Thursday, June 06, 2013

Can We Ever “Understand” the Mass?

Dr. Peter Kwasniewski, "Can We Ever “Understand” the Mass?" (Views from the Choir Loft, June 6, 2013), writes:
HE CLAIM that the common people, before Vatican II, did not understand the Mass—that they no longer understood what it meant, the significance of its rituals and prayers, and so, as a result, the liturgy had to be updated, modernized, simplified—can be decisively refuted.

First, as is well attested in writing and photographs, all over the world there were immense numbers of Catholics who loved the liturgy and attended it as often as possible—including ordinary peasants and manual laborers. Whatever they cognitively derived from the exact prayers or gestures is insignificant compared to the overall shape, the seriousness and focus, the opportunity to adore in fear and trembling, which the sacred liturgy provided for their spiritual lives. (Related to this fact is the extremely strong preconciliar participation in the sacrament of penance, which also went out the window after the “reform” of the liturgy—perhaps suggesting a more than incidental connection between the form of the Mass and the virtue of penance itself.) The credibility of this historical data is verified by the crowds of people, young and old, who today devoutly and devotedly attend the Tridentine Mass wherever it has been re-introduced, because of the mystical attraction it exercises over serious Catholics who recognize it as a profound immersion in the prayer of Jesus Christ and His Church.

Second, due to the Liturgical Movement in its original fervor, countless missals and prayer books were published and disseminated, containing clear translations of, and often meditations based on, the prayers and gestures of the Mass. As Joseph Ratzinger recollects in Salt of the Earth, there were even “graduated” missals for children, so that at each stage of their maturity they could take one further step in intimacy with the Church’s grand liturgy. People everywhere grew familiar with the Mass, its calendar, ritual, processions, and music, in a far deeper way than anyone now does with the Novus Ordo; the liturgy grew into their hearts, it took root there and found a permanent home. There was never a lack of opportunities for the faithful to enter into the letter and the spirit of the liturgy. A particularly fine example of the resources made available in the nineteenth century would be The Liturgical Year by Dom Gueranger, which continues to nourish readers today.

And a last point should be recalled, in our era more than ever, when preaching has reached an all-time nadir in both content and style. If there was occasionally some failure to understand or appreciate the spiritual-theological depths of divine worship, this was chiefly the fault of priests and bishops. It is their duty to preach about the liturgy no less than about Sacred Scripture and Catholic doctrine, and, in the preconciliar period, faithful priests did just that—witness Romano Guardini’s beautiful Meditations Before Mass, intended for and well appreciated by the “people in the pews.” We see here the pastoral solicitude urged by Pope Francis when he tells pastors to feed their flocks.

A concerted, widespread effort to preach the Mass in all its richness would have sufficed for stirring up a profound renewal of the participation of the faithful at the time of the Second Vatican Council and into our times. This prudent and courageous approach appears never to have been even considered; the choice was made, instead, to simplify to the point of infantilism, so that there would be nothing that needed explanation—which is to say, nothing of mystery, nothing profound, nothing transcendent, nothing rooted in ageless tradition. The reformed liturgy represents the final capitulation of the priesthood to the democratic spirit of modernity: the priest gave up, or was practically compelled to give up, his role as teacher and ruler. As the sociologists and anthropologists were saying back in the seventies, those who take away the density of ritual and the solemn beauty of the ineffable will not gain more worshipers; they will merely give them more reasons to go away and find something more interesting to do.

Let us do our part to see to it that our own efforts to worship Almighty God (and, depending on our calling, to improve the ars celebrandi of the public worship in which we play some role) are based on a sane and sound understanding of the very heart of worship—the grandeur, majesty, transcendence, and holiness of God, which we cannot comprehend and which we do well to fear and to love with all our souls.
[Hat tip to P.K.]


Amateur Brain Surgeon said...

Dear Dr. There is a well know Jew (I forget his name) who wrote about being a student at a Parochial School and because Mass was part of the Calendar every day, he ended-up memorising the Real Mass and he developed a great respect for it.

Do you remember his name?

In any event, this is an excellent post. Kudos

Unknown said...

When I converted to the Roman Catholic Faith 31 years ago, I thought something was wrong then. First of all, I knew all of the hymns. Also, I wondered that, if the people really knew that Jesus was in this Sacrament, why do they feel that they are worthy to touch Him by Communion in the hand? I was always afraid that I was somehow walking on Him when I went to Communion. If they don't understand the Mass, or, are going only (in their eyes) to fulfill an obligation somehow, this lies mainly on the leaders shoulders. This is why Church leaders are facing the congregation when they are led into the Church at their burial; to face the all souls that might have been misled on their watch. Some responsibility, huh? We go only to the Traditional Mass, since it is the only one worshiping God, and NOT man.

Pertinacious Papist said...

Dear IANS,

I remember reading some such thing about a Jewish convert to the Catholic Faith, but no details. It wouldn't be one of those listed HERE would it? (Scroll down to "Jewish.")

JM said...

1. Have NEVER understood how standing versus kneeling at Mass was ever, ever widely approved. It simply flies in the face of the whole theology of the rite.

2. Have NEVER understood how Mass in the vernacular was immediately conjoined to a new and revised "translation" at the same time. If the point was comprehension, why on earth wasn't a strict translation the logical subsequent step. The very fact the two things happened simultaneously would provoke suspicion from any smart manager. "Oh, since we were translating it, we also took the opportunity to REVISE it." Huh? When it's a sacred rite? This is the achilles heal of Catholicism: since it is an authoritarian church, the priests and the faithful simply 'Yessed' up to one liberal encroachment after another, even if it felt wrong. Suddenly you have severe leakage and it is like, Gosh, really, is anyone surprised. The last four popes may have done many good things, but each one also had a heavy hand in the present debacle. Sainting any of them is pretty foolhardy, IYAM. Which the Congregation for Sainthood obviously isn't.

Sheldon said...

Great point. Well-put, JM.

Amateur Brain Surgeon said...

Dear Dr. Thanks, but I don't think it was any of them. I'll ask my subconscious to search my memory