We republish it here in its entirety.
THE OLD ROMAN MISSAL: LOSS AND REDISCOVERY
(by Martin Mosebach)
The history of the Holy Catholic Church is full of mysteries; and as well as good mysteries there are evil mysteries, The Apostle Paul speaks, significantly, of the mysterium iniquitatis, the "mystery of iniquity." Down the centuries the so-called Theodicy—that is, the question "How can there be evil in a Creation that God made good?"—has constantly been bursting into flame. It is a question that comes from a profound unease, from a deep distress. St. Paul's "mystery of iniquity" recognizes the distress caused by the existence of evil, but he absolutely refuses to give an answer to it. As for myself, I will not say whether the mystery of which I am about to speak is good or evil, or an inseparable mixture of both elements. Why am I reticent on this point? Each one of history's great events has consequences that send ripples down the centuries, and these consequences are constantly changing their aspect. Something that is a curse in one century may turn out to be a blessing in a later century. But it is also the case that diseases can persist while their manifestations change.
These introductory remarks, I must admit, express a certain hesitation on my part. This is because I am deeply aware of the seriousness of my subject. I wish to speak to you about the tremendous upheaval in the Church's history since the Second Vatican Council. For it was then that something entirely new happened: something that, until then, was unthinkable. Whenever a Catholic hears the word "new" in connection with the Church, he must always be on his guard. What is really "new" in the history of the world is the Incarnation, God's becoming man; and this has already taken place. At the same time this Incarnation never ceases to present itself to us as something new: it is something so new that we cannot fully grasp it. It points ahead to a time after the end of times when the world will be re-created. It anticipates this new creation, but until then the Incarnation lodges in the world's body like a annoying and irritating thorn.
Besides Jesus Christ nothing can be "new" unless it is totally saturated with him. On the contrary, anything that tries to modify, intensify, re-touch or re-vamp what has been revealed once-and-for-all will always remain doubtful and possibly even dangerous, however interesting and attractive it may sound. There is a cultural axiom that states, "Old things are best": this is surely the experience of every culture, every civilization. Culture is necessarily connected with confidence in the tradition: culture consists in the expansion of a brief human life into the wide horizons of the past and the future. Culture gives people the opportunity to assimilate the experiences of earlier generations and to hand them on the future generations. Based on the experience of past generations, trees can be planted now so that, eventually, generations to come will be able to enjoy their fruit. What is old has proved that it can survive over many generations. It has not sunk into oblivion like things that are valueless and dead, but has demonstrated its fruitfulness over centuries or even millennia. As Goethe, the great German poet, observed: "Only the fruitful is true." What is old and has remained a living reality can even be the visible form of truth in past and present.
Christians, however, have a further reason for holding fast to what is old and traditional. The Christian belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ cannot be equated with belief in pagan myths, existing in the eternal present, not involved in history. Christians believe that the Creator of heaven and earth became man at a particular moment of history, in the early period of the Roman Empire and in the most despised province of that Empire. In the Creed, one of the most sacred Christian texts, Christians utter the name of the Son of God and of his holy Mother alongside the name of a mediocre and unsuccessful Roman provincial official. This was Pontius Pilate who, on account of his weakness, became associated with the work of Redemption. He owes his immortal fame to the will of the Fathers of the Council of Nicaea, who determined to make it a part of the Christian faith that Jesus was a historical figure. God became man, and being a man meant having a particular country, a particular language, particular traditions, and being born into a particular political and cultural situation. Jesus was a Jew and also a Roman subject. When his Church subsequently incorporated Jewish and Roman characteristics, it was quite literally continuing the Incarnation. And these perpetuation of incarnation is to be the Church's mission until the end of time.
