Assessing the Dialogue Mass: Part II
The lack of historical precedence for the Dialogue Mass.
The lack of historical precedence for the Dialogue Mass.
For we are God's coadjutors: you are God's husbandry; you are God's building. According to the grace of God that is given to me, as a wise architect, I have laid the foundation; and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. – 1 Corinthians 3:9-10
In the first part of my response to Mr. Louis J. Tofari’s article, “Liturgical Principles & Notions Concerning the Dialog Mass”, I addressed his insinuation that the Dialogue Mass was the “ideal and best method to attend Mass.” When one achieves a deeper appreciation of what “active participation” entails, it becomes clear that, quite to the contrary, other methods of hearing Mass are more beneficial for those striving to unite themselves more intimately with the mysteries represented in the Mass. Given the practical failures inherent to the Dialogue Mass, it can be concluded that far from being the best method of hearing the Mass, it should, quite to the contrary, be avoided, its implementation discouraged, and where already practiced, the laity should be introduced to better methods of hearing the Mass.
However, just as important as these subjective and practical considerations are, the question of the historical authenticity of the Dialogue Mass is crucial. Mr. Tofari spends so much time spinning an argument for the historical roots of the Dialogue Mass because if it can be proven that the Dialogue Mass is historically how Catholic laity have attended the Mass, then all arguments against the Dialogue Mass based on the subjective and practical are invalid. It is my assertion that the Dialogue Mass has no historical pedigree, and is a novelty of the 20th Century Liturgical Movement. Mr. Tofari adamantly disagrees with my position, and I have read and researched his arguments thoroughly. However, I have come to the conclusion that his historical arguments do not overcome my objections.
The Dialogue Mass does not appear in any official Church documents until 1958 with the instruction, De musica sacra et sacra liturgia, which was issued by the Sacred Congregation for Rites, and approved by Pope Pius XII toward the end of his pontificate. De musica sacra et sacra liturgia serves to provide a detailed explanation of what the Dialogue Mass is and what is allowed and not allowed in regards to it.
As explained in De musica sacra et sacra liturgia, no. 31, a Dialogue Mass consists of the congregation making the liturgical responses to the prayers of the priest, “thus holding a sort of dialogue with him, and reciting aloud the parts which properly belong to them.” It is important to note that the Dialogue Mass as explained in De musica sacra et sacra liturgia is to take place during a Low Mass, as indicated by the fact that the instructions concerning the Dialogue Mass is presented in the section of the document dedicated to the Low Mass. Thus, according to this document, it would be an abuse for the congregation to attempt a Dialogue Mass outside of this setting. The same document highlights the importance of the congregation singing the liturgical responses and the Ordinary of the Mass (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei) during a sung Mass. The reason for this is obvious, as the primary form of exterior lay participation, as spelled out in the same document and also very clearly in Pope St. Pius X’s Inter sollicitudines, is to participate in sacred music. It would be both distracting and unbecoming to attempt to say out loud the liturgical responses over and against the choir and congregation. (As an aside, De musica sacra et scra liturgia does not disallow Mass settings that are too complex to allow congregational singing; there is more than one way for the laity to participate in sacred music, but that is a topic for another time.)
De musica sacra et sacra liturgia stipulates four degrees or stages of participation in the Dialogue Mass. The first stage is the congregation making the liturgical responses to the prayers of the priest (i.e. Amen, Et cum spiritu tuo, Deo gratias, etc…). The second stage of participation is to say the prayers that according to the rubrics are prayed by the altar boys (i.e. the Confiteor, Domine non sum dingus, etc…). The third degree of participation is to say aloud with the celebrant those prayers that are part of the Ordinary of the Mass (i.e. the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei). The final stage of participation is to recite the Proper of the Mass with the priest (i.e. the Introit, Gradual, Offertory, and Communion verses). No. 32 of this same document also gives the congregation permission to recite, in Latin only, the Pater Noster with the priest.
The Dialogue Mass as described above, however, was simply unknown prior to the advent of the 20th Century Liturgical Movement. There is absolutely no proof that it was practiced anywhere before its widespread use in the context of the Catholic youth movement, which accompanied the Liturgical Movement, and often acted as the Movement’s proving ground for both liturgical and doctrinal innovations. The Dialogue Mass supplemented other novelties such as the versus populum posture of the priest, Mass “in the round”, and the use of various unapproved Prefaces (many of which were rife with doctrinal errors).
