Monday, February 28, 2022

Is the Laity’s Offering of the Mass a Post-Conciliar Re-Discovery?

Archbishop Roche — like everyone trained by modern liturgists — keeps saying that the new rite finally recognizes that the faithful are also part of the offering of the Mass, instead of it just being the priest's work:

In the former [rite], he says, it was the priest who “represented the intentions of the people” and took that to God in the liturgy. Vatican II changed that. “With the understanding of the priesthood of all the baptised it’s not simply the priest alone who celebrates the Eucharist, but all the baptised who celebrate with him. That surely has to be the most profound understanding of what ‘participation’ means.” (Interview with Christopher Lamb in The Tablet, February 24, 2022)
This view is so common that one can stumble upon it as upon a cat or a pair of shoes in whatever direction one walks. Let me give some examples “in the wild.” From the Swinging Sixties:
To understand this religious program and to enjoy its hoped-for results we must all change our settled way of thinking regarding sacred ceremonies and religious practices as calling for no more than a passive, distracted assistance. (Paul VI, General Audience, January 13, 1965)
       The Council has taken the fundamental position that the faithful have to understand what the priest is saying and to share in the liturgy; to be not just passive spectators at Mass but souls alive. (Paul VI, Homily, March 27, 1966)

And a more recent sighting: 

Without going into much detail here, suffice it to say that one of the great scandals of the Roman Rite over the centuries has been its progressive disconnect from the people. Slowly over time, partly from a desire to preserve Latin as the language of worship, partly due to increased complexity and dramatic elements introduced by Frankish liturgists, and partly due to historical factors I will not rehearse here, the Mass became a purely clerical affair. The priests and other ministers would be gathered around the altar saying the Mass, and the people would be observing, almost like they were attending a play…. Why do you think the last 57 years have been liturgically so chaotic? Because the Church is suddenly trying to focus on something that she has not deeply considered for more than a millennium. The Church is trying to answer the question of how to include the people in the liturgical action of the Mass. (Fr. Jeffrey Moore, “Liturgical Participation,” February 2, 2020)

The trouble is, the view recycled by Archbishop Roche, Fr. Moore, and so many others, like its analogues in Pope Paul VI, corresponds to nothing that was ever taught to Catholics, nor does it correspond in the main to the experience of the laity who assist at the Latin Mass. Let’s have a look at two splendid examples from the tradition.

The first is from Fr. Martin von Cochem (1630–1712), who wrote the following in his extremely popular book Die Heilige Messe für die Weltleute [Holy Mass for the Laity], published in 1704:

Ponder well, O Christian, what the holy Catholic Church, infallible in matters of faith, declares to us.... She expressly states, and imposes on our belief, that no other work can be performed by the faithful so holy and divine as the tremendous mystery of the Mass. This does not only refer to priests, but to the faithful in general.
       Priests can indeed do nothing more holy and divine than celebrate Mass; the laity can do nothing more holy and divine than hear Mass, serve Mass, join in offering Mass, have Mass said for their intentions, follow the prayers and unite in spirit with the celebrant. Since to do this is of all works the most holy and divine, it stands to reason that it should also be the most profitable and meritorious....  (238, Benziger edition; TAN Books also has an edition, with different pagination)

And again: 

One of the greatest graces which are granted to the children of the Church is that the privilege of offering to the Divine Majesty the sacred and sublime sacrifice of the Mass is not the prerogative of priests alone, but belongs to the laity as well, to men, women, and children. This favor was not shown to the Jews; no one but the priest was permitted to offer the holocaust, or to kindle the incense in the temple....
       In the New Testament the case is very different; under this dispensation it is graciously permitted to ordinary people to offer, not incense only, but the precious blood of Christ in the holy Mass.... The faithful of either sex are members of a spiritual priesthood, and have received from God the power to offer spiritual sacrifices. But when they offer the Mass by the hands of the priest they do more, they offer what is better than a spiritual oblation, namely, a visible one, even the self-same victim Whom the priest holds in his hands.
       Happy indeed are the laity in being thus privileged, through the divine bounty, to purchase the inestimable treasure of the body and blood of Christ, and with a few words to offer it to God for their own immeasurable profit ! Make frequent use, O pious Christian, of this thy glorious prerogative; it is the easiest way of acquiring eternal riches. This sacrificial act is the chief, the most important, part of hearing Mass, for without it thou wilt neither gain much profit to thyself nor give pleasure to God. “Hearing Mass,” says a spiritual writer, “does not merely consist in being present in person when it is celebrated, but in offering it to God conjointly with the priest.”
       All this is undeniably true. It is not enough to be present at Mass in order to share in the fruits of the Mass: we must make a definite offering of it to God in union with the officiating priest. The Mass is a sacrifice, and it appertains to the nature of a sacrifice that it should be offered to the Deity. Therefore those persons who fail to do this, either with their lips or in their heart, do not derive half the benefit from the Mass that others do, although they fulfil the precept of the Church, whilst piously reciting other prayers that have nothing of the character of an offering. (298ff., Benziger ed.; TAN ed., 320–22)

