Lazarus-like he rises, to rant

No plaintive excuses, no unconvincing avowals of “I would have if I could have”. It has been busy here, in a disconcertingly unspectacular way. So blogging by your correspondent has been passive not active.

One topic in the past few weeks that has grabbed my attention is the matter of the bidding prayers at Mass. My eye settled first on a post at the New Liturgical Movement (NLM), and then more recently on a pastor’s heartfelt reflection by Fr Ray Blake in Brighton.

At NLM, Dr Kwasniewski rightly laments the general standard of bidding prayers/prayers of the faithful/general intercessions/universal prayer – call it what you will. He urges that they should be solidly founded theologically, well and aptly written, and that they should be sung (after all, if the bidding prayers have any real liturgical pedigree, it is to be found in the litany form).

Fr Blake is more forthright. He “hates” bidding prayers! Even when done with some care and attention he feels it to be like “putting lipstick on a pig”. He laments the lack of any detailed binding rubrics for them, the ease with which they can be abused, and the way they actually serve to make the laity into spectators or an audience at the liturgy, rather than participants.

At weekday Mass here at Douai the practice has developed of allowing prayers from the floor, which does allow lay participation but which also can easily develop into a free-for-all. Sometimes we endure the absurdity of, say, a prayer for a specific dead person being made after the celebrant has already prayed for all the dead. Sometimes prayers are made to acknowledge the presence of someone in the congregation that day, to whom the prayer is relevant in some way.

Almost two years ago there was a post here specifically about bidding prayers and how to do them well and in accordance with the guidelines and liturgical common sense. Then, as now, I took great care with bidding prayers: their content, their order and structure, their proper register and vocabulary, their relative brevity. Indeed I professed myself a “fan of bidding prayers, but only when well done”.

No longer. Like Fr Blake, I am learning to hate them even as I am taking even greater care with those that I make myself. But it is not their openness to abuse, to triteness or sentimental vacuousness, to theological dubiousness, to pandering to the audience (and I do not mean God) that is deciding me against them. It is the fact that they are so contrary to the letter and spirit of Vatican II. (Someone pinch me – did I just invoke the “spirit of Vatican II”?)

The Council, in its great document on the sacred liturgy, decreed that

there must be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them, and care must be taken that any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing (SC,23)

The introduction of bidding prayers into the new liturgy did not grow organically from forms already existing, and whether their introduction has been “genuinely and certainly required” for “the good of the Church” is precisely the point on which so many are casting doubtful glances.

Yet, perhaps the most striking example of how the innovation of bidding prayers is contrary to the council fathers’ expressed intention is revealed when we remember these same fathers stated as one of the norms of liturgical renewal the principle that the sacred rites should be “free from useless repetitions” (#34). In practice after the Council this norm was used to justify the virtual denuding of the Mass of its traditional elements. Almost perversely, the liturgical reformers intruded an innovation that was one great useless repetition – you’ve got it, the bidding prayers.

Before some of you start foaming at the mouth, consider this. The General Instruction for the latest Missal lists the proper order of the intercessions in the prayer of the faithful:

a) for the needs of the Church;
b) for public authorities and the salvation of the whole world;
c) for those burdened by any kind of difficulty;
d) for the local community. (#70)

Now go read any of the Eucharistic Prayers. In fact, read all of them. What we find is prayer and intercession, made at the altar and united directly to the Sacrifice of the Cross, for the Church, the world, the suffering, the dead. It is all there. The bidding prayers/universal prayer/general intercessions/prayer of the faithful (whatever you prefer to call them) needlessly, and less efficaciously, repeat what the principal prayer of the Mass more than adequately covers. So why must we have them?

Fr Blake justly notes that the prayers mark a downward movement between the high points of the creed and the approach to the altar. They could be seen as a disruption, much as the kiss of peace as generally practised disrupts the movement from the sacrifice to communion. All too often they seem to promote a liturgical love-in. If the prayers seek to promote participation, then they fail miserably as the congregation at nearly any Sunday Mass will just be listening to them, not making them. If someone were to counter that the people should be making the prayers their own as they are read out, then we find ourselves back at the Eucharistic prayer, during which the people should be uniting themselves with the priest as he offers petition at the altar. And then and there it really counts!

