The wreckage wrought by the Novus Ordo is truly mind-boggling. A synthetic liturgy, which was the product of men who believed that a "new age of energy" had dawned upon man, continues to demonstrate its inherent degeneracy as time progresses. We have, as I have noted on so many occasions in the past, become a congregational church. Each parish has its own distinctive ways of "doing" liturgy. The Mass varies widely from priest to priest even in the same parish. Sadly, the Novus Ordo contains enough approved options within it to make it the plaything of a particular priest, who feels free to give himself a little bit of "variety" now and then by using the options available to him most arbitrarily. There is nothing of a permanent nature which is beyond the ability of national episcopal conferences, diocesan liturgical commissions, parish liturgy committees, or individual celebrants to tamper with as circumstances dictate. The result is impermanence and instability, the exact opposite of what a liturgical rite is supposed to produce.
Although many priests ordained since 1969 have come to appreciate the beauty and the permanence of the Traditional Latin Mass, some of these men have been coopted by the new order of things into professing publicly that the Mass of the Roman Rite, the Mass of our glorious, living liturgical tradition in the West, is merely a matter of preference, not an exercise of the worship of the Blessed Trinity which is inherently more perfect, more beautiful, more glorious, more befitting the dignity of God than the banality offered by the Novus Ordo. One such priest, who was known once (and not so long ago) for his stirring defense of the importance of the restoration of the Traditional Latin Mass for exactly these reasons, has let the allure of a pastoral appointment and the careerism engendered thereby to lead him to state that the "same Lord" is present in both Masses, that a preference for the "old" is a personal matter which ought not to detract from the objective good found in the new Mass. This is all so reminiscent of what a fictional character once told a blackmail victim of his as to why it was so easy to stoop to the use of whatever means deemed necessary to achieve a particular end: "Once you lose integrity, the rest is easy." And the Novus Ordo makes it easy for men once known for their courage to lose their integrity and to try to convince others positivistically that what is a matter of objective truth is simply a matter of personal preference, which is nothing other than the method used by liberals to attempt to reduce all matters of worship and doctrine to the level of subject preference rather than objective truth.
I have written on the inherent beauty of the Traditional Latin Mass many times in these pages. It is a subject I cover briefly in Christ in the Voting Booth. It is the subject of many of the talks I have given around the country, including the concluding lecture of my "Living in the Shadow of the Cross" lecture series, which is probably one of the reasons why I was exiled in a de facto manner from the pages of The Wanderer last year. Thus, begging your indulgence as I address this matter one more time, I hereby offer to you another reflection on the importance of praying and working for the restoration of our glorious liturgical tradition in the Latin Rite. For it is plain for anyone who has the spiritual vision to see that the Novus Ordo is inherently destructive of the faith, no matter its validity.
The Ends of the Mass
The Mass is at one and the same time a memorial of the Last Supper and the unbloody representation (or perpetuation) of the Sacrifice of the Cross. The Mass, although in time in a particular place, transcends time and space in that it takes us back in time to Calvary, where our sins caused our Lord to suffer horribly in His Sacred Humanity on the wood of the Holy Cross, and ahead to eternity, where the souls of the just will participate in an unending Easter Sunday of glory in Paradise. As our sins placed us on the wrong side of the Cross on Good Friday, we have the opportunity during each Mass to place ourselves on the right side of the Cross. All of the souls of the Church Triumphant are present mystically during every Mass (some theologians would contend all of the souls in the Church Suffering, who profit from the fruits of the Mass, are there as well). Thus, we are with the Blessed Mother, Saint Joseph, Saint Mary Magdalene, Saint John the Evangelist, all of the Apostles, martyrs, confessors, doctors, virgins, and holy men and women who have died in a state of grace. Although the Mass is chiefly a propitiatory sacrifice offered to the Father by the Son in Spirit and in truth at the hands of an alter Christus, a priest, it is also a foretaste of eternity. That is why the Mass should not reflect the spirit of the banality and profanity of this passing world. It must reflect the solemnity and glory which are expressive of the permanence of God and of our constant need to receive and to cooperate with the fruits of our Lord's Redemptive Act which is extended to us in time each time the sacred mysteries are celebrated.
One of the best ways, therefore, to examine the inherent beauty of the Traditional Latin Mass is to reflect on its four ends, and how those ends are best expressed within the Mass of Tradition. Although these ends are expressed in interrelated ways in the Traditional Latin Mass, the reflection offered herein discusses each end individually. It is frequently the case, however, that the different parts and prayers and rubrics of the Traditional Latin Mass express each of the four ends at the same time. With that qualification having been made, though, an examination of each of the ends of the Mass and how they are best expressed objectively in the Traditional Latin Mass will demonstrate that the Mass of tradition is not a matter of preference whatsoever.