And yet again: 

Ponder well the immense favor Christ bestows on thee in making thee a mystical priest, and empowering thee to offer the holy sacrifice of the Mass, not for thyself alone, but also for others. Bishop Fornerus tells us: ‘It is not the priest alone who offers the Mass for himself and for others: every Christian who is present may do the same, for his own needs and those of his friends.’ This is expressed in the prayer following after the Sanctus: “Be mindful, O Lord, of thy servants N. and N.; and of all present, whose faith and devotion are known, for whom we offer, or who offer, up to Thee this sacrifice for themselves, their families and friends…” The meaning of these words is too obvious to be mistaken.
       Moreover, when the priest says the Orate fratres, he turns towards the people and invites them to help him  in offering the holy sacrifice: ‘Brethren, pray that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God the Father Almighty.’ As if he would say: I am about to perform a work of great importance, to offer an oblation which in my own strength I cannot do; I ask you to pray for me and assist me with your cooperation, for it concerns you nearly, the sacrifice is yours as well as  mine, and for this reason you are bound to help me. (Benziger, 301–2)

A near-contemporary, Saint Leonard of Port Maurice (1676–1751), another popular preacher of his day, addressed the same topic in his book The Hidden Treasure (also still in print from TAN Books). First, he establishes that it is Our Lord Jesus Christ who is the principal celebrant, which I assume no one would criticize as clericalism:

At every hour, then, in various parts of the world, this most perfectly holy Priest offers to the Father His Blood, His Soul, and His whole self for us: and all this He does as many times as there are Masses celebrated in the whole world. O boundless treasure! O mine of inestimable stores thus possessed by us in the Church of God! O happy we if we could but assist at all these Masses! What a store of reward would be thus acquired! What a heaping up of graces in this life, what a fund of glory in the other, would be the fruit of so loving an attendance!

Then he talks about how the faithful also offer the holy sacrifice:

But what is implied in this word “attendance”? Those who hear Mass not only perform the office of attendants, but likewise of offerers, having themselves a right to the title of priests. ‘Fecisti nos Deo nostro regnum et sacerdotes’ (Apoc. v. 10). The celebrating priest is, as it were, the public minister of the Church in general; he is the intermediary between all the faithful, particularly those who assist at Mass, and the invisible Priest, Who is Christ; and, together with Christ, he offers to the Eternal Father, both in behalf of all the rest and of himself, the great price of human redemption.
       But he is not alone in this so holy function, since all those who assist at Mass concur with him in offering the sacrifice; and, therefore, the priest turns round to the people and says, “Orate fratres ut meum ac vestrum sacrificium acceptabile fiat - Pray, brethren, that mine and your sacrifice may be acceptable to God”, in order that the faithful may understand that, while he indeed acts the part of principal minister, all those who are present make the great offering together with him. So that when you assist at Holy Mass, you perform, after a certain manner, the office of priest.
       What say you, then? Will you ever dare, from this time forward, to be at Mass sitting, prating, looking here and there, perhaps even sleeping, or content yourselves with reciting some vocal prayers, without at all taking to heart the tremendous office of priest which you are exercising? Ah me! I cannot restrain myself from exclaiming, O dull and incapable world, that understandest nothing of mysteries so sublime! How is it possible that anyone should remain before the altar with a mind distracted and a heart dissipated at a time when the holy Angels stand there trembling and astonished at the contemplation of a work so stupendous? (pp. 5-6)

Now, these two authors, Martin von Cochem and St. Leonard of Port-Maurice, were not obscure figures writing esoteric tomes for religious scholasticates. They were, as already mentioned, popular preachers and writers and highly typical figures of Counter-Reformation Catholicism. The traditional doctrine they preached was being spread all over the place as part of the Church’s response to Protestant errors and as a means for encouraging the laity to live a a devout liturgical life.

One might object: Would they need to have insisted so much on these truths if the laity had not forgotten them and if the liturgy they were accustomed to did not foster the contrary attitude?

My response: the truth about the identity of the baptized as co-offerers of the Sacrifice of Christ is always in danger of being forgotten because it is a matter of faith, not something patently obvious to the senses. It will always need to be taught, regardless of the form the liturgy takes. But we can go a step further and say that the form the Mass takes will have a lot to do with how much the laity can perceive it to be the mystical offering of the sublime sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, and how much opportunity and incentive it gives them for entering profoundly into that sacrifice.