De musica sacra et sacra liturgia, rather than explaining a long established custom with a long historical pedigree, instead succeeded in cementing an innovation, perhaps to set limits to an innovation, or at worst, to further advance the agenda of those liturgists who were responsible for the drafting of the same document. It should be noted for historical clarity, that the same person who was responsible for crafting much of what became the novus ordo, was also responsible for De musica sacra et sacra liturgia, Archbishop Annible Bugnini.
Tofari perceives in his article that there is a lack of historical pedigree to the Dialogue Mass, because he doesn’t dwell very long on the nature or authority of De musica sacra et sacra liturgia. Obviously, liturgical discipline is changeable, and there are ample historical examples of liturgical changes, after being deemed a disservice to the Church, later being jettisoned. A historical precedent must be set, because reliance on De musica sacra et sacra liturgia does nothing more than place the Dialogue Mass on the same level as other 20th century liturgical innovations, thus leaving it open to the same valid criticisms by traditionalists. Tofari must demonstrate that the Dialogue Mass had been handed down to the modern Church, since that is the only argument that can silence the traditionalist critique.
He begins, very early in his article by presenting the various Eastern rites as a kind of historical precedent for the Dialogue Mass. While the dialogue between the priest, deacon, subdeacon and choir/congregation in many Eastern Rite liturgies resembles in some ways a Dialogue Mass as described above, nevertheless, the dissimilarities are greater than the similarities. First, the Dialogue Mass, as described by De musica sacra et sacra liturgia, only takes place in the context of the Low Mass. Historically there is no such thing as a “low” Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. The dialogue that exists in the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom exists, not as a conscious effort to create dialogue for the sake of dialogue, but as a natural evolution of eastern chant at sung liturgies. The same is true in western sung liturgies wherein the congregation is able to chant the various parts of the Ordinary of the Mass due to familiarity born of repetition. Indeed, repetition is the main reason why this “dialogue” evolved in the Eastern Rites. Western liturgy is more varied, thus explaining the uneven development of congregational singing and chanting.
When Mr. Tofari presents the Eastern Liturgies as an example of a precedent for the Dialogue Mass he is simply comparing apples to oranges. The dialogue at the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom represents a long historical and organic development of that liturgy in cultural and historical circumstances very much different from those in the West. Indeed, the precedent is a complete fiction once one considers the fact that the Dialogue Mass should only take place within the context of a Low Mass, and there simply is no such thing as a “low Eastern liturgy.” In any case, historical precedent must be found in the Western Church, not the Eastern Churches. If the various Rites were interchangeable in their form and various elements, then any matching and mismatching between the Rites would be perfectly acceptable. We know, however, that this is definitely not the case.
Mr. Tofari struggles to find this historical precedent in Western Church when he writes:
It is an indisputable historical fact that from the Early Church until approximately the 17th century the faithful in the West customarily participated at sung Masses by alternating with the clerical schola and responding to the sacred ministers.
This is, indeed, a historical fact. However, it doesn’t speak in defense for the Dialogue Mass as described above in the document De musica sacra et sacra liturgia. Once again Tofari is comparing apples to oranges. The Dialogue Mass should not take place during a sung Mass. The reason, according to the only Church document to describe the practice, is the obvious inference that the congregation ought to be participating in the sung Mass by, at the very least, participating in the singing or chanting of the Ordinary of the Mass. One cannot sing the responses and say them at the same time!
It would seem that Mr. Tofari is blurring the most necessary of distinctions between a Dialogue Mass and a sung Mass. There is, no doubt, plenty of historical precedent for the congregation to participate in a sung Mass by singing or chanting the Ordinary of the Mass and other responses. However, this precedent does not supply for something entirely different, i.e. the Dialogue Mass. Mr. Tofari may in his article decry the “Low Mass mentality” that evolved in the Western Church, but he can’t escape the plain fact that the Dialogue Mass, as conceived in the context of the 20th Century Liturgical Movement, evolved from this very same “Low Mass mentality.” The only relationship between the Dialogue Mass and the sung Mass is that the Dialogue Mass is nothing more than a cheap substitute for a sung Mass. At any rate, they certainly are not the same thing, nor do they share the same historical pedigree.