Is this constant desire to intrude into the Mass episodes of participation, welcome and sharing an unconscious attempt to remedy the sad fact that the majority of Catholics limit their involvement in their parish to attendance at Sunday Mass (if even that). Thus, we have to cram as much ersatz, compensatory community spirit into the beleaguered liturgy to make up for the lack of it outside the Mass. Gone are the days of general membership in one or other of the many groups for both adults and children that gave parishes their vibrancy, and parishioners their sense of belonging in a worthwhile and meaningful way. The manufactured intimacy and enforced gestures of participation so often to be endured at so many Masses are no substitute for this wider participation in the Catholic community.

Tomorrow I will be in Covent Garden offering lunchtime Mass at the delightful Corpus Christi church. Will I put my money where my mouth is?

Peace, out.

Good Friday Respite

Good Friday evening is an oasis of peace for this monastic sacristan. It is grey outside, steadily and consistently drizzling, and drab. Even the lambs were subdued (oh yes, we have seven so far – you will meet them soon). Nature has on her mourning cloths

This respite from the recent hurly-burly and hubbub allows a moment to share a thought that came during the proclamation of the Passion according to St John this afternoon. For no apparent reason, what was striking today was the conclusion of the narrative, the denoument after the death of our Lord. The Twelve have disappeared totally from view, they have fled and melted away, though we can take it as implied that John was faithful enough at the end and went off with Mary, now his mother too.

In place of the apostles, the chosen Twelve, we find much lesser disciples, not part of the inner circle of Jesus’ followers. The secret (“for fear of the Jews”) disciple, Joseph of Arimathea, emerges from his desired and self-preserving obscurity to attend to our Lord’s lifeless body and place it in his own, fresh tomb. Joining him is another obscure disciple of Jesus, “who had previously come to Jesus by night”, Nicodemus, who brings spices and herbs to make a fitting and decent burial. Together they emerge from the darkness of obscurity and pay a sad but solemn homage to our Lord. Not one of the Twelve is in view.

As we know from other passages, by Sunday morning there is still activity about Jesus’ tomb. Not the Twelve, who are locked away together, in self-imposed confinement arising from fear for their own safety; the women , some hitherto nameless, are coming to the Lord’s body in mournful homage.

So the apostolic element is in self-imposed withdrawal while the lesser lights, the members of the general body of disciples, quietly emerge to pay their respects to the Lord, to do him homage, to cherish his memory and, no doubt, his teaching and his hope-filled words.

The moral that came to me is probably obvious by now. Today, when priests are having to write letters to urge a synod of bishops, successors to the apostles, to uphold Catholic doctrine and all that flows from it; when what appear veiled threats emerge from bishops towards them, who urge them not to make trouble but to conform and keep quiet; when laity are signing petitions to support these priests… well you can see it, can’t you? Bishops perhaps a little too filled with the apostolic Good Friday praxis; mere priests and laity emerging from obscurity in quiet fidelity to the teaching and hope-filled words of our Lord – as the preacher says, “there is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl 1:9).

For many of us, far distant from those lands where Christians are literally dying with and for the Lord who was crucified for them as for us, we can share in the way of the Cross by a similar fidelity and devotion to the ecclesial and eucharistic Body of Christ, emerging briefly from our obscurity to pay a decent and devoted homage to him who is the Truth. This becomes an urgent duty when many of the apostles of today shrink from the challenge, and lock themselves in hiding out of fear of secular society.

Perhaps, as on Easter morning, our contemporary apostles need the call to witness that the first Apostles heard on Easter morning. While the shepherds feed the flock, the flock is called to gather about the shepherds to support them, encourage them, make clear to the shepherds their mission, and to be fed by them with Truth.

The Church today needs a few more like Nicodemus and Joseph, to emerge briefly from obscurity to assert their adherence to the Lord even as a hostile society looks on, and mocks or casts stones. Coptic, Assyrian, Chaldean, Melkite, Roman, and other Christians are literally dying for Christ. Can we perhaps take a few metaphorical blows for Christ, in solidarity with them?

Simon of Cyrene takes up Jesus' Cross. From the Stations of the Cross at Sacred Heart church, Beagle Bay (Australia), painted in 1949 by a German Schoenstatt, Sister Roswina.

Simon of Cyrene takes up Jesus’ Cross. From the Stations of the Cross at Sacred Heart church, Beagle Bay in far north-western Australia (and where my nephew is assistant priest), painted in 1949 by a German Schoenstatt, Sister Roswina.

All this laboured concern over the exclusion of divorced and remarried Catholics, for example, from Holy Communion (and not from the Church, let’s be clear) is all a little too much like fiddling while Rome burns. We all have to share in carrying the Cross, even remarried divorcees. There is no other way if we are to be Christ’s disciples. To take it up or shirk it, the choice will always be ours and no other’s.

