Assessing the Dialogue Mass Part I:
The practical failure of the Dialogue Mass in light of authentic liturgical piety.
But as for me in the multitude of thy mercy, I will come into thy house; I will worship towards thy holy temple, in thy fear. (Ps. 5:8.)
A few months ago I was contacted by Mr. Louis J. Tofari of Romanitas Press who took me to task concerning my low opinion of the Dialogue Mass. Mr. Tofari sent me an article he had written for The Remnant Newspaper in defense of the Dialogue Mass entitled “Liturgical Principles & Notions Concerning the Dialog Mass”.
Mr. Tofari wrote a well-researched article with many helpful references. Tofari points out some principles of Catholic liturgy that are helpful in forming a Catholic spirituality centered on the Mass. However, there are various conclusions in the article that are logically questionable, many inaccurate historical judgments, and his research depends too much on extremely questionable sources that at best misrepresent the historical development of the Dialogue Mass. Unfortunately Mr. Tofari’s dependence on these sources has led him to make a disastrously positive assessment of the Dialogue Mass. In fact, nothing of worth in Tofari’s essay actually supports the legitimacy of the Dialogue Mass or proves that it is pleasing in the sight of God.
There is much to this article that deserves more than just a facial treatment, and out of respect for Mr. Tofari and the sources he quotes I think it best to deal with his article topologically in two separate treatises. In this, the first part of my response, I will treat the notions of active participation, liturgical piety, and methods of hearing the Mass, and how the Dialogue Mass does not constitute a worthwhile method of hearing the Mass due to its practical failures.
The first problem I had with Tofari’s essay is his “crux of the issue” (and by stating it as such, the reader is led to believe that this is raison d'être of the essay), which is stated as: “what is the ideal and best method to attend Mass”. Because his article is primarily a defense of the Dialogue Mass, it logically follows that he is arguing that the Dialogue Mass is “the ideal and best method to attend Mass.” Tofari states:
The Church’s mind has been continually affirmed by popes and eminent liturgists whose orthodoxy is above suspicion. They are all united in saying the best and ideal way to attend the liturgical functions, particularly the Mass, is by following the prayers and actions as closely as possibly with one’s mind and body. They also agree that one should join his voice in the various responses accorded to the faithful, whether sung or spoken.
Is this “following the prayers and actions as closely as possible with one’s mind and body” legitimately equated with the Dialogue Mass only? Is the Dialogue Mass the best method available to the Catholic faithful for joining their voices to that of the Church’s, whether sung or spoken? It is my contention that the Dialogue Mass as conceived in the early years of the 20th Century Liturgical Movement and as currently practiced is a poor method of following the prayers and actions of the Mass. Further, it is my position that the Dialogue Mass is a poor method to achieve the liturgical piety aimed at by either Pope Pius X or by Dom Prosper Guéranger, O.S.B. In fact, there is very little evidence that the Dialogue Mass as it is currently practiced was even hinted at in the thought or writings of either. As for the Church’s mind expressing categorically that the faithful should join in the various responses, both sung and spoken—nothing of the sort is actually proven from Church documents. Church documents have, indeed, supported the faithful joining in sung responses, there’s no indication that the same documents considered spoken responses as equally important, or even mentioned spoken responses at all! This will be more thoroughly investigated in the second part of this treatment.
Allow me to first highlight some needful distinctions when considering liturgical participation. There is a difference between liturgical piety in general and the methods used to achieve a liturgical piety. Because Mr. Tofari appears to equate the Dialogue Mass with the best method of participation, it would follow that liturgical piety has been reduced to a single method, the Dialogue Mass. While I’m uncertain whether this is Tofari’s position, and I apologize if I’ve inadvertently misconstrued his argument, I do disagree strongly that the Dialogue Mass is the best method of hearing the Mass, and it is my hope that this will gradually become clearer as we make these initial distinctions, and, especially, as the diversity of methods of hearing Mass is introduced and explained.
Liturgical piety, or a Catholic spirituality of the Mass, is the act of uniting oneself with the actions, prayers and intentions of the priest at the altar, and, in doing so with the one Sacrifice of Christ on Calvary that is made present at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. A proper liturgical piety induces those hearing the Mass to better experience, internalize and benefit from the four-fold purpose of the Mass, which are adoration, thanksgiving, propitiation and petition. This we can say is the active participation aimed at by men such as Pope St. Pius X and Dom Guéranger.