A word should be spoken concerning Mr. Tofari’s resources on this subject. Mr. Tofari cites Dr. Adrian Fortescue and Fr. J.A. Jungmann in defense of his conjecture that there is a historical precedent for the Dialogue Mass. However, it should be noted that neither of these liturgical scholars present proofs of an historical pedigree for the Dialogue Mass. Fortescue wasn’t even aware of such a thing as a Dialogue Mass as described above, and Jungmann was familiar only with the innovations of the 20th Century Liturgical Movement, to which his research in The Mass of the Roman Rite: Its Origins and Development does not speak. Jungmann and Fortescue are excellent resources for defending congregational participation in a sung Mass, but not congregational dialogue during a Low Mass.
More troubling is Tofari’s citation of Fr. Gerard Ellard S.J. and his book The Dialogue Mass. Citing Ellard as an objective scholar in the case of the Dialogue Mass is like asking Mussolini to give an objective criticism of fascism! Fr. Ellard was a radically liberal figure in the 20th Century Liturgical Movement. He was one of the founding editors of Orate Fratres, a periodical used to disseminate the extremist ideas of the 20th Century Liturgical Movement, and he was a close friend and associate of Fr. Virgil Michel, O.S.B., one of the main proponents of versus populum, vernacular liturgies, and many other illicit innovations in the early years of the Movement. Ellard was a co-founder of the National Liturgical Conference, which promoted illicit liturgical innovations. He wrote the books The Mass of the Future and The Mass in Transition, both of which promoted radical changes in the Church’s liturgy to include the abandonment of Latin and the adoption of all-vernacular Masses, the universal use of the versus populum posture, church architecture that would force in-the-round worship, and, of course, strange forms of lay participation to include “dialoguing". To look to Fr. Gerard Ellard, S.J. for support seems like a very strange thing for a traditionalist to do. Mr. Tofari should choose his allies more carefully.
Ellard, relying on his credentials as a medievalist, in his book The Dialogue Mass, makes the claim that medieval congregations participated in Dialogue Masses. However, his claim does not stand up to scrutiny. Liturgy in the 8th, 9th and 10th centuries varied significantly from place to place, and the only sources that give reliable data concerning liturgical practices from this time period come from the monasteries. Ellard, however, does provide much of what we already knew (from better scholars than he) about liturgy in the great Cathedrals and monasteries, all of which points to the importance of the sung Mass and the schola, not the Dialogue Mass. He even admits that his conjectures concerning lay participation during this period haven’t been proven. Indeed! They can’t be proven given the historical resources at our disposal.
Ellard made it a habit to blur the historical facts gleaned from his primary sources. He often claimed his sources were indicating a “dialogue” when in fact they were referring to chanting for a sung Mass. In his book, The Dialogue Mass, he often does not make clear that his sources are monastic in origin, so they do not speak directly to the question of lay participation as practiced in country or town churches. His conclusions about congregational and lay participation are colored, not by objective historical reasoning based on evidence, but by his own ideological presumptions, all of which are categorically false, about the nature of lay participation that were inherent to the radical 20th Century Liturgical Movement.
Of great consequence to Tofari’s argument is the historical research of other medievalists who have come to very different conclusions than Ellard. One example is found in the extremely thorough work of Eamon Duffy in his The Striping of the Altars. He writes:
The Candlemas ceremonies help to emphasize a distinctive feature of late medieval liturgy, one which brings it close to the practice of private meditation. This tradition, embodied in such works as the Meditationes Vitæ Christi, stressed the spiritual value of vivid mental imagining of the events of the life of Christ, especially his Passion, to “make hym-selfe present in his thoghte as if he sawe fully with his bodily eghe all the thyngys that be-fell abowte the crosse and the glorious passion of our Lorde Ihesu.” This search for spiritual communion with God through vivid picturing of the events of Christ’s life and death was, of course, evolved as part of an individual and intensely inner spirituality. But it came to be applied to the liturgy itself, and to be seen as the ideal way of participating in the Church’s worship. The pious lay person at Mass was urged to internalize by such meditation the external actions of the priest and ministers. The early sixteenth-century treatise Meditatyons for goostely exercise, In the tyme of the masse interprets the gestures and movements of the priest in terms of the events of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, and urges the layman to “Call to your remembrance and Inprinte Inwardly In your hart by holy meditation, the holl processe of the passion, frome the Mandy unto the point of crysts deeth.” The effect of this sort of guidance was to encourage the development of representational elements in the liturgy and to set the laity looking for these elements. (19)
Duffy’s analysis of common medieval practice among the laity almost entirely contradicts Ellard’s conclusions. It is somewhat understandable, since Ellard chose to look only toward monastic practice and the actions of the clerical schola in order to find what he was looking for. He illegitimately applied what he found among the monks and the clerical scholæ to the laity. Duffy, on the other hand, lacking Ellard’s ideological preconditions to his research, presents a more historically accurate picture of how the laity participated in the Mass during the medieval period. That participation strikingly resembles the methods of hearing the Mass that we presented in the first part of our study, and is entirely dissimilar to the kind of participation envisioned for the laity in the Dialogue Mass!
