I spent a lot of time today thinking about the Tridentine Mass I attended yesterday. It was such a different experience from anything that I have had before. I started to wonder what it would have meant for all those centuries to someone who was illiterate, as most of the congregation would have been for most of history. What would it have meant to them? A lot apparently.
Would they have understood what was going on, and what would they have been doing during the Mass? The priest yesterday evening when I was talking to him afterwards said that they would have been saying the Rosary. He also spoke of how the silent parts of the Mass were like the times when the High Priest went into the Holy of Holies. The congregation remained outside and could not see what was going on.
One thing I was certain of was that I was going to experience this again. I also began to realise why in the early church the catechumens were excluded after the readings. Everything about this was holy in a way I hadn't appreciated before.
Today's Mass by comparison is as if the whole congregation had been allowed into the Holy of Holies. I began to wonder why it had been changed. If it was the will of the Holy Spirit, why had He waited for 1,900 years or so? If the old Mass wasn't His will, why had he allowed it to develop in this way for so long? I have no answers to these questions.
Another question: if the old Mass was God's will, then will he change the Mass back again?
I suppose that most Catholics younger than myself have no more conception of what the Mass was like than I did as an Anglican. I will probably mention it at tomorrow's RCIA, and see how much knowledge there is of it. I can't see though that there would be likely to be much desire for it to go back to what it was. I think most people would much prefer the Mass as it is.
Today I came to another realisation, which is that God tells us what not to do, as well as what to do. This is hardly a difficult conclusion to come to considering the number of prohibitions in the Bible! But for some reason it had never occurred to me that when seeking God's will moment by moment, he was just as likely to tell what not to do as what to do.
This has in fact made a considerable difference to me today. Up to now, I have (in theory) been waiting for a positive impulse from the Holy Spirit before doing anything. Now this is incredibly difficult to do, especially when one is in the midst of one's daily work. So even on my best days I have only succeeded in hearing the Lord for short periods. This has been a source of anguish and frustration to me.
But as soon as I realised that I could also listen for the Lord telling me not to do things, life became much easier. I found that I didn't have to wait for a positive impulse. I could just start doing whatever I felt like doing, and if it wasn't right I would be told not to do it. Like the positive instructions, this is felt as an internal impulse - but is much easier to hear. I found that I could work much better and more confidently as a result. It's a very good guide to the "one right thing" that I should be doing, because if I try to do anything else, I get told it's wrong!
Now, why is it easier to hear a negative than to hear a positive? I can't help thinking back to my own experiences as a parent - it's much easier to tell your children what not to do, than what to do!
But I think the real reason is that if I am listening to God for what to do, the choice is infinite. I could do virtually anything next. I could answer my email, go for a walk, jump out of the window, phone up a friend and try to convert them, stand on my head, etc. etc. So to hear what God wants me to do I have to hear one thing out of all those possible things.
But if for instance I decide that I'm going to go for a walk, I either hear "No" or nothing. If nothing, I can assume it's all right. If "No", I can try something else. At the moment of hearing God, there is only a possibility of a Yes or No answer, instead of an infinite number of possible answers.
I am still open of course to receiving positive instructions from God. And indeed my experience today has been that it's easier to hear them in these circumstances.
So I feel that I have made a definite move forward today. Instead of thrashing around in the dark as I have been for months, it feels that I have come into the light. That is encouraging. I feel that the Lord has been testing me over this time to see if I really mean it when I say that I want only to do his will. I hope that his conclusion is that I do!
I think I wrote earlier in this blog that the way the saints succeeded in achieving so much was by building one perfect action on top of another perfect action, and the result was that everything got transformed. I certainly haven't felt that up to now I have built anything very much. Are things about to change? A lot of things have been different today in the way that I have tackled them. I have been more confident, less distracted, less short of time, and I hope clearer about God's will.