Wishing you all the blessings of the Triduum.

The 12th Station, from the Stations of the Cross in Douai Abbey church, carved by Fr Aloysius Bloor OSB and designed by Dame Werburg Welch OSB (Stanbrook)

The 12th Station, from the Stations of the Cross in Douai Abbey church, carved by Fr Aloysius Bloor OSB and designed by Dame Werburg Welch OSB (Stanbrook)

Ratzinger 1966 – An Unexpected Prophet, Part 2 Act I (!): Liturgical Reform

Following on from an earlier post dealing with the introductory remarks in then-Professor Joseph Ratzinger’s prescient 1966 article,  “Catholicism after the Council”, it is time to move to the next part of that article, Liturgical Reform. Here again we see that even before the watershed year of 1968 Ratzinger was questioning the implementation of the decrees of the Council in which he played such a major rôle.

(NB By way of experiment Ratzinger’s own words not already blockquoted will be in a different colour to give them their due prominence.)

At the outset of this section of the article, Fr Ratzinger acknowledges a real problem regarding the post-conciliar liturgical reform:

But this very reform, so eagerly longed for and so joyfully welcomed, has become for many people “a sign of contradiction”.

He asserts straight way that “something really great and important” has been achieved in the reform, and introduces the two most common objections being then raised against it. The first is “ the movement towards the vernacular“, which was being lamented by many as denying to “the element of mystery in religion… a language all its own“, and also removing from the unity of the Church’s members across the globe its “linguistic extension… in the language of their worship” and their unity across time in those “who have praised and will praise God in the same way and in the very same language“.

The second feature being lamented was “the movement towards the community and communal worship” which eliminates “a sacred silence which is more suited to the mystery in religious worship than loud speech, a silence in which God can speak more audibly and in which the individual can really encounter his Lord…“, an encounter that suffers in the

uninterrupted succession of praying aloud, singing, standing, sitting, kneeling and so on. Liturgy then degenerates into movement and activity for its own sake, and this takes the place of the one thing that is vital in worship, namely the encounter between the individual soul and God.

Ratzinger has given a remarkably even-handed description of these objections given that he prefaced them by asserting that there would be “no difficulty in dismissing as superficial and unjustified the[se] two objections“. To them he briefly adds a third, “an iconoclastic strain in present-day communal worship” which replaces “artistic treasures of music and song” with

mob declamations which, in their want of taste and dignity, are neither suited to the greatness of the mystery being celebrated nor calculated to attract people to worship – if anything, they have rather the effect of repelling them.

It is worth pausing here to re-read what Ratzinger has just written. He is directly quoting no-one, but presenting in his own words the primary objections to the post-conciliar liturgical reforms as they were already manifesting themselves in Europe in 1966. Even though he feels they can be dismissed, his refusal to caricature or ridicule them suggests already to the alert reader a certain, if incipient, degree of sympathy. Perhaps he is beginning to feel torn.

ratzinger_1960s

 

Professor Ratzinger now sets out to deal with the matters raised by these objections by employing two categories: theory and practice. On the level of theory he seeks to show how untenable he believes these objections are, and how valid are the conciliar principles of liturgical reform. For this post we shall look at his comments regarding the theory; the next post will address his commentary on the practice.

THEORY

Ratzinger has little time for the general tenor of the appeal to mystery:

We can easily prove that the argument about the element of mystery in religion is not a valid one, anymore than is the argument about retreat into the silence of individual piety, not to be disturbed by the community at worship; in fact, both these arguments stem from a basic failure to understand the essence of Christian worship.

He then proposes a more adequate understanding:

The essence of Christian worship is that it is the announcement of the Glad Tidings of God to the congregation bodily present, the answering acceptance by the congregation of this acceptance, and the whole Church talking together to God… Thus the liturgy, viewed solely from its linguistic structure, is built on an intermingling of the “I” and the “ye”, which are then being continually being united in the “we” of the whole Church speaking to God through Christ.

It is important to keep in mind he is speaking of the liturgy through the logic of its verbal structure, how it reveals itself in the language it employs. In a sense, it is to see how the liturgy understands itself through what it reveals of itself in its own language. So in liturgy,

language is not for the purpose of concealment but for the purpose of revealing, it is not meant to allow each one to retreat into the stillness of his own little island of prayer but rather to lead all together into the single “we” of the children of God, who say all together : Our Father.