Mr. Tofari’s use of Fr. Ellard in support, however, doesn’t compare to the mental gymnastics he asks of his readers when he attempts to use the motu propio of Pope St. Pius X, Inter sollicitudines, in defense of the Dialogue Mass. Mr. Tofari writes:
Having provided the foundation for restoring congregational singing, the motu proprio also inspired the logical adaptation of similar participation at Low Mass, but in a vocal manner, called by some “choral speaking,” and known today as the Dialog Mass (Missa Recitata).
In reality, Inter sollicitudines doesn’t even address lay participation at Low Mass. The motu propio was intended to address the reform of sacred music, and lay participation in sacred music during sung Masses! Where does Mr. Tofari get the idea that Pope St. Pius X, by way of his motu propio, “inspired” the Dialogue Mass? Well, if we follow his footnote, we soon find out: Fr. Gerald Ellard, S.J., and from one of his most radically liberal books, no less, The Mass in Transition! Mr. Tofari has picked up Ellard’s rose colored glasses.
Mr. Tofari goes on to assure us that this inspiration took root so quickly because the idea of the Dialogue Mass was already ingrained in the life the Church. Tofari writes:
Having its roots around 1909, this development took only a few years to occur, which should not surprise us, as similar ideas and practices were being advocated as early as the late 17th century.
What are these roots in the 17th century? Tofari references Alcuin Reid’s The Organic Development of the Liturgy concerning two Latin-English prayer books for use during Mass (books, the likes of which, by the way, Mr. Tofari had disparaged earlier in his essay) published in 1676 and 1688. The latter “instructed the faithful to respond during the Preparatory Prayers and the Sucipiat”, and the one published in 1676 suggested “something similar”. It is worth taking a look at the actual footnote in Reid’s book, which highlights that these examples were exceptions, and definitely not universal practice, as Tofari suggests. These exceptions indicate, at best, an interest in promoting a liturgical piety more connected to the actions and prayers of the Mass, but this is only conjecture. Reid states that they “avoided censure”, not that they were universal or even widespread. This perhaps speaks to a desire to reform lay participation in the mid-17th century, but nothing more, and it certainly shouldn’t be construed as license for a practice that is akin to the Dialogue Mass as explained above. At any rate, two 17th century prayer books, which present an exception that was allowed, certainly do not stand up as overwhelming evidence in comparison to a mountain of prayer books and devotional materials intended for use during Mass, no matter good or bad, which indicate a very different form of lay participation common in the 17th and 18th centuries.
While Mr. Tofari has chosen to conclude the plausibility of historical precedence for the Dialogue Mass by considering the ramblings of Fr. Ellard, a radical Modernist of the 20th Century Liturgical Movement, and a scant trace of evidence from two obscure references in 17th century hand missals, it seems more reasonable to conclude, looking at the actual historical evidence, that the Dialogue Mass is a novelty of the 20th century rather than a product of any previous generation. Whatever evidence Mr. Tofari presents in his assertions to the contrary either refers to Ellard’s imaginings, which are starkly contradicted by other historians, or sources that are concerned with sung Masses and sacred music, not Low Masses. For example, Tofari refers to a letter by Pope Innocent III (1216) concerning the faithful’s response of “Amen” to the Collects, and the saying of the Suscipiat, but this letter is referring to a Pontifical Mass, which was sung.
Much of what Mr. Tofari presents in defense of the Dialogue Mass is actually a defense of lay participation in sacred music. There’s no argument that the laity ought to participate in Mass in this manner. However, this does not constitute a defense of the Dialogue Mass as explained in the document De musica sacra et sacra liturgia. Quite to the contrary, Tofari’s evidence highlights the historical importance of the sung Mass. This doesn’t argue for, but against the Dialogue Mass, since the Dialogue Mass, as presented by De musical sacra et sacra liturgia, can only take place in the context of the Low Mass. Looking at the evidence objectively, and without the prism of Modernism employed by Ellard, the history of the Dialogue Mass can be traced back, at the earliest, to maybe 1908. Even if we could trace it back that far, it must be admitted that it was practiced as an innovation, among so many others, by the movers of the 20th Century Liturgical Movement.
