Ramblings on the Missa sine Populo

My fellow short term memory challenged bulimics, during the crisis of 2020 most churches are closed to public services. As Catholic priests, we continue to have a daily Mass, the so-called “private Mass.” Actually the proper term is Missa sine Populo, or Mass without People. Since the vast majority of clergy are introverts by nature, having Mass without the stares of others can be as addictive as nicotine.

I have noticed a few things since beginning this pilgrimage of silent services; first, I preach too long. When the candles you lit before Mass, that were supposed to last four or five hours, burn all the way down, it’s time to end the homily. When the flies buzzing around the altar start committing suicide in the candle flames, maybe you don’t have the eloquence of Chrysostom.

Second, the collections are lousy. No matter how many times you pass the basket around, nothing comes back. I’m not saying this hasn’t happened WITH people at Mass, but it’s just as disappointing. Another observation is that you spend more time reading the red words in the Missal. For the non-Catholics, the red words tell us what to do, the black words what to say. Some of us ordained some years ago were trained on some different red words. So during a private Mass, “It says I’m supposed to bow here, when did that change?”

However, some of our younger brothers, recently ordained, have trouble adhering to the red verbiage as well. During a funeral Mass recently, a young Father bowed low with both arms and elbows on the altar for the words of consecration. The current rubric (red words) read, “Bows slightly.” If my dear Irish mother were alive, she would have knocked him upside the head for having his elbows on the table. Other newly minted ordained borrow more things from the Extraordinary Form of the Mass (Latin Mass) and mix it in with the Ordinary Form. It is fascinating to see and I’ve taken to calling theses admixtures of Eucharistic forms as the Missae via Media.

Just random observations during this time of plague and penance. In reality, no priest can ever be alone at Mass. It is first and foremost the action of Jesus Christ. We Catholics also have a definite faith in the Communion of Saints. This communion is made of the people in heaven, the people in purgatory in the condition of purification and the believers currently inhabiting our world. While the people of God on earth may be unable to attend the Eucharist, the saints that surround us are always there.

Now, I think a recording of Bach’s Mass in B minor might be appropriately played during my private Mass tomorrow; it may be just long enough to cover the homily.

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