Skip to comments.“As It Was… and Ever Shall Be”
Posted on 04/16/2004 9:20:17 PM PDT by Land of the Irish
Jim Allen is a name known to many of our readers for his tireless apostolate writing letters to the Catholic press. Recently, he sent the article below to the editor. We preface it with his covering letter.
Recently at Glastonbury I visited the church there and quite by accident arrived as a traditional Latin Mass was half-way through. At first I could not make out what was going on and then it all came flooding back from forty years ago. What an immense difference between the new and old rites!
I have always preferred the old Mass in theory but this actual experience of it hit me hard and caused the tears to come. It was, in two words, real worship.
There were two serious young mothers with their (silent) children in front of me and at that marvellous moment of the elevation their heads and shoulders did not just make a ritual bow but seemed to be forced down by the sheer holiness and power of the action at the altar. The liturgy is the indispensable source of the Christian spirit. Now I really know what this means.
Afterwards, I gathered some thoughts together and ended up with the enclosed article.
There are many ways in which the new order of Mass falls short of the beauty, theological truth and symbolic power of the traditional Latin Mass, not the least of which is that it fails completely to convey the idea of an ascent to God. I am not competent to evaluate the language of the Mass but that is not necessary; non-theologians may discern the shortcomings of the new Mass simply by observing the elementary visual aspects: movements, gestures symbols and the actual setting itself. I refer throughout to the High Mass because it is here that the disparity between the old and the new is most marked. I had the good fortune to be received and to be an altar server four years before the Second Vatican Council. This was a greater grace than I realised at the time.
Ascent to God
Essential to the basic setting of the Mass are steps up to the sanctuary and altar, which must be raised above the level of the congregation not just for visibility but because it is the simplest way of showing that our representative, and alter Christus, the priest, must first go up to Gods holy mountain before he can bring graces down to us. That is what he is for; all his other important duties are informed and empowered by this ascent and descent. If this basic is absent, all the other parts of the ceremony will not ring fully true.
In some new churches that I have seen, liturgical experts (engineers?) have raised themselves to new depths by doing away with the raising of the altar and sanctuary altogether, as if we had no need to rise from the floor of our weakness and sinfulness to obtain strength from a higher level. One community chapel in Devon is completely flat from pew to altar, and a parish church in Derby has the pews actually sloping downwards to the arena. No expression at all here of God being above us, before whom the four and twenty elders in St Johns Revelation fell down and worshiped and the four beasts cried, Holy! Holy! Holy! All is horizontal; God is an easy touch, you just walk across and meet Him. Everyone and everything is equal.
Church designers since the 1960s seem deliberately to have downplayed the vertical as if this were not the most important dimension in a building whose purpose is the worship of God. The great mediaeval architects had other ideas. In their different styles the three towers of Canterbury and the great spire of Salisbury Cathedral soar upwards, compelling the mind and heart to ascend with them. Inside the great naves the vertical component is similarly exploited to the full. This emphasis on uplift gave rise to a late mediaeval style actually being called perpendicular. Remember that these glories were built to enshrine.the traditional Latin Mass, the source and centre of western Christian civilisation. When I have the good fortune to visit such buildings I get the impression that they were conceived by giants and that I am one of a generation of pygmies.
The new Mass gives the impression of something that was once grander and fuller, the ghost of a past glory. It is far too informal a setting for the greatest action on Earth! Incense, holy water, etc., look like customs retained out of respect for the past merely; they dont quite fit into the casual style. Such a half-baked liturgy is particularly unfortunate in run-down deprived areas where the people who have to live there would have their spirits lifted by assisting weekly at a beautiful celebration of the traditional Latin Mass, with reverence and precision.
Altar and Sacrifice
In the traditional Latin Mass the priest and his assistants first had work to do at the foot of the sanctuary steps before presuming to ascend anywhere. There was the asperges with holy water to ritually purify everyone present, humble prayers for mercy and purity, the confiteor with beating of breast, and only then (Introibo ad altare Dei!) would they ascend to the altar an action which by itself should inspire fear and trembling. How dull our supernatural sensibilities have become.
After the readings and sermon the most solemn part of the traditional Latin Mass, called simply in my old missal the sacrifice, began. The priest, now standing in front of the high altar, faced the same way as the people towards God so as to concentrate entirely on his sacred task. The beautiful reredos high above the altar assumed its full significance as symbolising the heavenly realm to which all desired to be raised. At the canon of the Mass the silence grew deeper, the atmosphere of other-worldliness being enhanced by the wonderful Latin words said sotto voce by the priest. Then, to the ringing of bells, the high point of the Mass was reached as the priest raised as high as he could the perfect sacrifice for our sins to God the Father. All gazed in adoration and then bowed low. Jesus, now raised up, could draw all things to himself. The ascent to God was complete. At this point everything was absolutely right; theologically, symbolically and liturgically. Even the Priests raised arms made a sort of arrow that pointed to and helped the congregation to focus powerfully on the sacred Host. In the late Middle Ages to adore at the elevation was regarded as more important than communion. To prolong this marvellous moment people would cry out, Hold Sir Priest, hold! Afterwards the priest descended from the altar to distribute the fruits of the sacrifice to the people.
