How to celebrate the rite



Anyone who has been to a Mass at which the English Missal (or the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite) is used will immediately notice some striking differences with the newer rites. At an EM Mass, there is a silence, an atmosphere of prayerfulness and contemplation. There is a reverence and awe which can, too often, be missing in the new rites.

There is the absolute knowledge, confirmed by words and action, that what is being celebrated here is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the unbloody re-presentation of the sacrifice of Calvary, and that here Christ is really and truly Present in the Sacrament of His Most Holy Body and His Most Precious Blood.

Any priest who wishes to learn how to celebrate the Mass will also notice some differences. Once upon a time, at theological colleges around the world, seminarians would spend hours being taught and practicing how to celebrate this Mass. Some would have known before they got there! Getting it right would have occupied a good deal of their time. Getting it wrong was not desirable at certain theological colleges where liturgical precision was paramount, and inprecision could lead to collegial ostracisation! 

There are far more manual actions, more prayers, more things to do and remember. But priests should not be daunted. Once the basics of the celebration of the Low Mass have been learned, it will become second nature and priests will begin to feel comfortable in both old and new rites. Indeed many of the EM manual actions can easily be transferred to new rites and might, indeed, make their celebration more prayerful and dignified.

The following are some links to help.

To begin with, the Missal was published by W. Knott and Sons (hence it is also known as the Knott Missal), but copies are now rare and expensive, though some occasionally do pop up in specialist booksellers.

Luckily the text of the Mass is online. You can find it at this website.

​​I have taken the text from there and annotated it with the latest rubrics on how to celebrate Low Mass. If you'd like a copy, please email the Society.

​Canterbury Press has reprinted the Knott Missal,  though because it is a reprint, none of the rubrics are in red, so following the text is not easy. However, for those who want it, it can be bought from their website, or from Amazon. There are also two companion volumes: The English Office and The English Ritual. They are also available from the same websites.

The (incomplete) Propers of the Mass online can be found here, courtesy of the Priestly Fraternity of St Martin. With these, and the order of Mass, it is possible for priests to build their own altar missal.

Once upon a time, most priests had a copy of Ritual Notes, the Anglican version of Fortescue and O'Connell's Ceremonies of the Roman Rite. Ritual Notes is now out of print but an online version can be found here. Fortescue is still pretty essential for the niceties!

​Alongside The English Missal, many parishes would also use The English Gradual, which contained The Mass Propers set to simple plaintchant melodies. Copies of the Gradual can still be bought at the website of the RSCM, (or Amazon), but the Temporale can also be found online here.

For parishes who would like the Propers to be a bit more challenging, the best rendition of the Church's chants for the Temporale and Sanctorale are those from the Sisters of Wantage. It's now online. Volumes I and II can be found here, Volumes III and IV are here.

There is also a new publication, Fr Samuel Weber's, The Proper of the Mass for Sundays and Solemnities. As Corpus Christi Watershed puts it, "it may not be a game-changer in its novelty, but its execution sets an extremely high bar for those of us interested in the musical proper of the Mass. The usefulness of this book to the average choir is evident even at first glance. As its title suggests, this is a full set of the Proper of the Mass for each Sunday of the liturgical year. What sets this book apart, however, is the approach which Fr. Weber took in his treatment of each psalm. He is undoubtedly one of the modern masters of setting English chant." It is well worth a look, though the language is not tradtional.

Of course, the best way to learn how to celebrate the Mass is from those who know, but they are becoming few and far between. Fortunately, as interest in the Extraordinary Form has increased in the Church of Rome, so have the online resources. The Priestly Fraternity of St Peter has produced excellent guides for basic principles of movement in the Mass, how to celebrate Low Mass and variations (for instance, Mass without a server). It is to be hoped that they will also produce instructional videos on how to celebrate High Mass. Of course, the videos are for Mass in Latin, but most copies of The English Missal, as well as the online text, are in Latin and English so the videos are easy to follow. The video are available on YouTube.

The Society of St Pius X also has instructional videos on YouTube.

Finally, for those who would like to be able to chant the Offices which flow from the Mass, then there is a wonderful online version of The Manual of Plainsong here.

I am sure the objection will made: why go to Roman videos when we have The English Ritual. My response is to quote the anonymous author of Pictures of the English Liturgy vol. 1, who, in urging the spread of the English Missal over the Sarum, or English Use, pleaded that using Roman sources of aid "was not so much because it is 'Roman', as because it is the simplest, most convenient, most easily studied, and (to modern minds) most intelligible method of rendering Divine Service."

Nearly a hundred years on, I think that advice still stands.