The Burden of the Homily

RECENTLY A PRIEST—not a fellow monk—lamented how hard he was finding it to “get anything” for a homily from this Sunday’s readings. The first reading covers an attempt to kill the prophet Jeremiah, the epistle is from Hebrews reminding us of the cloud of witnesses who urge us on in the race of Christian living, and the gospel shows Jesus revealing he has come to bring fire to the earth and division to society, an awkward gospel for purveyors of “gentle Jesus, meek and mild.”

The priestly lament is a reminder of how much a burden the homily has become to many a hearer, and perhaps even more to many a preacher, in the celebration of the ordinary form of the Mass. This is almost invariably the fruit of a misunderstanding of the homily that has taken on almost dogmatic status: the homily must always and only be about the readings of the day. Continue reading “The Burden of the Homily”

The Mass: Meal, Sacrifice and Errors Corrected

One of the brethren pointed out to me an article in the May-June 2017 edition of Doctrine & Life. The article is by the Irish Dominican Liam Walsh. I am assuming this is the same Fr Liam Walsh OP who contributed to the fascinating book Vatican II: The Liturgy Constitution (1964) edited by Fr Austin Flannery OP. He refers to “a Benedictine monk” his correspondence in The Tablet last year regarding the Mass as meal. His discretion is no doubt because he takes issue with what the monk wrote in his brief letters. That monk was I. Here is the relevant page from Fr Walsh’s article: Continue reading “The Mass: Meal, Sacrifice and Errors Corrected”

The Tyranny of Options

Having been an active advocate of the revised English translation of the Roman Missal, which will soon be five years old, it is cheering to see how well established it has become. It is not perfect, but its imperfections are far fewer than those of the translation it replaced, and at least errs on the side of assuming that the faithful are more intelligent, as opposed to the previous translation’s implicit assumption that we were all a little thick and needed things served up in small sentences and easy words. There are still the grey and disgruntled who clamour for its abolition, though even they, or most of them, do not seek the return of the previous translation, advocating instead the ill-fated 1998 translation. That translation was indeed a marked improvement on the previous, but it was marked by contemporary ideology. The virtue of a more literal translation is that passing ideology gets less room to play.

However, the new translation, being merely that—a translation—and not a new missal per se, keeps the structural, liturgical and theological defects of the post-conciliar Roman Missal. Continue reading “The Tyranny of Options”

Why Benedictines are liturgical; and why Jesuits should be too

The title above is crude, but it is designed to remind all those in the Benedictine familia of one of our foundational and essential charisms; and to alert the Church universal to the fact that this Benedictine charism is in fact a catholic one, a charism that is shared by the whole Church. The debates on the liturgy—often illuminating and uplifting, often frustrating and disheartening—will never bear fruit without a sound understanding of the foundation and essential character of liturgy.

Continue reading “Why Benedictines are liturgical; and why Jesuits should be too”

A Telling Letter in The Tablet

In the latest issue of The Tablet (22 August) there is a letter from the composer and former director of music for Portsmouth diocese. Here it is:

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Melanie had suggested that children be taught more traditional Eucharistic hymns because of their (undeniably) fuller theological content and catechetical utility. Mr Inwood is clearly not impressed, perhaps because if all parishes switched to traditional hymns there would be little work for him to do.

Continue reading “A Telling Letter in The Tablet”

Lazarus-like he rises, to rant

No plaintive excuses, no unconvincing avowals of “I would have if I could have”. It has been busy here, in a disconcertingly unspectacular way. So blogging by your correspondent has been passive not active.

One topic in the past few weeks that has grabbed my attention is the matter of the bidding prayers at Mass. My eye settled first on a post at the New Liturgical Movement (NLM), and then more recently on a pastor’s heartfelt reflection by Fr Ray Blake in Brighton.

At NLM, Dr Kwasniewski rightly laments the general standard of bidding prayers/prayers of the faithful/general intercessions/universal prayer – call it what you will. He urges that they should be solidly founded theologically, well and aptly written, and that they should be sung (after all, if the bidding prayers have any real liturgical pedigree, it is to be found in the litany form).

