Monday, August 13, 2007

What should Mass be? Talk IV on Sacramentum Caritatis

Pope Benedict has already made the point about the Holy Spirit being at work, in the Church, in the development of the liturgy. See paragraph 3, and then in paragraph 12 where he said, "This great mystery is celebrated in the liturgical forms which the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, develops in time and space. We need a renewed awareness of the decisive role played by the Holy Spirit in the evolution of the liturgical form and the deepening understanding of the sacred mysteries."

We will take our time getting into this section of Sacramentum Caritatis, because I think it’s important to understand all that underpins the pope’s thought. In fact, this talk is going to look only briefly at the exhortation, because we need to look at other things that underlie the pope’s work—such as the Council, and also what he wrote, before his election, in his book, The Spirit of the Liturgy. (Many don’t know that not only was Cardinal Ratzinger a top-flight theologian before becoming pope, they also don’t know that liturgy was and is a subject of special concern.)

This is all about ecclesiology

This second section of the pope’s work, because it’s about the liturgy, therefore raises a lot of issues of ecclesiology, that is, the theology of who and what the Church is.

In theology, there is something called "high" Christology—meaning, emphasizing Jesus’ divinity—and "low" Christology, emphasizing his humanity. Both are essential; it’s a matter of emphasis. Likewise, we can have both a "high" ecclesiology that emphasizes the divinity of the Church, where a "low" ecclesiology would emphasize the Church’s humanity. Again, we need both: we talk about the Church as a "pilgrim people"; but we also say the Church is the Corpus Verum, the True Body of Christ. Both are part of our faith.

What I’m saying is, what follows won’t make much sense if we have a problem maintaining, at once, both a "high" and "low" ecclesiology. I.e., it’s much easier to swing to the "low" side, and that’s where many people are especially when it comes to the liturgy: to the point that they often see liturgy, as in my opening illustration, as something we make up ourselves.

But that’s far from what Pope Benedict is saying. His opening paragraph pounds this point:

· "The Synod of Bishops reflected at length on the intrinsic relationship between eucharistic faith and eucharistic celebration, pointing out the connection between the lex orandi and the lex credendi, and stressing the primacy of the liturgical action."
· "Theological reflection in this area can never prescind from the sacramental order instituted by Christ himself."
· "On the other hand, the liturgical action can never be considered generically, prescinding from the mystery of faith. Our faith and the eucharistic liturgy both have their source in the same event: Christ's gift of himself in the Paschal Mystery."

Consider this question. We all know that, as Catholics, we place a lot of authority on Sacred Tradition, equal to Sacred Scripture. But we can point to the Bible and say, there’s Scripture, it’s clear-cut. But where do we find Sacred Tradition?

The answer—and this deserves a great deal of reflection—is the liturgy. Just as we say, "if you want to find the written Word of God, look at the Bible," we can also say, "if you want to find the "handed down" (traditio) Word of God…look at the liturgy.

Let me quote Dei Verbum, one of major documents of Vatican II: "The words of the holy fathers witness to the presence of this living tradition, whose wealth is poured into the practice and life of the believing and praying Church" (DV 8, emphasis added). Note well—it speaks of the life of the believing and praying Church—if you ask where we find this Sacred Tradition, one very important source is, in the liturgy. So, right at the beginning of this section, the pope refers to the relationship between lex credendi and lex orandi—the "law" or rule of believing, and of praying (SC 34).

There’s something else from Dei Verbum, relevant here: "…God, who spoke of old, uninterruptedly converses with the bride of His beloved Son; and the Holy Spirit, through whom the living voice of the Gospel resounds in the Church, and through her, in the world, leads unto all truth those who believe and makes the word of Christ dwell abundantly in them (see Col. 3:16)" (Ibid., emphasis added).

So I ask you: do you think we, as a parish, should re-arrange the Bible? Should we make additions and deletions that suit us? Of course not. Then, may I submit, we should be very cautious about a similar approach to the sacred liturgy.