Obviously, the better one participates at the Mass the more benefits he gains from hearing the Mass. This is a principle well understood long before the 20th Century Liturgical Movement. In the mid-19th century, Lady Lucy Herbert of Prowis wrote in the introduction to her Several Excellent Methods of Hearing the Mass with Fruit and Benefit:
To reap the full profit of this Divine Sacrifice, we must not only have an intention to hear Mass, but a formal application to what Christ does who is our Head, and offers us His members in Sacrifice. We do not hear Mass as we ought when we omit to unite ourselves with Him. 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. Many fools that are now in hell might not have been there, if they had but once heard Mass as they ought to have done. For by means thereof they might have received such efficacious graces for their entire conversion, and such strength for to have withstood and overcome temptations, that they would never have come to that misfortune.
That active participation is necessary for experiencing the Mass with fruit and benefit is beyond contention. It is the central admonition of all those who have written on the subject. However, what this “active participation” entails has often been left unclear due to the dissipations of the 20th Century Liturgical Movement that reduced the notion to external, physical action.
We should clarify from the beginning that actuosa participatio does not mean “actual participation”, as Alcuin Reid states in his book, The Organic Development of the Liturgy (64). Reid’s unfortunate interpretation of the Latin has plagued many traditional and conservative arguments, making them unsound. These Latin words mean “active participation.” There has been a tendency among conservatives and traditionalists to change the meaning of the Latin word actuosus, -a, -um. This Latin adjective derives from the word actus, which means a deed that is done. It carries with it the connotation of physical or mental movement. When Pope St. Pius X used the term “actuosa… participatio” in his motu proprio, Tra le sollecitudini, he did not mean “actual” as in real or authentic. If he had meant “actual” he would have used the adjective verus, -a, -um or something similar. This is because he wasn’t referring to participation that was real or authentic, but participation that was “active”. He understood that in the context of the Church’s liturgy, the laity should not be passive, but active. The real issue isn't how "actuosa participatio" is translated. The real issue is what "active" means and what it entails, and once this is properly understood, it will be clear that there is nothing in it that a traditionalist need fear.
Does "active" mean acting like the priest or ministers at the altar? Does "active" mean feverishly trying to keep up with the priest as one reads the liturgical prayers in translation from a missal? Does "active" mean tramping about the sanctuary was extraordinary buffoons? Does “active” mean shouting out the acolytes’ responses from the nave as happens at many Dialogue Masses?
Pope Pius XII reminds us in Mediator Dei that “the chief element of divine worship must be interior” (24). Neither Pope St. Pius X nor Dom Guéranger intended any of these exterior human actions as constituting “active participation”. A cursory reading of Guéranger reveals that his idea of active participation entailed being attentive to the actions of the priest at the altar, understanding the significance and symbolic meaning of every part of the Mass, knowing and meditating on the liturgical texts, praying with the liturgical texts prior to Mass as preparation for assisting, and above all, it meant making oneself pliable to the awesome and unitive graces readily available and present at the Holy Sacrifice of Christ at the Mass. Calvary is made present to the Christian, and the Christian ought to make himself present at Calvary in turn. I would go even further in adding that this interior active participation entails extending the Church’s liturgy into our homes and places of business by allowing the Mass to shape the whole of our lives, both moral and spiritual. Pope Pius XII wrote in Mediator Dei:
Genuine and real piety, which the Angelic Doctor calls "devotion," and which is the principal act of the virtue of religion—that act which correctly relates and fitly directs men to God; and by which they freely and spontaneously give themselves to the worship of God in its fullest sense—piety of this authentic sort needs meditation on the supernatural realities and spiritual exercises, if it is to be nurtured, stimulated and sustained, and if it is to prompt us to lead a more perfect life. (32)
This liturgical piety, however, remains a nebulous, theoretical reality without a practical means of achieving it. The practical means of achieving this liturgical piety is provided by methods of hearing the Mass. A method of hearing the Mass is a practice or exercise for those hearing the Mass based on the actions and prayers of the ministers at the altar, and many are accompanied by a set of meditations. A method of hearing the Mass is the means to accomplish the kind of active participation that the Church invites her sons and daughters.
There are very many methods, ranging from the very simple and straight forward, such as following along in the missal, reading the liturgical texts in translation as they are being offered at the altar by the priest, to the more complex and meditative, such as those offered by Lady Lucy Herbert, St. Francis de Sales or St. Peter Julian Eymard. Some methods fall in between, such as those methods which suggest reciting given prayers during certain parts of the Mass. A good example of the later would be the methods suggested by St. Leonard of Port Maurice in the early 18th century (The Hidden Treasure: Holy Mass, TAN Books and Publishers).
