A while back I promised Phil
some further comments on liturgy, and I have not forgotten. (Given the verbiage I am about to unleash, some may wish I had!) A recent exhchange at Catholicism, Culture, and Politics
has pushed this to the fore, so I will take the plunge now.
In the midst of his excellent reflections on the sacraments, Concerned Catholic let slip the following:
I am not the type to walk into a folk 'Mass' where the Redemptionis Sacramentum is being ignored and to refuse to take Communion. I can believe that the Sacrament of the Eucharist is still valid, regardless of the priest's intentions or beliefs; however, I would likely not make it a regular habit of attending Mass with that priest.
I took some exception to this way of handling it, on the basis of the teaching that, in order for a sacrament to be valid, the priest must intend to do as the Church does, which is highly questionable given the spirit of these "folk masses". After a bit of exchange, I discovered a more precise formulation. St. Thomas indeed teaches
that "it is necessary that [the priest] intend to do that which Christ and the Church do", but in response to the objection that "one man's intention cannot be known to another", answers that "in the words uttered by him, the intention of the Church is expressed; and that this suffices for the validity of the sacrament, except the contrary be expressed on the part either of the minister or of the recipient of the sacrament".
This is reassuring, especially with respect to the "simple, people of the earth" whom CC does not want to see "condemned because of their priest's heterodoxy". It's a great relief to me, given how many suspicious Masses I've unfortunately attended.
I don't think it settles the question, though. There is something to be said about the qualification, "except the contrary be expressed on the part either of the minister or of the recipient of the sacrament". And also lots to be said against minimizing the damage of bad liturgy, even if technically valid.
Let me give a little background on how I think the Mass has to be viewed. But first let me say I am not a theologian or even a lifelong devout Catholic. My return to the Faith was fairly recent, and any significant instruction I have dates from a couple years ago. The circumstances of trying to practice Catholicism seriously in today's environment have forced me to do a number of crash courses in vital areas, however, and I have applied some brain cells to these things, for whatever that's worth. Still, it is the importance of the topics more than my expertise that causes me to speak, and I welcome valid correction on anything.
There are basically two features I want to note about the Catholic Mass: it is the real Sacrifice of Our Lord on Calvary perpetuated by the Church as He commanded; and consequently it is a conduit of God's grace (and the resultant virtues of character and soul) to those who properly participate. I say consequently because the first causes and defines the second, as I shall try to explain.
The Mass is the real (unbloody) Sacrifice of Our Lord for our sins. Since we are redeemed by His merits in that most holy of acts, we need access to the act (His death on the cross). This is made possible through Transubstantiation, or the consecration of bread and wine such that they actually become the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. Otherwise, we would have to receive grace by contemplation of a remote historical event, which would be an exceedingly weak source given the way the human mind works; or from some action of the Holy Spirit here and now disconnected from that Sacrifice and hence from the Second Person of the Trinity who brought us the Spirit in the first place -- hardly a sensible theory.
So much for the dogma. Now how does this relate to the Liturgy?
The chief purpose of Liturgy is to achieve Transubstantiation and give us access to God's grace. But the technical validity of the Sacrament does not settle the issue, for we cannot receive that grace if we are not aware of what's going on and do not approach the Sacrament with the right intentions and right disposition.
And let's be real. Though there is nothing difficult about these dogmas seen in the proper light, they are "abstract" from a human point of view and far from "common sense" if this is defined without relation to proper Catholic formation.
I went to church all through childhood and young adulthood having only the faintest clue about Transubstantiation and knowing next to nothing of its signifiance in my life. In part this was due to bad catechesis or lack thereof. But that's not all. For even if we know what the Mass is and what it does, it isn't something that's easy to visualize or keep in mind. It's not easy to achieve the right disposition in these matters; we need help.
Thus, by and large, our full reception of grace depends on the invisible truths of Sacrifice and Transubstantiation being made visible to us -- through Liturgy. This is its secondary though absolutely vital task -- for we will not receive the benefit of Christ's merits (or not as much as we should) without it. Everything in the Mass ought to be visibly directed toward our participation in the Holy Sacrifice that IS the Mass, or someone is sleeping on the job.
How is this done? In describing this, I will simultaneously give my critique of what is commonly done today, and thus what is at the heart of the Church's problems in my opinion. In doing this my framework will be as follows: I will compare the Tridentine Mass
, which I regularly attend, with the standard freewheeling liberal Mass of today, of which I've had nauseatingly much experience.
Let me insist that I'm not one who claims that only the Tridentine Mass is valid, and I don't mean to deny or overlook all the reverent and piously done versions of the New Mass out there. In particular, I would point out right now that the Novus Ordo
Mass in Latin is only a truncated form of the Tidentine Mass -- not as good in my opinion, but largely the same. It's mainly the purposefully and malevolently distorted English translation of the New Mass that makes it a travesty in my eyes, though it's the liberalization of even that bad translation that accounts for some of the more truly unendurable things I will mention. I make no attempt to sort all these gradations of problems out in this post, else it would be book length.