All Christians are therefore bound to look to the future, to the Lord's return. But in order to know who it is who will return, they must look back into the past. And the "past" here does not mean the murky abyss of the earliest beginnings of the human race, but the decades of the reigns of the emperors Augustus and Tiberius. This was the time of those who witnessed the Lord's glory and went to their deaths for the sake of their faith. And their faith was more a knowing than a believing. It is they who handed on the faith to us. No Christian priest and no Christian layman, giving a reason for his Christian faith, can give a greater or better explanation than that given by St. Paul when he says, "I have handed on to you what I have received." In explaining their faith, Christians are part of a chain that links the present with the past. The bodily act of the laying-on-of-hands, which cannot be replaced by any kind of spiritualism, connects them with the Apostles of the earliest time. What we learn from them is that the presence of Christ is the life of his Church, and this does not come about by way of auto-suggestion, meditation or internal disposition: it occurs by means of the transformed figure of the Incarnate Christ as he passes by, blessing people by laying his hands on them, radiating miraculous powers from his clothes; as his feet are washed by the woman who was a sinner and as they are pierced by the nails; as he weeps for Lazarus and roasts a fish for his disciples. Jesus had taught his disciples that they were constantly to re-create his presence. And this presence was infinitely more precious than his teaching, because it contained not only the entirety of that teaching but far, far more: things that can only be approached through contemplation, not through intellectual comprehension. His Apostles were to become his instruments, making him present, present in the highest and most concentrated moment of his earthly life; that is to say, his sacrificial death on the Cross.
Early Christians knew as a matter of course that the cult bequeathed to them by the Lord was far more than a repetition of the Last Supper. They knew that the Last Supper was itself only a sign of the real work of redemption that was to take effect in his anguished death on the Cross. That is why they clothed this cult in the most sublime and beautiful forms of prayer and sacrifice that mankind had developed in the thousands of years before the coming of the Redeemer. These forms had no author; they were not devised by wise men: they arose from the sensibilities of all people who desired to worship the Divinity. Only one thing distinguished this new Christian sacrifice from its antecedents in all religions: in making present the sacrifice of Jesus, it was not so much the work of pious and religious men as the work of God himself. It was a work performed by God for the benefit of mankind. It was a work which men—even the most religious men—could not have done for themselves. They could come to it only by the grace of the Redeemer. This is a central axiom of Christian worship, without which it remains unintelligible: it is not a human work, and therefore must not be allowed to appear to be a human work. It must be seen to owe its origin not to the will of man, but to the will of God.For Catholics this should be beyond dispute. But we have to acknowledge that in many parts of the Catholic world, and particularly in the Catholic Church's historical bedrock territory, this axiom is no longer taken for granted.
After this lengthy introduction I will now return to the developments that took place in the wake of the Second Vatican Council. Something happened then that had never happened before. It was new. It was new in such a way that Catholics can only see it with fear and apprehension. I have tried to describe the Church's relationship with her liturgy: for almost two thousand years the Church's liturgy was accepted without question as the bodily presence of Jesus, the Head of the Church. It was the Church's visible body. For a Catholic this visibility is not some subordinate quality: it is not subordinated to some higher, invisible world. God himself took a human body and even bore his wounds with him into glory. Ever since the God-man saw with our eyes and heard with our ears, our senses (which are by nature so easily deceived) are fundamentally empowered to recognize truth. As a result of Christ's Incarnation the material world is no longer the realm of illusion: now, matter can again be seen for what it is: God's thoughts, expressed in terms of the material world. This realization gave rise to the absolute seriousness with which the Church used to perform all the physical actions of the liturgy. Every gesture of the hand, every inclination of head or body, every genuflexion, every kiss given to sacred objects was performed seriously and deliberately. The candles, the vessels and the sacrificial gifts of bread and wine were handled with respect. The language in which the divine thoughts were expressed was regarded literally as an instance of revelation. Thus St.Basil the Great, one of the Eastern Fathers, expressly said that Holy Mass was just as much revelation as Holy Scripture. A small example will illustrate the Church's attitude towards the world of things that she draws into her Sacraments (or did prior to the