Does the Novus Ordo Really Have “Noble Simplicity” Compared to the Tridentine Mass?

J.M.J.

Greetings, merry Christmas, and happy new year to all!

It has been quite a while since I’ve posted anything, unfortunately, so I understand if people have been thinking this blog is dead. It’s not, in fact, dead. I have one post mostly written that I haven’t gotten around to publishing, continuing with the subject of lay readers that I already made two posts on. I also have another big post — focusing on evolution — in the idea stage. But time is a beast, and, very often, I find myself wanting to do other things. With all that said, there’s something I’ve been thinking about over the past couple weeks that I wanted to discuss.

One of the primary directives of Vatican II’s Sacrosanctum Concilium is the following:

“In the revision of the liturgy, the following norms should be observed: the rites should be distinguished by a noble simplicity; they should be short, clear, and unencumbered by useless [inutiles] repetitions; they should be within the peoples’ powers of comprehension, and normally should not require much explanation” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 33-34).

Now, many, including me, take issue with the repetitions in the older Mass being called “useless,” and I would also question whether “comprehension” of the rites should be a primary aim. After all, the Holy Mass is an infinite mystery, and, try as we might, we will never totally understand it.

But what I’d like to focus on here is the idea of “noble simplicity.” In Sacrosanctum Concilium, and in the revised Order of the Mass, it seems that “noble simplicity” requires short, simple prayers – and hence, the saints’ names in the Confiteor and in the Libera Nos following the Our Father got cut. The numerous signs of the Cross in the Canon got cut. The Domine, Non Sum Dignus is said by the priest and people together, once only. And there are numerous other examples of this rather unfortunate trend as well.

However, I would suggest that, in one respect, the revised Order of the Mass fails utterly in its aim to be nobly simple, and that the former Mass is clearly more in line with the aims of Vatican II’s directives.

If the former missal has something definitely going for it, it’s that the Mass has a clearly delineated structure, and the faithful in the pews can know what to expect each time. To put it simply, the Traditional Latin Mass doesn’t really have options. There is the option of what type of Mass will be offered – Low Mass, High Mass, Solemn Mass – but that’s essentially it. The Novus Ordo, however, allows for so many options in all of its parts that any Mass according to that missal would differ from others. Let’s observe some examples. For the sake of ease, I’m going to refer to the older Mass as the “Tridentine Mass” (even though it was around well before the Council of Trent).

The Tridentine Mass, with very rare exceptions, always begins with the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar. These don’t change. These begin with Psalms 43 and 42, then include a Confiteor said by the priest and then a Confiteor said by the servers on behalf of the faithful. There is then a brief quotation from Psalm 85, followed by two prayers as the priest goes up to the altar. This pattern can be expected at essentially every Tridentine Mass.

In the Novus Ordo, however, there are multiple options after the Sign of the Cross, which will depend on the whim of the priest offering the Mass. So, for example, he could say, “The Lord be with you,” (R\: And with your spirit), or he could say, “The grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (same response), or he could even say, “Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (the response here is either “And with your spirit” or “Blessed be God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”).

Then, for the Penitential Act, there are three options, which can be chosen at the priest’s discretion: 1) the Confiteor and Kyrie; 2) just the Confiteor; 3) just the Kyrie, with prescribed introductions before each petition.

So far, then, there’s six official variations from the Sign of the Cross to the Kyrie, which will differ from priest to priest, while the Tridentine Mass has a stable and unchanging setup.

As far as Scriptural readings are concerned, the Tridentine Mass has three variations: the priest reads the Epistle and the Gospel himself at a Low Mass; he chants them at a High Mass; and in a Solemn Mass, the subdeacon chants the Epistle while the deacon chants the Gospel. That’s the extent of variations to be expected in this area. In the Novus Ordo, though, there are numerous options. As is the case in most places, lay people – men or women – are permitted and even expected to read the first two readings. They may do so in their own clothes, or vested in something such as an alb or a cassock and surplice. Alternatively, the priest himself may read the readings, though this is rarely done. Yet all options would be licit, and all of them could feasibly happen, depending on the desire of the priest.

Then we reach the Eucharistic Prayer. In the Tridentine Mass, the prayer is the Roman Canon. No other options exist, no textual variations exist, and the rubrics are always the same. In the Novus Ordo, not only are there technically ten different prayers (the Roman Canon, Eucharistic Prayers II-IV, the two Eucharistic Prayers for Reconciliation, and the Eucharistic Prayer for Various Needs – which has four variations), but also, within the Roman Canon, the priest has the option of abbreviating it by omitting most of the saints and all of the “Through Christ our Lord. Amen” conclusions. Thus, there are eleven possible Eucharistic Prayer variations from Novus Ordo to Novus Ordo, while it will always remain the same in the Tridentine Mass.

There are more options I could explore within the Novus Ordo as well, but this is enough to make my point. This doesn’t even bring up options such as having Mass ad orientem or ad populum; English or Latin, or a mix of each; bare altar, or altar with a crucifix and candles; male or female altar servers; Extraordinary Ministers or just the priest distributing Communion; and on and on.

My goal is not to say that options are intrinsically a problem. They can be utilized to good effect, as the Anglican Ordinariate Mass, and some of the Divine Liturgies, demonstrate. But my question is this: have we really rendered the liturgy “nobly simple” by allowing a dizzying plethora of options, which end up making the Mass more of an a la carte menu? Or might the Tridentine Mass have something to teach us in its stable and constant character?

God bless, all.

“Taught the Fear of Jesus in a Small Town” — Thinking About Two Wrong, But Prevalent, Views of Religion

J.M.J.

My dear friends,

I wake up to a radio station that cycles through rock hits from the 1970’s and ’80’s. I guess that’s what manages to get me up best in the morning. A couple days ago, I heard a song frequently played on this radio station, John Mellencamp’s “Small Town.” As I lay there in bed, talking myself into getting up, one line of that song hit me more notably than it had before. The singer describes himself as, “Educated in a small town / Taught the fear of Jesus in a small town / Used to daydream in that small town / Another boring romantic, that’s me.”