But I will say right now that if you go to EWTN
, Ignatius Press
, Adoremus Bulletin
, and other places that are part of the Catholic conservative movement, you will see people addressing the issues I'm talking about in more or less the way I think is necessary.
The first thing to note is that the old texts always emphasized that Mass is a Sacrifice, while the new tend to refer to it exclusively as a communal meal. This latter practice points to the Protestant intention of denying the Transubstantiation, which ramifies through and explains the malevolent intentions behind all of the changes I will note.
The old Mass refers dozens of times to the Sacrifice, which actually takes place about 3/4 of the way through. In fact, virtually everything before and after Communion refers to it, as I'll touch on in a moment. There are fewer explicit references in the New Mass (Latin) to the true nature of the Eucharist, yet fewer in the English bastardization, fewer still in the improvised little speeches many priests substitute for the written prayers they are supposed to say.
A few things on church structure. The Tabernacle is where the Sacred Host -- the Body of Our Lord -- is housed between Masses. Traditionally it was on the altar in the sanctuary, which was blocked off from the rest of the church by a rail. Thus, the Holy of Holies (going back to the Old Testament when God walked among the Hebrews and led them out of Egypt) is visible for all to see at all times. That is why we genuflect when entering, and a sense of quiet and reverence pervades the place even when Mass is not being said.
Today altar rails are gone, the sanctuary is just a raised spot skipped over at whim, the crowd often encircles the sanctuary (churches have been gutted and rebuilt to make this so), staring at itself as much as anything else; and the Tabernacle is gone, off to the side if one is lucky, in a back room all too often (in the equivalent of a broom closet in the church where I grew up!).
If you ask why the Real Presence of the Lord is not given centrality anymore, the answer tends to be "we are the church", a heresy. Actually, the Church is the body of which Christ is the head. In coming together we do not of ourselves constitute the Church; only in uniting in facing Our Lord, our beginning and end, do we become what we are, head and body, fully the Church. This is prevented or largely obscured by the deplorable practice of sticking Christ in the corner or back room.
In the old rite the priest almost always faces the Tabernacle as do the people. We are all united in looking to our God. We are one people, He is our Lord. Now the priest faces the people, so as not to offend democratic sensibilities. This means people are looking at each-other, not God. It suggests humanistic self-worship, and tends in that direction.
I will skip over sprinkling with holy water and the use of incense, which are beautiful but inessential. The Tridentine Mass begins with an acknowledgement of the distance between us and God brought about by sin as encountered in the world. It repeats the phrase, "I will go in to the altar of God, the God of my gladness and joy." It speaks of the anguish of soul resulting from being separated from God and the joy of finally being reunited with him. It prepares us for the series of prayers that dwell on our sin, the need for purification, various stages and forms of purification and preparation, and the magnification of the desire to approach ever closer to God.
These prayers unfold from here, beginning with a double Confiteor where the priest confesses to the people and the people confess to him. This reminds us of the necessity of seeking penance through the Church's sacraments, administered by priests to the people, whereas the single Confiteor (often even omitted today) of all to one another feeds the illusion that we need not seek absolution outside of Mass, that we are one amorphous democratic love-fest of a "church".
Before the priest reads the Gospel, he says "Cleanse my heart and my lips, O Almighty God, Who cleansed the lips of the Prophet Isaiah with a burning coal.
In Your gracious mercy deign so to purify me that I may worthily proclaim Your holy Gospel." This is but one example of the brilliant poetic imagery, taken from the Holy Scriptures, that pervades this Mass, some wonderful instances of which are missing from the new. (I have italicized the omitted part.)
For another example, as the priest washes his hands before consecrating the Host, he says:
I wash my hands in innocence, and I go around Your altar, O Lord, giving voice to my thanks, and recounting all Your wondrous deeds. O Lord, I love the house in which You dwell, the tenting place of Your glory. Gather not my soul with those of sinners, nor with men of blood my life. On their hands are crimes, and their right hands are full of bribes. But I walk in integrity; redeem me, and have pity on me My foot stands on level ground; in the assemblies I will bless You, O Lord.
The New Mass: "Lord, wash away my iniquity; cleanse me from my sin."
Perhaps I am wrong, but I think this speaks for itself. The hand that redacted that, I cannot regard as having been moved by the same spirit that wrote it.
Sometimes in the New Mass the priest will sing the Sursam Corda
(Lift up your hearts) -with the people's response. In the old rite this is done in Latin, all facing God together, responding to the priest: Habemus ad Dominum
, We hold them up to the Lord. I can't tell you how moving this image is, holding one's heart up to God in unison with everyone, sacrificing oneself in unison with Our Lord's Sacrifice on the Cross, being purified by His perfection and for His sake. It is easily one of the most awesome things I have ever experienced.
After this these days there tends to follow an Our Father where all hold hands followed by handshaking and hugging and kissing. In the Tridentine Rite, the priest sings the Pater Noster
and we respond Sed libera nos a malo
-- but deliver us from evil. Our reverence is not disturbed before the most holy act we can perform on earth. We don't need to squeeze flesh to be united because we are united in devotion and awe at what is transpiring.