The principal end of the Mass is the worship of the Blessed Trinity. The nature of God demands that we, His creatures, worship Him. However, the worship we are to offer the Father through the Son in Spirit and in Truth must befit His dignity as God. It must of its nature be an expression of beauty. We are creatures who have bodies and souls. Our bodies contain within them the senses which are affected by the environments in which we find ourselves. Even the smallest detail of the environment in which we find ourselves affects our senses, whether or not we realize it. Thus, a Catholic is called to recognize the fact that every aspect of his home life, for example, is to reflect beauty and order. We are to remind ourselves that we, although sinners who have marred the beauty of our sins by the stain of our sins, are meant to live for all eternity in the glory of beauty Himself, the very Beatific Vision of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. If this is so in the right ordering of our domestic lives, how much more is it to be the case with respect to the Sacrifice of the Mass?
As a work of beauty, the Mass must reflect permanence and stability. The infinite perfection of God is of its very nature permanent and stable. As far as is possible, therefore, the Sacred Mysteries must convey the Infinity, Permanence, Transcendence, and Stability of the Blessed Trinity. This is why the various Eastern liturgies are rich in symbolism (melodious chant, icons, grails signifying the "holy of holies" beyond which the laity are not to pass). A solemn High Latin Mass conveys this symbolism different than do the Eastern liturgies. However, the glory of Gregorian chant, the waft of incense, the fixed, prescribed rituals (such as the thirty-three Signs of the Cross which are made by a priest during the celebration of Mass in the Traditional Latin Rite), the singing of the Asperges me, Introit, Kyrie, Gloria, Collect, Epistle, Gradual, Lesser Alleluia, Gospel, Offertory, Preface, Pater Noster, Communion, Postcommunion, and Ite, Missa est, and the dignity of the priest acting in persona Christi convey collectively a beauty and order reflective of the organic nature of its development over the first centuries of the Church. No human being could have created such beauty and order synthetically. Its development over time itself is expressive of how Catholics began to appreciate and understand the nature of the Mass and the beauty and reverence due God in His Infinity as God.
As I have noted in the past, there are those who have justified the Novus Ordo on the basis of an appeal to antiquarianism, the exaltation of what is alleged to have been the simpler rites of the first three centuries of the Church. As Monsignor Klaus Gamber pointed out in The Reform of the Roman Liturgy, the efforts of early Twentieth Century liturgists such as Pius Parsch to discover the "roots" of the liturgy were based on false assumptions and bad history. Indeed, as Pope Pius XII noted in Mediator Dei in 1947, said antiquarianism was really little else than an effort to project back onto the past a reality which never existed in order to justify "reforms" which were at odds with the whole history of authentic liturgical development and destructive of the ends of the Mass.
To the extent, however, that the rites were simpler in the first few centuries of the Church, there are two very simple explanations as to why this was so. First, the Church was underground in most of the world until the Edict of Milan was issued by Emperor Constantine in 313 A.D. Yes, there were churches and basilicas which had been erected prior to that time. However, given the fact that various Roman emperors engaged in periodic, episodic persecution of the first Catholics between 67 A.D. and 313 A.D., a good deal of the reason why the earlier rites were simpler in form and rubric was that the Mass was said "on the run" a good deal of the time. This is why priests celebrated Mass in their street clothing (a chasuble was garb worn by ordinary Roman citizens) so that they would not be suspected of "anti-state" activities while walking above ground-and so that they could escape readily if they had to flee the place where they were celebrating Mass. Interestingly, this vitiates one of the arguments made by supporters of women's ordination to the priesthood. The fact that women wore chasubles during Mass did not mean they were priestesses or deaconesses. Chasubles were simply street garments. Period. Thus, part of the reason the rites were simpler in the first few centuries than they later became is explained by the necessity of the times. When the period of persecutions ended with the Edict of Milan, Catholics came to realize over time the beauty which was due God. It was then that huge cathedrals and basilicas began to be built. It was then that the rites began the steady process of growing in their ornateness and beauty.
Second, the Church herself had to reflect more on the meaning of the sacred mysteries under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost. Some of this reflection came as a result of the Church's need to respond to various heresies, taking care that the fullness of the Faith was reflected in the various elements of the Mass (the rites, the prayers, the Creed). As the late Dr. Adrian Fortesque noted so ably in his works, the Mass of the Roman Rite underwent few changes (principally effected by Pope Gregory the Great) from the fifth century forward. And the changes which did manifest themselves occurred slowly, organically, imperceptibly. Indeed, the Missale Romanum promulgated by Pope Saint Pius V in 1570 so perfectly reflected the grandeur of tradition that it was adopted universally in one diocese after another even though the Holy Father had permitted places which had rites of their own dating back more than 200 years to keep those rites. With several exceptions (including Milan), the Missale Romanum was embraced everywhere as a fitting expression of what had developed into a fixed rite over 1,000 years before.