JCM_-_Small_Town
“Small Town,” Riva Records

“Taught the fear of Jesus in a small town.”

I had never really considered the implications of a line like that, but it hit me forcefully then. The way the singer sees Jesus—and thus, presumably, the entire idea of faith of religion—is one of “fear.” To such a mindset, it seems, God is nothing other than someone who watches your every move to ensure you don’t do something “wrong.” God is a sort of boogeyman in the clouds who serves no real purpose besides stopping you from doing the things you want, and who has petty ideas of right vs. wrong. One bad move and you’re done for.

Now, admittedly, it is one line of one song written thirty years ago, and I can’t say how John Mellencamp views religion based on it alone. For all I know, that may not have been meant as the swipe at religion that it sounds like.

But I think it’s not unfair to say that many people today, numerous Catholics among them, do view the religion they’re taught in their formative years as being based ultimately on a fear of God, lest He find some fault with them. (Notate bene: fear of the Lord, in proper measure, is a good to be fostered; more on that in a minute). And then there’s the opposite end of the spectrum, which is arguably more prevalent within today’s world, which says that, if God exists, and if people want to “be religious,” then as long as they’re not murderers, rapists, or psychopaths, they have nothing to fear from God. Both of these views are unhealthy. The first, meant to make the believer careful to avoid anything “bad” based on the mean God in the clouds who’s out to get him, misses an essential ingredient of religion and will probably lead to resentment and, ultimately, abandonment of God. The second misses that same essential ingredient, but, not wanting to leave the believer cowering in fear, says simply that there’s nothing to fear except in a few extreme cases.

What essential ingredient is missing in these two approaches to religion? The idea of following God due to love of Him. I don’t mean love in the sense of nice, uplifting, warm-fuzzy “fluff.” I mean love like the kind we find when we really love another person: a valuing of the other person based on a genuine belief in his or her inherent merit, goodness, and worth. In the end, the primary driving force for any religious activity on our part should arise from a desire to please God because we recognize the goodness of God, the worth of God, and the love with which He acts upon mankind. “We love [God],” says John in his first letter, “because He has loved us first” (1 John 4:19). To be loved deeply by another person will very often make us love that person in return, and in the case of God, it’s no different. The individual who has a correct approach to religion, a correct understanding of God, loves Him if for no other reason than that God loves the individual so greatly in return, and that God is so perfect and benignant as to be entirely worth loving.

Genuine love of God balances out our spiritual lives, so that we are neither preoccupied with His impending wrath, nor lax enough to think that, as long as we’re not criminals, we’ve nothing to worry about. “He who loves Me will keep My commandments,” says Christ in John 14:23. This verse alone can serve as a course correction toward both views of religion given above. To the believer who approaches the Lord in terms of “fear,” it must be pointed out that the avoidance of sin is based on the principle that sin is a rejection of the love God offers, and that, by avoiding sin, the believer is avoiding offense to a loved one. This, and not fear of anger, should be his primary motivation for not sinning. To the believer who approaches the Lord with a grand laxity of conscience, it must be pointed out it does not take public atrocities to render oneself guilty of sin. “You have heard it said, ‘You shall not commit adultery,'” Our Lord tells His listeners in the Gospel of Matthew, “but I say to you, that whoever looks at a woman to lust after her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” And earlier on, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not murder,’ but I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother shall be subject to judgement” (Mt. 5:27; 21).

Fear of the Lord is a genuine gift, and is required for a healthy relationship with God, for it keeps present before us the essential realization that God is God and we are not. God is holy, and very often, we are not. God has ultimate power over life, death, and the created world; we do not, and any power we do have is merely because He has given it to us. Fear of the Lord, as is obvious, does hinder us from sinning, so that we avoid the punishment we willfully incur on ourselves by sinning (it would be a mistake to think God “sends us to Hell,” since He does not; we send ourselves to Hell by our voluntary rejection of the one who “is Love,” the ultimate reason for and sustainer of all that exists—1 John 4:8). Despite its necessity, however, fear of the Lord should always be a secondary motivation for following God as we ought, and love ought to take the primary place. “There is no fear in love, for perfect love casts out fear; fear arises from punishment, and he who has fear has not been perfected in love” (1 John 4:18).

I guess the point of all this musing is the following: if fear is your primary motivation in following God, something’s off. If want to follow God without any fear, something’s equally off. Fostering a love of God, which will balance your perspective of God, is the key to following Him properly.

The Problem With Non-Liturgically-Vested, Lay Readers At Mass, Part 2: The Nature of Liturgical Reading

Dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, that Mother whom none but the Lord deserves, but who nonetheless graciously receives us as her own children

J.M.J.

My dear friends,

In my previous post on this topic, I began the discussion by sharing the clear requirement from Vatican II’s Sacrosanctum Concilium that “there must be no innovations unless the good of the Church certainly requires them” and “care must be taken that any new forms adopted should, in some way, grow organically from forms already existing” (SC 23). Then, keeping this principle in mind, I gave five key elements of the way readings are performed in the older form of Mass versus how they’re performed now, and attempted to demonstrate that, due to numerous and glaring differences, the current method does not constitute an “organic growth” from the previous practice (you can read that over HERE).

But that was meant to be merely a preliminary consideration. Now, I’d like to begin sharing with you several reasons that I believe we would do well to amend our present practice and bring it more in line with the former way of doing things. These can be divided into four main arguments, with this post dealing with the first of them: 1) having laity, male or female, perform the readings results in a muddled view of what is proper to the baptized priesthood and what is proper to the ordained priesthood, and obscuring the roles of each doesn’t exalt either one; 2) having non-vested laypeople read makes the liturgy ceremonially inconsistent; 3) splitting up the reading duties, so that the Gospel is reserved for the priest while the laity can read the other readings, makes it so that nature of the written Divine Word is obscured; 4) basing itself in large part on the ideas to be presented in argument #1, there are general problems with having females perform liturgical roles in the sanctuary (please, in charity, read this argument carefully, when a future post comes containing it, before immediately declaring me sexist!).