Second Vatican Council). In medieval times the Cistercians often used to engrave their gold chalices with the name of Mary: just as Mary's body had carried the God-man, the chalice contained the divine Blood. In this way the whole story of salvation history came to a point in the objects used in the Eucharist. The Second Vatican Council expressly and emphatically repeated the traditional theology of the Mass; it solemnly recognized the sacred language and the sacred music (Gregorian chant, which hovers between West and East, not belonging exclusively to any one culture). The Council called only for a cautious revision of the liturgical books - the kind of revision that was usual every couple of hundred years or so, in order to prevent any misunderstandings creeping in. Let us remember what the Catholic liturgy had achieved up to this time. Beginning with Asia Minor it had conquered the Roman and Greek world. Ultimately it had triumphed in the pagan Empire, had witnessed the latter's demise and had won over the pagan peoples of the North and East. It became the instrument of a missionary success that is unique in world history. How many historical disintegrations and revolutions did it survive! It expanded beyond the borders of Europe and came to
Asia, Africa and America, and everywhere it was initially something alien - to German and Irish people just as much as to Indians, Singhalese and Chinese. The Germans did not understand Latin, nor could they read, when the great missionary, Boniface, brought the Holy Mass to them. This remained the case for a long time, notably in the Church's most brilliant periods, when the faithful felt that the most important thing in the celebration of Mass was not that every word should be understood, but that the presence of the Redeemer should be experienced. A man might understand every individual word of the Mass, but if he did not experience this presence, he understood nothing at all, strictly speaking. Revolutions caught fire all over the world, dictatorships mushroomed, only to collapse and shrink, but the Holy Mass remained always the same. To the whole world, Holy Mass tangibly represented the Church's unchangeable nature down the ages. Even the Church's enemies recognized that her strength lay in her untimeliness - that is, not that she was old-fashioned, but that she and her liturgy were not completely identified with any particular period or culture; she always had one foot outside time in every period of history. The liturgy was not celebrated in the present time butter omni saecula saeculorum, for all time since the world's foundation, right up to the world's end, and then in eternity. This eternity has already begun and is the gold-leaf background behind all historical times; it is against this backdrop that the liturgy - "The Marriage of the Lamb" as it is called in the Apocalypse - has always been celebrated and always will be.
I realize that I keep losing the thread of my discourse! The reason for this is that I am somewhat inhibited when I come to give an account of the unique event that has taken place in the Church. Of course I can give plenty of sociological, political and historical reasons for this event, which in its effects can only be compared, perhaps, with the hundred years of the Iconoclastic controversy in Constantinople, though Iconoclasm affected only a small region within the vast compass of the universal Catholic Church. But I find none of these reasons convincing. I believe in the Church's supernatural essence: this means that I cannot be satisfied with any natural explanations for the Church's triumphs and disasters. Consequently I refuse to guess or surmise the reasons that moved many reformers of his time to surrender the Church's inherited treasure, her very heart, and draw up a new liturgy. This new liturgy was constructed out of elements of the old liturgy but, as Pope Benedict has said, it tends in a direction that is in many ways opposed to that of the old.
I have already said that this reform was totally unlike anything in the Church's history. It was fundamentally new and novel and constituted a profound break with tradition. There was also something especially unfortunate about the reform as regards, not only the intention of the reformers, but the time at which it was introduced. For it took place in the fateful year 1968, a year that needs to be given more attention by historians. We give the name "axis years" to years when - without any obvious intellectual or political connections - similar ideas and religious movement spring up all over the world. For instance there are the years when Buddha was teaching in India, Confucius in China, Zoroaster in Persia, Jeremiah in Israel and Pythagoras in Greece. It was as if all these events turned around a single world axis. And also 1968 was such an axis year. It saw the outbreak, throughout the whole world, of a revolt against tradition, authority and inherited values. In France the western world's last patriarchal head of state, General de Gaulle, was toppled from power. In North America an apparently irresistible youth movement sprang up, making it impossible to continue the war in Vietnam. In Germany the traditional and highly efficient system of free universities was destroyed as a result of strikes. In Prague there was a revolt against the Soviet Union, and China saw