From a Special Correspondent
"Can one doubt that a very different and far more deeply understanding attitude to the Mass would result from the spreading of Dialogue Mass on Sundays and, one day perhaps, the celebrant facing the people?"
WHILE others were reading
these words in THE CATHOLIC HERALD, a large congregation in Portsmouth Cathedral were actually experiencing their truth.
Bishop King had given permission to Canon Alban Burrett, administrator of the Cathedral, to celebrate Mass facing the people as a climax to a week of Mass instructions given at the Children's Mass each morning by Fr. Clifford Howell, S.J., the new chairman of the English Liturgy Society.
So far as we know, we made liturgical history; for though there has been Missa versus popultun in Scotland, and though Community Masses like this are frequent on the Continent, we believe this is the first time such a Mass has been celebrated in England.
The progress towards this climax had been impressive. Each day something had been added to prepare the way for this "Community Mass" with the maximum of active participation designed to bring home to the children what the Mass really is.
These children of St. John's Secondary Modern School have long been accustomed to taking their part in Dialogue Mass. During this particular week their participation was extended.
By Tuesday they were not only answering all the Latin responses and saying with the priest the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and Agnus Del in Latin, but were listening to one of the boys who acted as lector.
Dressed in cassock and surplice, he read to them, in simplified English,
translations of the Collect, Epistle, Gospel, Secret and Postcommunion. Next day there was added a speaking choir of forir boys who, likewise vested in the sanctuary, recited the Introit, Gradua 1, Offertory and Communion at the appointed times, thus rendering intelligible to all the Proper of each day while the celebrant read in Latin.
The successive activities of the priest as he greeted the congregation, intoned and led the community's
Gloria, of the people as they replied and joined in, of the lector and of the
speaking choir as they performed their functions, made the liturgy "come alive" as the combined worship of the entire community.
Many grown-ups were participating too, and their numbers increased each morning.
On the Friday, the last-and the most important-features were added to the communal celebration.
Before Mass a long queue stretched down the centre aisle to a small table set in the middle where, by means of little tongs, intending communicants (both children and adults) were transferring, each for himself, a host from a box to a ciborium standing beside the filled cruets on a tray.
These were the people's offerings to God for the ensuing sacrifice.
In the sanctuary, near the altar rails, stood a new altar from which,
in a few moments, Canon Burrett would celebrate the Mass in full view of all.
The Canon entered, preceded by the Mass servers, the lector and the speaking choir in solemn procession.
Shut their books
The prayers at the foot of the altar were said by all aloud in English from their Stedman Missals, of which every child had a copy. But Fr. Howell, who led tlerm from the pulpit, told them before the Introit to shut their books, For the rest of the Mass they were to listen and watch.
They heard the Introit; they answered the Kyrie; they joined in the Gloria (by heart); they answered the greeting; they heard the Collect and answered Amen. They listened to the Epistle, the Gradual, the Gospel, understanding every word of them all.
Then, while they listened to the Offertory verse, their eyes followed with intense interest one boy and onb girl who walked to the table in their midst.
The boy picked up the dish with the cruets; the girl took the tray with the full ciborium.
They carried the bread and wine to the server, who met them at the altar rail; and he handed them to the celebrant, who offered them to God.
No amount of exhortation to identify ourselves with what the priest offers is as effective in producing the desired response as is this simple arrangement.
As the transference of hosts had been done before Mass, this token procession took but a moment or two; it did not hold up the Mass in the least.
The Mass proceeded through Offertory, Preface and Consecration, with every action of the celebrant seen clearly by all present-probably for the first time in their lives.
One became conscious of a new element in the atmosphere: there was the celebrant, God's minister Of course, but also our representative, completing with us, as it were, the family circle.
But-and here is the fact psychologically important-Our Lord really present on the altar was between the celebrant and us, right in the family circle.
This marked sense of intimacy was not the result of repeated attempts to create it but a natural consequence of the celebrant's position facing the people.
There, I think, is the keynote of the Missa versus populum; it creates simply and naturally that sense of intimacy, with Our Lord in the midst of the family circle. which makes us feel vividly that the Mass is the business of us all. a community actnot just something that happens on a distant altar.
Complete this picture with a large and devout Communion procession, during which some 200 people received, as the Pope says, "a share of that same Sacrifice which they themselves have helped, in their own way, to offer," and you will have some notion of a deeply religious experience which those of us who took part in it are never likely to forget,