I remember with joy and unapologetic nostalgia the communion that followed. The sanctuary seemed filled with sweetness and power; unseen angels and the statue of Our Lady looked on with delight at the peoples faith and obedience and the liturgy that nourished and facilitated these virtues. The people knelt in reverent silence at the rail to receive their Saviour. Most people then were adequately confessed so that grace could flow through them and benefit their fellow worshipers. The younger children, wide eyed at the solemnity of it all, were not blessed in those days by being patted on the head, chucked under the chin and grinned at, but got an austere sign of the cross made over them and thus, with the help of a little parental catechesis afterwards, learned that their Father in heaven was a spirit and invisible and not just an agreeable man. The women were veiled which accentuated their feminine difference and mystery. (They also somehow contrived to look much more enchanting than they do now). Note this, all you dressed down bare-headed feminists: a devout woman in a modest dress and a veil inspires the proper respect that men should have for women. And by respect I do not mean equal rights but the recognition that God has given them special powers and graces not available to men. In your pride and folly you have thrown all this away and upset the balance of nature. But I digress.
Communion at the traditional Latin Mass was a beautiful scene. People are never so loveable as when kneeling humbly to receive graces from their Creator because then they are doing what is most essentially creaturely and human. As in the whole traditional Latin Mass, everything was so absolutely right; I keep wanting to use this little word! But there was more: underpinning it all was that secure sense of what Newman called the Soliditas Cathedrae Petrus (Loss and Gain) a church still unified and under the control of the supreme Pontiff. Now we have the insecurity of liturgical ambivalence from Rome. You also knew that on the same day millions of Catholics world wide would be celebrating Mass in exactly the same way in a vast spiritual community of souls; that the Church triumphant would be rejoicing with you, and the Church suffering in Purgatory would be drawing strength from all this devotion. This latter has now almost completely faded from sight.
After a traditional Latin Mass the priest, mindful of the high mystery he had just celebrated, did not descend abruptly into sociable chatter but made a solitary thanksgiving in a quiet part of the church and would only allow interruptions on important matters. I remember that some of them could be quite snappy if disturbed.
Looking at a traditional Latin Mass visitors from another planet would inescapably infer that the worship of an all-powerful God was going on and that the worshipers were totally involved.
The new Mass
In the Newchurch Mass things are far less spiritual! There are no preparatory prayers before entering the sacred space of the sanctuary. Even if there are steps up to it the priest goes straight up to his final position at the altar without ritually purifying himself or the people, as if to give a lecture. This cannot be right. One can only conclude that the perpetrators of this serious omission deliberately intended to blur the difference between our sinfulness and the awesome holiness of God. That probably at least half of the congregation ought to have gone to confession does nothing to add to the devotional intensity in the modern Mass either. Unconfessed sins act as a complete block to the graces of Holy Communion. Is this factor even more crucial than an inferior liturgy?
I will say just one thing here about the readings in the new Mass. Has the three year lectionary been sanitised of all political and ecumenical incorrectness? Whatever happened to the texts supporting the doctrines about death, judgement and Hell, and the more severe utterances of Our Lord?
After the consecration in the new Mass the elevation rarely goes above the priests head or chest so that he seems merely to be showing the Host to the people rather than offering it up to God the Father as a sacrifice. The eucharistic ministers, without wearing any visible sign of consecration and regardless as to whether they are really necessary or not, perform that dreadful business (which so saddened Mother Teresa) of passing the Lord from one unconsecrated hand to another. Unseen heavenly beings, I suspect, are not so numerous as before and nowhere near so enthusiastic. Nevertheless this Mass is still valid. The Lord is still present even if He has been shamefully garbed in grubby T-shirt and jeans.
President and assembly
Here our extra-terrestrial friends would guess that they were watching some sort of memorial meal. How could they tell that anything supernatural was going on? Nothing ascends anywhere, nobody even points or gestures upwards. The presider seems totally preoccupied with the assembly which he faces throughout. All is horizontal in a closed human circuit. The centre of gravity of these proceedings is not where it should be, at the Host and the high altar, but somewhere between the priest and the congregation exactly where it is in a Protestant service.
