Monday, October 8, 2012
Mass, My Cry of Anguish, and the Year of Faith
For me, Sundays are…Just. Not. Good. I’ve addressed that here and other places on this blog; see the “TLM, Liturgy, and Liturgical Abuse” tab at the top of the page.
Now, however, I’ve progressed to a new level of anguish.
It’s not that we have more egregious liturgical abuses than other parishes do; it could be a lot worse. Still, the bad music, the ad-libbed prayers, the often-ridiculous “prayers of the faithful”, the glad-handing and racing around the church at the “sign of peace”, and so on…ad nauseum…constitutes a continuous grating on the nerves.
But now the problem is that I am becoming more and more aware of the theological issues with the Novus Ordo Mass. I can’t ignore it any longer. I can’t pretend. I know too much.
On the Sundays when we attend Mass celebrated by a fairly orthodox priest, I get my hopes up a little, and I think, “Maybe this week I can hang onto my state of grace long enough to receive Holy Communion.” Because usually I don’t. Recently, though, even when I have been able to overlook the bad music and a few liturgical abuses, I cannot bring myself to receive.
That’s because, on the heels of that thought about receiving Holy Communion, I wonder how I can receive at a Mass that seems to be inherently flawed in its own perception of itself, so to speak. It’s a Mass that says it’s Catholic, but wants very badly to be Protestant. It fools most of the people most of the time. But it seems to me that it can’t fool the people who have attended and plumbed the depths of the ancient Rite, the Mass of the Ages, the “extraordinary form” of the Mass, the Traditional Latin Mass, the Tridentine Mass…whatever you want to call it. In my own mind, I often call it “the real Mass”. (And yes, I know the NO is a valid Mass, assuming the basic conditions are met.
What are the ways in which the NO Mass loses touch with theological reality? Let me count the ways…or just a few of them.
First, there is the problem of the NO Mass seeing itself as an “assembly” rather than a “sacrifice”. It’s a “memorial of the Lord’s Supper” rather than the sacrifice of the Cross. Its essence is defined as the “gathering” of the People of God”. When I was the secretary at my parish, it was my duty to prepare a little script each week for the “announcer” to read, giving a little summary of the Gospel, etc. I always included the line, “Now let us take a few minutes of silence to prepare ourselves for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.” One announcer would never say the word “sacrifice”; he said “celebration”. (And most announcers could not remain silent for more than 30 seconds before saying, “Now let us stand for our opening song.”)
Second, there’s the problem of the role of the priest. In the EF Mass, you can see that the priest is really a priest, and that he offers the sacrifice for us, and that it is a Really Important Event. In the NO, the Mass is defined as “the People of God…called together, with a priest presiding and acting in the person of Christ”. The important thing to note is that the NO revisers made the priest a “presider”, and out of that he has become a talk-show host. In the EF Mass, the introit is a time of the priest’s preparation for the Mass. In the NO, we’ve lost the prayers at the foot of the altar, and the introit is now the “entrance hymn” – just a parade up to the sanctuary where the priest opens with a funny comment to break the ice.
Does it have to be this way? No. Does the theology of the New Mass expose itself to this with great abandon? Yes.
Third, the “new translation” notwithstanding, we still have weak prayers. “Sin” has been put back into them in places, but they still lack the force, the power, the no-nonsense-tell-it-like-it character of the real prayers. Just look at a 1962 Missal to see the difference.
Fourth, the concept of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist has been diluted and distorted, so that it’s no wonder people don’t really believe in the Real Presence any more. The GIRM states that “Christ is really present in the very liturgical assembly gathered in his name, in the person of the minister, in his word, and indeed substantially and continuously under the Eucharistic species.” Now, all of those things may be true, but lumping it all together that way, brings the Real Presence down a few notches, to say the least, and fails to show with actions the ineffable and sublime meaning of the real Real Presence.