Continue reading “Lazarus-like he rises, to rant”

A sane voice

Reading this piece on Corpus Christi Watershed on the possibility of bad liturgy, in the sense of its manner of celebration, in both the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms of the Roman Rite of the Mass, I was struck by its sanity and reasonableness. What is more, its author, layman Andrew Motyka, articulated superbly my position at this point in time, a position in which I feel confident I do not stand alone:

As someone who grew up with the Ordinary Form, it is my preference. It is what I’ve always known and am most comfortable praying. However, I am grateful for whatever liturgy Holy Mother Church gives me, and I do not resent the EF in any way. Two forms, one liturgy. My greatest preference would be to celebrate the Ordinary Form with a priest who loves the Extraordinary. I believe this to truly be the “mutual enrichment” of which Pope Benedict spoke, and I hope that that enrichment carries into the future to the benefit of both forms.

To be honest, I am finding it very difficult to continue with my abortive attempts to learn the EF of the Mass. Not just practical difficulties are involved, but conceptual and psychological ones. It is still too alien to me. Not that I have any animus towards it, and in fact I cheered as loudly as any when Pope Benedict XVI liberated the old Mass in 2007. After all, just because I have not learned to love it does not mean I think others should be deprived of it. It is a liturgy of the most ancient pedigree, and the vast majority of the saints of the Western Church would have worshipped in and through that Mass. It needs no new apologia; the saints are its apologists.

That said, this concept of mutual enrichment is one that really does engage me psychologically. Perhaps that is partly why I am keen on the Mass forms that appeared in the wake of the Council and before 1970; in them it is possible to discern the old Mass being reformed in light of the express will of the Council. The Missal published in 1965 is a case in point. (Of course, the closer to 1970 we got the more was the Mass tinkered with, or rather, substantially reconstructed.) I can happily strive to be that priest who celebrates the Ordinary Form but loves the Extraordinary. That, for this priest at least, is a more compelling reason to learn the intricacies of the ancient Mass.

We can be sure the heavenly liturgy will not be subject to such debate and contention. With Christ as the unveiled, unmediated celebrant, how it could it be anything other than perfect.

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The Crux of the Matter: the Essence of the Mass

The recent news that the Vatican’s medical commission has confirmed a miracle to the intercession of the Venerable Fulton Sheen is something to should give us great joy, and more, great hope. His beatification could be very near indeed. If ever there was a natural patron saint for the new media, it would be him. The first televangelist, he taught millions across the world the truths of the faith and of Christian living in a style that was accessible and engaging. He used the new media of television and (earlier) radio to reach an audience far greater than any Catholic preacher or teacher had reached before in such a relatively immediate way. He also raised millions of dollars for the missions.

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Of course he presents challenges to some modern Catholics, who might object to his unashamed wearing of his episcopal vesture on television, or suspect him of enjoying his celebrity (of which some in fact did accuse him). Perhaps there was a dash of vanity in him. But canonization does not recognize perfection, for none such is possible for any of us. It does recognize heroic struggle in the quest for holiness. For Archbishop Sheen this involved using his considerable gifts for the benefit of the missions and of the wider Church. He deployed his gifts to maximum effect, and did not pretend that he did not have such gifts, nor did he downplay them. He offered them unreservedly in service of the Body of Christ. In this he comes closer to authentic humility than some might allow him. Humility is to know the truth about oneself and to live by it. Sheen spent an hour every day alone before the Blessed Sacrament in prayer. Here he heard from the Master the truth about himself, and the call to act on that truth.

We have moved far beyond television now, with a whole world of communication beyond Sheen’s conception able to fit into our pockets. Nevertheless if were active today he would have embraced the new media with gusto. Sheen showed how progress could serve Tradition and Truth in any age.

So to talk about the liturgy of the Mass, the highs and lows of its post-conciliar reform and the urgent need for its re-invigoration today, it is necessary that we return to basics. What happens at Mass? What is it for? What is its essential nature? Only with accurate answers to these questions can we approach the problem of liturgical reform.