The more meditative methods provide various meditations, themes and elements on which to focus. Some methods focus on offering adoration, others, thanksgiving and praise, others make intercession to grow in virtue and overcome vice, still others focus on making reparation. The goal is a mystical union with the offering of the priest, and Christ on Calvary, His Resurrection, and His Glorious Ascension into heaven. While using these methods requires greater preparation prior to Mass, they give the faithful a means to participate in such a way that their whole lives are transformed by the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
These methods of hearing the Mass are not private devotions like praying the rosary. There is nothing private about a method intended to unite an individual with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which is the public worship of the Church. By being present at and uniting oneself to the public worship of the Church is to act publicly, not privately. The primary actus, or movement, of “active participation” needs be an internal action of the soul, which perceives, judges and then wills to be united to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. This movement is internal, but is still public because of its object. To meditate on the Passion of Christ, present in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, is something done internally, but it is an activity that mystically joins the individual to the public action of Christ on a much deeper and meaningful level than mere vocal prayers.
These methods of hearing Mass do not prevent one from being attentive to the liturgical prayers or the actions of the priest at the altar. In fact, these methods are dependent on being attentive to what is happening at Mass. The actions of the priest at the altar supersede, or punctuate, meditative methods of hearing the Mass. For example, the bells at the Sanctus invite all the faithful to pray this liturgical text, and the bells at the elevation invite all the faithful to adore the sacred species. Changes in postures act as cues for the faithful to be attentive to the actions at the altar and to allow these actions to move their meditations. Those who use more meditative methods of hearing the Mass need to familiarize themselves with the Propers of the day prior to Mass, thus making the petitions of the Propers their own during the Mass.
These methods of hearing Mass do not exclude those using them from singing the kyriale with the schola or choir, and even aids them in doing so by enriching the liturgical texts of these chants with meaningful meditations. Methods of hearing the Mass can be conceived for sung Masses when the laity sings with the choir or schola, or for the laity who do not sing with the choir or schola due the complexity of the Mass setting.
Thus we return to the question above: is this “following the prayers and actions as closely as possible with one’s mind and body” legitimately equate exclusively with the Dialogue Mass?
As stated, all these various other methods depend on being attentive to the actions of the priest at the altar, and they use cues from the Mass to move and shape meditation and prayer. The more meditative methods require even greater preparation and familiarity with the liturgical texts and Propers than would be required by those simply following along in their missals. Thus, these other methods also help the faithful to follow the prayers and actions of the Mass closely and reverently.
In a footnote, Mr. Tofari references an article that appeared in The Angelus by Fr. Michael Simoulin, SSPX, “Attendance at Mass and Participation in the Liturgy”. This article summarizes a proper understanding of a liturgical piety as an active participation that culminates in praying as the Church intends. Fr. Simoulin notes that:
We must clarify however, that the Church has never wanted to impose categorically that this active participation be accomplished exclusively by chant, responses and position… The temperaments, characters and leanings of men are so varied and different, that not all can be governed and led in the same way with prayers, canticles and common acts. Moreover, the needs of souls and their tastes are not the same everywhere and do not always remain in each and everyone (Pius XII).
Liturgical piety and an active participation called for by the Church can, indeed, be acquired by various methods other than the Dialogue Mass, and the worth of each method is dependent, in large measure, on subjective factors. While the Dialogue Mass does depend on following the prayers and actions at the altar closely, it is clear from what has already been presented that the Dialogue Mass isn’t the only method of hearing the Mass that centers on “following the prayers and actions [of the Mass] as closely as possible with one’s mind and body”. In fact, it should be noted that other methods are better for the purpose of the faithful joining their voices to that of the Church by fostering a genuine interior as well as exterior participation.
Thus, we simply cannot conclude that the Dialogue Mass is the best method of hearing the Mass. However, is it even a good method? The difficulties incumbent in the practice of the Dialogue Mass indicates that it is not.