In addition, the omission of actions that show the greater reverence due the Real Presence, have led people away from the sense of awe we should experience when we are in that Presence, and when we receive Holy Communion. Reception of Communion standing and in the hand, the disparaging of veils for women, the casual dress permitted for lay ministers…these are all of the answer to the question, “Why don’t people believe in the Real Presence?”
And all of that just scratches the surface of the problems with the NO. But I ask you: isn’t that enough?!
What makes me really sad – and really angry – is that so much of this appears to have been done on purpose by those with a modernist view and agenda at the Second Vatican Council. They purposely Protestantized the Mass. The evidence is out there; there are many accounts of what was said behind the scenes, what the modernists wanted to accomplish, the involvement of Protestants in guiding the “reform” of the Mass. (See for instance, Romano Amerio’s Iota Unum, Anne Muggeridge’s Desolate City, and titles like Liturgical Shipwreck by Michael Davies.)
The saddest fact of all is that most people aren’t really conscious of any of this. Some people seem to suspect that the Mass has been “Protestantized” but don’t know how to articulate it any further than that. Others don’t even think about it. It’s Mass…that’s all…it’s just Mass. “We’ve always done it this way,” they say. When something goes really crazy – like a clown Mass, for instance – they might object…or they might think, “Hey, that was a fun variation on a theme!”
Yet, the theological problems do manifest themselves in our lives. Lex orandi, lex credendi: The underlying theology of the Mass does affect our sense of Catholic identity, our knowledge of our faith, and our ability – and even our motivation – to effectively evangelize others (even our own children!).
The faithful who understand the problem are labeled “traditionalist”, at best. They are often outcasts in the parish. Their concerns about liturgical abuses are dismissed as “overly scrupulous”. They are the only women wearing veils at Mass. They are the ones plugging their ears against the guitars and tambourines. They are the ones mourning in the pews at the sight of people texting while in line to receive Holy Communion. They are the ones who drive hours one-way to attend a Traditional Latin Mass, even if that Mass is said in an SSPX chapel (gasp!).
This week, officially on October 11, we enter into the “Year of Faith”. We’re encouraged to study the documents of Vatican II and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Will studying the documents of Vatican II change things? I suppose it could…if the people who study them are willing to actually see that Gregorian chant has pride of place, that Latin was never meant to be abandoned, and that it was never mandated that the priest face the people during Mass. Etc.
Call me a skeptic, but I just don’t see that happening. And even if it did – which could certainly result in some improvements – we would still have the problem of the insidious creeping modernism inherent in the Vatican II docs, which has also permeated the CCC. How does faith grow in that kind of poisoned ground?
In Porta Fidei, the document introducting the Year of Faith, Pope Benedict XVI quotes Blessed John Paul II, who said that the Vatican II texts:
… “have lost nothing of their value or brilliance. They need to be read correctly, to be widely known and taken to heart as important and normative texts of the Magisterium, within the Church's Tradition ... I feel more than ever in duty bound to point to the Council as the great grace bestowed on the Church in the twentieth century: there we find a sure compass by which to take our bearings in the century now beginning.” (italics in original; my emphases)
Pope Benedict XVI adds:
I would also like to emphasize strongly what I had occasion to say concerning the Council a few months after my election as Successor of Peter: “if we interpret and implement it guided by a right hermeneutic, it can be and can become increasingly powerful for the ever necessary renewal of the Church.”
Well…there’s the rub. The Council has been “interpreted” to distraction over the last 50 years, giving us the “Spirit of Vaddican Too” which haunts many now-closed parishes. The fact that so much interpretation has been necessary in the first place ought to give us pause. That “interpretation” gave us the Novus Ordo Mass, after all.
With all due respect to the Holy Father, I think the “right hermeneutic” for studying the documents now is one that is willing to say “the emperor has no clothes”, and that there’s an “elephant in the living room”. Until we admit that modernism has colored the Council in ways that have severely damaged the Church, we aren’t going to make any progress at all.
If that’s a “downer”, so be it. A Pollyanna attitude and rose-colored glasses will not re-fill the pews or the seminaries. Neither will it increase our faith.
At least, that’s how I see it.