the Cultural Revolution with its great devastation. In 1967 the new order of Mass was promulgated against the clear wishes of a synod of bishops specially summoned to consider the issue. It was the first Missal in the history of the Church to have been put together on the desks of academics and largely written from scratch. Now, however, the reform, which we could just as well call a re-invention, was dragged into the tornado of the 1968 Year of Revolution. At a time when the Zeitgeist [the spirit of the times] was utterly out of control, when every form of obedience, authority, respect and reverence was fundamentally rejected, this radical measure was to be implemented in the entire universal Church, from Rome to the most isolated Chinese catacomb community. And we must remember all the time that this measure was itself utterly contrary to the spirit of the Church. The result was that in many places, above all in Europe and the United States, but also in Latin America, it was as if all dams had burst. What was untouchable had shown that it could be touched. This meant that, from now on, there would never again be anything untouchable. From now on everything would be available, at will, to every generation. Everything was in principle available and amenable. [Everything was now "up for grabs"]
Pope Paul's reform itself had weighty consequences, but the way it was carried out, particularly in most dioceses of Europe and the United States, trashed everything that, in the Pauline Rite, still had links with Catholic tradition. In this axis year, 1968, reform turned into revolution. It began with the liturgy. And here we can see liturgy's central role in the Church: everything else, theology, the person of the priest, the hierarchical constitution of the Church, the everyday prayers of the faithful, the edifice of Catholic culture, missionary work, and ultimately even the core articles of faith, were intimately connected with the liturgy. With the liturgy they all stood or fell. The liturgy was not a historically conditioned form that could be replaced and adapted to everyday needs without doing damage to its substance. This should have been obvious even to people who mistakenly thought that love for the traditional liturgy was a morally dubious, a kind of religious aestheticism. Pastoral requirements had been cited as the strangest argument for the reform. A severely simplified rite, with vernacular prayers that were theologically general and unchallenging in tone, would surely help to keep modern people within the Church. Even this notion should have made people ask questions; in the mission lands of Asia, for instance, with their advanced civilization, people had been accustomed to extraordinarily rich rites in difficult sacred languages for millennia. To withhold Catholic tradition from them was equivalent to an act of colonialist paternalism. In the Christian heartlands, however, the reform's simplifications had devastating consequences. When, in spite of much resistance, the reform was pushed through in a last exercise of power on the part of the Roman central authorities, the faithful began to pull out of the churches. As someone wrily observed, "The reform of the Mass was intended to open the Church's doors to those outside; what happened was that the people inside escaped and ran away!" The solemn, hieratic cult was abolished, and the attempt was made, so to speak, to run after the faithful with the sacraments. But they declined this offer. In whole areas of Europe all understanding of the sacraments disappeared. The entire development was baffling: now that every word - allegedly - could be understood, the whole eucharistic event had become somehow alien to people. The Church's great work of making God present no longer made sense. Simultaneously, knowledge of the Catholic faith withered away. Today, in Europe, there are many Catholics who can hardly say an Our Father, let alone a Creed. Many have only the vaguest notion of the Church's teaching.
Terrible damage has been done to the Catholic priesthood in the wake of the reform. In the west the ancient awareness that the priest at the altar is acting in persona Christi has faded. The reformed [and refashioned] clergy has remodeled itself along fashionably democratic lines. It cannot bear the idea that the priest is homo excitatus a Deo (a man called out from among the crowd). A modern priest feels the distinction between laity and priesthood - a distinction found in the Acts of the Apostles - to be something deeply upsetting; he cannot deny this distinction, so he tries to forget it. Lay people invade the sanctuary, women act as altar servers (and in doing so they obscure the fact that acolytes actually belong to the lower ranks of the clergy). In Europe, generally speaking, priests have abandoned clerical dress. They no longer want to be recognizable; they find their role in a secularized society a source of embarrassment. In German there is an old saying, "The habit does not make the monk." This is correct, but the opposite is equally true, and we have come to understand this in our time: "It's the habit that makes the monk." In other words, it is the harmony of outer form and inner attitude that makes the Catholic priest. He is meant to exercise his role in persona Christi in a bodily way: he should be visible and tangible to everyone.