The chattering inside the church before and after Mass, and the sign of peace from which no one these days must be excluded (at least a handshake or a wave across the aisle) would reinforce the impression of a social occasion. I know that we are supposed to see Christ in Mr Jones or Mrs Smith but, with respect, this is a spiritual achievement that most of us still need to work on! I could name one cathedral where the people sit in rows facing one another and have to swivel more than 45 degrees to see what is going on at the altar. They are present at a neo-humanist liturgy in effect.
Crisis in Sacred Music
The usual music ministry for the new Mass has nothing solemn or other-worldly about it either; sometimes resembling a second rate pop concert, sometimes a Broadway musical comedy and sometimes a jolly camp fire singalong. At other times it sounds like a sequence of tired musical cliches pasted together by a committee. This goes a long way to dispelling any potential supernatural ambience. How can you connect this sort of stuff with those words of the old form of consecration of a church, Locus iste terribilis est (this place is awesome)? Such a comparison makes most modern church music seem plain ridiculous. But Gregorian chant does rise to the proper level of awe and grandeur. Note that, unless a substantial amount of Latin (with which Gregorian chant is inseparably connected), is reintroduced into the Mass, we are condemned to clap-happy or, at best, very inferior church music until the end of time!
Music, no matter how seemingly pious the words it accompanies, can be just as suspect as forms of words. If such music evokes merely human feelings of jollity, sentimental yearning, etc., as many modern hymns do, then we have the humanist fallacy in notes: a fitting accompaniment to a liturgy of togetherness and mateyness. And if anyone is confidently expecting a beautiful new poetic setting of the Mass in English, forget it. Not even a Shakespeare could make much of our modern English, debased as it is with slang and technical jargon.
First things first
There can be no doubt that the traditional Latin Mass fulfils the first commandment to love God with ones whole being more than the new Mass which deliberately puts the second commandment first. But you dont have the strength to love your neighbour as a Christian should without obeying the first commandment and receiving the power to do so. Therefore it follows that the traditional Latin Mass is actually more productive of communal charity than its rival! Our Lord is the centre of the human race. Having been put into contact with Him in a sublime liturgy, some of the rust of self-centredness is rubbed off, after which everyone is just that little bit more of a brother and sister. To try to love your neighbour with God in second place is like trying to make Old Testament bricks without straw, no matter how many hands you shake.
Community and the Great Presence
The Mass is essentially about the worship of God. That is why the priest and the people should face the altar and not each other. All facing the same way directs a powerful focus of attention to something beyond priest and people. Is this not what its all about? We have 98 per cent of the week to experience community. Do the modernists grudge us even one hour to concentrate exclusively on Our Lord? It will be their own fault if, at the end of their lives, they hear the terrible words, I know you not! (Matt. 7:23). Already they have been punished for their arrogance in that they seem to be completely blind to the Great Presence that makes Catholic churches like no other places on Earth. (Cardinal Newman). They are left to grasp at more showy things like social justice, building community and, that problem conveniently thousands of miles away, the third world.
Is understanding every word of the Mass all that important as the post-Vatican II cognoscenti assure us? You can participate in silence. In the Latin Mass you can either follow the translation in your missal or let the words wash over you and pray mentally in silence. In the new Mass this is much more difficult as the priest is facing you and trying to gain your attention. Be he ever so agreeable a chap, I do not go to church to look at the priest.
Orthodox liturgy compared
I have stood at an Orthodox liturgy for over an hour, entranced without understanding any of the Greek or Church Slavonic. The people around me, few of whom would be liturgical sophisticates, and without missals or missalettes, seemed also to be totally absorbed in the action in the sanctuary. Absorption in the sense of being assimilated or taken up into is a much better word than the weaker and more superficial involvement or participation. Too much attention to understanding the words can be a distraction from the primary purpose of a liturgy worship. In comparison to what happens at the altar words are, to use a phrase of St Thomas Aquinas, like straw.
It is related of St Catherine of Siena that once, in an ecstasy at (the old) Mass, a vicious woman, sceptical of her sanctity; stuck a needle into her foot. The saint did not feel a thing until afterwards, such was her absorption. Will God ever grant such graces at the Newchurch Mass? So far there have not been any reports of any.
I may offend some readers, and of course all liberals, but I am not totally displeased, in the Orthodox liturgy, with the consecration being performed behind the closed royal doors. What a sense of mystery is evoked here; and what a wonderful liturgical moment when the priest emerges and shows the Sacrament to the people.(Also, what a gratifying swipe at ecumenical correctness!) As with the traditional Latin Mass such things are evolved by men of genius and sanctity like St John Chrysostom and St Gregory the Great. Liturgical experts without a considerable depth of spirituality are just not up to the task, no matter how many qualifications or episcopal titles they may have accumulated. If you are not holy you cannot really know what worship is and therefore cannot create one of mans greatest works of art, a great Catholic liturgy.