Now, you will respond that the liturgy is not fully parallel to the Bible, and you are correct. The Bible is fixed in a way the liturgy is not.

But there is a dimension of the liturgy that is, exactly like the Bible, utterly untouchable—it cannot be modified, or else it will cease to be what it is. The difficulty is that while we can rather easily distinguish between the Bible, and it’s truth, that cannot be modified, from the expression of it, which might be, a similar distinction in the liturgy is far harder. Hence we must proceed very cautiously.

"Can we?" is the wrong question

It helps to think of the liturgy, like the Church, like our Faith, as an "organic" thing—a living being. And with any living being, you have parts that are absolutely essential to life. Heart, lungs, etc. Then you have other parts that, while important, are not utterly essential—the being can live without them: fingers, toes, arms, legs. Then you have other elements that are much more peripheral: hair comes to mind.

But, with this living being, the loss of parts in the second category is still crippling, and parts in the third category is potentially disfiguring. And when you have a living body, while it is true some parts can be lost, you can’t just "lop them off"; you can’t take the body apart and put it back together as you please. It can only function according to a certain inner logic. And, finally, even if you "can" do such things—i.e., you can do it, and the "patient" will still live, this is entirely beside the point, isn’t it?

Someone walking into the hospital and seeing a doctor performing such operations, would react with…horror! You would hardly be satisfied if the doctor explained, "Oh, don’t worry, the patient is still alive, no worries"!

Even with the Bible, we make careful distinctions about its very content, when we say the Bible is without error: we refer to the truths it was intended to convey—truths concerning who God is, and how we are saved—vs. those that really don’t, such as content pertaining to geology.

There’s a reason it’s called the Divine Liturgy

If you think this is making the point rather strongly, I might here cite what the Second Vatican Council said—which makes the point far stronger. Almost at the beginning of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, the Council has this to say about what the liturgy is—it’s essential character:

Rightly, then, the liturgy is considered as an exercise of the priestly office of Jesus Christ. In the liturgy the sanctification of the man is signified by signs perceptible to the senses, and is effected in a way which corresponds with each of these signs; in the liturgy the whole public worship is performed by the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, that is, by the Head and His members.

From this it follows that every liturgical celebration, because it is an action of Christ the priest and of His Body which .s the Church, is a sacred action surpassing all others; no other action of the Church can equal its efficacy by the same title and to the same degree (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 7).

…Nevertheless the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows (Ibid., 10).

Eastern Christians call the Mass "the Divine Liturgy." What we’ve looked at makes clear how profound that description is.

So: bottom line, we tread very lightly. We don’t do any of this on our own authority!

Why am I pounding this point? Because of the really painful issues that comes up, right here—having to do with the celebration of the Eucharist, of the Mass is, "why are the norms of the Church so important?" Are they just rules of men in Rome? Is the form of the liturgy something arbitrary? Or, rather, is there something much more at work that needs to be respected?

The sad truth is, the form of the Divine Liturgy—I mean, principally, the Mass—has taken a lot of body blows in recent decades. It’s ironic, I’ve just stressed the "high" ecclesiology, the role of Divine Providence in the Church—yet here would be an excellent example of "low" ecclesiology—the human frailty of the Church.

Getting Vatican II right

Without going into the whole history, it’s fair to say that the implementation of Vatican II’s reforms of the liturgy have been a wild and bumpy and messy business.

A lot of things were done in haste: for example, the translations of the prayers, and so they are now being retranslated. The differences in the new translation, from the old, will reveal the flaws in the first one, we still use.

There was a lot of wild experimentation. We went through a period of very strange things: "clown Masses," home-baked communion bread, with or without honey and raisins, "costume Masses," trying to have Mass as casual as possible, priests ad-libbing the prayers, and so it went. Most of the silliness seems to have gone away, but its still there to some extent. Nowadays, with cell phones having cameras, and the Internet, its no longer just rumor, you can see video of a Mass with an extraordinary minister, distributing communion, dressed as the devil, and the priest dressed as Barney the purple dinosaur.