As a contribution to this project, let me offer you some words of wisdom from the Venerable Fulton Sheen. In particular, it is the Prologue to his too-short but wonderful book, Calvary and the Mass (1936). It may seem a little long on a webpage like this, but it is so readable that you will fly through it. Indeed, try not to fly through it but absorb it. Consider it is an exercise in lectio divina, or meditative reading. To aid this some pregnant phrases or passages will be highlighted in bold, as an invitation to drink more deeply of them in particular. Truly there is full-blown book condensed into this Prologue. Dear Reader, tolle, lege.

And after reading it ask yourself these two questions with a view to liturgical reform: which is more crucial to the Mass – meal or sacrifice?; and, what is it then to participate authentically in the Mass?

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THERE are certain things in life which are too beautiful to be forgotten, such as the love of a mother. Hence we treasure her picture. The love of soldiers who sacrificed themselves for their country is likewise too beautiful to be forgotten, hence we revere their memory on Memorial Day. But the greatest blessing which ever came to this earth was the visitation of the Son of God in the form and habit of man. His life, above all lives, is too beautiful to be forgotten, hence we treasure the divinity of His Words in Sacred Scripture, and the charity of His Deeds in our daily actions. Unfortunately this is all some souls remember, namely His Words and His Deeds; important as these are, they are not the greatest characteristic of the Divine Saviour.

The most sublime act in the history of Christ was His Death. Death is always important for it seals a destiny. Any dying man is a scene. Any dying scene is a sacred place. That is why the great literature of the past which has touched on the emotions surrounding death has never passed out of date. But of all deaths in the record of man, none was more important than the Death of Christ. Everyone else who was ever born into the world, came into it to live; our Lord came into it to die. Death was a stumbling block to the life of Socrates, but it was the crown to the life of Christ. He Himself told us that He came “to give his life a redemption for many”; that no one could take away His Life; but He would lay it down of Himself.

If then Death was the supreme moment for which Christ lived, it was therefore the one thing He wished to have remembered. He did not ask that men should write down His Words into a Scripture; He did not ask that His kindness to the poor should be recorded in history; but He did ask that men remember His Death. And in order that its memory might not be any haphazard narrative on the part of men, He Himself instituted the precise way it should be recalled.

The memorial was instituted the night before He died, at what has since been called “The Last Supper.” Taking bread into His Hands, He said: “This is my body, which shall be delivered for you,” i.e., delivered unto death. Then over the chalice of wine, He said, “This is my blood of the new testament, which shall be shed for many unto remission of sins.” Thus in an unbloody symbol of the parting of the Blood from the Body, by the separate consecration of Bread and Wine, did Christ pledge Himself to death in the sight of God and men, and represent His death which was to come the next afternoon at three. He was offering Himself as a Victim to be immolated, and that men might never forget that “greater love than this no man hash, that a man lay down his life for his friends,” He gave the divine command to the Church: “Do this for a commemoration of me.”

The following day that which He had prefigured and foreshadowed, He realized in its completeness, as He was crucified between two thieves and His Blood drained from His Body for the redemption of the world.

The Church which Christ founded has not only preserved the Word He spoke, and the wonders He wrought; it has also taken Him seriously when He said: “Do this for a commemoration of me.” And that action whereby we re-enact His Death on the Cross is the Sacrifice of the Mass, in which we do as a memorial what He did at the Last Supper as the prefiguration of His Passion.

Hence the Mass is to us the crowning act of Christian worship. A pulpit in which the words of our Lord are repeated does not unite us to Him; a choir in which sweet sentiments are sung brings us no closer to His Cross than to His garments. A temple without an altar of sacrifice is non-existent among primitive peoples, and is meaningless among Christians. And so in the Catholic Church the altar, and not the pulpit or the choir or the organ, is the center of worship, for there is re-enacted the memorial of His Passion. Its value does not depend on him who says it, or on him who hears it; it depends on Him who is the One High Priest and Victim, Jesus Christ our Lord. With Him we are united, in spite of our nothingness; in a certain sense, we lose our individuality for the time being; we unite our intellect and our will, our heart and our soul, our body and our blood, so intimately with Christ, that the Heavenly Father sees not so much us with our imperfection, but rather sees us in Him, the Beloved Son in whom He is well pleased. The Mass is for that reason the greatest event in the history of mankind; the only Holy Act which keeps the wrath of God from a sinful world, because it holds the Cross between heaven and earth, thus renewing that decisive moment when our sad and tragic humanity journeyed suddenly forth to the fullness of supernatural life.