Liturgy, leiturgia in Greek, means "public service" or "service to the public". Liturgical prayer is contrasted with the prayer of the individual. The individual speaks to God in whatever language he knows and with whatever words he can, whereas the Church prays in the name of Angels, of Saints, of the souls in Purgatory and of the living on earth. This prayer of all and for all must therefore be shaped by a form that is open to everyone's scrutiny. The western Church was afraid that there would be a widening gap between a religionless, libertarian consumer society and the world of faith; accordingly it tried to suppress everything that was specific to itself and might therefore give offence [be a stumbling block] in the secular sphere. It tried to support the modern world's principles. As a result, as someone said, "it baptized ideas that had not been converted." Forty years went by in this way and the western Church lost more and more clarity of profile, trying more and more obsequiously to adapt itself to the ideas of a religionless society. There is something mysterious and magical about these numbers. The People of Israel spent forty years wandering in the desert. The Communist occupation of East Germany with its puppet regime also lasted for forty years. [Forty years were spent "reforming" the Church;] and when these forty years were up, the fruit had ripened. It burst and spread its evil-smelling contents all around. I am speaking here of the immorality scandals that have shaken many of the Church's western provinces. Of course we can say that in the present environment, which is hostile to the Church, the scandals have been maliciously exaggerated, distorted and generalized. But what the scandals reveal above all is a Church that is speechless and helpless, having secularized itself. Having shamelessly courted the public, it can no longer communicate its own being; it can no longer communicate its core reality. Forty years of aggiornamento, forty years of popularizing and secularizing the sacrament of the altar, have produced a catastrophe of the gravest proportions. This is no exaggeration. And as for those people who, right from the start, watched the secularization experiment with anxiety and apprehension, they are not saying smugly, "I told you so!" There is no satisfaction in being in the right when all of us are faced with this terrible collapse and the Church's moral ostracism [banishment from society]. We realize that whole generations have been abandoned and lost, and that any reconstruction will be infinitely hard and laborious. The blood that has haemorrhaged from the western Church will take a very long time to replace.
There was a time before, in the Church's history, when the faith began to shift its dwelling-place. It left areas in which had settled and won new territory elsewhere. Few Christians now live in Christianity's original homelands, Palestine, Egypt, Asia Minor particularly - places where the young Church blossomed and the first important Council took place. Why should Christian Europe be any different? Christianity has traveled all around the world from its base in Europe. In Asia it may be as yet a minority, but a minority that is spiritually and intellectually strong, resolute and ready for sacrifice. It is a minority that is regarded with respect by the majority.
It is clear to me that the destruction of Catholic tradition did less damage in regions where it was not linked with the spirit of 1968. Though these reforms were plainly contrary to the Church's tradition, it was possible, of course, to implement them in a spirit of devotion and with a heart that had been fashioned by this tradition. Furthermore, many of the most offensive infringements committed against the law of Catholic tradition were in no way rooted in Pope Paul's reform. They arose from the disobedience that proliferated everywhere in the West as a result of the structural collapse during the pontificate of this unfortunate pope. Once Paul VI had begun to realize the extent of the destruction, he observed with great emotion that "the smoke of Satan had entered the Church." The Missal of. Paul VI, for instance, did not order the altars to be turned round - one of the most grievous acts against the tradition of prayer in the entire world. Pope Paul did not necessarily want to put an end to the tradition whereby the priest, together with the faithful, faces the Crucified Christ, the Christ who is to come again from the East; nor did he want to suppress the tradition according to which the priest addresses his prayers, together with the congregation, to Christ, present on the altar in the form of the transformed [transubstantiated] gifts. This reversal of the orientation of prayer did more harm in Europe and the United States than all the relativizing, demythologizing and humanizing theologians. It struck the simple believer immediately that the prayers were no longer addressed to God but to the congregation. Now, the purpose of prayer was to put the congregation in the right mood, the right frame of mind so that it could celebrate itself as the "People of God". Something similar happened when Holy Communion was given in the hand instead of on the tongue, as formerly. This change, also, was not foreseen in the Missal of Paul VI: it was enforced by some German bishops.
