Why choose a particular text?

The other day, someone relatively new to the older form of Mass, told me that an elderly priest had explained to him that liturgical abuses used to happen in the old days with priests saying Mass too hurriedly. The old chap then told him (wait for it...) about how priests used to say the Mass for the Dead whenever it was allowed because it was shorter.

Now there are various possible views on the question of making Mass shorter. St Philip Neri used to remain so long in rapture after Communion that the altar server would leave him and come back later. But this was only at a private Mass. For public Masses, he insisted that priests should stick to 30 minutes maximum because the people might need to go to work and it would be wrong to discourage them from daily Mass.

But if it is to be considered an abuse to choose shorter texts, the abuse has by no means been corrected by the newer form of the Mass. It is very common for Eucharistic Prayer II to be said daily, and even on a Sunday, contrary to advice of the GIRM - simply because it is shorter. It saddens me greatly that some grand celebrations take an hour and a half but Eucharistic Prayer II is chosen because it is shorter - saving perhaps two or three minutes at most.

A further question has bothered me for some time with the new rite. What criteria do you use for choosing any of the options? Which memorial acclamation shall we have today? Which penitential rite? At seminary, we used to sit in small liturgy planning groups and agonise over such things. I suppose it still happens. You could argue that such planning needs to be a part of every liturgy. Frankly, I could not imagine a more inward-looking model of Church than one in which people spent time choosing whether to use Eucharistic Prayer 2 or 3 on Tuesday of the 29th week of the year. In any case, can you really fit one memorial acclamation to the readings more than any other? Let's face it, there is nothing pastoral or liturgical about the choice of texts in many cases. In practice, it comes down to the priest's whim or something like "we'll have number 2 today because we had number 3 yesterday." You might as well do "one potato, two potato, three potato, four..." (Then in Year B we could do "dip dip sky blue...")

So what do I do? When I say Mass in the Novus Ordo, I always use the first penitential rite, the second memorial acclamation (in English - i.e. the one that corresponds to the first choice in the editio typica). Most of the time, I say the Roman Canon although sometimes I say the third Eucharistic Prayer by way of entering into the spirit of the Novus Ordo and not "imposing my views" on others. However I am beginning to think that this is an unnecessary scruple and I am coming round to the view that it would be better simply to return to the Roman Canon for all Masses.

The advantage of this way of "choosing" is that there is less variation from day to day in the ritual of the Mass. The greater regularity "calms" the celebration of Mass a little and offers more opportunity for people to pray using the texts themselves, or to contemplate quietly the mysteries of Christ that are made present.

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