Monday, August 18, 2014

A Young Father at Mass in Linz, circa 2000

Kartause in Gaming
One of the joys of being a chronic scribbler is that, by means of jottings, journals, drafts, and diaries, one can take a look at what one was thinking years ago, at a different stage in one’s life, perhaps under very different circumstances.

I discovered the traditional Latin Mass fairly late in life. In senior year of highschool I attended a single Mass out of curiosity, and came away puzzled but intrigued. College brought several more exposures, increasing in frequency towards the end. There was a strong curiosity, the fascination of an outsider looking in, but I did not experience a steady pull and total conversion until my graduate school years in Washington, D.C., when I began attending Mass St. Mary Mother of God in Chinatown on a regular basis. Then, quietly and without a struggle, it all “clicked” for me: the richness of the prayers, the beauty of the chant, the splendor of the ceremonial, the overall earnestness of worship—not to mention the palpable spirit of devotion and strong commitment to living the Faith among those who attended and who, as time went on, became friends. With my heart captivated, I knew it was time to feed the intellect; and as I delved more and more into the subject, I came to realize what an incredible treasure this Mass was, and how tragically and unjustly it had been taken from the people.

My love for the old Mass grew even stronger, its place in my spiritual life more central, after I moved with my wife to Austria in 1998 to begin teaching at the International Theological Institute (at that time located in the town of Gaming, where the Franciscan University of Steubenville still runs a study abroad program). We were privileged to be able to attend the ancient Mass daily for several years in the upper chapel of the Kartause church (see photo). The utter stillness, the intense tranquility of those early morning Low Masses is something I will never forget. The spiritual formation that that daily immersion in the old rite gave me has never evaporated or lost its saltiness.

On many Sundays, we would travel to Linz or Vienna to attend a Missa cantata or Missa solemnis offered at one of the apostolates of the Fraternity of Saint Peter—which brings me around, at last, to a scrap of writing from that period. I did not write down the exact date, but I’m fairly confident it was in the year 2000, from the reference to my then-fidgety son.
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Minoritenkirche (site of FSSP apostolate)
YESTERDAY at Mass in Linz, three aspects of the liturgy impressed themselves upon me with utter clarity, though I was not intending to think about liturgical theology but was merely intent on praying and keeping Julian quiet. This shows, perhaps, how strongly these aspects are woven into the fabric of the classical liturgy, thereby giving them a transparency that one does not even need to look hard for.

1. The integrity of its parts. The whole is a flowing river, a seamless garment, a landscape in which the various distinct objects are gathered together into a natural unity of environment (think of mountains covered with pine trees—one can see many individual items, but the whole view is utterly one). There is no awkward transition or lack of transition from part to part; there is simply the flow of one great action of Christ the High Priest, teaching, ruling, sanctifying. Afterwards I feel like I have done one thing, not many things from a checklist. It is a complex thing and yet wonderfully unified. What makes it so?

2. The spirit of adoration. The entire liturgy is imbued to its innermost depths with the spirit of adoration: praising, blessing, adoring, giving thanks to God. There is no mistaking the essential, overwhelming, all-encompassing manner and purpose of the liturgy—one might even speak of its “mood,” its “character” in the sense of a person’s moral character. From the arrival of the priest at the steps and the preparatory prayers before he ascends, all the way to the Last Gospel with its genuflection, everything remains focused on Christ, on God. It is the action of someone in love with God and divine things, someone for whom these mysteries are utterly real and primary. There would not be any other way to make sense of the action. It is not directed to the people but to God, and therefore has value for the people, whose greatest need is to worship God.

3. The seriousness with which the priesthood is treated. The difference between the priest as an individual and the priest as alter Christus, image of the archetype, which is seen clearly in the custom (perhaps it is peculiar to Austria or the Germanic lands or Europe? I do not know) of the priest removing his maniple and chasuble before he ascends the pulpit to read the readings in the vernacular and preach on them, after which he descends, resumes those vestments, and continues the Holy Sacrifice.[*See note.] Yet in spite of this seeming interruption, the flow of the liturgy is not in any way affected. I suppose that is because of the underlying seriousness with which everything is endowed in the old liturgy. There is no sense of the priest’s personality ever asserting itself for its own sake, even when he makes a symbolic statement that it is now he, as an individual, who is going to expound the Word of God, to the best of his ability.

Clearly this is a healthy distinction to make. In every other part of the Mass, it is Christ primarily acting, and the priest is following His lead, conforming to His pattern. At the time of the homily, it is the individual priest who comes to the fore and acts in propria persona, since his words, his actions, are no longer precisely those of Christ—symbolized by the Latin language, the formality, the unchanging prayers, the appointed readings in a sacred tongue, the Canon or Rule which brings the entire people to the foot of the Cross on Calvary and communicates to them none other than the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus Himself, who as true God and true man is at once the sacrifice offered, the priest offering it, and He who receives it.

In the new liturgy, the homily becomes too much a part of the liturgy, not only making the “liturgy of the word” balloon into something disproportionate to the liturgy of the Eucharist, but also dissolving the distinction between what Christ, through His Church, directly teaches us in the prayers and readings, and what the priest, as an individual, as a private theologian, proposes to us as an understanding of what the Church teaches. When the priest removes his chasuble and preaches with alb and stole, it is clear that he is both a man having authority and a mere man—not the very image of the God-Man offering the sacrifice at the high altar.

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* Note added for this article: Apropos the removal of chasuble and maniple: I later learned that the ICRSS do that in Italy as well, but the FSSP do not. And while I have seen here in the United States that the priest will remove his maniple and place it on the missal before genuflecting and moving to the ambo for the readings and the homily, and then take up the maniple at the Credo, I have never seen the removal of the chasuble at that point. It seems that the original reason for removing the chasuble and/or maniple was that, back in the day, when homilies were much lengthier and more energetic affairs, the priest did not want to ruin the decorations by rubbing them too much against the pulpit’s edges, and, at the same time, welcomed a break from wearing the additional garments (more of an issue in hot climates in the summer). In any case, the maniple is worn only for the actual ritual of Mass; for example, when there is a procession after Mass, it is taken off. As we know, however, the original “literal” meaning of a certain gesture becomes the basis for a legitimate “spiritual” meaning, as occurred with the lifting of the chasuble at the consecrations, which were initially to assist the priest in raising the host, but later came to symbolize the woman’s touching of the holy garment of Christ in order to be healed.

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