So let’s take these arguments one at a time and see if they afford any content worthy of reflection.

Main Argument 1: An Obscured Understanding of the Two Priesthoods

If my own thinking in the past can be any indication, I think there’s a common idea among Catholics nowadays, even among those who have an orthodox differentiation in their minds between the “baptized” and “ordained” priesthood, that as long as it is not required that the laity perform any liturgical roles directly related to confecting the Sacrament of the Eucharist, it should not be considered a problem to have laity doing other things in the Mass — like read the readings. After all, anyone can read, right? There is no special power or authority required from God to get up, proclaim a text, and sit back down again.

To an extent, that’s true. Anyone can read the Bible, and ultimately, the text is going to be no different whether it’s read by a cleric or a layperson, a man or a woman. But I would suggest, perhaps, a different outlook. That is this: reading at Mass is not just reading so that the text gets read, which anyone can indeed do, or reading with the aim of better moving the souls of those present toward God. Rather, the reading of the Scriptures at Mass is an essentially ministerial function, an essentially shepherding function, which — as can hopefully be shown as we progress  — ultimately ties it to the ordained.

In having this first line of thought brought to my attention, I have to credit Dr. Peter Kwasniewski, who is the author of the book Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis: Sacred Liturgy, the Traditional Latin Mass, and Renewal in the Church, as well as a frequent contributor to the New Liturgical Movement blog. In the book just mentioned, he first of all attempts to put to bed any misconceptions that the baptized priesthood is somehow less interesting or an inferior bargain compared the ordained priesthood. He writes (pp. 105-106; emphasis original, except where noted): 

Nothing is inherently more important, more weighty and decisive, than the sacramental character received in baptism, with its eternal consequences for good—or for ill, if the vows that bind us to our merciful Savior are found to be broken at death. Not even the priest’s special sacramental character, as necessary as it is for the common good of the Church . . . , is as decisive for his final destiny, since he will be saved or condemned as a Christian . . . . [N]othing that a Christian can ever do or become will equal, in supernatural dignity, the gift of divinization and conformity to Christ he received at the baptismal font. We can see, then, how tragically mistaken are the desires and efforts of lay people to perform the functions that more properly belong to the clergy, [emphasis mine] as if doing so were somehow a greater, more important exercise of their baptismal priesthood than receiving the sacraments devoutly, striving to live a holy Christian life, and converting the world outside the church doors.

The author then goes on to describe the defining characteristic of the baptized priesthood and the defining characteristic of the ordained priesthood. He writes, borrowing from the sacramental theology of St. Thomas Aquinas, the Roman Catechism, and Lumen Gentium of the Second Vatican Council (LG 10), that “the priesthood of the faithful, which encompasses all Christians, has to do with receiving divine things; the ministerial priesthood, which is proper to those who have received Holy Orders, has to do with giving divine things” (106).

This is worth considering. Yes, anyone can read the Scriptures. Many laity will undoubtedly read them with great competence and piety, often to a greater extent than some clergy. You’ll get no dispute from me about that much. Firstly, however, given that the Sacred Liturgy of the Mass is a sacramental action, and, further, that the Mass, both in the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist (or, to use the older distinction, the Mass of the Catechumens and the Mass of the Faithful) constitutes one comprehensive whole, and not two separated functions, then it belongs to the sacramental domain of the ordained to read at Mass. Secondly, if, in the Church’s traditional theology, it belongs to the ordained to give divine things, then surely we can treat the inspired Word of the Lord, being given, not just in isolation, but in this sacramental context, as a “divine thing” par excellence, one to be generally administered by the ordained. 

Even if the readings cannot, in practice, be always handled by an ordained minister, the one who reads should nevertheless be (borrowing from Professor Kwasniewski again) “conformable to the priestly office” (106). This will form the basis for some of  argument four above (concerning women performing liturgical roles within the sanctuary), to be given more fully in a future posting.

But for the moment, to be “conformable” to the priesthood means that those with a liturgical role “should be male and should be properly vested, because the things they are doing are priestly in nature, even if not always reserved to priests” (106-107). A young man is conformable to the priesthood, and could potentially be ordained. Even a married man is conformable to the priesthood, and could potentially be ordained. A woman, however, not denying the dignity of the female and the indisputable equality and complementarity of the sexes, is not conformable to the priesthood. More will be said about that as we progress, but this seems like a reasonable stopping point for the first argument I’ve laid out.

God bless you all, until I post again!

Reflecting on Gestures and Silence: Has the Near-Wholesale Elimination of Rubrics and the Recitation of the Entire Liturgy Aloud Done Favors for the Church?

Dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary

My dear friends,

Think of going to a Sunday Mass. The priest and servers arrive at the altar, with the accompaniment of a hymn. The priest and servers go to their chairs (quite often facing the people directly), and the priest, microphoned and ready to go, says, “In the name of the Father…,” possibly prefaced by a “good morning.” The Penitential Act follows, followed by the Gloria and then the Collect of the Day. Everyone merely stands in their place for the entirety of these prayers, with no gestures required on the part of the priest or servers throughout (besides the striking of the breast at the “through my fault” if the Confiteor is used, and the often-unknown-about bow of the head at the names of Jesus and Mary). At this point, everyone sits and listens to the readings (with a Responsorial Psalm in between them). There may be a pause of a few moments if the priest wants to recollect himself, but at any rate, he then gets up, accompanied by the “Alleluia,” reads the Gospel, gives his homily, and sits down again (very often, to say it again, in a chair directly facing the people). This sitting may involve a short period of silence before the Creed and the Prayers of the Faithful occur.