A lot of things were done without consideration for the faithful; a lot of things were done "in the name of" and in "the spirit of" Vatican II, that the Council never authorized or even imagined.

Now, are you willing to be guinea pigs for this point? I mean, how about I take a little poll here, and have you name things you were told or you believe were mandated by Vatican II.

(If not brought up already) Example: did you know Vatican II said nothing about removing altar rails? Nothing about the priest turning around and facing the people at the Eucharistic Prayer? And—as many folks here have been shocked to learn—the Council never "got rid of Latin." Things like vestments, whether you kneel or stand, what music you sing, how church is decorated, and so forth—all these things people think are about what Vatican II said. In fact, they are more about what people thought Vatican II said. a lot of things were done the wrong way; several things have been re-done, since—and more than once!

The abuses of the liturgy, in the name of Vatican II, were a significant enough problem that in 1980, Pope John Paul II made this comment, in his annual, Holy Thursday letter to priests: "I would like to ask forgiveness-in my own name and in the name of all of you, venerable and dear brothers in the episcopate-for everything which, for whatever reason, through whatever human weakness, impatience or negligence, and also through the at times partial, one-sided and erroneous application of the directives of the Second Vatican Council, may have caused scandal and disturbance concerning the interpretation of the doctrine and the veneration due to this great sacrament" (Dominicae Cenae 12).

Concern about these abuses prompted several actions by Pope John Paul II in his pontificate, including issuing a new Missal, with a new General Instruction, with some tightening up. These concerns prompted then-Cardinal Ratzinger to write The Spirit of the Liturgy in 2000. At the opening, he acknowledged he was using the title of a well known, earlier book by Romano Guardini, whose book was "decisive" in inaugurating the "Liturgical Movement" earlier in the 20th Century, that led to the reforms called for by Vatican II. Ratzinger described these stages of liturgical reform as follows:

We might say that in 1918, the year that Guardini published his book, the liturgy was rather like a fresco. It had been preserved from damage, but it had been almost completely overlaid with whitewash by later generations…. The fresco was laid bare by the Liturgical Movement and, in a definitive way, by the Second Vatican Council. For a moment, its colors and figures fascinated us. But since then the fresco has been endangered by climactic conditions as well as by various restorations and reconstructions. In fact, it is threatened with destruction, if the necessary steps are not taken to stop these damaging influences. Of course, there must be no question of its being covered up with whitewash again [i.e., no going back to before the Council’s reforms], but what is imperative is a new reverence in the way we treat it, a new understanding of its message and its reality, so that rediscovery does not become the first stage of irreparable loss.

I’d like to suggest that this concern—getting Vatican II’s true intentions regarding the liturgy right—also animates this exhortation we’re studying. And this discussion raises a very significant question: have we got Vatican II right? If not, what would a proper celebration of the liturgy, in view of Vatican II, look like?

This really is the question facing us. This is why we’ve had so much activity, in recent years, focused on the Mass: revision in the Missal, revision of the translation, stricter norms from Rome and the bishops, a lot of re-evaluation of music and particular components of the liturgy, a greater emphasis in the seminaries on liturgy, the exhortation we’re studying, and a revival of questions about the old rite, the Mass of Pius V.

And if I haven’t piqued your interest enough already, let me do so with some more surprises, concerning what Mass according to Vatican II might look like:

Ø The Mass does not envision use of hymns as we know them. None.
Ø The Mass can be celebrated legitimately in Latin or the local language (i.e., English for us), but even where the vernacular is used, some Latin is expected.
Ø While communion under both species is encouraged, it is not required, and has some practical difficulties that may make not doing it all the time more appropriate. One of those concerns has to do with over-using "extraordinary ministers of holy communion." I.e., how "extraordinary" is a ministry if it is routine?
Ø There is nothing wrong with the "old" architecture.
Ø While the priest facing the people is a well known change since Vatican II, the Council did not require it nor even mention it! In fact, what happened was that 1964 document, from Rome, proposing implementation steps, merely said the following: "It is better for the main altar to be constructed away from the wall so that one can easily walk around the altar and celebrate facing the people" (Inter Oecumenici, 91).

