I’ve decided to reproduce an old book by Lady Lucy Herbert of Powis called Several Excellent Methods of Hearing Mass with Fruit and Benefit.
Some people I know who were interested in the concept of “hearing Mass” spurred this little project. Methods of hearing Mass used to be a rather common devotional exercises for the faithful. They were intended to better unite those assisting at the Mass to the Sacrifice being represented.
These pious and fruitful devotions, however, were looked down upon even by the earliest of reformers in the 20th century liturgical movement. In a pitched frenzy that rivals in intensity the the iconoclasm of the seventh century, those involved in the liturgical movement, even in the early years of the 20th century, became obsessed with a single phrase written by St. Pius X, "full and active participation". A misinterpretation of the saint's words, and a misapplication of a single phrase, used constantly out of context, has caused the unfortunate perception that those who are not astutely following every prayer and gesture at the altar are somehow not participating in the Mass.
This attitude took an extreme turn just prior and especially after the Second Vatican Council. The “dialogue Mass” came into vogue in the decades prior to Vatican II. After the Second Vatican Council the laity were given a very rigid set of rubrics and responses in the new order of the Mass. Those who did not follow these strict rubrics or say the responses were considered to not be “fully and actively participating” in the Mass. The fruits of the Mass came to be gauged by how much the laity did at Mass, not so much how they prayed. Externals like rote responses, and set postures and gestures, and eventually, “liturgical roles”, usurped reverence, piety, worship and communion. Under the new liturgical regime that had taken over the modern Church, people had to make the correct responses, do the correct postures, and serve as lector or “cup minister” once a month in order to fulfill the dictates of "active participation" manifesto.
The dialogue Mass and the new order of the Mass so emphasized the externals that Catholics forgot that there is a very important need to maintain an internal recollection. Prayer and mediation are crucial in order to unite oneself internally to the Sacrifice of the Mass being offered. As the Honorable Lady Lucy Herbert wrote: “We should join with Him by uniting our intentions with His, and by our application to what He therein does, the Sacrifice of Holy Mass being the mystery of our reconciliation and sanctification.” Without this internal application to Our Blessed Lord’s intentions, efficacious graces that may be gained by devoutly assisting at the Mass are all but lost to the individual soul.
Regrettably, as the Traditional Latin Mass starts to gain traction, a variant of this attitude can now be found among those who assist at the usus antiquior. There are those who think they must slavishly follow all the words and gestures of the priest in their missals, or that they must make all the responses that the servers make, even though they don’t know Latin. If they fail to follow every word of every prayer, they think they are not "fully and actively participating". This is unfortunate, because such an attitude causes the soul more distraction and frustration than edification. Hurrying over the words of the Mass leads one to miss the beauty and majesty of those prayers. Being too concerned about keeping up with the priest actually draws our attention away from the purpose of the priest’s prayers and actions.
Because there seems to be no little confusion about this matter, it’s high time to broach the topic of devotional Methods, and what better way than to look at a venerable spiritual work such as Lady Lucy Herbert’s collection. This little book contains some excellent methods that can act as a spring board to enriching our experience of the Traditional Latin Mass.
I was particularly drawn to this book because the author is not a priest. There is a wealth of information on the web about the rubrics, the theology of the Traditional Latin Mass, and liturgical etiquette. However, there is very little that concerns specifically how the faithful are to gain spiritual benefits by assisting at the Holy Mass. The Mass is, after all, offered by the priest for the good of the Church. If all we are concerned about is the rubrics and the role of the priest, we miss the most important element of all! how the Mass benefits the soul!
As a cloistered nun, Lady Lucy’s perspective is much closer to that of the laity than would be the perspective of a priest. Her ease in speaking to the Father, our Blessed Lord, the Virgin Mary and the Saints is fraught with simple and pure intention, and a familiarity that remains humble and yet awestruck. She speaks with candor to God, but at the same time is filled with the fear of the Lord. She gives us a glimpse into the heart of a pious, sincere soul. While she is a cloistered nun, her insights into the spiritual fruits of the Mass remain practical, perfectly so for the practical everyday lives of the modern laity. This book provides for universal holiness, not in some facial external participation, but by a mystical participation, the kind of full and active participation intended by Pope St. Pius X.
As far as I know the last time this work was printed was in the late 1800s, edited by Fr. John Morris, S.J. in his book, The Devotions of the Lady Lucy Herbert of Powis. The edition that I’m reproducing here was printed in 1791. The book can be viewed on line at Google Books.
I am making no changes to the content, save using modern script and changing the punctuation and capitalizing in places for ease of reading. Since the book is out of print, it is part of the public domain.
Hopefully this little book will open up discussion and imagination, and fuel a desire to enter more fully into the august Sacrament of the Altar.