Mass and the Supernatural
In the traditional Latin Mass at its most sublime, a participant may not know if he is on earth or in Heaven. This is the ultimate benchmark against which all liturgies must be measured. The new Mass can never produce this supernatural impact; its community emphasis keeps it inevitably earthbound. Imagine someone returning from a new Mass and saying to his family and friends that he did not know whether he was on earth or in Heaven. They would suspect that he had stopped on the way home for a large glass of something, so absurd would it sound!
Could anthropocentric modernism have been checked if the supernaturalism of the traditional Latin Mass had been retained? Are the correct orientation of the priest and the full elevation of the Host the fulcrum on which, with a little more weight, the balance of power might have remained tilted in favour of the traditional? It might have been, such is the power of the liturgy as the liberals well know. At the very least, retaining these elements would have made the insinuation of modernism more difficult and the Church would not now be in such a mess.
Disaster, then and now
When I was an altar server in the early 1960s no one I knew dreamed that there was any need for change. Like Mount Everest, the traditional Latin Mass was simply there and needed no apologia. Latin was the special language of our Church and helped mark us off from the secular world; no bad thing if St James is to be believed. Then, in the late sixties, a new curate arrived at our church and started to fret because the parish priest would not let him move the altar. No need to tell the rest of the story, its name is legion.
When the rot had really set in we did not know what to think. We knew that bishops could make mistakes but whoppers like reducing the Mass to a quasi-protestant service, surely not? Could these elect ones be so greatly deceived? Therefore the old mindset of the clergy know best remained intact even if a bit strained. So in a short time the thing was done without any real protest from the grass roots laity. A lot of the older parishioners stayed away, that was all. I get the impression now that most parishioners like the new liturgy. It is welcoming, friendly and inclusive, and demands much less effort in prayer: you just watch the moving figures on the stage and follow your missalette, (that awful rustle as they all turn over the page at once!).
One priest in my area is very good at hosting the new Mass in which he is obviously in his element. The result is more like a big parish eucharistic party than a re-enactment of Calvary. This is very attractive to many people with things happening all the time: children participating in the sanctuary, rounds of applause, even the singing of Happy Birthday to You. But it is not the full Mass and is rightly seen as bogus by many young people. This parish only attracted three converts last year and confessions are fearfully low. In other words, it isnt working.
George Bernard Shaw once said, Get what you like or you will come to like what you get. Sadly the Catholic laity have as a whole proved this true; that is, the few of them that still come to church.
There are some good arguments for making some minor changes in the traditional Latin Mass, and the new Mass does create a community spirituality of a sort, but at Mass we should expect much more than this! I want to worship God in the highest part of my being and for many this is best done Solus cum solo as the mystics say, alone with the alone, an idea very uncongenial to the liberals and modernists. What I have tried to set down in this article is on a higher plane than understanding and lay participation. The Mass for all Time successfully embodied the power of the supernatural, and the Newchurch Mass is, in comparison, like a battery that has gone flat. Can it be that God gives out less graces to an inferior form of His official worship? The resounding success of the traditionalist movement in attracting vocations and converts would seem to bear this out.
Loss of devotions
I would particularly like to offer the above considerations to the post-Vatican II generations who have never experienced the traditional Latin Mass as the norm of parish life, and heartily recommend that they do whatever is in their power to bring it back. To whet their liturgical appetite further just let me mention that, with the suppression of the traditional Latin Mass, the following liturgical treasures have also disappeared: processions of the Blessed Sacrament and Our Lady, the transfiguration of the month of May with special devotions to Mary, including her crowning with flowers, the Angelus, all night vigils at the Altar of Repose on Holy Thursday, Stations of the Cross, etc. How could we ever expect Catholics to keep their Faith, let alone to become holy, starved of all this tremendous spiritual nourishment! All gone! The new Mass is evidently not capable of producing or sustaining such beautiful things. Thankfully Our Lady has not allowed her Rosary to perish likewise, although it, too, is under pressure.
As we weep tears of mingled rage and sadness at all the beauty and truth that has been taken away from us, let us remember that such calamities were foretold long ago. Be ye not troubled, for such things must needs be. (Mk 13/7). The Lord is in control. This is a time of trial by martyrdom, not of blood but of intellect and sensibility. The appalling liberal/modernist blurring of categories makes it very difficult to discern truth from error, sound doctrine and practice from innovation. Never before has it been so easy for deluded shepherds and their agents to lead their flocks astray en masse. The remedy is as always in difficult times: increased vigilance, prayer and penance in accordance with the warnings of Our Lady of Fatima, and to immerse ourselves in the lives and teachings of those Catholics who have the letters St in front of their names and not strings of qualifications after.
[Taken from the Latin Mass Society's February 2004 Newsletter.]
Deo gratias! God bless those who uphold the True Mass, "the most beautiful thing this side of Heaven."