What is important at this point is that we take the proper mental attitude toward the Mass, and remember this important fact, that the Sacrifice of the Cross is not something which happened nineteen hundred years ago. It is still happening. It is not something past like the signing of the Declaration of Independence; it is an abiding drama on which the curtain has not yet rung down. Let it not be believed that it happened a long time ago, and therefore no more concerns us than anything else in the past. Calvary belongs to all times and to all places. That is why, when our Blessed Lord ascended the heights of Calvary, He was fittingly stripped of His garments: He would save the world without the trappings of a passing world. His garments belonged to time, for they localized Him, and fixed Him as a dweller in Galilee. Now that He was shorn of them and utterly dispossessed of earthly things, He belonged not to Galilee, not to a Roman province, but to the world. He became the universal poor man of the world, belonging to no one people, but to all men.

To express further the universality of the Redemption, the cross was erected at the crossroads of civilization, at a central point between the three great cultures of Jerusalem, Rome, and Athens, in whose names He was crucified. The cross was thus placarded before the eyes of men, to arrest the careless, to appeal to the thoughtless, to arouse the worldly. It was the one inescapable fact that the cultures and civilizations of His day could not resist. It is also the one inescapable fact of our day which we cannot resist.

The figures at the Cross were symbols of all who crucify. We were there in our representatives. What we are doing now to the Mystical Christ, they were doing in our names to the historical Christ. If we are envious of the good, we were there in the Scribes and Pharisees. If we are fearful of losing some temporal advantage by embracing Divine Truth and Love, we were there in Pilate. If we trust in material forces and seek to conquer through the world instead of through the spirit, we were there in Herod. And so the story goes on for the typical sins of the world. They all blind us to the fact that He is God. There was therefore a kind of inevitability about the Crucifixion. Men who were free to sin were also free to crucify.

As long as there is sin in the world the Crucifixion is a reality. As the poet has put it:

“I saw the son of man go by,
Crowned with a crown of thorns.
‘Was it not finished Lord,’ said I,
‘And all the anguish borne?’

“He turned on me His awful eyes;
‘Hast Thou not understood?
So every soul is a Calvary
And every sin a rood.'”

We were there then during that Crucifixion. The drama was already completed as far as the vision of Christ was concerned, but it had not yet been unfolded to all men and all places and all times. If a motion picture reel, for example, were conscious of itself, it would know the drama from beginning to end, but the spectators in the theater would not know it until they had seen it unrolled upon the screen.

In like manner, our Lord on the Cross saw His eternal mind, the whole drama of history, the story of each individual soul, and how later on it would react to His Crucifixion; but though He saw all, we could not know how we would react to the Cross until we were unrolled upon the screen of time. We were not conscious of being present there on Calvary that day, but He was conscious of our presence. Today we know the role we played in the theater of Calvary, by the way we live and act now in the theater of the twentieth century.

That is why Calvary is actual; why the Cross is the Crisis; why in a certain sense the scars are still open; why Pain still stands deified, and why blood like falling stars is still dropping upon our souls. There is no escaping the Cross not even by denying it as the Pharisees did; not even by selling Christ as Judas did; not even by crucifying Him as the executioners did. We all see it, either to embrace it in salvation, or to fly from it into misery.

But how is it made visible? Where shall we find Calvary perpetuated? We shall find Calvary renewed, re-enacted, re-presented, as we have seen, in the Mass. Calvary is one with the Mass, and the Mass is one with Calvary, for in both there is the same Priest and Victim. The Seven Last Words are like the seven parts of the Mass. And just as there are seven notes in music admitting an infinite variety of harmonies and combinations, so too on the Cross there are seven divine notes, which the dying Christ rang down the centuries, all of which combine to form the beautiful harmony of the world’s redemption.