I don’t need to keep going. We all know how the Mass goes. For the entire first half, more or less, the priest and other ministers are made to stand in their places, with them staring toward us and us staring toward them, as we say or sing the various prayers required. There is little to no silence here, and in those cases where some moments of silence are called for (such as following the homily), they frequently come across as contrived, forced, “here because they have to be.” Very often, because the ministers and the people face each other, these moments of silence end up being awkward and brief, leaving those of us in the pews wondering how much longer it will be before the priest arises and the Mass continues (sometimes, the priest either sits down for a split second or simply proceeds with the Mass, no pause at all).

Because These Can Be Fun: A Comparison

It’s interesting to compare this to the setup, aura, and style of the Traditional Latin Mass. Readers may come away from what I write convinced that I’m simply in love with the older Mass and don’t like the present form. I wouldn’t say that’s the case. In fact, I rarely have opportunity to go to Mass in the older form, and the Masses that I do go to in the Novus Ordo tend to be thoroughly run-of-the-mill. But I would argue that the older liturgical form, with centuries of development and piety behind it, must not be easily brushed off as a relic of an age happily gone by, and that, given the rushed and from-the top-down nature of Vatican II’s reforms, the older Mass should be frequently re-examined by the Catholic world at large, with an aim to better understanding and appreciating why it may have done things for so long as it did them. It may, and I would argues emphatically that it does, have things to teach us about fostering a sensible liturgical spirit.

So, make a comparison we shall. The priest and servers enter the sanctuary, and instead of stopping at often-centrally-located chairs, they remain facing toward the altar, the crucifix, the tabernacle containing the Blessed Sacrament — and rather than standing immovable in their places, the servers kneel down on either side of the priest as he begins the Mass, still facing the same direction as the congregation, “In the name of the Father…” Then, not only does the position of the ministers (not looking out at the people) clearly indicate the focus of what will be happening, but there is also the notable lack of any kind of greeting, whether within the Missal or otherwise. The priest gives no improvised “good morning,” not even an official introduction directed to the people such as, “Brethren, let us acknowledge our sins and so prepare ourselves to celebrate the Sacred Mysteries.” The focus is not on the people, or on the priest, at this point. The focus is on the action of the Mass, as the priest and servers recite an aptly-suited Psalm: “I will go unto the altar of God.” Once the Psalm is concluded, the priest, rather than merely standing in place, bows profoundly as he recites the “Confiteor” for himself, striking his breast three times at the words, “mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.” The servers kneeling by him do likewise as they recite the peoples’ Confiteor, and the fascinating thing during all of this is that, although the prayers are often barely audible, the gestures throughout manage to communicate the content of the prayers far more deeply than any amount of standing in place, upright, and speaking in a loud, clear voice, can do.

At the conclusion of the Confiteor, the priest not only says, standing passively and without gestures as in the Novus Ordo, the “May almighty God have mercy on us…”, but also adds another prayer which includes making a sign of the cross—a sign of God’s blessing and pardon—over those present. “May the almighty and merciful Lord grant you forgiveness, absolution, and remission of all your sins.” This makes it so that, rather than merely asking, in a microphone-aided, congregation-directed voice, that God would forgive our offenses, the priest subtly prayers that it would be so, and, through his gesture of blessing, gives a visible sign that it is so, that God has forgiven those who seek repentance.

Contrived Silence vs. “Filled” Silence

The quiet of these early prayers, yet the depth of the prayers being prayed and the clarity of the gestures which communicate their content, has been described as a “filled quiet” or a “filled silence” by many authors. In the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, there are no stipulated or artificial “pockets” of silence. The entire Mass proceeds subtly, soberly, most of its prayers said quietly. Even in a sung form of Mass, where many of the parts are clearly chanted and clearly audible, and even when the choir is singing the texts of the day over many of the quieter prayers of the priest, the effect is still one of remarkable silence and peacefulness. As the chants are sung, clearly heard, there is a profundity, a solemnity, and a sense of peace as the prayers up at the altar are quietly prayed. One is not overwhelmed by the sense that he must listen closely to everything and anything being prayed, or that he must make some specific acclamation in a loud and clear voice.

The most profound example of this “filled silence” is the priest’s quiet praying of the Canon (a filled silence that will ultimately render Christ present), accompanied by multiple, profound rubrics which have been almost entirely removed in the present Mass form. In the Novus Ordo Mass, the priest says the Eucharistic Prayer in its entirety in a clearly audible voice, and, aside from the somewhat more complex Roman Canon (which itself has been substantially cut down on a rubrical level), he is only required to make one sign of the cross during the prayer, is only required to bow “slightly”—what does this mean?—before the consecration of each Element, and only genuflects twice from beginning to end. Compare this to the praying of the Roman Canon in the older Mass, wherein the very beginning of that prayer is profoundly gesture-oriented: rather than beginning the prayer standing upright, confidently, like a person prepared to deliver a speech, the priest bows profoundly over the altar as he says the opening words: “Te igitur, clementissime Pater…” — “You, therefore, most merciful Father, we humbly beseech and petition through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord…” Then, still bent low, he kisses the altar before standing upright and continuing the prayer, which is typically heard only by those very near, but which has its meaning clearly demonstrated by the many rubrics and gestures to be made throughout.

Gestures of Reverence Founded, Ultimately, on Scripture

What I have described so far is merely within the opening sentence of the Eucharistic Prayer. Let’s ask ourselves this question honestly: is the reality of what will take place during the Eucharistic Prayer truly communicated in a clearer fashion to the faithful by eliminating the priests’ rubrics, so that he remains standing upright and proclaims the prayer with a volume which suggests that he’s somehow speaking to the people and not to God? Think of Christ’s parable in Luke 18. The one He commended was not the Pharisee, who stood and prayed with confidence, assured of himself, but the tax collector, who, the Lord relates, “would not even look up to Heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner'” (Lk. 18:13).

