Monday, February 07, 2022

The Mass Should Not Be a Torture Device

Thanks to Austin Ivereigh, I stumbled on a thread on Twitter in which a lady of whom I had never heard (I’m taking her words only as a point of departure) expresses a view that I’ve come across many times and that I find terribly perverse:

Spelled out a bit more, it goes like this: “It’s okay if a Mass is irreverent, cringe-worthy, full of minor celebrities and contemptible music, and tortures you in a hundred ways, because, AFTER ALL, Jesus was crucified for us and the Mass is the sacrifice of the Cross, so basically, you get to be crucified with Him, ya know? And if you offer it up, that might just become the best Mass!”

That is at very least fallacious, and probably blasphemous on top of it.

At Holy Mass we participate mystically in the Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension into Glory of Christ Jesus our Eternal High Priest. It is our highest form of prayer and praise by which we render to God the most pleasing act of worship, not just by consecrating the Eucharist, but by surrounding Him with the best we can give Him, internally at least, but also externally, as the Church had always striven to do. The Lord gave us the liturgy to heal us of our worldliness and to elevate us to Himself.

The Mass is not time-travel to Calvary so that we can elbow our way through the Roman soldiers and climb up onto a neighboring cross. The Mass is not there to torture us but to bathe us in the splendor of the love of God and to unite us with the innocent victim so that we may offer back to God a love worthy of Him.

That upward ascent to the throne of grace is contradicted and heavily undermined by the horizontal chumminess and the “Call-Me-Fr. Jimmy” show and the crummy music, Eucharistic informality, and all the rest of the problems Catholics too often suffer through week to week. That kind of dissonance is not something Our Lord desires nor is it something we should put up with; respect for Him forbids it. If you would not let your spouse or your parent be insulted to his or her face, why would you let Jesus be?

Those who add to the Passion of Christ by misdeeds in the Mass displease the Lord, add to the burden of His Cross, and store up wrath in the world to come. As with any sin, repentance and conversion can open the way again into His kingdom.

I think we could describe the basic fallacy here as a literalist parody of the Western emphasis on the Mass as the re-presentation of the Passion of Christ. Without a doubt the Mass is a re-presentation of the once-for-all sacrifice of Calvary, but a mystical one, by which we enter into the great mystery of the Lamb of God making intercession for us before the Father with His glorious wounds. We do not seek to emulate the historical event, as does the Oberammergau Passion Play. Dramas like that have their place, but no one (I think) has ever mistaken them for the Mass, or the Mass for them.

As a result, even if we meditate on the wondrous Passion of the Son of God during Mass, as many classic devotional books have recommended over the centuries, we should be careful not to draw the wrong conclusions. Specifically: let’s not make spiritual sadomasochism into a virtue, and let’s recognize that the crucified One is the King of Kings, entering into His glory.

One might be taken by surprise heading into an unknown situation that causes suffering, and then, as with all suffering, like stubbing your toe or getting a headache, one can offer it up as best one can. That’s what often happens to people during vacation when they have to look for a Mass in unknown surroundings (for that reason, I won’t even travel anymore on Sundays or Holy Days unless I’m able to get to a TLM). But to try to persuade oneself that a regular diet of bad liturgy is somehow good because it can be “offered up” is self-destructive and, objectively considered, insulting to God, who is not to be mocked.

Incidentally: Padre Pio is not a counterexample. That kind of mystical Passion during the Mass is on a totally different plane from what we are talking about with the inflicting of bad liturgy on the laity.

Moreover, I am not saying that one has to be comfortable at Mass. Plush-cushion pews in perfectly air-conditioned or heated suburban churches are a way to lull the congregation to sleep, not to awaken their faith and fire their charity! No, a bit of ascetical discomfort is all to the good: doing the Eucharistic fast from midnight if possible, or three hours; kneeling for long stretches during Mass, and at times on a hard floor; keeping one's back straight rather than sagging, and keeping custody of the eyes rather than seeing who's at Mass or what they're wearing... Such classic forms of freely embraced self-discipline prepare us better to assist at the divine sacrifice and partake of the mystical supper. They are, again, on a totally different plane from abusive, ugly, or unfitting liturgy imposed on us from the outside that fails to be objectively what it should be, both for God's sake and for the faithful's.

So, enough with this wretched nonsense about “it’s great when Mass makes you suffer, like Jesus!” No, no, and no.

Addendum. Prompted by this post, a reader sent me the following:
Thank you for that piece. Here is a supplement for you: a dear friend of mine once responded to an argument I was making on the basis of the leading indicators of Catholic collapse since Vatican II. He said (more or less): "Well all the people who left after the Council can't have had a very strong faith to begin with then." My response: "The purpose of the Church is not to test the faith of her members. That is the specific task of the devil."

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