Each word is a part of the Mass. The First Word, “Forgive,” is the Confiteor; the Second Word, “This Day in Paradise,” is the Offertory; the Third Word, “Behold Thy Mother,” is the Sanctus; the Fourth Word, “Why hast Thou abandoned Me,” is the Consecration; the Fifth Word, “I thirst,” is the Communion; the Sixth Word, “It is finished,” is the Ite, Missa Est; the Seventh Word, “Father, into Thy Hands,” is the Last Gospel.

Picture then the High Priest Christ leaving the sacristy of heaven for the altar of Calvary. He has already put on the vestment of our human nature, the maniple of our suffering, the stole of priesthood, the chasuble of the Cross. Calvary is his cathedral; the rock of Calvary is the altar stone; the sun turning to red is the sanctuary lamp; Mary and John are the living side altars; the Host is His Body; the wine is His Blood. He is upright as Priest, yet He is prostrate as Victim. His Mass is about to begin.

The Lament of a Liturgical Loner

Monks live liturgy. “Let nothing be preferred to the Work of God” (Rule of St Benedict 43:3) our holy father St Benedict bids us. The Divine Office and the Mass punctuate and structure our day, uniting our lives with Christ’s sacrifice of perfect praise in his Body and Blood on the Cross. This union is what gives the monk’s life its truest and deepest value. A monk with no taste for liturgy is akin to a bird who fears to fly: things can only be difficult and frustrating. So if some of us monks seem to be endlessly focusing on liturgy, you might cut us some slack. For us, the liturgy is the privileged way to live in Christ’s Body, a privilege which necessarily imposes demands on our daily living outside the liturgy. These demands we spare no effort to meet faithfully, though we so often fail.

If liturgy was a live issue before the Council of 1962-65, it has become in the wake of that Council an explosive issue. Liturgy seems never to be at rest. For some, the Council gave a licence to change comprehensively the performance of the Church’s liturgy, and the change has been unrelenting. For others the changes were unjustifiable, unconscionable even, and they reject them outright. For others still, liturgy has been something to be coped with, an unavoidable battlefield on which they try to find shelter in some compromise that acknowledges the reality of change and seeks somehow to keep it organically connected to the Tradition of the Church. Few have been satisfied.

We might ask ourselves: where is my foxhole, my bunker, my bastion, on this battlefield? So much of my reading the past year or more has shown my foxhole to be filling with mud, slowly but ever more surely. It is not a tenable position in the long-term. Two things that have brought that conclusion home with a whack in recent days. One is an article by Fr Thomas Kocik at the New Liturgical Movement. Fr Kocik is one of the leading lights of the Reform of the Reform movement, which sought to modify the reformed liturgy imposed in the wake of the Council by realigning it with both the actual teachings of the Council Fathers and with the rich liturgical tradition that had developed gradually and organically from the times of the primitive Church to the 20th century. Fr Kocik cites Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI as a prime example of a Reformer of the Reform, who proceeded

not only by his teaching and personal liturgical example but also by legislation. He accentuated the liturgy’s beauty, promoted the liturgical and musical treasures of the Western Church (including of course the usus antiquior of the Roman rite), and introduced more tangible continuity with tradition in the manner of papal celebrations (e.g., the ‘Benedictine’ altar arrangement, offering Mass ad orientem in the Sistine and other papal chapels, administering Holy Communion to the faithful on their tongues as they knelt).

But Fr Kocik is throwing up his hands in surrender. The Reform of the Reform cannot be done. It is impossible. He finds that

the ‘reform of the reform’ is not realizable because the material discontinuity between the two forms of the Roman rite presently in use is much broader and much deeper than I had first imagined.

Things are so far advanced now that it is necessary to go back to the beginning (or rather, to 1963) and start afresh on the basis of the Council’s actual, explicit, written teaching in Sacrosanctum Concilium:

[T]he road to achieving a sustainable future for the traditional Roman rite—and to achieving the liturgical vision of Vatican II, which ordered the moderate adaptation of that rite, not its destruction—is the beautiful and proper celebration, in an increasing number of locations, of the Extraordinary Form, with every effort to promote the core principle (properly understood) of “full, conscious and active participation” of the faithful (SC 14).

