Friday, June 29, 2007

Benedict and the Mass

~from Inside the Vatican

Some would see the Holy Father’s interest in the old Mass as a matter of cultural taste. His desire for a wider use of the old rite in Latin is seen as something comparable to his interest in classical music. For these people, the issue is often reduced to a question of practicality: the old rite, in Latin, is "impractical" in the 21st century, and so, these people say, it would be unwise to expand its use.

But this is a serious misunderstanding of Benedict’s motivation. He is not concerned with Latin in itself. His respect for the "old Mass" is not a nostalgic cultural attachment to an ancient language. No, Benedict is concerned about the essence of the Mass itself.

And what is that essence? The right worship of God.

Certainly there is something to be said, in practical terms, for the use in a worldwide Church of a single liturgical language. And certainly, Latin is in some ways a good candidate to be that universal language. It was the language of the Empire under which Jesus lived and died. It has been used for almost 20 centuries. And translations could make the language "accessible" to all even today -- and even in times to come.

But that is not the point. It isn’t about the Latin. (And the Latin Mass is, in any case, not the Latin Mass at all; that is a misnomer; it is, rather, "the Latin, Greek and Aramaic Mass," with "Kyrie eleison" in Greek and "Amen" and "Alleluia" in Aramaic.) And those who think Latin is at the core of this matter do not see fully what is at stake here.

And what is at stake is not a trivial matter. If it were, the Pope wouldn’t have given two years of attention to it, or 25 years as a cardinal to stating repeatedly that there needs to be a "reform of the reform." Rather, it is an important matter. In fact, the most important one. For the Mass is celebrated for a single reason: for the Eucharist. And the Eucharist is one thing only: Christ with us. And Christ with us is the sole reason for the Church’s being.

So in dealing with the Mass, the Pope is not dealing with a marginal, a peripheral matter. The liturgy is not a "side issue." It is a central one; indeed, the central one. It is the little matter (and the Orthodox rightly stress this) of... the divinization of man! A reality which brought Padre Pio to tears.

So it is a very important matter. But what is the problem? It seems that Benedict, like many thoughtful believers, is concerned about the fact that the conciliar reform of the liturgy in the 1960s has in some way apparently failed to achieve its chief goal, which was to bring about an even greater reverence for the Eucharist, an even greater participation by the faithful in the mystery of Christ, an even deeper sacramental life within the Church. (That is what the conciliar fathers hoped to accomplish by approving a liturgical reform.)

And if there are in the "old Mass," as many argue, qualities too hastily discarded in the 1960s -- a sense of tradition which made it a bit easier for some to turn their minds toward the eternal, a sense of solemnity which helped some to turn their hearts toward God -- and if that loss can, even if only in part, be made good, if it can be remedied, by a motu proprio allowing the "old Mass" to be celebrated more widely, then it is a work of great import for the Pope to carry out.

If the "old Mass" is merely a "cultural" matter, the fad of a small elite, it will not flourish in any case, and the motu proprio will be a dead letter. But if it is a matter of renewing the Church, and if the dignity and holiness of the old rite strikes the faithful in such a way as to re-kindle in them a sense of that devotion which prepares them to encounter Christ, then allowing the old Mass to be celebrated more widely will be an act worth preparing for with much toil and care.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I celebrated the Mass in Latin as a young child ages 9-12. I sung my heart out in Latin. The Gloria was magnificent. We children were in awe of the mystery of daily Mass and were filled with reverence. We believed the Eucharist was the body and blood of Christ, our Savior and King. How could one not!? The Mass transported us to a different place...shared with the angels and saints. Our Romanesque church, Our Lady Queen of Apostles built in 1952 was beautiful and quite something! So different from the grimey working class neighborhood surrounding it. But back then, only the finest was offered to God. And people dressed beautifully on Sunday. It didn't matter that Dad was a Rust Belt working man--he and mom really dressed up for Church on Sunday! Stiletto heels and fancy hats for the women, suits and ties for the men. Wonderful cotten white gloves for the little girls on Sunday! Every Saturday night the shoe shine kit was pulled out and my brother got to work!

We had a choir director from Poland who played the organ magnificently. We were treated to only the finest music before, during and after Mass. Bach, Poulenc, Mendelsohn, etc. It was very affecting. I weep at what is sung at our suburban Mass today. I almost got sick when the recessional hymn a few Sundays ago was that paean to the dead-end Shaker sect. Who deceived us so cunningly all these years?