On this understanding, the subject in the liturgy is not the individual but the Church, in particular the Church as embodied in the congregation gathered for worship. This authentic view is fostered by the conciliar releasing “of the word from the fetters of ritual… [to give] it back its original significance as a word”. He gives a particularly sharply-edged illustration:

We are gradually becoming aware today of how meaningless it was, in fact, of how unworthy and dishonest it was, when the priest prayed before the Gospel that God might purify his heart and lips… so that he might worthily and in a becoming manner proclaim the Word of God, when he knew very well that he was about to murmur this Word of God softly to himself just as he had done with the prayer, without any thought of proclaiming it… The word has lost its meaning and had become an empty ritual, and what the liturgical reform has done here was simply to restore meaning and validity to the word and to the Church’s worship which was enshrined in it.

Ratzinger here touches on a subject that I am yet to see satisfactorily dealt with by more exclusivist proponents of the Extraordinary Form. Silence does indeed have a place in the liturgy, but its true value comes from its contrast to the ritual language and action. Silence allows the word to echo, or resound, in our minds and hearts, to implant itself more deeply within us. This process is short-circuited when there is nothing but word and action. Yet it can never begin unless there are words actually proclaimed in the first place that can then echo in our hearts.

gospel proclamation

Naturally, the words in question are generally those addressed to the people, though it can be argued the the collects and prayers offered on behalf of the people by the priest should be heard by those very same people: it is their prayer too. The silent canon, however, is more easily justified since the words are changeless, needing no fresh proclamation in the ears of the people. It is a most intimate moment of Christ addressing his Father, an intimacy heightened by the inaudibility of its words.

This example from Ratzinger is, I presume, the sort of thing that the Council Fathers had in mind for the liturgical reform: that the ritual words and the ritual action should be more clearly in harmony, and make sense of each other. The attendant danger, of course, is to over-rationalize liturgy, to subject it to the efficiencies of time-and-motion experts, which would be to make it more and more exclusively a work of man. Nor does this mean that the whole of the liturgy was in need of such refinement. It is still totally beyond me why the Eucharistic Canon had to be changed, and even others added. I can find so conciliar justification, however oblique, for this unnecessary tampering.

Ratzinger now moves, reversing the order of the objections, from the matter of the communal nature of the liturgy to the matter of its language, which is to say, its tongue. The argument that the Latin liturgy must be retained so “that the Catholic should be able to find it wherever he goes, even on Mars or the moon…” (NB Ratzinger is not being sarcastic; he is referring explicitly to Friedrich Heer’s critique.) This, says Ratzinger, “would amount to making the liturgy a museum piece, an artistic and aesthetic treasure from the past”. He makes a more positive argument in favour of the vernacular by referring to St Paul’s assertion that he would rather speak 5 intelligible words than 10,000 in a tongue (I Cor 14:19). Though St Paul had in his sights the practice of ecstatic speaking in tongues or glossolalia, nevertheless it is on the basis of this Pauline teaching that “the Greek liturgy, which by this time had become unintelligible, was translated into Latin in Rome in the fourth century, in other words, it was made available again in the vernacular of the time”. Ratzinger cites liturgical historian Theodore Klauser in agreement that the Roman liturgists in the fourth century were confusing the unintelligibility of glossolalia with the incomprehensibility of a foreign language. Nevertheless,

St Paul would have had no objection whatever to this interpretation of his pronouncements; even if he was referring to glossolalic utterances rather than foreign languages, the one was just as much at variance with his idea of liturgy as the other.

Ratzinger dismisses the idea of a language of mystery for the liturgy, as if the veiling of the liturgy in words not understood by the majority somehow safeguards, or even enhances, the mystery embodied in the Sacred Mysteries. The text of the Mass details an engagement, and even a dialogue, at the appropriate times, between priest and people which does not sit harmoniously with the employment of a mystery language. For “it is not the purpose of liturgy to fill us with awe and terror in the presence of sacred things… [nor] to provide a festive and richly-adorned setting for silent meditation and communion of the soul with itself, but rather to incorporate us into the ‘we’ of the children of God”.

That said, there are still compelling arguments for the retention of Latin as the universal language of the liturgy. Its use would eliminate the divisive debates about vernacular translations especially in such political languages as English. Moreover, in a word growing smaller yet more divided the use of Latin would circumvent ethnic and national tensions and provide a point of unity. How tragically absurd it was, for example, that in the wake of the Council the great Catholic University of Leuven/Louvain in Belgium was split in two between Flemish and Walloons, as indeed were some Belgian monasteries.

