The Mass defines the Church's mission

November 15, 2013
Source: District of the USA

Some clarifications on misconceptions about the traditional Roman Mass (and the mindset of those who attend it), and why the Mass is our banner for the Catholic Faith.

This commentary was first published as a Pastor's Corner in December 2012 and again in November 2013.

The Mass defines the Church and its mission!

In a recent article published by the National Catholic Reporter,[1] a priest from California wrote a "thought proviking" yet "fiery" piece on the "'evil fruits' of the Old Mass' return" of which we quote:

Those attached to the extraordinary form are not like Civil War re-enactment societies. Unlike these, the people attached to the extraordinary form are seriously trying to enact a particular worldview and understanding of church as if it could ever return...

…Pope Paul VI also understood this. The rejection of the Vatican II liturgy is a rejection of its ecclesiology and theology. When his philosopher friend Jean Guitton asked why not concede the 1962 missal to breakaway Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, the pope responded:

'Never. This Mass ...becomes the symbol of the condemnation of the Council. Should this exception to the liturgy of Vatican II have its way, the entire council would be shaken. And, as a consequence, the apostolic authority of the Council would be shaken.'[2]

...Liturgy is not about taste or aesthetics. It is how the church defines itself. The council's vision was that of a priestly people on mission. Clear elements express the active exercise of the priestly people of God: the prayer of the faithful, the offertory procession and the kiss of peace. These signs incarnate for the priesthood of all believers the task to proclaim the Gospel and to make intercession for the world and all people.

The liturgy that came out of the Middle Ages and Trent had a different emphasis. Focus was not on preparing all the baptized for mission but on the power of the ordained to transform bread and wine. The idea of the 'unbloody reenactment of the sacrifice of the cross' pushed 'thanksgiving for creation and consecrating the world' to the margins of Eucharistic theology. The power of the clergy to make Christ present in Eucharist eclipsed the Eucharist's power to transform the baptized."

The priest-author goes on to say that the Roman Missal (from the time of Trent until 1962) reduced the laity to mere spectators:

They are there to watch the priest say "his" Mass. The emphasis is hierarchical and legalistic (who has the power and how are they lawfully exercising that power). Rather than the risen Christ working through the whole people of God (lay and ordained), we have a powerful clergy ministering to a passive people. Instead of church as sacrament, we have church as a juridical hierarchy."

Our author even goes so far as to put the Carmelite reform of St. Teresa of Avila in his bag, as being a promoter of the aggiornamento in her own time, saying, among other things: "From sour-faced saints and silly devotions, good Lord, preserve us!"

May God pardon him for such hasty rapprochements that have little to do with the deformed rites of sacrilegious liturgists which possess very little Catholic inspiration. In St. Teresa’s strict inquisitorial times, these innovators would have been nipped in the bud and no Christian would have had to face the shame of a Godless liturgy with its soulless expressions of ‘art’.

The great interest about the article is that it goes right to the jugular: the liturgy defines the dogma and the purpose of the Church. To a democratic conglomeration of freelance laymen without specific powers and calling, there corresponds a dynamic and man-centered desacralized liturgy. To a hierarchical and hieratic Church flowing from the side of Christ all the way to the least faithful through the mediation of ordained pastors with a specific mission of saving souls from perdition, there corresponds a liturgy which respects the distinction, God-centered and sacrificial in character.

The caricature of the Tridentine faithful is as easy a target as it is grossly erroneous. For even if the man in the pew understands little of the Divine Action taking place at Mass, nevertheless he will still be an actor fully invested in the drama of the Mass. Far from putting one to sleep, it will arouse in him sentiments of devotion, humility and self-offering to the God who descends on the altars to renew the same sacrifice performed once for all on the cross. The Tridentine faithful know the mystery of the cross—the only thing St. Paul deemed worth teaching—thus they know how to live by it because it is ever present before his eyes.

There is little doubt that during the 20th century, popes did a great deal to promote the liturgy and its full splendor by encouraging and engaging the faithful to participate in these celebrations. The restoration of sacred music and the availability of the dialogue Mass are clear examples of the popularity of the liturgy—and most averse to a passive sitting at an abstruse rite often wrongly associated with the traditional rite. And how can one affirm that the new rite was popular when it cleared the church from most of its faithful and left the ‘president’ virtually without an ‘assembly’?

They make a banner out of the Mass” was the objection some authorities used to make against Archbishop Lefebvre. Our founder—everyone knows it, although few confess it—saved the Mass and the priestly spirit! Yes, indeed, the Mass of All Time has been, is and will be forever our battle flag, our logo, our source of life and our greatest prize.


1 This article cites and quotes from “Attempt to resurrect pre-Vatican II Mass leaves church at crossroads” published in the National Catholic Reporter on December 8, 2012.

2 The quotes are cited from True Reform: Liturgy and Ecclesiology in Sacrosanctum Concilium by Massimo Faggioli.