Now the Consecration occurs. I won't try to describe everything. All details converge to indicate to the most casual observer exactly what is happening. All are kneeling (I have not even mentioned the importance of kneeling, which is impossible in many churches today since they often don't have kneelers, and even when they do they are hardly used) as the priest says the words of consecration, kneels and bows deeply (bell rings), stands and raises the Host for all to see and revere (bell rings), and kneels and bows deeply again (bell rings). If one had not been taught the dogma of Transubstantiation before one would have to invent the notion to explain what one sees.
Before going up for Communion, the priest and people separately say (striking their breast) three times: Dominus non sum dignus ut intres sub tectum meum, sed tantum dic verbo et sanabitur anima mea
-- Lord, I am not worthy to receive Thee under my roof
, but only say the word and my soul
shall be healed.
The italicized words are omitted from the present English bastardization, and they are important. As I approach the altar for Communion and say the words "under my roof", I see the Tabernacle before me, the roof under which the Lord has been waiting -- usually gilded or otherwise made to *look pure, reminding me that to invite the Lord under my
roof I also should be pure -- which was the intention of all the prayers leading up to this point.
That one is not to receive Communion with mortal sin on one's soul is far more obvious from this, and from the posture used to receive Communion -- kneeling at the altar rail, receiving the Host on one's tongue to signify that only consecrated hands may touch it. Today the typical thing is for people to saunter up to the front of the church, where a phalanx of lay people (wrongly called Eucharistic ministers, really "extraordinary ministers" who are not extraordinary at all) stand to slap a Host in your hand. I have seen the irreverence this fosters and have heard of people walking off with hosts, even non-Catholics being handed one and not knowing what to do with it. None of these sacrileges could occur were communion properly administered. The whole method of distribution common in America -- and sometimes illegally enforced on parishioners by priests and bishops -- was a product of rebellion "legitimized" by the scandal-craving American Bishops and reluctantly conceded by the Vatican -- very, very bad stuff. (EWTN has a useful account
of this, as of many other things.)
I'll end it here, though it's important to note that what comes after Communion is also centered on the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. The point I've been trying to make is that the mere validity of the Sacrament does not reach the question of the damage being done to souls by the corruption of Liturgy. Everything in the Old Rite serves to remind one of the truths of the Faith and to prepare one's soul for the act of self-sacrifice and reception of the Lord which are the wellspring of the Christian life. Here we receive divine grace and also are assisted in the practice of the virtues we must employ out there in the world -- and since virtue begins with proper habituation, this is where the divine virtues especially are best cultivated.
Even for someone well-versed in the Faith and used to the Old Rite, the New Mass as generally performed in America today
not only fails to reinforce what one knows, but in many instances actively distracts one from or even seems to deny those truths. I don't know how anyone could endure it and not be harmed in the Faith. Some whose faith is far better than mine might be able to "take it" and persevere, but there's little doubt in my mind that their souls are being tested or tempted by objectively evil influences right where and when they most need objectively good ones. That is not a risk I would want to endure for long. I flee bad Masses whenever possible and would advise anyone else to do the same -- find the best and most solid Mass you can possibly attend regularly, and do so! This is for your the sake of your own soul, the souls of those you affect in life, and also probably the best thing a lay Catholic can do to encourage reform.
And as for reforming the Liturgy -- I don't necessarily hold that we must return to the Tridentine Rite, though I strongly condemn those American bishops (the majority) who, contrary to the express wishes of the Holy Father, deliberately put obstacles in the way of those faithful who seek the Old Rite and who deserve to have it. It should be readily available to all who want it, within reason. Those bishops who frustrate this holy wish, while all hell breaks loose in so many of the churches under their care, are sinning gravely, in my opinion (obedient to them in due measure but more so to God and the Pope).
I would contend though that Liturgical reform could do no better than taking the Tridentine Rite as its guide. (Not knowing much about other Rites, such as the Eastern Catholic ones, etc., I can only hazard a guess that they are probably very good as well!) I would recommend that anyone involved in liturgical formation be required to attend the Tridentine Mass regularly for long enough to get a good sense of the things a few of which I described, and consider how to apply this to whatever they choose to recommend, permit, or mandate. (I imagine that at least some in the Vatican already take this tack when it comes to liturgy.)
For example, Redemtionis Sacramentum
is a beautiful document. But it says nothing clear about Tabernacle placement. I see no reason not to mandate that in all or virtually all cases, the Tabernacle be up front and center. This would do wonders for reverence and make it very hard to pass off heretical beliefs like "we are the church"; at least if priests tried to ignore the Tabernacle many people would see this for what it is and be reminded despite them of the Real Presence. Seemingly small things like this would accomplish miracles, I think.
Anyhow, I've rambled on enough. I'm not sure if this has been helpful or stimulating for anyone. Please let me know.