Several weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend a Missa Cantata on a Monday evening at our local parish. The Missa Cantata, which is Latin for “sung Mass,” is a form of the Traditional Latin Mass, sometimes referred to as the Tridentine Mass.
As I sat silently listening to the priest pray in Latin, I took a minute to look around. I knew the priest had spent time preparing and learning the complexities of the rubrics. There was a small choir, along with an organist who had spent time practicing before Mass began. College students and seminarians had driven across the city during finals week to serve. My son and his school friends had skipped after-school activities to prepare the altar and to serve. Birettas had been found, linens were pressed, and candles were lit. There was incense, and a parishioner had set up a makeshift altar rail. There were people scattered about the pews, some praying silently, while others were flipping through the worship aid, trying to follow along with the unfamiliar Latin text. There were mothers and fathers holding their tired, fidgety children. It was going to be at least twice as long as an ordinary daily Mass, and considerably more effort.
I thought for a moment: Was this really necessary? Was it not a bit excessive?
Surely everyone there was busy on a weekday evening. No doubt homework, dinner, laundry, bills, and family obligations were waiting at home. Wasn’t this a little much for a Monday evening?
The answer, I think, is yes.
Why “A Little Much” is Completely Appropriate
A Missa Cantata on a Monday evening is like Mary pouring out expensive perfume at the feet of Jesus and washing Him with her hair. It is extravagant, perhaps to the point of seeming unreasonable, past what is required or deemed necessary to fulfill any obligation. In Mary’s encounter with Love Incarnate, she showed no restraint, no moderation in her response.
Why should she?
And just as Lazarus’s house was filled with the sweet smell of perfume, the smell of incense filled our ordinary, suburban church. Jesus’ answer to the question of ‘why?’ is the same for us today: because He is here. Christ is made present to us in the Sacrifice of the Mass, in the midst of our busy lives.Christ is made present to us in the Sacrifice of the Mass, in the midst of our busy lives. #BISblog // Click To Tweet
God’s Movement, Our Response
Is that not truly the height of extravagance, to the point of absurdity? That our Creator would come to us, to be consumed by us, to save us?
I am reminded of the words of Saint Francis:
Let the entire man be seized with fear; let the whole world tremble; let heaven exult when Christ, the Son of the Living God, is on the altar in the hands of the priest. O admirable height and stupendous condescension! O humble sublimity! O sublime humility! That the Lord of the Universe, God and the Son of God, so humbles Himself that for our salvation he hides Himself under a morsel of bread.
That should compel us to respond with excess, with our highest effort. Not because we have to, but because we want to. Even to the point of seeming inordinate or ridiculous to those looking on.
Finding a Missa Cantata
I think that’s the reason so many made their way to that particular Mass that evening. Not in spite of the extra time or effort, but because of it.
We felt called in that moment to do something more than necessary, to participate in something beautiful and sacrificial. We have each experienced, in some way or another, the lavishness of God’s love for us, and the only satisfying response is to pause our ordinary lives and pour ourselves out with whatever beauty and goodness we can muster.
Find a Traditional Latin Mass in your community here.
Have you ever attended Missa Cantata? What was your experience like?
Missa Cantata on a Monday Evening #BISblog // Click To Tweet
Cheryl Witty-Castillo is a mother, freelance writer, and director of the Writing and Language Center at St. Mary’s Seminary. You can find out more about her here.