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The other thing that has sobered me up was a video embedded at Catholicism Pure & Simple. It compares the old and the new Masses in the act of their celebration. It is a little weighted in one direction: the sole example of the post-conciliar Mass is a portly late-middle-aged priest with some annoying American habits (and please, it is not only American priests who can have annoying liturgical habits, I know) who is set against more than one youthful and much slimmer celebrant of the Mass of 1962. The young guys are indeed examples of “best practice” of the preconciliar liturgy, though perhaps many ordinary Catholics back then did not always receive best practice. The older, new-Mass man, is not what you would call an example of best practice; though he is by no means the worst, and perpetrates none of the more spectacular abuses that could so easily have been found on Youtube.

The video, however, put a living face to the theories and principles of the liturgy that have been at issue. And they left me torn, almost asunder. Why?

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Both had aspects that did not attract. The new-Mass man was a little too cavalier in his bearing and demeanour before the most sacred things the Church has in its gift. The loud munching on the Host and the long swig of the Chalice both jar. The music was dire in its banality. The poor man felt a constant need to inject meaningfulness into the words he pronounced, even when they were addressed to God and not to the people. He fiddled around with the traditional formulas (eg “…in Jesus’ name, who reigns gently with You…”) in order to be relevant, or caring, or creative, or whatever. He gave out Communion like it was corn chips and not his God.

Yet, it is hard not to conclude that the structure and the rubrics of the new Mass lend themselves to such a practice and attitude. If you remove so many of the sacralizing elements of a ritual, of course it is going to end up secularized. Rather arbitrarily included after the Council among the “useless repetitions” the same Council had deprecated, nearly all the signs of the cross and genuflections and kissings of the altar were removed from the Mass. To one not formed under the old Mass, these gestures can appear to be fussy and pedantic and almost obsessive. They seem to cry out for some rationalization. But is such a principle appropriate to the symbolic and sacred ritual of the Mass? Are time-and-motion principles suited to something that should take us out of time and out of ourselves?

It is this same unfamiliarity with the old Mass that can make it seem quite alien. Even with my theoretical knowledge of it, it can still throw me to watch it. While I have no beef with the idea of rubrics in liturgy (for one thing, they spare the faithful too much of the priest’s ego), the old Mass can seem dizzyingly rubrical: where exactly the Missal sits on the altar, the depth and direction of bows, the placement of the paten, and the like. It does not come naturally to me. Mind you, should it?

That said, a solemn and formal liturgy does feel right. A solemn, chant-filled new Mass is wonderful. Even the vernacular does not normally worry me, and in fact I have rarely said a Mass in Latin (apart from singing daily the parts of the Mass in Latin). The ritualized movement, if not overplayed, makes sense. One hides, subsumes, oneself into it. Using the little logic that God has given me, it is apparent that in the old Mass this submission and surrender to ritual is taken to the next level. It is hard to object to it in terms of liturgical logic.

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Here probably comes the nub of the issue: the new Mass has the inherent quality that it allows the celebrant to take over. He is “president” (an awful word in liturgy), and too easily he becomes star of the show. I have seen regularly the pressure that some priests unconsciously feel to be creative, to say something relevant or meaningful, to be constantly babbling. Being in the vernacular allows the priest to dominate the Mass, in a way that is near impossible in Latin. In the vernacular he can interject and extemporize at will. There is the modern plague of the opening mini-sermon telling you what the readings are going to be about (cannot the people understand vernacular readings for themselves?!). Then there are the myriad changes and “improvements” that some priests feel that they must impose (must the people be patronized so?). The most dangerous thing of all, perhaps, for the priest is facing the people. Now, everyone’s eyes are on him and not on God and his Christ, who will return from the East. Instead of priest and people together facing God they face each other, a closed and often self-satisfied circle. Many a priest will recite the Eucharistic Prayer with his eyes on the people, and so inevitably end up talking to the people, even showing them the Host as he pronounces “Take this all of you…”, talking to the Father, but looking to the people.

In other words, there is a disjunction between what we are taught happens at Mass and what seems so often to be happening. There is an incongruence between the words and the actions. It is possible to do the new Mass properly; but the new Mass seems to have the inherent flaw that it is so easy to do improperly.