It is very much a 1960s theologian speaking here. That said, Ratzinger raises issues that still demand the attention of those whose preference is for the pre-conciliar Mass, especially those who would prefer to restore it as the sole liturgical form for the western Church. These issues do seem to be faced in the liturgies of 1964-67, even if by 1967 the observant could see where it would all end in 1970. Ratzinger appears to be one of them, to judge by his critique of the post-conciliar liturgical practice as it was rapidly developing. That critique is for the next post, act II of Part 2!

A sane voice

Reading this piece on Corpus Christi Watershed on the possibility of bad liturgy, in the sense of its manner of celebration, in both the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms of the Roman Rite of the Mass, I was struck by its sanity and reasonableness. What is more, its author, layman Andrew Motyka, articulated superbly my position at this point in time, a position in which I feel confident I do not stand alone:

As someone who grew up with the Ordinary Form, it is my preference. It is what I’ve always known and am most comfortable praying. However, I am grateful for whatever liturgy Holy Mother Church gives me, and I do not resent the EF in any way. Two forms, one liturgy. My greatest preference would be to celebrate the Ordinary Form with a priest who loves the Extraordinary. I believe this to truly be the “mutual enrichment” of which Pope Benedict spoke, and I hope that that enrichment carries into the future to the benefit of both forms.

To be honest, I am finding it very difficult to continue with my abortive attempts to learn the EF of the Mass. Not just practical difficulties are involved, but conceptual and psychological ones. It is still too alien to me. Not that I have any animus towards it, and in fact I cheered as loudly as any when Pope Benedict XVI liberated the old Mass in 2007. After all, just because I have not learned to love it does not mean I think others should be deprived of it. It is a liturgy of the most ancient pedigree, and the vast majority of the saints of the Western Church would have worshipped in and through that Mass. It needs no new apologia; the saints are its apologists.

That said, this concept of mutual enrichment is one that really does engage me psychologically. Perhaps that is partly why I am keen on the Mass forms that appeared in the wake of the Council and before 1970; in them it is possible to discern the old Mass being reformed in light of the express will of the Council. The Missal published in 1965 is a case in point. (Of course, the closer to 1970 we got the more was the Mass tinkered with, or rather, substantially reconstructed.) I can happily strive to be that priest who celebrates the Ordinary Form but loves the Extraordinary. That, for this priest at least, is a more compelling reason to learn the intricacies of the ancient Mass.

We can be sure the heavenly liturgy will not be subject to such debate and contention. With Christ as the unveiled, unmediated celebrant, how it could it be anything other than perfect.

icon-of-christ-high-priest-the-holy-eucharist

 

The Odour of Desperation

Most of the anglophone Church has settled into the use of the revised English missal. Priests are getting to grips with sentences more than a few words long and containing some commas and subordinate clauses, and are doing what we always should have been doing (though sadly some didn’t), namely reading ahead and preparing those parts we have to say. This development has allowed many more people to relax with the new missal, as the mis-readings die off in light of clerical comfort and familiarity with the new, more accurate texts. No doubt most can see that, notwithstanding a few areas that could be improved, this missal is vastly superior to the previous paraphrased one, and brings the verbal content and meaning of our liturgical texts into closer and more obvious unity with the rest of the Church.

However, some people will not give up. Though the mountains may fall and the hills turn to dust, they will never accept the revised missal. So they change the texts to suit their own understanding of liturgy, manifesting at the very least sheer disobedience, and perhaps even an attempt at a type of social engineering. As they get more desperate that they cause is not prospering, they resort to subterfuge to foster the appearance that it is prospering.

The latest instance is the reporting of yet another survey of priests and their opinion of the revised missal. Leaving aside the whole issue of church governance by opinion poll, a little light delving into the reporting of the survey reveals that the dissenters’ emperor has no clothes. The worst offender is the National Catholic Reporter (NCR), which headlines its article “Study indicates wide rejection of new translations by US clergy”. Oh my goodness! How ominous. Patrick Archbold has done what many readers will not do, and read all the way to the end of the article and taken note of what is passed over in silence.

The NCR reporting is alarmist in the impression it gives, though observant readers will see what is going on. An example:

 … 75 percent of respondents said they either “agree” or “strongly agree” that “some of the language of the new text is awkward and distracting.” Forty-seven percent answered “strongly agree” to that statement.

Likewise, an even 50 percent of those answering said they “agree” or “strongly agree” that “the new translation urgently needs to be revised.” 33 percent answered “strongly agree” on that statement.