Prior to the changes a whole garland of reverent gestures had accumulated around the sacrament of the altar, and these gestures gave a most eloquent sermon, constantly reminding priest and people of the Lord's mysterious presence in the [consecrated] Bread and Wine. We can be sure of this: no theological indoctrination on the part of so-called "enlightened" theologians did as much damage to the belief of western Catholics as did communion in the hand. It immediately abolished all the former precautions [care] with regard to particles from the Host. Is it impossible, then, to receive communion in the hand reverently? Of course it is possible. But once the etiquette of reverence exists and has had its beneficial, elevating influence on the consciousness of the faithful, it stands to reason that withdrawing the etiquette gave a clear signal (and by no means only to simple believers). What was this signal? That the earlier degree of reverence was not required. This in turn, logically, produced the conviction — a conviction not initially made explicit — that there was nothing present that might command respect.
As I have said, these things were the result of the baneful combination of the liturgical reform with the West's political Zeitgeist. Absurdly, this "spirit of the age" demanded the democratization of Catholic worship, as if the Church were a political organization like a state or a political party. In Asia, by contrast, the Church's growth, its Spirit-filled and charismatic power seems not to have been undermined by the reform; every Catholic must be heartily thankful for this. Where the fire burns, it can be given to others. It would not be the first time in the Church's history that missionary territories had re-transmitted the faith to Christian homelands that had lost it. After the fall of the Roman Empire, France was re-Christianized by Irish monks, who in turn owed their Christianity to Egyptian missionaries. In this way the Christian law of mutuality was fulfilled, brothers strengthening each other in faith. But we must also remember the poet John Donne's line, "No man is an island," - in this sense: in the universal Church there are no Isles of the Blessed, no places that are spared the fortunes and misfortunes of the wider body in the long run. The crisis in the wider body of the Church will one day reach all its parts; we must be prepared and equipped for this. So regions that have not yet produced the symptoms of decay and debility [weakening] must ask what the causes of such decay were, and what can be done to forestall them. The attack on the inherited liturgy by the reform of the Mass remains a problem in the strictly philosophical sense of the word, because it has. created a situation that has no obvious solution. People say, "problems have no solution, only a history." And this history of the problem of liturgical reform has only just begun. Even before his election, our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI was one of the very few bishops who knew that the radical break with tradition represented a great danger for the Church. Now, in his famous Motu proprio he has asserted that the Church's Traditional Rite was never forbidden because, by its very nature, it could not be forbidden. The Pope is-not the master of the liturgy but its protector. The Church never forsakes its inherited rites, which it regards as a spiritual heritage. On the contrary, it urges the faithful to study them and make their hidden treasures available here and now.
The Pope had no intention of ignoring the past - a futile enterprise in any case - and pretending that the last forty years did not happen. He took a decision that was aimed, above all, at reconciling the reform party with the defenders of Catholic tradition. According to the papal statement there is now one single Roman Rite in two forms, the "ordinary" and the "extraordinary". The two forms stand side by side in a relationship of equality. Either of these two forms can be celebrated by any priest at any time without episcopal permission. They are related to each other in such a way that the celebrant of the New Rite (the "ordinary" form) is meant to learn from the Traditional Form (the "extraordinary" form) how the Church's tradition understands Holy Mass. The Pope has urged the Church to re-examine the old books of rites and learn, from the fathers and saints of past centuries, how to perform the solemn work of making God present. We are all summoned, then, to give thanks for the rescuing of the traditional Missal, which was almost lost, to open it - perhaps even at the eleventh hour - and read how the Church, and all those faithful people to whom we all owe our faith, used to pray. Perhaps we too can try to pray again as they did. We should not forget that this was the Missal of the Roman Popes; it was prescribed for the whole Church at the Council of Trent. Why? Because, with absolute certainty, it contained not a single error, nor even the possibility of any misunderstanding. In the great crisis of the Reformation it was regarded as a kind of spiritual Noah's Ark for the Church, saving it from the Flood of universal apostasy.
