Last weekend I attended the Extraordinary Form Mass at Our Lady, Star of the Sea in Jackson, Michigan. I am blessed to live within an hour of several weekly EF Mass options and Star of the Sea is a beautiful historic urban church particularly well suited to the splendor of the Mass of Ages (pictured above).
I was feeling kind of lethargic and depressed when I went in. I didn't bother picking up the Mass booklet or the printed worship aid. I wasn't interested in following along or anything. I just slumped down and leaned my head on the pew in front of me and started to pray.
The music was beautiful, though, as always. It's easy to just relax and let the chant seep into your heart the way the smoke of the incense wafts into your head. I confess, by the time the Kyrie had begun, I was kind of in my own inner world. The beauty of the music had got me moved and I began contemplating the issues in my life, sorting through my troubles and bringing them before God.
I continued in this manner for some time, nominally going through the motions of standing, kneeling, etc. but the entire time deeply immersed in my own inner life and not giving much heed to externals. I don't think I even noticed the homily.
Before I knew it, it was the final blessing and the Last Gospel. It was then that I realized that I had been in prayer the entire Mass. I don't think I have ever prayed continuously through the entirety of a Mass before, not like this at least. And I felt great afterward.
As I left the church, I realized that such an experience probably could never have happened at a Novus Ordo Mass. The Novus Ordo has too many "interruptions" and makes too many external demands upon the worshiper with the gestures and responses one is expected to make. The "active participation" that the architects of the Novus Ordo envisioned too often turns out to be a kind of surface activism ("I'm participating because I am physically moving and saying lots of things"). If I were to spend the entire Novus Ordo in prayer in this manner, it would necessitate me positively tuning out of the Mass—intentionally ignoring the liturgy.
Now it's true that in a certain sense, I was not paying attention to the Mass in this experience either, but not in the same way. I didn't have to tune out of the Mass. It was more like, the very structure of the Mass itself allowed for this particular sort of experience of it. It is as if in the Extraordinary Form, there is a hidden "low road" built into the form of the liturgy itself that allows oneself pass through it in a contemplative "mode." I'm grasping at straw trying to explain what I mean, but hopefully my meager words convey the substance of what I am getting at.
I'm not one of those people who believes the Novus Ordo is intrinsically offensive to God or impious or anything like that; but between the NO and the EF, it is crystal clear which one has a structure more conducive to prayer.