Now someone who is not reading carefully will not take in the full significance of the word respondent. In light of the misleading headline, they might have the immediate impression that pretty much 75% of US clergy are of the opinion that the missal’s language is “awkward and distracting”, to take one example.

But Pat has read through and discovered the most salient fact of all: 6000 parishes were surveyed, only 539 responded. That is a response rate of less than 9%! So the 75% who do not like the linguistic register of the missal represent only 6.7% of the 6000 actually surveyed. “Wide rejection”?

However Pat seems to have missed one further point. Only 444 of the 539 respondents were actually “US clergy”; the other 75 were “lay leaders”. So it is not even 9% of clergy that is the real survey pool; it is actually only 7.4%. Alas, there is no breakdown on how many clergy responded negatively as distinct form the “lay leaders”, who are likely to have been predominately negative. So, allowing the dissenters their best case scenario, the highest possible percentage for clergy dissatisfaction they can claim on the basis of their survey is 7.4%.

Somehow a 7.4% negative response rate equates to “wide rejection”.

The active opponents of the revised missal may be very loud but they are very few in number. They shout loudly and often, to make one think they are many. They are not many, but their sly fudging of their own statistics reveals that they are increasingly desperate.

The Pray Tell blog, which is partly responsible for the survey, did not even bother to include reference to the dismal response rate to the survey, and thus the tiny portion of clergy it represents, and posted an even more misleading headline. Desperate indeed.

cara

 

 

The Crux of the Matter: the Essence of the Mass

The recent news that the Vatican’s medical commission has confirmed a miracle to the intercession of the Venerable Fulton Sheen is something to should give us great joy, and more, great hope. His beatification could be very near indeed. If ever there was a natural patron saint for the new media, it would be him. The first televangelist, he taught millions across the world the truths of the faith and of Christian living in a style that was accessible and engaging. He used the new media of television and (earlier) radio to reach an audience far greater than any Catholic preacher or teacher had reached before in such a relatively immediate way. He also raised millions of dollars for the missions.

bishop_sheen_on_tv_guide

Of course he presents challenges to some modern Catholics, who might object to his unashamed wearing of his episcopal vesture on television, or suspect him of enjoying his celebrity (of which some in fact did accuse him). Perhaps there was a dash of vanity in him. But canonization does not recognize perfection, for none such is possible for any of us. It does recognize heroic struggle in the quest for holiness. For Archbishop Sheen this involved using his considerable gifts for the benefit of the missions and of the wider Church. He deployed his gifts to maximum effect, and did not pretend that he did not have such gifts, nor did he downplay them. He offered them unreservedly in service of the Body of Christ. In this he comes closer to authentic humility than some might allow him. Humility is to know the truth about oneself and to live by it. Sheen spent an hour every day alone before the Blessed Sacrament in prayer. Here he heard from the Master the truth about himself, and the call to act on that truth.

We have moved far beyond television now, with a whole world of communication beyond Sheen’s conception able to fit into our pockets. Nevertheless if were active today he would have embraced the new media with gusto. Sheen showed how progress could serve Tradition and Truth in any age.

So to talk about the liturgy of the Mass, the highs and lows of its post-conciliar reform and the urgent need for its re-invigoration today, it is necessary that we return to basics. What happens at Mass? What is it for? What is its essential nature? Only with accurate answers to these questions can we approach the problem of liturgical reform.

As a contribution to this project, let me offer you some words of wisdom from the Venerable Fulton Sheen. In particular, it is the Prologue to his too-short but wonderful book, Calvary and the Mass (1936). It may seem a little long on a webpage like this, but it is so readable that you will fly through it. Indeed, try not to fly through it but absorb it. Consider it is an exercise in lectio divina, or meditative reading. To aid this some pregnant phrases or passages will be highlighted in bold, as an invitation to drink more deeply of them in particular. Truly there is full-blown book condensed into this Prologue. Dear Reader, tolle, lege.

And after reading it ask yourself these two questions with a view to liturgical reform: which is more crucial to the Mass – meal or sacrifice?; and, what is it then to participate authentically in the Mass?

calvary and mass

____________________________________________

THERE are certain things in life which are too beautiful to be forgotten, such as the love of a mother. Hence we treasure her picture. The love of soldiers who sacrificed themselves for their country is likewise too beautiful to be forgotten, hence we revere their memory on Memorial Day. But the greatest blessing which ever came to this earth was the visitation of the Son of God in the form and habit of man. His life, above all lives, is too beautiful to be forgotten, hence we treasure the divinity of His Words in Sacred Scripture, and the charity of His Deeds in our daily actions. Unfortunately this is all some souls remember, namely His Words and His Deeds; important as these are, they are not the greatest characteristic of the Divine Saviour.