In addition to the splendor of the rites, the beauty which is owed God in the celebration of the Sacred Mysteries concerns the appearance of a church itself. The High Altar, positioned in the back of the sanctuary so that the priest is in conversation with God, is of utmost importance. The altar conveys the sacrificial nature of the Mass, in contradistinction with the use of a table (almost a requirement by many diocesan liturgical commissions today for the building of new churches and the wreckovation of older ones), which conveys a mere meal or banquet. The steps leading to the altar convey the fact that we must make an effort to approach God, that we need His ineffable grace to climb the stages of spiritual perfection so as to offer our own lives right readily in a sacrificial manner in union with the Sacrifice offered in an unbloody manner at the hands of a priest. The Communion railing signifies several things, including the distinction between the priesthood of the ordained priest (which is different both in degree and in kind from that possessed by the lay faithful as a result of their baptism) and that we possess by virtue of our baptism. Thus, the communion rail also signifies that the holy of holies is reserved for those who are themselves consecrated to handle the Sacred Species as well as for those chosen to assist them during the unbloody representation of Calvary. The communion rail also signifies the distance which separates us in this vale of tears from eternity. Although we desire Heaven-and are given a foretaste of Heavenly glories in the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass (as well as in the Eastern Divine Liturgies), we are still in this vale of tears. There is a distance which separates us from eternity.
Additionally the beauty befitting God in a Catholic church, which is meant to provide a fitting ambiance for the celebration of the Sacred Mysteries, requires that there be a Crucifix to orient us to the fact that there is no other path to Heaven than by embracing our own individual crosses on a daily basis. There must be images of the Sacred Heart, the font of Divine Mercy formed out of the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary. Statues of the Blessed Mother, who made possible our salvation by her perfect acceptance of the will of the Father at the Annunciation, must be visible to remind us that she stood so valiantly by the foot of the Cross. Representations of Saint Joseph, the head of the Holy Family and the Patron of the Universal Church, must be present, as well as statues of the individual patron saints of the church and/or diocese. We, the faithful, must not be positioned in the "round." As our participation in the Mass is principally interior (requiring an active effort on the part of the intellect and the will), our attention and reverence will be affected necessarily by our being positioned in direct view of the High Altar, which is the focus of our attention during Mass, and upon which is placed the tabernacle where the Eucharistic King awaits our worship before and after Mass.
The music, therefore, which is sung or played during the Mass must uplift our souls to God, not reflect the banality of this world. It is meant to reflect the beauty, solemnity, reverence, permanence, stability, honor, dignity, and glory that are due God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Though, as Pope Pius XII noted in Mediator Dei, new musical compositions are not to be excluded from the celebration of the Mass just because they are new, any composition which proposes itself to be played in Mass must of its nature reflect the elements noted above. What we have seen in recent years is the canonization of the profane to such an extent that the music played in Mass is meant to reflect the spirit of the world rather than to reflect the permanence and beauty and solemnity of the Sacred Mysteries. There is simply no substitute for Gregorian Chant in the Roman Rite. It is more than a little telling that the various Eastern rites have never permitted profane compositions to be included in their ancient chants. The destruction of order, reverence, nay, even belief in the Real Presence, in the Latin rite has been made all the more possible by the profane music introduced in the past forty years.
Finally, and so very importantly, we must present souls to the Blessed Trinity which are as beautiful as they can be. Though we may have much to do to make reparation for our forgiven mortal sins and for our unforgiven venial sins (as well as for our general attachment to sin), we are to be minimally in a state of sanctifying grace in order to receive Holy Communion worthily. The inherent nature of the Mass does not depend upon the beauty of our souls. However, its efficacy in our own lives depends upon the extent to which we prepare to root out all that is ugly, selfish and thus displeasing to the Blessed Trinity. An important symbolic representation of this is the attire we choose to wear when hearing Holy Mass. An outward display is frequently a pretty good sign of an interior disposition (or lack thereof).
A second constituent element of the end of Adoration is solemnity. Calvary was no joke. It was not a gabfest. Our Blessed Mother did not say to Saint Mary Magdalene, "Hey, Mary! You look great today." The Mass does not need endless improvisation or adaptation. It is what it is. Our Lord embraced the will of the Father in His Agony in the Garden. He offered Himself up on the wood of the Cross to pay back in His own Sacred Humanity what was owed to Him in His Infinity as God, that which we could not pay back on our own with our finite bodies. Our Lord paid back to Himself the blood debt of our own sins. Our puny, finite little minds cannot possibly even begin to fathom the horror and the pain our Lord experienced as He effected our redemption on the heights of Golgotha. Our Lord fulfilled the Father's will so that His Infinite Mercy could be extended to us sinful creatures, who do not merit that mercy but who are the beneficiaries of this gratuitous, unforced gift of gifts. There were silence and tears among the several faithful souls who stood by the wood of the Cross. They were not distracted by the flies and the heat and the noise of the crowd busily jeering our Lord. Our comportment must be exactly that which was demonstrated by the Blessed Mother, Saint John the Evangelist, Saint Mary Magdalene, and the handful of others who were at the foot of the Cross on the first Good Friday.
Thomas A. Droleskey, Ph.D.
Next Week: Part Two
For past columns in The DAILY CATHOLIC by Dr. Droleskey, see Archives
March 8-10, 2002
volume 13, no. 45
CHRIST or chaos