Another rubrical contrast between the Novus Ordo Mass and its predecessor is the priest’s “reaction,” if you will, to the Consecration. In the Novus Ordo, the priest may or may not make a notable bow while reciting the Lord’s words at the Last Supper (again, the rubric to bow “slightly” is a vague one), but he also elevates the Sacred Species in either form, and then genuflects. In the older Mass, however, it’s required that he bow profoundly while saying the words of consecration, and that he genuflect before elevating, as well as after. He gives an indication of adoration as soon as the Lord makes Himself present, and only then does he consider the elevation. It’s reminiscent of Peter, who, upon seeing the Lord’s power manifest, “fell at His knees and said, ‘Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man'” (Lk. 5:8). When St. John saw our Risen Lord in the Book of Revelation, he “fell at His feet as though dead” (Rev. 1:17), and only at Our Lord’s bidding did he arise. All of these elements, far from being mere “medieval accretions” worthy of nothing but elimination, are ultimately given precedent within the Sacred Scriptures, and I would argue that their presence more clearly proclaims the reality of what goes on.

To go on and describe the rest of the Mass and all the differences, with the emphasis on words and hearing things and saying things in the newer Mass vs. the focus on contemplation and reverence in the older Mass, would take multiple posts, and it’s not my aim to bore my readers (or imply that the Novus Ordo can’t be offered in a contemplative spirit. It can be, but even the most traditionally-celebrated Novus Ordo is still required to be said with nearly every prayer “aloud,” which means there is never that “filled silence” that the Extraordinary Form affords).

Let us again compare the quiet and gesture-ridden nature of the older Mass to the largely gesture-free, yet loudly-recited, prayers of the Novus Ordo, and then, let us again consider one question honestly. Have we really gained better understanding by hearing every word and eliminating many actions on the part of the priest, or might we admit that, even with them perfectly audible, the various prayers, and indeed the Sacrifice of the Mass as a whole, go beyond mere things to be “comprehended,” and that a recovery of that mysterious and filled quiet, accompanied by its profound gestures, could lead the faithful to a deeper understanding of the Mystery of Faith?

The Problem With Non-Liturgically-Vested Laypeople Reading at Mass, Part 1: Vatican II Itself

Dedicated in Filial Affection to that Lovely Tabernacle of the Lord, the Blessed Virgin Mary, both the Lord’s Mother and ours

J.M.J.

My dear friends,

Assuming you’ve gone to Mass since 1969, you’ve undoubtedly noted the prevalent “Liturgy of the Word” custom of today. During the Liturgy of the Word, it is very frequent for laypeople to read the first two readings, and typically, it is women who step up to this role. These laypeople usually come to the sanctuary from the pews, dressed however they came to church, that is, not wearing liturgical vestiture. I’d like, perhaps, to give a slight warning. What I’m writing here is no doubt going to cause a certain level of controversy and is going to step on some toes. But I think it’s a topic that deserves consideration. Ultimately, that topic is this: that there might be legitimate liturgical problems with having non-liturgically-vested laypeople, particularly women, who do not remain in the sanctuary, read the readings during Mass, and that certain solutions should be adopted to remedy this issue. (NB: Most of the main arguments will be given in future postings, rather than here. This post is for a preliminary consideration based on a principle found within Vatican II’s Sacrosanctum Concilium).

Now, for some, these may come as an unimportant details to consider. People hear all the time about the need for liturgical reverence, sure, or the problem with Communion in the hand, or the problem of Mass with the priest facing the people, but this topic is hardly dealt with and seems, likewise, to be hardly important. But I would argue that the now-common practice of having laypeople merely come up from their pews, as they are, to read (and then return to their pews when finished), constitutes a genuine obstacle to a true liturgical spirit, and also goes directly against many of Vatican II’s statements on the Word of God and the Sacred Liturgy (one of which will be used here, in Part 1; more to follow later). Why would I think that? Well, please read on. But I do want to make some preliminary comments first.

The Motives are Praiseworthy…

The reasons that laypeople read are commendable. On the part of those who try to get laypeople involved in this role, they almost always do so with a desire to better fulfill the Second Vatican Council’s call for an “active participation” of the laity, as they understand it (i.e., as a literally “active,” or external, function). In fact, as Pope Pius XII laid out in 1947’s Mediator Dei, and as numerous Pontiffs have reiterated since, active participation is primarily of the mind and the soul. Nevertheless, the fact is, the common parish-level definition of active participation has been that of external activity; and so, if someone reads Vatican II with this frame of reference, and sees that this “active participation” is “the aim to be considered before all else” (SC 14), then he should at least be praised for attempting to make it happen as he understands it, even if his understanding is incorrect or, at best, incomplete.

On the part of those who volunteer to read and frequently do so, they deserve a degree of praise, too. Getting up in front of a crowd is not a pleasant thing. Being willing to do so frequently is not a pleasant thing. Contrariwise, desiring to serve the Lord by reading the Sacred Scriptures at Mass is a laudable thing, and my aim in the following post is not to belittle or deny any of these facts. More to it, considering how prevalent it is for women to do the reading at Mass compared to men, women should also be praised for their comparative courage in doing so when men won’t. So again, my goal is not deny or obscure the legitimate motives or competence that lay readers might possess. The argument takes place on different grounds.

The First Consideration: Loyalty to Vatican II’s Mandate of “Organic” Change

As a stage-setter, it can be agreed by everyone that, whether it’s a fine or a problematic thing, having a “person from the pews” get up from his or her pew to read during Mass, and then return to the pew afterward, is a definitively “new” practice for the Catholic liturgy. In the older form of the Mass, the epistle and the Gospel (there was not an Old Testament reading) would be read either by the celebrating priest (if a Low Mass), or by the priest and then the deacon, respectively (if a High Mass). In any case, one would not find a lay man or woman entering the sanctuary to read, nor would he find an altar server doing so. Such has been the custom through the centuries in the West. I can’t comment on the Divine Liturgies of the Eastern Churches, but, in my limited understanding, they have never had a custom of lay people reading from the Scriptures, either. So, stating it merely as a historical fact and without any controversy involved, having the laity read readings at Mass is a definitively modern practice, however one feels about it, and, for a 2000-year-old Church, is young, having its genesis in the late 1960’s.