The most sublime act in the history of Christ was His Death. Death is always important for it seals a destiny. Any dying man is a scene. Any dying scene is a sacred place. That is why the great literature of the past which has touched on the emotions surrounding death has never passed out of date. But of all deaths in the record of man, none was more important than the Death of Christ. Everyone else who was ever born into the world, came into it to live; our Lord came into it to die. Death was a stumbling block to the life of Socrates, but it was the crown to the life of Christ. He Himself told us that He came “to give his life a redemption for many”; that no one could take away His Life; but He would lay it down of Himself.

If then Death was the supreme moment for which Christ lived, it was therefore the one thing He wished to have remembered. He did not ask that men should write down His Words into a Scripture; He did not ask that His kindness to the poor should be recorded in history; but He did ask that men remember His Death. And in order that its memory might not be any haphazard narrative on the part of men, He Himself instituted the precise way it should be recalled.

The memorial was instituted the night before He died, at what has since been called “The Last Supper.” Taking bread into His Hands, He said: “This is my body, which shall be delivered for you,” i.e., delivered unto death. Then over the chalice of wine, He said, “This is my blood of the new testament, which shall be shed for many unto remission of sins.” Thus in an unbloody symbol of the parting of the Blood from the Body, by the separate consecration of Bread and Wine, did Christ pledge Himself to death in the sight of God and men, and represent His death which was to come the next afternoon at three. He was offering Himself as a Victim to be immolated, and that men might never forget that “greater love than this no man hash, that a man lay down his life for his friends,” He gave the divine command to the Church: “Do this for a commemoration of me.”

The following day that which He had prefigured and foreshadowed, He realized in its completeness, as He was crucified between two thieves and His Blood drained from His Body for the redemption of the world.

The Church which Christ founded has not only preserved the Word He spoke, and the wonders He wrought; it has also taken Him seriously when He said: “Do this for a commemoration of me.” And that action whereby we re-enact His Death on the Cross is the Sacrifice of the Mass, in which we do as a memorial what He did at the Last Supper as the prefiguration of His Passion.

Hence the Mass is to us the crowning act of Christian worship. A pulpit in which the words of our Lord are repeated does not unite us to Him; a choir in which sweet sentiments are sung brings us no closer to His Cross than to His garments. A temple without an altar of sacrifice is non-existent among primitive peoples, and is meaningless among Christians. And so in the Catholic Church the altar, and not the pulpit or the choir or the organ, is the center of worship, for there is re-enacted the memorial of His Passion. Its value does not depend on him who says it, or on him who hears it; it depends on Him who is the One High Priest and Victim, Jesus Christ our Lord. With Him we are united, in spite of our nothingness; in a certain sense, we lose our individuality for the time being; we unite our intellect and our will, our heart and our soul, our body and our blood, so intimately with Christ, that the Heavenly Father sees not so much us with our imperfection, but rather sees us in Him, the Beloved Son in whom He is well pleased. The Mass is for that reason the greatest event in the history of mankind; the only Holy Act which keeps the wrath of God from a sinful world, because it holds the Cross between heaven and earth, thus renewing that decisive moment when our sad and tragic humanity journeyed suddenly forth to the fullness of supernatural life.

What is important at this point is that we take the proper mental attitude toward the Mass, and remember this important fact, that the Sacrifice of the Cross is not something which happened nineteen hundred years ago. It is still happening. It is not something past like the signing of the Declaration of Independence; it is an abiding drama on which the curtain has not yet rung down. Let it not be believed that it happened a long time ago, and therefore no more concerns us than anything else in the past. Calvary belongs to all times and to all places. That is why, when our Blessed Lord ascended the heights of Calvary, He was fittingly stripped of His garments: He would save the world without the trappings of a passing world. His garments belonged to time, for they localized Him, and fixed Him as a dweller in Galilee. Now that He was shorn of them and utterly dispossessed of earthly things, He belonged not to Galilee, not to a Roman province, but to the world. He became the universal poor man of the world, belonging to no one people, but to all men.