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Then there is the dazzling array of options and variations now available: options for penitential rites, for readings, for Eucharistic Prayers. More is not always better. The more the range of options, the less is it possible to have ritual in the truest sense of the word. The new lectionary has many flaws, not least that it swamps people with chunks of scripture, often out of their context, and too much for people to assimilate in any deep way. Priests either have to retrain themselves as amateur scripture scholars or waffle about some experience they have had or some story that comes to mind to illustrate the easiest point that can be mined from the readings. And not a few end up talking about themselves. Scripture is wonderful, and we should all be spending time with it in some systematic way each day. But Mass is not a scripture class. Nor should it ever be one. The Word serves the Sacrifice which is the real reason we have gathered: to unite ourselves to Christ’s perfect worship of the Father on the Cross. Anything else is secondary in the Mass.

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So this priest is left dazed and disquieted, and feeling rather alone in it all.

It is clear that so many of the young are abandoning the liturgical practice of the Faith, and who can blame them if all they were to get is Fr Superstar and pop muzak they would never want to hear outside of church, and clearly do not want to hear inside either. Why would they come if they are talked down to like children, and are never challenged with hard truths that will give them quality of life? How often do priests confront them, challenge them on things like sex before marriage, pornography, alcohol abuse? Children thrive on challenge, and youth can handle hard truths as long they can see they are not being talked down to but called upwards. If we do not tell them, then we are complicit if they go astray for lack of guidance. And we should all remember our Lord’s warning regarding those who lead his little ones astray. And when was the last time a priest mentioned hell as a reality, and a real prospect for grave and unrepentant sinners?

Communion in the hand is too often an awful spectacle. The Sacred Host – Jesus Christ no less! – is handled and fingered and self-administered in a way that does not seem congruent with what we believe the Host actually is. How I respect the goodly number at our abbey Mass who receive the Host in the throne of their hands and then raise that throne straight to their mouths, not a finger in play. They are usually converts who have made an often painful decision to submit to the Saviour in the Host. But Communion in the hand was a concession that has become the rule, and it can really jar.

Just as many youth are just leaving the churches to an ageing generation who are usually either faithful no matter the cost or who find some sort of forum for self-expression in creative liturgy, so too a healthy number of young are also finding their way into church where the Mass is celebrated properly, with dignity, with a clear sense of worship of God and not a tacky public meeting led by a dominant self-appointed few; and in fact where very often the Mass being offered is the old Mass. They participate actively enough, not by doing things but by losing themselves in the mystery. It resonates with them, it makes sense, and it challenges them, takes them out of themselves towards God.

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So is there no hope for the new Mass? Is the solution for our many dying parishes to return to the Mass of 1962 and then try for a renewal of the Mass that is more consistent with what the Council Fathers actually mandated? We certainly cannot rule out the old Mass – it is the Mass that admirably served the Church for well over a millennium, for which saints thrilled and martyrs died, which so firmly directs our gaze to God and from ourselves. It is authentic worship.

That said, the Council Fathers were neither stupid nor total dupes. They were on to something. I look at some of the interim Missals that emerged towards the end of the Council and just after and see what we might have had. One Eucharistic prayer, in Latin (since it is addressed to God, and he does speak Latin!) with readings in English, facing east but with more streamlined (and not gutted) rubrics; no vast array of options for this, that and whatnot but some apposite offerings for seasons and certain days. In those missals we were seeing the fledgling emerge before, seemingly inexplicably, a cuckoo took over the nest: a new and totally different Mass, constructed by a committee according to their personal theories of what in liturgical antiquity was to be revived (and which often, we know now, never really existed in the form asserted. Eucharistic Prayer 2 is supposedly Hipploytus’ canon, but if you read the original it differs markedly from this rudely brief composition we now have. It’s just one example. Mass facing the people is another. Communion in the hand is yet another). Alcuin Reid gives some insight into that committee which composed the new liturgy in the wake of the Council, here and here.

