Exploring the EF

So much has happened in the 9 months since I last decided to write down my thoughts on anything. Particularly the fact that we now have a baby, who is coincidentally 9 months old. We also now live in the north of England, in a beautiful part of the country, with fields behind the house and hills in all directions. The community here is lovely and all in all, life is good.

I never intended to become an EF-goer. Whilst I don’t subscribe to the Holy Father’s idea of young people who attend the EF as rigid, I simply felt that I would rather be part of a normal parish meeting other Catholics who lived locally. I remember going to an Anglo-Catholic parish in my childhood and the people who attended were often quite scattered as they would travel up to an hour to attend. I’d rather feel myself part of a local community of ordinary Catholics, rather than like a special interest group.

That was, until we went to Mass at our local parish, and even my not-massively-fussed-about-liturgy husband said ‘we can’t go there every week, it’s horrendous.’ Suffice it to say that the only Sunday Mass is a family Mass, and we don’t really want our son growing up to think he’s the centre of attention, rather than what’s going on at the altar. Enough said on that score, I think. Anyway, we went to another Church in the parish for their early Mass (same Priest but much more reverent Mass), but we found that getting there early in the morning was causing problems. Far be it from me to wake a sleeping baby before he’s ready, that way a world of misery lies.

There was an alternative. There is a local EF Mass at a sensible time of day, every Sunday. We never really intended to become regular attenders, but somehow we have slipped into that pattern. I’m still not up to speed with the EF Mass but getting there. Here are some of the things I’ve noticed:

  • It’s not so different after all. I was fully expecting the EF to be totally different to the Novus Ordo Masses I’ve attended. In actual fact, most of it is very familiar. It’s in Latin of course, but we used to attend a Latin NO Mass anyway so that’s not a problem. The Priest here makes it a dialogue Mass, so actually we are saying quite a few responses. I have mixed feelings about that, because I actually quite enjoy the silence, and I am still getting used to the responses in the EF (rather than having them off by heart as I would do in a NO Mass), so it feels like a bit of an effort. But sometimes I just listen, rather than joining in with the responses, and that feels fine too.
  • The order is sometimes a bit confusing. The thing I like about the NO Mass is its logical sequence. The EF (especially the introductory rites) takes a bit of getting used to, because it seems to jump around a bit compared to the liturgy I recognise. There is a fair amount of what feels like repetition. However, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just not something I’m used to yet. It feels like what it is: a liturgy which has grown organically over time.
  • The readings. I am sad that we don’t follow the same lectionary as the rest of the Church. That said, I can look them up afterwards, I just need to remember! It feels strange not having anything from the Old Testament. But on the other hand, the translation is much better than the uninspiring one that’s used for the new lectionary.
  • The silence. I like it. It gives me time to reflect (or, more often than not, to wrestle with a very lively baby who’s trying either to pull my hair or chew the pew in front). I can see why some people might find it off-putting not to be able to follow exactly what is going on during the Eucharistic Prayer, but I’ve started to get used to the gestures of the Priest, and also be less fussed about knowing exactly where we are at any given moment, and try to pray more generally instead.
  • The reverence. It’s not so much that I have a particular attraction to the EF, but I love the way the Mass is conducted. The Priest’s gestures, the actions of the servers, the kneeling, the fact that we don’t all stop for a jolly hand-shaking and chatting session just before Communion, receiving at the altar rail, all of these add to the reverence of the Mass. The annoying thing is, these are all things which could happen in the NO, but they tend not to (although there are honourable exceptions). With the EF it’s mandated, so it happens, which is nice.
  • The children. I suppose because, like in the Anglo-Catholic Churches, people come from further afield. It’s a relatively small congregation but there are quite a few families. There are a couple of young men who serve (incredibly well) at the altar. I was expecting maybe one family but actually about half the people who attend come with children. I was warned that all families who attended the EF were slightly weird, but now we’re one of them I’m willing to believe that not all of them are… Seriously, though, I am amazed by (mostly) how well behaved the children are, and how involved and dedicated the young servers are. That’s something for our son to look up to as he gets older.
  • The veiling. Not everyone does. That’s something I was worried about before I went because I have never done it and at the moment I’m not comfortable with the idea (I feel as if I’d be doing it for the wrong reasons). I will probably end up compromising with a hat, but quite a few of the ladies are bare-headed and nobody seems to mind. Head coverings are something I still need to think about so we’ll see on that score.
  • The community. This is where I have struggled the most. There isn’t much of a chance to get to know people, because it’s not a parish as such. Lots of people come from further afield, and everyone leaves straight after Mass, it’s not as if there is any coffee or anything. I know that’s not what we go to Mass for, but it would be nice to get to know other Catholic families. on the other hand, we’re gradually starting to talk to people when we leave the Church, so I think it will happen, but slowly.

The lovely thing is that our son absolutely loves being in Church. There is so much to look at, people to flirt shamelessly with, and areas at the back to crawl around when he can’t sit still. He rarely cries, but does chat a lot, and the rest of the congregation are absolutely lovely – we have never had a single frown or anyone looking as if they’d rather he was quiet (let’s face it, you can’t make a 9 month old be quiet even if you try). I am hoping that if we keep going to the EF (which, at the moment we will), he will grow up still enjoying coming to Mass, as so many others there seem to. Let’s hope so anyway!

So all in all not what we intended when we first moved up here, but it’s funny how things never turn out the way you expect. We’ll see how things go, and whether we keep attending the EF, but I have to say that given everything that’s happened in the last few months, the words often come into my head: ‘…so he bringeth them unto the haven where they would be.’

 

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