To express further the universality of the Redemption, the cross was erected at the crossroads of civilization, at a central point between the three great cultures of Jerusalem, Rome, and Athens, in whose names He was crucified. The cross was thus placarded before the eyes of men, to arrest the careless, to appeal to the thoughtless, to arouse the worldly. It was the one inescapable fact that the cultures and civilizations of His day could not resist. It is also the one inescapable fact of our day which we cannot resist.

The figures at the Cross were symbols of all who crucify. We were there in our representatives. What we are doing now to the Mystical Christ, they were doing in our names to the historical Christ. If we are envious of the good, we were there in the Scribes and Pharisees. If we are fearful of losing some temporal advantage by embracing Divine Truth and Love, we were there in Pilate. If we trust in material forces and seek to conquer through the world instead of through the spirit, we were there in Herod. And so the story goes on for the typical sins of the world. They all blind us to the fact that He is God. There was therefore a kind of inevitability about the Crucifixion. Men who were free to sin were also free to crucify.

As long as there is sin in the world the Crucifixion is a reality. As the poet has put it:

“I saw the son of man go by,
Crowned with a crown of thorns.
‘Was it not finished Lord,’ said I,
‘And all the anguish borne?’

“He turned on me His awful eyes;
‘Hast Thou not understood?
So every soul is a Calvary
And every sin a rood.'”

We were there then during that Crucifixion. The drama was already completed as far as the vision of Christ was concerned, but it had not yet been unfolded to all men and all places and all times. If a motion picture reel, for example, were conscious of itself, it would know the drama from beginning to end, but the spectators in the theater would not know it until they had seen it unrolled upon the screen.

In like manner, our Lord on the Cross saw His eternal mind, the whole drama of history, the story of each individual soul, and how later on it would react to His Crucifixion; but though He saw all, we could not know how we would react to the Cross until we were unrolled upon the screen of time. We were not conscious of being present there on Calvary that day, but He was conscious of our presence. Today we know the role we played in the theater of Calvary, by the way we live and act now in the theater of the twentieth century.

That is why Calvary is actual; why the Cross is the Crisis; why in a certain sense the scars are still open; why Pain still stands deified, and why blood like falling stars is still dropping upon our souls. There is no escaping the Cross not even by denying it as the Pharisees did; not even by selling Christ as Judas did; not even by crucifying Him as the executioners did. We all see it, either to embrace it in salvation, or to fly from it into misery.

But how is it made visible? Where shall we find Calvary perpetuated? We shall find Calvary renewed, re-enacted, re-presented, as we have seen, in the Mass. Calvary is one with the Mass, and the Mass is one with Calvary, for in both there is the same Priest and Victim. The Seven Last Words are like the seven parts of the Mass. And just as there are seven notes in music admitting an infinite variety of harmonies and combinations, so too on the Cross there are seven divine notes, which the dying Christ rang down the centuries, all of which combine to form the beautiful harmony of the world’s redemption.

Each word is a part of the Mass. The First Word, “Forgive,” is the Confiteor; the Second Word, “This Day in Paradise,” is the Offertory; the Third Word, “Behold Thy Mother,” is the Sanctus; the Fourth Word, “Why hast Thou abandoned Me,” is the Consecration; the Fifth Word, “I thirst,” is the Communion; the Sixth Word, “It is finished,” is the Ite, Missa Est; the Seventh Word, “Father, into Thy Hands,” is the Last Gospel.

Picture then the High Priest Christ leaving the sacristy of heaven for the altar of Calvary. He has already put on the vestment of our human nature, the maniple of our suffering, the stole of priesthood, the chasuble of the Cross. Calvary is his cathedral; the rock of Calvary is the altar stone; the sun turning to red is the sanctuary lamp; Mary and John are the living side altars; the Host is His Body; the wine is His Blood. He is upright as Priest, yet He is prostrate as Victim. His Mass is about to begin.

A 1965 Missal Surprise

It has been a busy day (and not over yet), in part due to another newborn lamb to attend to. Say hello Flora.

Flora, still a little messy from her birth.

One of my fine blog correspondents (and there are some really good people who drop me a line) has sent me some interesting news, confirming and elaborating information received from another correspondent Michael over at St Bede Studio.

It seems that the 1965 Missal is not as dead as I had thought it to be. The monks at the thriving monastery of Fontgombault have been known to use it. It is reported that in 2011 the 1965 Missal was used for the Mass at which the new Abbot of Fontgombault, Dom Pateau, received the abbatial blessing from the Archbishop of Bourges.

Abbot Pateau receives the mitre

Formidable, Fontgombault! Revive ’65.