Lest I be considered shallow, my argument against the practice is not that it is “new.” Many liturgical developments are new at one point or another. But there is a general principle, reaffirmed by Vatican II itself (see quote below), that in order for liturgical progress to be considered good, it must be a true elevation of what is already there, must serve to further demonstrate the reality of whatever the liturgical element in question is, and, (I’m borrowing from ideas of Cardinal Ratzinger here), must be “organic,” that is, natural, sensible, and not a form of notable discontinuity and rupture with what has preceded it. In its Constitution on the Liturgy, Vatican II itself affirmed this basic principle: “[T]here must be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them; and [my emphasis] care must be taken that any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing” (SC 23).

I’d like to pause here just a second to make one point. Vatican II’s Sacrosanctum Concilium is, in many ways, a vague document, and it’s difficult many times for anyone to clearly pinpoint what it wanted. I get that. But there are a couple sections of it that present a clear directive, with no ambiguity, and this is one of those cases, which means it merits special attention on our part. So let’s think about the bolded section of that quote from Vatican II. In the case of Mass readings and the Liturgy of the Word, it’s not evident to me that the way things are done now organically developed from the former practice. Let’s compare the way readings are read in the older form of Mass to the way things are done now, and see how well the Reform has applied this mandate.

Element 1:

—In the older form, the one doing the reading was a cleric or a man in minor orders.

—In the newer form, the one doing the reading is almost always a layperson, and is many times a woman.

Continuity or discontinuity? Discontinuity.

Element 2:

—In the older form, the reading cleric would always be vested for a liturgical function; you’d never see a priest or a deacon reading in his clerical suit or cassock.

—In the newer form, the lay man or woman is almost never vested to read, but rather, performs this role in regular clothing; no liturgical vestiture is required.

Continuity or discontinuity? Discontinuity.

Element 3:

—In the older form, the reading cleric remained in the sanctuary; he was obviously not considered “one of the people,” but was instead a clearly designated minister, set apart for the role he was performing and unable to be confused with “just anybody.”

—In the newer form, the lay man or woman does not remain in the sanctuary, but instead enters into the sanctuary for a brief time, reads, and then exits the sanctuary again; there is, then, no clear differentiation between those who have a specific liturgical function to perform and those participating in the Mass from the congregation.

Continuity or discontinuity? Discontinuity.

Element 4:

—In the older form, on a rubrical level, the reading cleric needed to read (or chant) the Scripture with his hands joined, bowing his head at the name of Jesus, Mary, or the saint of the day.

—In the newer form, the rubrics for laity doing readings are essentially non-existant, beyond bowing to the altar—which, in the older form, would usually be not a bow to the altar, but a genuflection to the Tabernacle—upon approaching and departing.

Continuity or discontinuity? Discontinuity (but easily fixable with training).

Element 5:

—In the older form, with the exception of the Gospel at a High Mass (where a deacon would chant the Gospel, outside the sanctuary, typically facing sideways, and not toward the people), the Scriptures were read on the altar itself, with the priest facing the same direction as the people. They could be read, afterwards, at a lectern facing the people and in the vernacular, but it was required that they be read at the altar, ad orientem and in Latin, first.

—In the newer form, the readings are always read at a lectern or ambo, never on the altar and always facing toward the people.

Continuity or discontinuity? Mild continuity with the use of a lectern, but mostly discontinuity.

I have listed here five primary differences. Now, if you would, please look at the Vatican II quote again. In all of these elements between “old” and “new,” there are marked contrasts, such that if a person compares the two methods, he won’t see the new one as a development in continuity with what preceded it, or as a natural evolution. He’ll see it instead as a notable series of changes, a series which does away with or alters basically all the elements of the former way of doing things. The only continuous element throughout is that Scripture, at least an Epistle and a Gospel, is being read. Everything else has been changed to such a degree that, if a person who knew only the older form could be transported to a present-day Mass, he might not recognize (or at least not immediately) that the part of the Mass was the same.

If we really consider the matter, and if we really hope to use Vatican II to bolster our arguments, can we honestly say this reform has followed Vatican II’s directive that the change in question “flow organically” from what already existed? Or, as a preliminary consideration, might we be justified in saying that this reform, ultimately, has contradicted one of the Council’s clearer directives, and has resulted in a radical reshaping of the liturgical cloth?

Gratefulness, Guardian Angels, and Us: Why We Shouldn’t Forget Our Guardian Angels

J.M.J.

Merry Saturday, everyone. Look at this picture for a moment, if you would.

378px-Cortona_Guardian_Angel_01

What we have here is a painting of a child and his guardian angel.

Wonderful.

Now let me ask you a question: how often do you end up forgetting that your guardian angel is there? I know that this happens to me quite a bit. It may even be tempting for you to think of guardian angels as something little kids have, but as something adults don’t need. If you do think that, I can hardly blame you. The popular prayer to guardian angels (“Angel of God, my guardian dear…”) is child-like in tone, and since guardian angels are almost never talked about among adults, it can be very easy for adults to forget about them. In fact, the words of the Lord Jesus Himself only seem to indicate that “little ones” have guardian angels, since He only mentions children specifically and doesn’t refer to adults (Mt. 18:10).

And yet, adults do have guardian angels, and although this may not be blatantly laid out in Sacred Scripture, it has, nevertheless, been a constant tradition of the Church. St. Thomas Aquinas writes that, “. . . as guardians are appointed for men who have to pass by an unsafe road, so an angel guardian is assigned to each man as long as he is a wayfarer. When, however, he arrives at the end of life, he no longer has a guardian angel; but in the Kingdom he will have an angel to reign with him, in Hell, a demon to punish him” (Summa Theologica, Prima Pars, Q. 113, Art. 4). Pope St. John XXIII said in 1959, “In this earthly life, when children have to make their way along a path beset with obstacles and snares, their fathers take care to call upon the help of those who can look after them and come to their aid in adversity. In the same way our Father in heaven has charged His angels to come to our assistance during our earthly journey which leads us to our blessed fatherland, so that, protected by the angels’ help and care, we may avoid the snares upon our path, subdue our passions and, under this angelic guidance, follow always the straight and sure road which leads to Paradise” (Meditation for the Feast of the Guardian Angels, October 2, 1959). There is also a multitude of quotes from the Church Fathers concerning guardian angels, and, most recently, Pope Francis said that the existence of guardian angels is a “reality”, and that we should actively attempt to form a relationship with ours.