Now, I offer these items to provoke thought, in preparation for our next talk: What should Mass be like?

Beauty and the Liturgy

At this point, let’s continue to let the pope speak for himself. Let’s look at paragraph 35:

This relationship between creed and worship is evidenced in a particular way by the rich theological and liturgical category of beauty. Like the rest of Christian Revelation, the liturgy is inherently linked to beauty: it is veritatis splendor. The liturgy is a radiant expression of the paschal mystery, in which Christ draws us to himself and calls us to communion. As Saint Bonaventure would say, in Jesus we contemplate beauty and splendour at their source. This is no mere aestheticism, but the concrete way in which the truth of God's love in Christ encounters us, attracts us and delights us, enabling us to emerge from ourselves and drawing us towards our true vocation, which is love (emphasis added).

This is important. Some can be rather minimalistic or, in their own mind, "functional," about the liturgy. But here, the pope is saying part of the function of the liturgy is to communicate the beauty-truth of who Jesus—the full revelation of God for us—is.

God allows himself to be glimpsed first in creation, in the beauty and harmony of the cosmos (cf. Wis 13:5; Rom 1:19- 20). In the Old Testament we see many signs of the grandeur of God's power as he manifests his glory in his wondrous deeds among the Chosen People (cf. Ex 14; 16:10; 24:12-18; Num 14:20- 23). In the New Testament this epiphany of beauty reaches definitive fulfillment in God's revelation in Jesus Christ: Christ is the full manifestation of the glory of God.

Now we skip to the end of the paragraph: "The truest beauty is the love of God, who definitively revealed himself to us in the paschal mystery" (SC 35).

You might think the pope is merely making the point that the liturgy ought to be beautiful. That’s true, but he’s saying more: the fundamental beauty of the liturgy is "Christ himself, risen and glorified in the Holy Spirit" (SC 36)—and thus, don’t mess around with it! "Beauty, then, is not mere decoration, but rather an essential element of the liturgical action, since it is an attribute of God himself and his revelation. These considerations should make us realize the care which is needed, if the liturgical action is to reflect its innate splendor" (Ibid. 35).

The primary actor in the liturgy is God

So, back to our first question: who creates the liturgy? The Church, or God? The pope’s answer is, both. His title in this section says it: "The Eucharistic Celebration, the work of ‘Christus Totus’"—meaning the total Christ, the Head and the Body.

"Since the eucharistic liturgy is essentially an actio Dei which draws us into Christ through the Holy Spirit, its basic structure is not something within our power to change, nor can it be held hostage by the latest trends" (37).

This sure sounds a lot like this section from Sacrosanctum Concilium, Vatican II’s dogmatic constitution on the sacred liturgy:

Regulation of the sacred liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church, that is, on the Apostolic See and, as laws may determine, on the bishop.

In virtue of power conceded by the law, the regulation of the liturgy within certain defined limits belongs also to various kinds of competent territorial bodies of bishops legitimately established.

Therefore no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority (22, emphasis added).

Now, this is a good place to pause, and ask a direct question: Do you agree with this?

Because you need to know how frequently pastors and pretty much every priest is expected to "add, remove or change" things in the liturgy—if not on "his own authority," then on the "authority" of the people asking for the change:

Ø To omit, or alter, terms in the prayers that are deemed "sexist" or "non-inclusive."
Ø To include music or rituals in the liturgy that is not authorized. Examples: the "Unity Candle" at a wedding; inappropriate remarks at funerals, hand-holding during the Our Father, the "blessing" in the communion line, and secular music at weddings and funerals.
Ø To skip or rush readings or prayers because Mass is "too long."
Ø To insert events or celebrations into the Mass, such as recognitions, graduations, or other rituals.
Ø To insert rituals or gestures not part of the liturgy: hand-holding, bringing trophies into the sanctuary.
Ø To do routinely what is supposed to be exceptional, such as the use of extraordinary ministers, and Masses outside a sacred place.

