Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Time for the Soul to Absorb the Mysteries — Part 5: Concluding Reflections

Looking back over our survey of the classical rite of Mass (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4), we see that all of the elements we have considered produce the effect of a certain timelessness, of a floating in between matters of mere practicality or business. One is not checking items off of a list, but rather, ceasing to think just about getting things done; one is “setting aside all earthly cares” and letting oneself be carried along by an action that is so much vaster and deeper than oneself, a reality that shows its face only in response to our patience, attentiveness, and surrender. The more we talk, do stuff, make noise, and carry on, the less we see of that reality, the less we enter that cosmic and eternal action. When the liturgy is allowed to be itself and to do what is proper to it — slowly, repetitiously, carefully, and beautifully — we are pulled out of ourselves, our finite world and ticking time, and made to be partakers of the divine nature. This is when liturgy is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet and gives us the strength to persevere in the long pilgrimage towards it.

In fact, it would be no exaggeration to say that the Novus Ordo, in its very design and especially in its typical instantiation, stands in tension with interiority, recollection, self-awareness, and sensitivity to the divine — that keen sensus mysteriorum that is practically convertible with the traditional Roman Rite in any of its levels (Low, High, Solemn, Pontifical). The old rite, in contrast, forces us to develop habits of prayer — self-motivated prayer, since you are thrown, to a large extent, on your own resources. As a blogger once rather insightfully put it:
One can still hold the new rite to be integrally Catholic, and yet consider that the culture of the extraordinary form, where the people are supposedly passive, tends to teach people to pray independently, while the culture of the ordinary form often tends to create a dynamic in which people just chat to each other in church unless they are being actively animated by a minister.[1]
Fr. Chad Ripperger expands on this point:
St. Augustine said that no person can save his soul if he does not pray. Now it is a fact that mental prayer and prayer in general have collapsed among the laity (and the clergy, for that matter) in the past thirty years. It is my own impression that this development actually has to do with the ritual of the Mass. Now in the new rite, everything centers around vocal prayer, and the communal aspects of the prayer are heavily emphasized. This has led people to believe that only those forms of prayer that are vocal and communal have any real value…
        The ancient ritual, on the other hand, actually fosters a prayer life. The silence during the Mass actually teaches people that they must pray. Either one will get lost in distraction during the ancient ritual or one will pray. The silence and encouragement to pray during the Mass teach people to pray on their own. While, strictly speaking, they are not praying on their own insofar as they should be joining their prayers and sacrifices to the Sacrifice and prayer of the priest, these actions are done interiorly and mentally and so naturally dispose them toward that form of prayer. This is one of the reasons that, after the Mass is said according to the ancient ritual, people are naturally quieter and tend to pray afterwards. If everything is done vocally and out loud, then once the vocal stops, people think it is over. It is very difficult to get people who attend the new rite of Mass to make a proper thanksgiving by praying afterward because their appetites and faculties have habituated them toward talking out loud.
Fr. Ray Blake wonders aloud if the very emphasis on the spoken word has led us away from the interior spirit of worship, to such an extent that we might not be engaged in the supreme act of adoration or latria at all, but only filling the air with well-meaning verbiage, as if the church were a holy lecture hall.
True worship leads us to contemplate the God who is always beyond us, the God before whom Old Testament patriarchs and prophets fall on their faces in worship. Practically at every Mass I have celebrated over the thirty years I have been ordained I have felt the need “to break the bread of the word,” to preach — except at the Traditional Mass, where all I want to do is adore the Father through the Son, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. I am beginning to believe that if the Word of God does not lead us to the act of worship, there is something wrong in its presentation, and if the Mass does not lead us to fall on our knees to be fed by God, there is something wrong here, too. Contemplating the Mystery of the Trinity should lead us to be lost in the immensity and beauty of God, realising His greatness and our nothingness, desiring only to abandon ourselves to Him, crying out with Christ: “Father, into your hands I commend my Spirit.” If this realisation is not the result of worship, perhaps we are not worshipping at all![2]
Joseph Shaw contrasts the scripted, regimented participation of the new Mass with the freer “open worship” characteristic of the old liturgy, which generates a peculiar sense of togetherness by the intensity of each individual worshiping the same mystery, each in his own way:
What is quite out of the question, in this kind of liturgy [viz., the Novus Ordo], is that you should engage with it at your own pace, on your own level, in prayer. Prayerful contemplation is simply not allowed: it will be interrupted within a few minutes, and you’ll get funny looks. The opposite is the case with the Traditional Mass. You are, essentially, left alone, but left alone united with the community in the act of worship. You may have things given to you to help you follow the Mass, there may even be responses (especially at a sung Mass), but no one will think you odd if you just look at what is happening on the altar in prayerful silence. And for the Canon, that is what everyone is doing. You are drawn in: it may be to something unfamiliar, if contemplative prayer is unfamiliar, but it is something which you can do your own way. It is not a Procrustean bed; you can make of it what you will.
Thus, ironically, considering that the Catholic liturgy was practically turned upside-down and inside-out to promote “active participation,” the faithful who attend the old Mass today evince a superior personal engagement in what they are doing. Why is this the case? Dom Alcuin Reid suggests two reasons: first, that people who are drawn to traditional worship must make significant sacrifices to find it and have often invested seriously in forming their own understanding. But there is a second reason having to do with the rites themselves:
Perhaps also it is due to the very demands they place on the worshipper — one has to find ways of connecting with these rites, or indeed of allowing them to connect with us, because of their ritual complexity. Their multivalent nature has a particular value: it provides varying means of connection with Christ acting in the liturgy that perhaps better correspond to our differing temperaments and psyches.[3]
In my book Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness, I talk about the effort involved in carrying out a traditional Tenebrae service at Wyoming Catholic College, and how many hours of practice and years of iteration it has required to reach the stage we are now at: “The best and deepest things take time to assimilate, to understand, to perfect. When it comes to liturgy in particular, we have to fight tooth and nail against the modern spirit of immediate gratification and quick results” (p. 185). Nowadays, prayer and liturgical services are prone to being shortened (perhaps “short-circuited” would be a better term), since the participants are either in a hurry to get to other business, or their span of attention is just too short. For Holy Week, the very highpoint of the Church’s year, one may observe in many places that the customary procession of palms on Palm Sunday is omitted and the blessing is done after communion instead; the Reproaches on Good Friday are skipped, in spite of their immense antiquity, beauty, and spiritual power. The Novus Ordo liturgical books are characterized by the option of shortened versions of readings and prayers. The modern impatience with anything not immediately gratifying extends even to pious/liturgical activities. To this mentality, St. Josemaría Escrivá already replied, years before it reached its peak: “‘The Mass is long,’ you say, and I add: ‘Because your love is short’” (The Way, n. 529).

Let us give the last word to a priest who discovered the liturgical tradition and fell in love with it.
When you truly love God, you are not miserly in sharing your time with Him in prayer, in the Holy Mass, and other liturgical exercises, since He is constantly sharing His time with you, His beloved. Since youth, I had been accustomed to the Vatican II revisions of the liturgy. Thank God, through dear Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s Summorum Pontificum, I came to discover the solemn beauty of the traditional Latin Mass and other Catholic practices. Yes, these are more demanding of our time, but if one allows them time to penetrate the depth of the soul, one will exclaim joyfully: “Lord, it is good for us to be here.”

[1] Unfortunately this site, The Sensible Bond, was disabled, so this text is available only in cache.

[2] Online here; text slightly modified.

[3] From Dom Alcuin Reid’s review of Andrea Grillo’s Beyond Pius V.

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