I think it’s a little backwards when we primarily associate guardian angels with children. I would say that adults should be the ones to give their guardian angels more focus, because adults are well past the so-called age of reason, and therefore are going to be held more accountable than children when they sin. One of the best ways to avoid sin is to have your focus continually on what is “above”, since this puts priorities and even temptations into their proper perspective. Being mindful of the presence of your guardian angel can serve to keep temptations at a distance, as it will keep you aware of God and the things of God.

Furthermore, speaking of temptations, guardian angels have power to defend us against the allurements that demons and life’s circumstances give us. They can help us fulfill difficult tasks, they can remind us of things which need to be remembered, they can aid us while we pray (and pray on our behalf), and, if nothing else, they can remind us we’re never going to be alone in life. The point is, you and I should give our guardian angels more focus. They’re given to us to benefit our lives in so many ways, and really, it seems hardly grateful to forget they exist.

 

 

 

Are You Required (These Days) To Confess How Many Times You Committed a Mortal Sin?

Good morning, my good people,

A few years ago I heard a priest (whom I suppose we’ll call “Priest W”, for no reason) give a little presentation about Confession, and thank the Good Lord, almost a whole room of people ended up making use of this Sacrament that evening. Unfortunately, Priest W made a common mistake, which I’m sure you’ve heard: he said that although people used to confess the number of times they committed their given sins, it’s not done like that these days.

And considering that’s what I had heard for years and no one ever mentioned doing it the “old way” to me, I was rather surprised to learn that the old method still holds: according to the 1983 Code of Canon Law, “A member of the Christian faithful is obliged to confess in kind and number all grave sins committed after baptism” which have not already been confessed (Can. 988 §1).

Pope St. John Paul II also wrote the same thing in his 2002 Motu Proprio, “Misericordia Dei”:

3. Since ‘the faithful are obliged to confess, according to kind and number, all grave sins committed after Baptism of which they are conscious after careful examination and which have not yet been directly remitted by the Church’s power of the keys, nor acknowledged in individual confession’ (Can. 988 §1), any practice which restricts confession to a generic accusation of sin or of only one or two sins judged to be more important is to be reproved. Indeed, in view of the fact that all the faithful are called to holiness, it is recommended that they confess venial sins also.

So what does this mean? It means that if you (unfortunately) have a mortal sin to confess, try your best to remember how many times you ended up doing it. If you can’t remember precisely, then make an approximation. If you can’t do that, you should tell the priest you really can’t count how many times it was but you are sincerely sorry anyway.

Now, that’s all well and good, but what if you haven’t confessed your mortal sins in number before? You don’t need to confess them again, do you? Thankfully not. You confessed them previously with invincible ignorance of the actual protocol. They’re gone. You’re good to go. But do bear it in mind for the future. Venial sins are not required to be confessed in number (since they’re not required to be confessed at all). Still, for the sake of getting into the habit of confessing mortal sins properly (if, God forbid, you have any in the future), it wouldn’t be a bad thing to confess even venial sins in number.

As Fr. Z so bluntly put it over here at his blog, “Pay no attention to the liberals who belittle the necessity of confessing in kind and number by stupid phrases like ‘laundry list’.” It’s not about legalism or scrupulosity or OCD. It’s about giving an admission of all your sins so that all your sins can be forgiven and, furthermore, it’s so that you can know they’ve been accounted for.

Who knows? It might even deter you from mortally sinning in the future so you won’t have to go through the added mental process of counting how often the sin was committed!

Genuflecting, Tabernacles, and You—What is the Correct Protocol?

Greetings, my dear readers,

It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted anything liturgically related, but I feel I should write about what you’re going to read for the sake of everyone involved. Every time I go to a Catholic church, whether the Tabernacle is located in the sanctuary or not, 90% of the congregation invariably skips genuflecting and makes a bow, unless they’re getting into pews, where genuflecting seems to be a more ingrained habit.

Part of this confusion comes from the separation of the altar and Tabernacle in the 1960s. Without going into my thoughts on that, I will say simply that before the postconciliar changes, it was simple: the Tabernacle and the altar were typically one unit, and so when you passed the altar (which was also the Tabernacle containing the Blessed Sacrament), you genuflected. Now, people hear conflicting directions: genuflect to the Tabernacle, but bow to the altar when the Tabernacle is absent. And it has confused people enough that now, they mostly bow whether the Tabernacle is present or not. I’ve heard priests and laypeople alike say that the “profound bow” (a bow of the torso) is sufficient before the Blessed Sacrament, but I’d like to clear up some things. What does the Church currently expect you to do when you pass by or in front of the Tabernacle? Is it any different than it was in the pre-Vatican II days? Read on!

The current document of guidelines on these matters, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, distinguishes between a) the reverence given to the Tabernacle inside Mass and outside Mass, and b) the reverence given to the Tabernacle inside Mass, which differs between those who have a liturgical role to perform and those sitting in the pews. Easy guideline first.

Although there are individual exceptions, 99% of the time you will only need to remember this one rule: the GIRM says that “all who pass before the Most Blessed Sacrament genuflect” (274). I’ll get to the exceptions in a second, but like I said, they will only rarely affect you, so just genuflect most of the time. I think it’s important to underscore something, not to be a Pharisee, but to ensure that the importance of the Holy Eucharist, the reverence due to God present in It, is properly conveyed by our movements. Genuflecting is the required gesture before the Blessed Sacrament. The profound bow is only allowed if you truly cannot genuflect. If you can’t genuflect without something to hold onto, but are able to do so with some sturdy object as support, then by all means, grab onto a nearby pew and genuflect that way. Please, consider the truth of the Real Presence and use the profound bow as a truly last resort, like if you have genuine leg problems and nothing to grab hold of. 