We might ask, why is this happening? Was it always so? Where is it coming from?

One answer would be that the period after the Council led many to think that the norms were pretty malleable. And, in fairness, the norms are more flexible than they used to be. Priests do have more discretion, more choices, and more falls on their judgment, rather than very precise "dos" and "donts."

Another answer is, a lot of folks have seen things done, and they figure, if it was okay there, then why not here?

But a third reason might be what Pope Benedict said in The Spirit of the Liturgy: "renovations and reconstructions" that, however well intentioned, proceed out of a failure to appreciate the "fresco" of the liturgy, and threaten to be a "first stage of irreparable loss."


A.K. said...

On communion under both species being optional: I've heard it taught that Jesus chose bread and wine as the sacramental elements because they represent both basic sustenance and glorification.

Bread is the basic food--we pray that God would give us our daily bread, that which nourishes and sustains us. Without bread, we die.

Wine, on the other hand, represents feasting and glorification. We need water to live, but wine is abundance--"glorified water." We get to sit down and drink in the presence of God--a privilege Old Testament priests did not enjoy (they couldn't sit or drink wine during their ministrations).

It seems to me that not serving the cup gives the congregation only half the picture--life, yes, but without rest, without feasting.

Wonderful thoughts on beauty and the liturgy, by the way.

Anonymous said...

I think there are few comments here because many people will find that your remarks require more than casual thought to digest, and these are people not given to producing thoughts beyond the casual.

There will be some who object to your statements, which I know because as a member of a parish I often hear people talking about how much certain things mean to them, such as the "theme Masses", embellished rituals, oddly personalised liturgies (like the clown and mime Masses and "liturgical dancers", the handholding, candle-lighting, etc. ad nauseum. They are the same folks who think nothing of arriving 15 min. after liturgy has begun, and slithering out before the recessional.

As an older person who has observed all sorts of decadant changes to the Divine Liturgy (as our Orthodox brethren still have the sense to call it - and after all, isn't the word "Mass" itself a pop reference, coming as it does from a slur of "ite missa est"?) I have witnessed a degradation of the viewpoint that the liturgy is worship, to one where the liturgy is entertainment. Many people believe that liturgy's function is to please and entertain the congregation, and also to be over with as soon as possible.

People want to fulfill their Sunday obligation and get the reward of feeling like they have done something good by attending Mass. Yet so very few appear to know or care what's going on, and especially among the younger generations we see such appalling irreverance when receiving Holy Communion. Younger people talk and wave to friends as they progress toward this profound experience, their minds far away from the giftthey are about to receive, the gift of Jesus. We see people talking and giggling together throughout liturgy and dressing inappropriately. Anytime I am at Sunday Mass I see girls in halter tops and short shorts, people in dirty unpressed clothing, and jeans and sandals.

Clearly there are many who would never even be able to understand what you're talking about and would object if they did, because they like an easy kind of worship where they make no personal effort and still award themselves the satisfaction of having done something for God.

I respect your efforts and truly wish you the very best. Don't give up! You are among a relative few trying to reverse a decades-long downward trend in Roman Catholic worship! Stick to your mission, even if it gets discouraging!


Anonymous said...

ditto to annie!!

Blessings to all!


Kasia said...

Now, I enjoyed this post and will have to re-read it to make sure it all sinks in (or at least more of it). However, I have a question for you. I was under the impression - very possibly mistaken impression, but anyway - that the posture of the congregation is not specifically prescribed during the Our Father, so it is acceptable to either hold hands or not. (Now, there's a world of difference between "acceptable" and "prescribed", but that's another story.) Am I misinformed?

