Mass without Microphones: A Glimpse of the Old Mass

Last Monday in our parish in Makati, I went to a 6:00 am mass after a short procession for the Feast of the Immaculate Concepcion. At the middle of the mass, the electrical lights and sounds turned off. The priest continued speaking, but his voice now unfamiliar, so remote, so distant, like the voice of a man shouting in the desert: “Prepare the way of the Lord. Make straight his path.” Or of Him teaching on a boat in the Sea of Galilee: “The Kingdom of God is like a net thrown into the sea….” The choir–or should I say the cantor–sung her part. But her song also sounds from afar, as if sung by angels in the heavens proclaiming the good news to the shepherds. The commentator mumbled, her voice inaudible. The candles blazed more brightly. The breeze blew.

It seemed eternity. But it was only a few minutes. Then the lights turned on, the fans hummed, the speakers blared. The mysterious turned ordinary; the heavenly, earthly. I was not in the desert, nor in the sea, nor in the upper room; I was in my seat. I sat and listened.

Before the microphone was invented, how did our ancestors celebrate mass? They use missals.

There is only one missal for the whole year; not three missals for three years as we have today. The readings may be fewer, but they are easily remembered. One side of the missal is in Latin; the other side in English. Black texts are meant to be read; red texts are directions on what to do. Everything is scripted: how the priest bows, how he raises the chalice, what silent words he address to God, what spoken words he addresses the people. So even if the altar were a hundred paces away, everybody knows what is happening.

This was the Old Mass. This was the drama before Mari Mar, the pageantry before Mutya ng Pilipinas, the musical before Miss Saigon. This was the mass of candles, bells, incense, chants; the mass of sin, mercy, atonement, sacrifice. This was the mass that was celebrated in Limasawa when Magellan set foot in the Philippines, the mass that converted the entire archipelago to the Catholic Faith, the mass that built our glorious cathedrals, the mass that made the religious orders flourish, the mass that made many saints, the mass of the masses.

In 1968 the Old Mass was forbidden and the New Mass was imposed. The old missals were thrown out and the altars were turned around. The Latin became English; the Gregorian chant, pop songs; the organ, guitar; the altar boys, girls. Statues of saints were removed, confessionals were turned to cabinets, altars were stripped bare, and tabernacles were sent to the sides. Such wanton destruction. Such utter desecration.

The New Mass needs a new church as a new wine needs a new wineskin:

    Gone were the Gothic, the Romanesque, the Baroque;
    in came the cylinder, the pyramid, the cube.
    Gone were the icon, the veil, the collar, the fast;
    in came the the stick, the bare, the lay, the crass.
    The windows were opened: “Let the fresh air in!”
    And in came the whirlwind that swept the inside clean:
    Gone were the parishioners. Gone were the priests.
    Gone were the crosses. Gone with the wind.

Let us pray for the return of the Old Mass in our parishes. Pope Benedict XVI in 2007 has allowed the celebration of the Old Mass as long as there are parishioners who ask for it and there is a priest who wish to say it; the bishop’s permission is not needed. So ask.

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About Quirino M. Sugon Jr
Theoretical Physicist in Manila Observatory

2 Responses to Mass without Microphones: A Glimpse of the Old Mass

  1. properlyscared says:

    Beautiful reflection.

    As a very young child, when I’d visit my French grandmother in Louisiana, she would take anyone who was awake to the “fisherman’s mass” at 6 am daily. This was in the late 1950s, yet the imagery, the “smells and bells” is more real to me still today than the multitude of masses since.

  2. All you write is so true.I just wonder if these treacherous clergy who desecrated the church in such a wilfull way,feel any concience now for their actions,
    In my diocese of East Anglia England the Bishop and Priests still ignore the fact that the Second Vactican Council has been a disaster for the church,lack of ordinations to the priesthood and the religious life,the young giving up the faith in droves after or before leaving school etc.and yet they still cling to the idea that all will succeed in time,how much more time do they need?The Moto propio of the Holy Father is ignored

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