Ultimately, the problem is not that the old Mass encourages passivity or laziness. Laity can be uninvolved in any liturgy. (I don’t know when’s the last time Arthur Roche has observed teenagers at the Novus Ordo, texting and surfing on their phones — and not just teenagers, I’m afraid.) The real problem is that the modern liturgists tend to have a Protestant understanding of what active participation means: they think it must look just like what the priest is doing, so if the priest is speaking, the laity must speak; if he sings, the laity must sing; if he stands at the altar, at least some of the laity have to go stand at the altar with him; if he is distributing communion, some of the laity should as well. It is only a barely lingering sense of decency that has prevented (in most cases) laity from lifting up the consecrated host and chalice along with the priest at the elevations.

In short: the Novus Ordo theoreticians tiptoe as close as they possible can to the heresy that the laity are priests in the same way as the priest is a priest, and so it bothers them a great deal if there is a liturgical rite in which there is a clear and sharp distinction externally between how the priest offers Mass and how the laity offer it with him and by his hands. Their complaint, in other words, appears to be directed at the “sacerdotalism” of the Catholic Mass. They would like to overcome it as much as possible, while (at least sometimes) not technically running afoul of the canons and decrees of Trent.

The great irony, then, becomes this: for over half a century, Catholics have been habituated by the Novus Ordo into thinking that if they show up for Mass, sing, speak, sit, and stand, and especially if they “volunteer to minister,” they have actively participated: they can, as it were, punch the ticket. What it all means for my inner prayer life is, sadly, quite untouched; people are too busy and too distracted to get to that level. Yet the Magisterium of the Church, together with the pars sanior of the Liturgical Movement, have always said that the interior spiritual dimension is the more fundamental and the more important dimension of participatio actuosa, and that the external activity is worthwhile inasmuch as it supports the internal engagement in the Mystery of Faith.

With the emphasis on doing and the paucity of intense personal prayer, the current regime strikingly calls to mind the warning of Our Lord: “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; because you tithe mint, and anise, and cumin, and have left the weightier things of the law; judgment, and mercy, and faith. These things you ought to have done, and not to leave those undone” (Matt. 23:23). That is, translated into this conversation, you should do the little active things with your body when and as appropriate, but don’t forget the weightier things of the spiritual order.

Fr. Hunwicke recently cited a most relevant passage from Dom Gregory Dix:

If the word had not come to have as offensive a sound for many as “clericalism” itself, the old term “sacerdotalism” might well be used to describe the reconciling principle of the primitive church, so dear to S Paul, “that there are diversities of ministries, many members, yet but one Body,” in which they find their hierarchic unity; and that all are necessary to the perfection of the Church, the Body of Christ. Clericalism, I take it, means in itself simply undue exaltation of the person and importance of the minister, whether he claims priestly character and special sacramental power, or not. “Sacerdotalism,” on the other hand, means simply the belief that certain men are given by God certain priestly powers on behalf of their fellows, which their fellows have not got. These are not the same thing ... the pre-Nicene Church was certainly not “clericalist,” but it was profoundly “sacerdotalist.”

The “sacerdotalism” of the old rites, in which the clergy — bishops, priests, deacons, subdeacons, those in minor orders or their substitutes — are manifestly the primary agents executing the services, and the congregation attends, or to use an old-fashioned term, “assists” in a mostly quiet and apparently passive way, is uniformly deplored by modern liturgists as a form of clericalism and a separation or exclusion of the people from the liturgical action. Yet they fail to grasp the paradox of the spiritual involvement, attraction, and even fascination provoked by the hieratic “distance” of the clergy in the sanctuary, the architectural boundaries and barriers that turn spaces into symbols, and the entrustment of rites to men who exemplify the worship of God in their ceremonial vesture, scripted words, and carefully-controlled motions.

In other words, something that is routinely assumed to be anti-participational and anti-corporate is nothing of the kind. The development that took place in history accentuated features already clearly present in the old covenant and continued in the new covenant in the Cross of Christ — a covenant pre-interpreted in an Upper Room cut off from the marketplace, consummated on a mount cut off from the city, achieved in the torturous separation of Body and Blood, echoed in the Nolite me tangere (“Do not touch me,” John 20:17) of the risen Lord who must ascend beyond us that we may follow him: Trahe me, post te curremus (“Draw me, we will run after thee,” Song 1:3). A certain kind of hierarchic and bodily differentiation and separation is part of the essence of the Christian religion as lived in this in-between time, between the Fall and the Second Coming; when lived rightly, it serves charity and spiritual union.

As our two Counter-Reformation preachers remind us, the message of the laity’s real participation in offering the Mass has always been a part of Catholic catechesis. We should not be too quick to trust the examples of corruption furnished by the class of professional liturgists as pretexts for their radical makeover of the Roman Rite.

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