I personally dislike holding hands during the Our Father, and intentionally maintain a tightly closed, elbows-at-my-sides, hands folded in prayer, and head bowed posture to discourage overzealous neighbors who just grab for my hands (Hey, guys, the Sign of Peace comes next - we're not there yet!). But my research to date has suggested that hand-holding is allowed, though not necessarily encouraged. What's the real deal?

Father Martin Fox said...


About the hand-holding and/or hand-raising during the Our Father...

This is just my sense of it: the rubrics, in effect, "don't care" if this or that person raises or holds hands; but to the extent it involves much or most of the congregation, then I do think it goes beyond what the rubrics envision: because the hand-holding seems to detract from the sign of peace, a moment later; and the hand-raising is actually the posture of the celebrant.

Mind you, I'm not saying this is a big deal; perhaps I'd have done better not to mention it at all. But I offered it as one example of how we're creating new liturgical norms, and I simply want to raise the question about whether we ought to do that.

As you point out: many people do not like holding hands, and more often than you may realize, folks grab other people's hands. Suddenly, what some folks think is a "nice" gesture has no become something divisive and distracting to others.

Personally, I like what my mother had to say to us kids, on long car trips: "keep your hands to yourself!"

Anonymous said...

Right on, Father! Nix the handholding.

Annie again

meinsouth said...

"It is better for the main altar to be constructed away from the wall so that one can easily walk around the altar and celebrate facing the people" (Inter Oecumenici, 91).

Fr, forgive me, but this does sound like the new norm would be facing the people. I do not see where this would mean that the priest wouldn't. If it had been interpreted wrong, wouldn't the popes have stopped celebrating the mass facing the people? From what I have seen, even Pope Benedict faces the people. Am I wrong?

Father Martin Fox said...


Your response suggests several things may not be clear, so let me try to sort them out.

I did not say that it was wrong to celebrate facing the people. What I said was that this was in no mandated or even mentioned by the Council.

The document I cited was not from the Council -- it was an extra-conciliar document. Rather like the difference between when Congress enacts a law, and then an agency of the government issues regulations. The regulation is not the same thing as the law it purports to implement.

Second, the document at issue, while certainly having authority, does not say the priest must face the people. It rather says, set the altar so it "can easily" be done.

Rather like the Council saying, yes, you can use the vernacular -- that's a far cry from you must.

This fully explains why no pope has ever intervened, because it would mean stopping priests from doing what is permitted; and I never said ad orientem (facing the same way as the people) was not permitted.

Third, to substantiate my point that it remains but an option -- rather than the only way -- I point to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal -- i.e., the rubrics or "rulebook" for Mass.

If you read closely, you will see several places it directs the priest to turn toward or to face the people; which would make no sense if he was already, constantly, doing so! I.e., the rubrics are written as if he is not doing so, so he must, at those points, do so!

As it happens, the current Mass is in various places celebrated in this fashion, and it is perfectly licit to do so. When you go to Rome, or many other places of pilgrimage, you will find many side altars in churches or chapels where you have no alternative but to celebrate Mass ad orientem; no one (in authority) has thought it required that those existing altars be removed and remodeled, to "solve" this "problem" -- nor has anyone said, "you can no longer offer Mass on this side altar since the Council." This is the case in St. Peter's and all the papal basilicae in Rome! Clearly, then, the ad orientem style -- again, the priest and people facing the same way -- remains a legitimate option under the current rubrics of the Mass. And that was part of the point I was making; not that celebrating versus populum was illegitimate.

It was, as far as I know, allowed prior to the Council, although I am not an expert in such matters; clearly, it was unusual, because you could only do it with a free-standing altar. St. Peter's in Rome had, at that time, a free-standing altar, the same one still in use.

The other point I was making was, where did it come from? Many assume -- because they were told -- that the Council mandated it. That is not the case.

meinsouth said...

Thank you for helping with my understanding. I really appreciate it.
I am crying inside at all the beautiful altars which were destroyed to make way for an altar away from the wall.:0(
God Bless