaining the various ways in which Masses are distinguished, importantly mentions that while the solemnity of Masses may differ, they are of the same eternal value, assuming that they are validly offered. This makes perfect sense because every Mass is a re-presentation of the One Eternal Sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The Incarnate God’s Sacrifice must necessarily have perfect and infinite value! As the Baltimore Catechism states:

“All Masses are equal in value in themselves and do not differ in worth, but only in the solemnity with which they are celebrated or in the end for which they are offered. Masses are distinguished thus:

  1. When the Mass is sung by a bishop, assisted by a deacon and sub-deacon, it is called a Pontifical Mass;

  2. When it is sung by a priest, assisted by a deacon and sub-deacon, it is called a Solemn Mass;

  3. When sung by a priest without deacon and sub-deacon, it is called a Missa Cantata or High Mass;

  4. When the Mass is only read in a low tone, it is called a Low Mass.”

There were also permissions given before Vatican II to certain groups (largely missionary ones) to offer Mass in a semi-solemn form with a priest and a deacon and no subdeacon.

If ‘Equal’ Then Why a Solemn High Mass?

Even though the value of all Masses is equal, there are advantages to offering Mass in its Solemn form with a deacon and subdeacon.

We know that grace is a free gift of God. Yet, man must cooperate with God’s grace. God is readily disposed to give grace, yet man is not always disposed to receive and use well the graces which God offers. Many factors influence man’s receptivity and utility of supernatural grace. Some of those factors, for example, include a person’s:

  • Desire to love God and be united to Him.
  • Cumulative sanctifying grace and merit.
  • Consistent life of prayer.
  • Detachment from the world.
  • Spirit of mortification.
  • Habitual virtue (e.g., humility, charity, prudence, fortitude…)
  • Proper and healthy exercise of his higher faculties (intellect, will, memory, and imagination).
  • Inspiration from other Catholics (e.g., a pious priest).
  • Sensory perception (e.g., visual and auditory beauty).
  • Life circumstances (hardships, trials, blessings, etc.)

On account of man’s subjective, personal, and complex nature, each individual will utilize differently – in quantity and quality – the sanctifying grace offered by God through the Holy Sacrifice.

In terms of beauty and gravitas which human senses perceive, the Solemn High Mass has a unique ability to dispose man’s soul to efficaciously receive many graces. The Gregorian Chant, the incense, the beautiful vestments, the precision of the movements, the solemnity of the altar servers, and the mysterious majesty of the ritual all help man’s senses and reason recognize that this is the greatest act which can occur on this earth. Such an awareness naturally enables man to more fruitfully [even consciously] receive sanctifying grace.

Given man’s subjective nature, this inevitably varies from person to person. Nor should we fail to mention that the Low Mass has its particular beauty as well, and transmits sanctifying grace correspondingly. It is quite possible, even quite probable, that the same person will derive greater spiritual fruit from a Solemn High Mass at one point in his life, and from a Low Mass at other times. This simply points to the reality that God is infinite and that man is a wondrous creation made in His image and likeness. It likewise indicates the wisdom of Holy Mother Church in offering her children the Mass of Ages under both of these forms.

Recover the Traditional Liturgy, Which Includes More Than the Mass

In the decades before Vatican II, the trend intensified for parishes to merely offer Low Masses – even on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation. The chants that were to accompany such sacred days were lost. The faithful in the pews were also often robbed of the Divine Office, which had ceased to be offered regularly even in cathedrals. Nowadays, even in parishes that only offer the Tridentine Mass, it is exceedingly rare to find one that publicly offers the Divine Office in Latin using the traditional Divino Afflatu (pre-1955) liturgical books. Even the updated 1960 Divine Office is rarely ever publicly offered except in a few monasteries.

As an article from America, Volume 27 (America Press, 1922) remarks, the Divine Office, especially Vespers and Compline, along with the Solemn High Mass, are powerful not only for the faithful but for missionary work among Protestants:

“In the average parish High Mass is very seldom sung except at a funeral. Yet many a soul has been converted by a High Mass. Even where High Mass or the Missa Cantata is the Sunday custom, the Proper of the Mass is left unsung and so the real teaching part of the service is not known by the people, and never is put before the truth-seeker at all. Yet the Missal is a storehouse of missionary material. What a splendid thing it would be if in every parish church it were possible to take one’s Protestant friends to Solemn Mass or Vespers! What could be better adapted to attract Protestants than Compline properly chanted? Why is it that with all the wealth of the liturgy at her disposal the Church in this country makes no effort to use it? Even in our cathedrals the Divine Office is not performed, nor a daily High Mass sung. Is it any wonder if the Protestant comes to think that the Catholic is weary of the worship of God? Music, art, the dramatic instinct, all these things could be used to advantage in this country.”

There is much value in the Low Mass. I do not intend to dissuade priests from offering the Low Mass early on Sundays and throughout the week. In fact, silence is the language of God, as Dr. Peter Kwaniewski has remarked before in his writings. However, despite this, he also wrote a fitting piece reflecting on “The Problem of the Dominant Low Mass and the Rare High Mass”. I would add to his work to also reflect that the rushed prayers of the Rosary and Benediction in the evening, the absence of the Divine Office publicly chanted, and the lack of any regular Pontifical High Masses have hurt the missionary efforts of the Church and the ability to strengthen the devotion of lay Catholics.

Photo Credit: Joseph Vitacco

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