The first glaring impracticality of the Dialogue Mass is the fact that most of the faithful do not know Latin or how to pronounce it without formal training. An altar boy is trained to correctly pronounce the Latin and to know, even though they might not be fluent in Latin, what each of the responses mean. Not all the laity in the pew will have access to this training, so it is obvious that not everyone assisting at the Mass will be able to join in this method. Thus, we are confronted by a situation wherein some people in the pews are vocally participating in the Dialogue Mass, while others are not. Those who are not “dialoguing” are unable to use other methods because of the distraction caused by those who are “dialoguing”. As was recently pointed out to me by a priest that serves my Traditional Latin Mass Community, those dialoguing in the pews present a distraction for the priest offering the Mass at the high altar. Imagine how distracting the same person would be when they are sitting right behind you! Thus the Dialogue Mass precludes any other method of hearing Mass, much to the detriment of those who are unable to benefit from the same Mass due to the distraction.
Secondly, and following upon the first point, is that rarely do those “dialoguing” get a proper training in how to pronounce the Latin or understand the significance of the prayers. As a result the language is often brutally slaughtered, giving place to a slipshod liturgical practice that has no place in the context of the Immortal Mass. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass deserves better than shoddy and trite praxis.
To illustrate the point consider the importance that traditional priestly fraternities place on every aspect of the Mass. The Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter puts each of their seminarians through a rigorous training program from the first day they enter the Fraternity’s seminary. They assist at the Traditional Latin Mass daily, and undergo very many hours of careful instruction before being allowed to minister at the altar in even the smallest capacity. When a Fraternity seminarian is ordained a deacon he will conduct “dry runs” of the Mass daily in preparation for his priestly ordination. Even the minutest detail of the rubrics or the Latin pronunciation is painstakingly scrutinized every single day. The Fraternity training demonstrates just how precious the Mass is! (What’s more, this is the degree of reverential awe that everyone ought to have for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.) Because of this training, and the engrained reverence for the Mass gained thereby, the priest is the most qualified individual in the Traditional Latin Mass community to conducted altar boy training. Is it the wide spread practice in Dialogue Mass communities that the priest is training each individual in the pews how to properly pronounce the Latin and understand the significance of the prayers? This is never the case, at least to my knowledge, and this reality can do nothing but spread slipshod liturgical practices that run counter to the glorious nature of the Mass, which we ought to cherish as the most precious treasure we possess.
When a fundamentalist Christian takes a single verse out of Holy Writ, and then proceeds to interpret the rest of the Scriptures according to that one verse taken out of context, the Catholic rightly decries the foolishness of the fundamentalist’s error. However, taking a single concept out of context and then interpreting the whole according to that single concept is exactly what both Mr. Tofari and the whole 20th Century Liturgical Movement has done in regards to the concept of “active participation” and the Catholic Mass. This overemphasis on human participation, which is at the root of the Dialogue Mass mentality, more often than not diverts attention from the divine participation. Dom Prosper Guéranger wrote:
The assistance at Mass, if completed by the real participation of the divine victim, unites man to God in an ineffable way by the renovation of his whole being, for it produces an intimate communion between him and the Word Incarnate. But if the Christian who is assisting at the holy sacrifice goes no further than the uniting of his intentions with those of the divine victim, even so, his mere presence at so great an act includes a true participation in the supreme worship offered by this earth of ours to the Majesty of God, in Christ, and by Christ. (The Liturgical Year, Vol. XI, 27.)
It is the divine action, not the human action that makes the Mass, not only efficacious in grace and beneficial for the faithful, but also gives to it splendour and true, spiritual beauty. Human action and participation only helps or hinders one’s experience or communion with the action of Jesus Christ, the primary actor at the Mass. The 20th Century Liturgical Movement placed “active participation” above all other elements of Catholic liturgy, giving the impression that the goal of Catholic liturgy is active participation. The goal of Catholic liturgy, however, is to render fitting worship to God! Active participation is just a tool that ought to aid in rendering fitting worship, and thereby gain the most benefits. It is a means to an end, not the end itself.
If a form of active participation introduces shoddy praxis, hinders suitable worship, or encumbers individuals from experiencing unitive communion, then it cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be considered good. Liturgical dance is a form of active participation, but I doubt Mr. Tofari would call it good or appropriate for the Traditional Latin Mass (or any other form of worship, for that matter). In the same way, the Dialogue Mass, given its practical failures, must be judged a rather poor and defunct method of hearing the Mass.
The second consideration in examining the worth of “dialoguing” as a method of hearing the Mass is the historical claims that Mr. Tofari makes for it. If the Dialogue Mass is simply the way the Church has always done liturgy, then by all means any argument against the Dialogue Mass would be invalid. But is there really any historical pedigree to “dialoguing”, or is the Dialogue Mass nothing more than a capricious and ideologically prompted innovation of the 20th Century Liturgical Movement? I will address Tofari’s historical argument in Part II of my response.