Dear Parishioners, +JMJ
I am writing this letter to you from a lake cottage where I am taking some days of vacation. Of course, it is never vacation away from the Faith, and so for some refreshment I am reading a book called, Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis: Sacred Liturgy, the Traditional Latin Mass, and the Renewal in the Church, by Dr. Peter Krasniewski, a professor at Wyoming Catholic College in Wyoming. Much of the crisis to which the title alludes is a loss of the sense of the sacred, and the resulting loss of solemnity in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass since Vatican II. My own experience of the Mass as I grew up in the years following upon Vatican II confirms the crisis.
Consider this quote with which the book opens, a line by Dom Prosper Gueranger, a famous Benedictine scholar on the liturgy from this past century: “The Holy Spirit has made the liturgy the center of his working in men’s souls.” Do you think that most Catholics still know that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the center of God’s working in their souls? Imagine the anticipation and reverence with which Catholics would attend the Mass, if they knew that that was the most privileged moment of God’s work in their souls.
Here is another quote by St. John Fisher, a saint from the tumultuous times of the 16th-century Protestant Reformation:
If anyone should attentively consider the progress and the decline, and the reformations of life which of often occurred in the Church, he will find that neglect or abuse of this Sacrament [the Mass] has been the cause of decline; and, on the other hand, that faithful worship and devout frequentation of this Sacrament have wonderfully contributed to progress and reform… Whenever the divine mysteries are neglected or undevoutly performed, no hope of any good need be entertained.
How profoundly St. John Fisher understood that devout participation in the Mass was the direct catalyst for good deeds throughout the rest of the believer’s life! Furthermore, he alludes (e.g., “undevoutly performed”) to the fact that a poor celebration of the Mass can limit the otherwise profound encounter of the parishioners with the Lord of the Mass.
Here is another quote, this time by the author himself, that sent me to the dictionary to double check the meaning of the word “insouciance”:
Loss of solemnity is directly traceable to loss of faith in the Real Presence, in the sacrificial nature of the Mass, and in the spiritual authority of the sacerdotal office. It is thus connected with a passive or active advocacy of the vice of insouciance toward divine things that makes them cease to appear divine in our eyes, even though they remain divine in themselves.
“Insouciance” is a neglectful nonchalance regarding something, in this case regarding encounter with the Divine in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. People can come to Mass without even realizing they are entering into the most Divine Activity they can encounter on earth. In my own upbringing, the Mass was often described as a mere community or family gathering; and that was really the most sublime thing that was said about It. But, in fact, the Mass has the side effect of making us a true spiritual community or family, only because it is first the sublime encounter with the Sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary. What a disservice primarily to praise the Mass as a mere community gathering, as if we attend primarily to visit with others.
All that we are trying to restore to enhance the solemnity of the Mass – precise movements of altar servers, candles at the Gospel, bells at the epiclesis and elevation, chalice veil, missal stand veil, etc. – all is to help us become more aware of the fact that we enter into the Holy of Holies, when we come to the Mass. Why is it that I do not even look at you when I say “The Lord be with you”? It is because we are no longer in ordinary time and space in the Mass, so I don’t greet you as I would out on the sidewalk. We are encountering one another in the presence of Jesus on Calvary. It is not at all the same as the ordinary greeting outside the Mass. (I am happy to be watching in these days the solemnity in the Masses of Pope Francis’ visit to the United States. Antiphons sung, bells rung, etc.)
Next on my agenda of items to help us enter more deeply into the Mass is to consider our music. First of all, somehow we ought to be singing the entrance, offertory, and communion antiphons proper to each Mass. Those of you who attend daily Mass already know that we are using a simple tone to chant these antiphons. There are several options out there for how to introduce the antiphons – by options, I mean musical settings. There are a couple of modern ones, and then there is a version of the antiphons in English set to Gregorian chant, which would make us feel still closer to the Tradition of the church. While I am familiar with the last option mentioned, that of Gregorian chant in English, I’ve not had time yet to study the more modern options (i.e., the same antiphons, but set to a modern melody somehow). In those parishes where the antiphons are being sung, they are usually being done along with a couple verses of the hymns chosen for the day.
Eventually I want to consider purchasing new hymnals for the parish. Not only would the hymnals save us money in the long run, since we would not have to repurchase paper missalettes each season (to the tune of about $5000 each time!); with new hymnals we could also be assured of the presence of the antiphons, and a good collection of worthy, doctrinally sound songs for the Mass. With our current set up, I have to examine each new missalette to make sure the editors have not slipped in something unworthy – usually a song from the last number of decades which is not doctrinally sound. (The editors are not as concerned about your souls as I am, as you pastor.) As a pastor concerned that each of my parishioners encounters Jesus as fully as possible through a profound entry into the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, it does not make sense in the slightest to put into my parishioners hands words and music that are unsound, unworthy.
Although I love the old Latin Mass very much (never having experienced it before I was asked to celebrate it for the Latin Mass parish of the Diocese of Toledo), my intention is not to foist that Mass upon us, but to bring back the elements of solemnity to the New Mass of Vatican II that were mistakenly and sometimes neglectfully lost. This is exactly what I believe Pope Benedict XVI intended when in 2007 he wrote his famous motu proprio to establish wide celebration of the pre-Vatican II Latin Mass. The Pope was even explicit with his intention, when he said that the two forms of the Mass should enrich each other as they co-exist side-by-side.
I am not interested in the Tradition behind the Mass for its own sake. Rather, I am convinced that the beauty and solemnity in the Tradition will help you experience Jesus more profoundly in the Mass. We do not need another mere human encounter with the community, as you might experience at a cookout or a sporting event. We need to experience the Divine, Transcendent Lord of All in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Then we will have all we need profoundly to serve out in the world into which He sends us when the priest or deacon, on Jesus’ behalf, says Missa est (“You are sent”).
Have a blessed week!
In cordibus Iesu et Mariae,