Novelty isn’t a bad thing, in and of itself, as long as those novelties do not contradict Tradition or give scandal. After all, Our Blessed Lord told His disciples: “Therefore every scribe instructed in the kingdom of heaven, is like to a man that is a householder, who bringeth forth out of his treasure new things and old” (Matthew 13. 52). There are, indeed, new and old methods of hearing the Mass. It can even be said there are as many methods of hearing the Mass as there are days in the liturgical year, and people in the pews. No one should be frightened of a new method of hearing the Mass. Traditionalists have demonstrated since the 1970s that a full and fruitful hearing of the Mass is more likely to occur in the context of the Traditional Latin Mass, even a Low Mass, wherein the layman is freed from the rigors of rote responses and liturgical “actions” that distract from meditation and unitive prayer. Traditionalists, then, should certainly not be frightened of the Dialogue Mass based solely on the fact that it is an innovation. Rather, traditionalists look with suspicion on the Dialogue Mass for two reasons: it is a poor method of hearing Mass, as we concluded in the first part of this investigation, and because historically it is, indeed, the precursor of, having the same roots and architects as, the novus ordo Missæ, thus open to the same valid and well founded traditionalist criticisms. The historical record demonstrates that the Dialogue Mass is not traditional, in any sense of the word.
There is, no doubt, a personal and subjective reason for Mr. Tofari’s vehement defense of the Dialogue Mass. It is obvious that Mr. Tofari has a definite attachment to the Dialogue Mass, and it has, no doubt, been at some level beneficial for him. This is the same obstacle often faced by traditional Catholics when they are confronted with those who impossibly defend the novus ordo as an equally authentic and divinely pleasing liturgy as the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. One must overcome personal attachment and familiarity, even to a clearly inferior form, before one can recognize the beauty and spiritual fecundity of the higher order. I’m convinced that once Mr. Tofari sets himself free from the shackles of the Dialogue Mass, he will discover the greater freedom and benefits of more meditative and unitive methods of hearing the Mass.
We cannot, at this hour, deny certain realities about the crisis that we find ourselves in, and the saddest aspect of this crisis is what the Modernists have done to the liturgy of the western Church. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the center of the life of the Church Militant. Indeed, Pope St. Pius X began his motu propio, Inter sollicitudines, expressing this very same sentiment:
Among the cares of the pastoral office, not only of this Supreme Chair, which We, though unworthy, occupy through the inscrutable dispositions of Providence, but of every local church, a leading one is without question that of maintaining and promoting the decorum of the House of God in which the august mysteries of religion are celebrated, and where the Christian people assemble to receive the grace of the Sacraments, to assist at the Holy Sacrifice of the Altar, to adore the most august Sacrament of the Lord's Body and to unite in the common prayer of the Church in the public and solemn liturgical offices. (No. 1)
That the radicals of the 20th Century Liturgical Movement used the Church’s liturgy to advance their doctrinal ideas is an unavoidable conclusion. That they largely succeeded due to the lack of vigilance on the part of our churchmen is also, unfortunately, another inescapable conclusion. An honest historical study reveals that the Dialogue Mass was a novelty created by the radicals of the 20th Century Liturgical Movement. As such, this particular novelty carries with it underlining presuppositions about lay participation that run counter to the traditional understanding of the Mass and liturgical piety that Pope St. Pius X took for granted and Pope Pius XII explicated in Mediator Dei.
This subject, therefore, cannot be taken lightly. No matter the attachment that some traditional Catholics might have to the Dialogue Mass, it is imperative that pastors of Traditional Latin Mass communities understand the practical danger that “dialoguing” can have, in that it impedes the faithful under their care from hearing the Mass with the greatest devotion and benefit. It is equally imperative that the laity educate themselves and their neighbors about traditional liturgical piety that renders the most fitting worship possible, and renders the greatest benefits, such as unitive prayer and contemplation. Finally, those of you who have been enmeshed in a Dialogue Mass mentality, I challenge you to set aside “dialoguing” and experiment with other methods of hearing the Mass. I promise that you will be delightfully surprised with what you have been missing.