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The way it was: “The Mass in Slow Motion” by Msgr Ronald Knox

“I suppose it is the experience of all of us that the Mass, with its terrific uniformity- unvarying throughout Latin Christendom, varying so little from one feast or season to another-does not impose uniformity on our thoughts.”–Msgr. Ronald Knox, “The Mass in Slow Motion”

As a late-in-life Catholic convert (1995, at the age of 65), I was not familiar with the Latin Mass.   My wife and I have attended two Extraordinary Form (Tridentine) Masses  given by the FSSP,,  but I didn’t appreciate fully what the Mass used to be before Novus Ordo.   I didn’t understand the Latin and, so new to the Church, didn’t really see why the different liturgical forms were important.   We’ve attended many Anglican Usage Masses, which have many liturgical forms similar to the Tridentine:  the priest faces the Tabernacle (ad orientem) for most of the service;  Holy Communion is given on the tongue at the altar rail, with intinction; and, although there is no Latin, the form of the liturgy is similar to that of the Latin Mass.

After reading “The Mass in Slow Motion”, by Msgr. Ronald Knox, I have begun to understand why there are so many people passionately devoted to the Latin Mass, the older form, and wish for its full implementation.  Msgr. Knox was an English Catholic priest, a writer of detective stories, a raconteur on BBC, and a convert.  (Do a web search, “Ronald Knox,” for a full and impressive biography.)    The book (linked  above to an online pdf version) is a collection of sermons given to a Catholic girls’ school during World War II.   There is an introduction which provides an overview of the Mass, a reprise of a talk given to adults.   I’ll quote from that:

It’s an odd reflection, then, that when I say Mass or you hear it, though the words and the gestures are the same, and you would think there was no difference at all except the sins we thought about at the Confiteor and the intentions we remembered for the living and the dead, in fact there is a difference; the devotional overtones, the mystical nuances which the words and the ceremonies of the Mass suggest to us are not, probably, the same for you and for me. So I thought I would come clean, and try to analyse, thus publicly, the inwardness of my own Mass; talk about the odd bells that ring in my own mind, the odd vistas that open to my own view, to close again at once, in the hope that they may have some value for other people. Let me say at once that I know nothing about liturgy, so you won’t get any of the orthodox side- lights on the Mass which they give you in the books. Also that I am thinking about Low Mass; it is a long time since I had to sing High Mass, and when I did, the only thought I can remember entertaining was a vivid hope that I might die before we got to the Preface.

The Psalm Judica. What a disconcerting thing it is about the idiom of Hebrew devotion, that the psalms are always saying, ” I am upright, I am innocent, I never did anything to deserve this punishment “, whereas we are always wanting to say we are miserable sinners! Here, we prepare for the Confiteor by assuring God that we have walked innocently, and asking him to distinguish very carefully between us and the wicked. When I say this psalm, then, what should I think about? Perhaps, about myself as the representative of the Christian Church, so isolated, so shut away, in idea at least, from all the busy wickedness of the world. The Mass starts with the Church pushing the world away from her; the lodge is tiled, there are no profane onlookers, it is a cosy family party, just ourselves.”–Msgr. Ronal Knox, “The Mass in Slow Motion”, p.8, Introduction.

And there’s more.   The writing is elegant, but familiar–oh, how well the English know how to put words together!

There’s one other point that is crucial:  “catholic” means “universal” and this was how the term first began to be applied to The Church–a universal Church.  If you hark back to the opening quote, you see that the Mass was universal–it was the same in Japan, Nigeria and Iowa.  The Church has lost this, but we should recover this universality, this catholicity.   So,  I will join those who plead for the return of the Tridentine Mass.