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So there is life beyond the old Mass, but we will need the old Mass around to inform a renewed liturgical practice and spirituality. Surely the new Mass can be saved, though it requires surgery. The revised Missal of 2012 was a step in the right direction, giving us a vernacular more suited to worship. Yes, it can be clunky, but better that than simplistically banal. But as Fr Z often says, if you do not like the translation you can always go back to the original – Latin. Moreover, maybe I need to learn the old Mass to know what I am talking about in more than abstract theory, to give it a chance. After all, I have given the new Mass over 40 years of undivided attention. Moreover, perhaps the Missal of 1965/67 which is the subject of the Agatha Christie indult should be given another, longer and better chance that the paltry few years it was allowed.

One thing seems sure: without a wholesale renewal of liturgical practice and spirituality the New Evangelization will remain just another expensive white-elephant of a programme. And priests will remain faced with the temptation to entertain and be creative in worship, and in so doing seriously undermine that worship. Without authentic worship the faithful, especially the young, will not be truly challenged to live with integrity, treating their bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit, and their neighbours as Christs in disguise.

It is a daunting task, and if the Church is relying on me then all may be lost. There are many places where such a renewal is already underway, or where the desire for a true renewal is brimming up. Many priests and people are discovering the liberation of a more God-centred liturgy, and its child, a more surely God-centred life. Many other priests and faithful feel the same I am certain.

Pax.

The Cross

This will probably not become a regular practice, but included here is the short homily preached at conventual Mass today at the abbey, which a couple of people found helpful. Before you read it, have a look at the readings for the Mass if you have not seen or heard them already. Whatever our particular vocation – monk, priest, sister, single person or married, the Cross is central, indeed crucial (!), to the basic Christian calling to repent and believe the Good News. No Cross, no resurrection.

In this morning’s gospel, a brief vignette dense with significance, we see the Samaritans refusing to receive our Lord, and the disciples offering to call down fire from heaven upon them as punishment. Yet it is the disciples that Jesus rebukes.

It is not because the disciples still think in crude, what we might call Old Testament, terms that our Lord rebukes them. Rather it is because they fail just as much as the Samaritans to comprehend who Jesus is and what he must do, but yet think they understand. The Samaritans could not receive Jesus because they were constrained by their tradition which held that the Messiah would be manifested on their own Mt Gerizim, and not in Jerusalem as the Jews believed, and to which Jesus had turned his face in travelling. The disciples could not fully receive Jesus because they thought, according to the prevailing Jewish expectation, that the Messiah would emerge as a liberating King.

When our Lord entered Jerusalem a few days before his passion and death, acclaimed by the rejoicing crowds, we can imagine that the disciples would have felt almost smug in their assurance of what they thought was to come. Yet as we know, the only throne to which the donkey of Palm Sunday carried Jesus was to the throne of the Cross. Neither Samaritans nor disciples yet understood that the Messiah must die for them, to liberate them not with armies but with self-sacrifice. Christ came to walk the way of the Cross, to suffer and to die, and all his life on earth must be seen in the context, the shadow, of the Cross. And to be Christ’s disciples requires that we too must carry the Cross, suffer, and die.

Job grappled with what seemed God’s abandonment of him, to the point of despair. But he kept faith, accepted his suffering as something that made sense at least to God, and so God vindicated him. When we find ourselves bearing the Cross, more often we flee it than accept it. Maybe we flee it because we do not see the Cross for what it is, but see only that we suffer injustice, something we do not deserve, something we should not have to endure. Yet what else was Christ’s Cross but injustice, something he did not deserve, something by rights he should not have had to endure? Yet he did endure it, for us for our salvation.

When we can truly and deeply accept the Cross as necessary in our lives we will find then also the strength to carry it. And then all our sorrows, our estrangements from family and friends, the slights of our brethren, the misunderstanding from our superiors, the inconstancy of those we trust, the pains of body, the infirmities of mind, all “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”, will no longer be food for despair, but food for the journey, our journey to heaven.

At this Mass let us join our sufferings and those of our loved ones, our cross, to the Cross of Christ as we make present on the altar his sacrifice on the Cross, confident that as we offer ourselves in sacrifice with him he will offer us himself, to be our Viaticum, our food and strength for the journey.