Monday, October 15, 2007

Fr. Bartoloma's Mass (Updated with Sermon)

Yesterday, as previously announced here, Fr. James Bartoloma celebrated a Solemn High Mass at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Glassboro, NJ. The turnout was good (nay, excellent when one factors in the Eagles game), and the congregational participation was well-done as well. I already posted on the choir music, so I'm not going to re-iterate that here. However, Fr. Bartoloma's homily may be forthcoming. He already sent it to me, but I couldn't get it to open, so hopefully we'll be able to fix that.

Ecce, Father's excellent sermon:

Father James L. Bartoloma
20th Sunday After Pentecost
Solemn Latin High Mass
Our Lady of Lourdes in Glassboro, NJ
October 14, 2006
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

One of the very popular Catholic writers of the last century was Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk from Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky. His earlier writings are certainly more praise-worthy than some of his later writings.

After he became a monk and then was ordained a priest, his friends from Columbia University who corresponded with him and would also visit him from time to time. They struggled to comprehend why he had had a conversion from a kind of wild life style and skeptical outlook that they were accustomed, and especially why he would want to become a monk in a very strict order and a Catholic priest.

The Mass was a kind of sticking point too.

When Seymour Freedgood, one of Merton's agnostic, skeptical friends visited him and asked him about the Mass, Merton gave a very brief but thoughtful explanation. He said that the Mass is in many ways like a ballet. - Precise movements. - Precise gestures. It communicates but it does not tell a story like, for example, a movie would.

First and foremost, the Mass is the Church's public worship of Almighty God. Christ's Sacrifice is made present upon the altar, we join ourselves to the Lord and what He has done for us, and this perfect Sacrifice is presented to God the Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit.

The ceremonies of the Mass; all of the details, illustrate this on a variety of levels and in a number of different ways. Our Lord, at the Last Supper, gave us the essentials of the Mass, but never has the celebration of the Holy Eucharist in the Church meant trying to artificially recreate the Last Supper. God the Holy Spirit, over centuries and among different Catholic peoples and different Catholic cultures, has gently guided our public worship to take on a variety of forms.
We might be most familiar with the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite prayed in English in our home parish in the United States in the 21 st Century because that is what we know. But consider this, if you attended the Greek Divine Liturgy, the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, the Syro Malabar Rite, the Mekite Liturgy, the Coptic Liturgy, the Ambrosian Rite of Mass, or any of the many other forms of the Sacred Liturgy in the Eastern Church or the Western Church, the same reality takes place, albeit with a different expression, with a different form of worship.

If you are unfamiliar with those forms of the Sacred Liturgy that I just mentioned, it might be good to become aware of them. When we know the richness of our faith and know that there is more out there than what might be immediately accessible to us, it makes us more intelligent and appreciative Catholics.
In the areas of communication and public relations, one of the things that is agreed upon now is that communication is basically only about 30% verbal and 70% non-verbal. The words, spoken or read, are only one element of what is going on.

The Holy Mass, and today we think about the Traditional Latin Mass - before our eyes, communicates to us on a number of different levels. Sometimes people who love the Traditional Latin Mass are questioned and interrogated as to why they have an affection for it. - And we've heard all of the critiques and suspicions before, most of the time almost verbatim: The priest has his back to the people, we don't understand or speak Latin as we would the English language so why even bother with that language, the gestures and ritual are too complicated, etc. etc.

But remember that communication is done on a number of levels. And remember Thomas Merton's comparison of the Mass to a ballet. Persons who have an affection for the Ancient Roman Liturgy are "getting something out of it", finding a contemporary relevance within the ancient rites of the Church, and being instructed in the faith on a wide variety of levels.

The reverence of this worship can teach us the transcendence of God, the Latin Language (and it is not as complicated as people think, especially when we are fortunate enough to be literate and intelligent people who can follow along in a program or missal with a minimal amount of practice) is an expression of the universality of the Church and reminder that the words we pray have a precise and fixed meaning. The diminution of the priest's individual personality in this form of the Mass; not seeing his face when he is facing the altar and not hearing, so much his own voice, but rather his voice leant to Christ the Lord, praying and singing in a variety of chant tones, voice tones, and in a sacred language, reminds us that it is Christ the Lord who ultimately is the priest and victim at Mass. The human, ministerial priest is only his instrument and is not meant to be the object of our attention.