Let us then rediscover the Psalm Judica, with which the traditional Mass begins at the foot of the altar, this unique preparation for the rite. We are summoned to leave behind our individual, everyday concerns, to turn away from the godforsaken world and put away our anxieties, cares and deep-seated doubts. We are to go up to the sanctuary of the Lord on the Temple Mountain. This Psalm invites us to Holy Mass as to a pilgrimage, in which we set out and leave behind everything that obstructs our prayer. Next the priest makes his confession of sin and the congregation listens to him in silence before praying for his sins to be forgiven. Then the congregation makes its own confession of sin to the priest. In fact, the confession of sin only makes sense in this dialogue form, because a confession needs someone to listen - and someone who, while listening, is not speaking at the same time. Let us rediscover the great Creed of Constantinople, which was formulated to clarify the Creed of Nicaea and ward off the errors of Arianism. Just like the Church when it was threatened by Arianism, we need again the profession of faith that Jesus is "God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God." In Germany, at least, this Creed has disappeared almost entirely from worship, as has the genuflexion at the central article of our faith, "et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto ex Maria virgine et homo factus est." With wonder and astonishment let us read the Orations, especially those of the Sundays after Pentecost, many of which were composed by St. Jerome himself. They are masterpieces of rhetoric [oratory], formulating theological truths that nourish meditation even outside the Mass, and uniquely giving voice to the Christian relationship between God and man. One of the greatest losses in the reform of the Mass is the loss of the Offertory prayers, during which the veiled sacrificial gifts are brought to the altar and the sacred event of the Lord's sacrificial death begins. These prayers come from earliest times; they speak, for the first time in human history, of the dignity of man, a dignity God gave to his creatures from the very beginning, a dignity that was wondrously renewed by Jesus' sacrificial death. The Epiclesis, too, is of the greatest importance: in it the Holy Ghost is called down upon the gifts. The Eastern Church regards this prayer as having an essential effect on the act of transforming the gifts; but the Western Church, too, knows that it is the Holy Ghost who will bring about the miracle of transubstantiation. Then comes the Roman canon, which is still contained in the new missal, though it is prayed in only a few places nowadays. The Roman canon, listing as it does all the saints of the city of Rome, connects every offering of Mass with Rome, with the Pope and therefore with the universal Church. In this way those who share in the Mass come forth from their home countries and become citizens of Rome, members of the one Church that embraces the whole world. In one highly significant prayer the Roman canon links the present altar sacrifice with the sacrifices of all men at all times: with the sacrifice of Abel (representing revelation in its first form), the sacrifice of King Melchizedek (who was not a Jew and so represents the sacrifices of non-Jewish peoples) and the sacrifice of Abraham, which - in terrifying explicitness - anticipates the sacrifice of the Cross, this drama that is acted out between Father and Son.
I can give only the barest indication of the wealth of forms to be found in a ritual language that has undergone thousands of years of refinement. The old Missal is full of references and allusions, which only yield their meaning after decades of use. Its aim is to change the lives of the faithful. It demands life-long meditation. It is not an instrument for instant propaganda; rather, one must allow it time to penetrate the soul.
And what of the language of the Missal? The English-speaking faithful, at least, will soon be able to use correct translations that will replace the many very damaging simplifications and falsifications to be found [in the current English language missals.] Other nations, where modernist arrogance is more established, will have to wait longer for this. It is therefore all the more important for priests, as well as the faithful, to get to know the Church's mother tongue, in which the Church's teachings have been preserved in such clarity and conciseness. A sacred language has the advantage of being the language of no individual nation. We enter this language like entering a sacred building; it breathes a prayer that is more powerful than the prayer of the individual. It speaks a prayer that is pre-existent, that is there before us; we only have to associate ourselves with it, join ourselves to it. The Church we belong to is above time and above nations; and she is present in this sacred language.
It may be that the present crisis is presenting us with an opportunity: we should not allow ourselves to drown in pious routine but seek to rediscover the Church's visible form, learn to love and defend it like a precious treasure that we thought had been lost: to our great surprise and joy we find it again, and realize - perhaps for the first time - that nothing can replace it.