We may not see, hear, and comprehend every detail of the Traditional Mass as we would in our every-day, earthly interactions and communication, but this should then raise the bar for us a little bit. - Prompt us to see, hear, and comprehend with the eyes and ears of faith. In the Gospel, the official whose son Our Lord cured did not see his son at the precise moment when the sickness left him. He did not hear the joyful exclamations in the room when he was restored to health or the relieved words of the boy himself at the moment when he realized that he was well. He could not see, he could not hear, he was not even there. Yet - he believed. And when he hurried back to his son, believing, and then found out that it was at the exact same hour, at the precise moment, when Our Savior said to him, "thy son liveth". Then, he did see, he did hear, he did believe - with the eyes and ears of faith. With a heart open to the transcendent love of God. As the Risen Lord said to St. Thomas, "Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."
This Sacred Liturgy should give us much to think about and prayerfully reflect upon. Even if you never attend another Mass in this Form for the rest of your life, hopefully this will have enriched your faith and sense of what it means to be Catholic.

It is far, far more than nostalgia. If all this Mass does today is bring back memories, or make those feel nostalgic who remember when this Form of Mass was nominative, in the early 1960's or 50's or before that; if all this Mass does today is bring back memories or make you feel nostalgic, then it is a complete failure.

Memories, even memories of religious experience are not meant to be ends in themselves. They are meant, rather, to be individual blessings that are woven into and have meaning for us in our present life.

The Traditional Mass, according to the Holy Father, is something that should be held as sacred by the entire Church. He writes in the Motu Proprio, Summorum Pontificum (which allows us to celebrate this Mass today) "what earlier generations held as sacred remains sacred and great for us too."
Our Holy Father frequently raises the issue about how we see our Catholic faith, especially in light of the many changes in the Church in recent times; the lens through which we look at the Catholic Church and our Catholic experience.

(You may not be aware of it, and even I don't even think about it a great deal, but right now, I am looking at you through contact lenses. Believe it or not I have very poor eyesight. If my contact lenses are new and clean, I can see through them very well and I don't even notice that they're there. But if they're dirty and worn, I can't see well and they irritate my eyes.)

When persons look at the Church, even their own Catholic experience, there is a starting point, there is a kind of lens through which they view. For some, sadly, it is a lens of rupture and division.

Pope Benedict, in an address that he gave to the Roman curia two years ago, speaks about this unfortunate lens of "discontinuity and rupture" and how it has harmed the Church. He even says, that "it has frequently availed itself of the sympathies of the mass media, and also [been] one trend of modern theology."
If you've ever heard expressions such as "this is old church while that is new church." Or "This is pre-Vatican II while that is Post-Vatican II." Or "we don't do that anymore" or even worse, "we don't believe that any more." Then you have been exposed to this kind of unfortunate lens and way of thinking that only harms the Church in the long run.

Pope Benedict therefore, proposes that the way we view our beloved Catholic faith, the lens through which we look, our starting point, should be one of continuity, organic development, and reform. He says that the Church, the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church of all times and places, should always be reforming herself but that this renewal cannot be one that ignorantly puts down or dismisses the past. Pope Benedict, in the same talk I quoted before says that this "renewal [must be] in the continuity of the one subject: [the] Church which the Lord has given to us. [The Church] is a subject which increases in time and develops, yet always remaining the same, the one subject of the journeying People of God."

In our journey, our spiritual journey that we share with Catholics of all places and all times, times long past and times into the future known to God alone, we need reminders of these important and sacred truths.

May this Holy Mass, celebrated in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, not in 1950 or 1850 or 1550 or the year 550, but now in 2007, remind us of the timelessness and transcendence of the Holy Church. At this Mass, the ceremonies look basically the same as they would have in 1950, or 1850, or 1550 or 550. That should make us pause and be appreciative of what we are doing here today. But even more than that, what we are doing today and the worship that we are rendering to Almighty God, places us already, here and now, into the future life of heaven. That is something we should be prayerfully mindful of no matter what form of the Mass we attend next Sunday.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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