Now, what are the exceptions to genuflecting? Like I said, they’re rarely going to apply to you. They actually apply to the priest and other ministers, and only during Mass (GIRM 274):

If the tabernacle with the Most Blessed Sacrament is present in the sanctuary, the priest, the deacon, and the other ministers genuflect when they approach the altar and when they depart from it, but not during the celebration of Mass itself.

There we go.

Rule 1) Outside of Mass, everyone genuflects to the Tabernacle, whenever it is passed and whenever entering or leaving a pew. This trumps bowing to the altar. At the risk of sounding irreverent, just ignore the freestanding altar if the Tabernacle is there and make a genuflection.

Rule 2) During Mass, if you’re just a member of the faithful in the pews, genuflect before the Tabernacle. The profound bow, contrary to common belief, is reserved only for those with a true inability to genuflect, rather than being just an easier and equally acceptable gesture.

Rule 3) If you’re performing some ministry within the Mass, then you do not genuflect to the Tabernacle. If you’re the priest or an altar server, you genuflect upon approaching the altar if the Tabernacle is present, and also upon leaving it, but not during Mass itself.

Rule 4) Only if the Tabernacle is not present, make a profound bow to the altar instead.

And you know what, I’ll even throw in a personal pity plea: I’m confined to a wheelchair. I wish that I could genuflect, but I can’t. Please, I beg you, use the working legs God gave you and perform this gesture of reverence before Him in the Eucharist. It’s worth a few seconds of stopping for.

Couldn’t the Redemption Have Been Accomplished…..well….More Easily?

D.J.C.M.N

One of the questions that arises when we really put our minds on the Crucifixion goes along the lines of: WHY that? Here you have what was one of the most agonizing types of deaths of the time, and not only that, you have an omnipotent God who could have used a much simpler and less unsettling method, while achieving the exact same thing.

And to give credit to anyone who wonders this question, it really is quite reasonable: God could have done anything. He could have said, “You’re redeemed” and all could have gone on quite rosily. 

And yet, He did not. 

I’ve come to realize recently that there is far more to the death of Our Lord than just to be redemptive. Let’s backtrack a bit and look at God. It sounds like a funny question, but what does God do with Himself? We know what He does to us: He sustains our existence, so that we don’t all of the sudden vanish into the nothingness from which He made us; He loves us, desiring what is beneficial to us; He gives us grace to avoid sin; He desires that we be united to Him in Heaven, the purpose for which we were created; and He does countless other things. 

But in Himself, God is much simpler—and yet, much more profound. We profess Faith in a single Divine Being Who possesses the distinct quality of being more than one person. I don’t need to go farther into that specific doctrine for the time being. It’s sufficient for us to know that among the three Persons Who are God, there is a continuos outflow of love from one to the other, a total lack of self-interestedness, a total emptying of self for love of the others—in a word, a total gift of self between Them. That is what God does in His own life. The Father totally and infinitely gives Himself to the Son, the Son to the Father, both to the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit to both.

What God does infinitely in Himself is what we are called to do—despite our finiteness—in our earthly lives. God wants us to be self-expending, both for others and for Himself. This is why Our Lord makes such commands as, “….if any man would go to law with thee, and take away thy coat, give him thy cloak also; and whosoever shall compel thee to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee, turn not away” (Mt. 5:40-42). Now obviously, we humans are limited by our very nature. We cannot be totally self-expending like God can.

But believe it or not, we can come close. We know that Our Lord Jesus Christ is God possessing a human nature. Would not the actions of God in a human nature essentially mirror the action of God in His divine nature? God is necessarily self-exhaustive. He must necessarily go to the limit of self-giving, and if a human nature would not allow Him to be self-sacrificing on an infinite scale, He would spend every last ounce of the finite nature He had. 

In short, He would give His entire life. Because that is how God works. Certainly Christ our Lord had the power to redeem us in any fashion, and such an act as a mere declaration and then POOF might seem far nicer to us, sparing Christ His suffering. Yet even if He could have done such a thing, I doubt He would have wanted to. He said to the disciples shortly before the episode in Gethsemane that there is no greater love than for a man to lay down his life for his friends (Jn. 15:13). To merely declare us redeemed rather than to sacrificially make us redeemed would not follow the nature of God, and it would lose for us two important teaching opportunities: 1) to demonstrate the extent of the Divine Love for us; 2) to show us how God acts in Himself and how we must act also. 

Now because these are just a few reasons, if anyone else has anything to add, please do that. I have a tendency to overlook interesting things and would love additional insights on the matter.

Farewell for now, please pray for me, and may God and His Blessed Mother protect you now and always.

A Galactic Demise

Hello to all,

I’m hoping this post is able to redeem me after what was (in my opinion) a catastrophe – that is, the last post I made.

We all know the Bible verse that says, “For God so loved they world that He gave His only-begotten Son”. It’s usually quoted by a Protestant evangelist who’s trying to win over a convert by means of the potential convert’s emotions. Evangelization by emotions aside, I’d like to call something else to your mind right now: the possible consequences of the death that God’s Son suffered, which reach beyond the limits of our planet. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Like some scientist baloney or dumb, worthless theorizing…but hear me out. It’s a rather interesting concept.

While I’m certainly not going the Pocahontas route and saying that trees, rocks, etc. have spirits, I am going to follow the lead of St. Francis and say that every part of creation, even the non-sentient, gives some level of glory to God. More on that in a minute. For now, turning back to the Bible verse I mentioned above (John 3:16), I’d like to make clear in no uncertain terms what happened when the Son of God was killed. It was the purest act of rebellion, the most putrid suggestion any demon could give to a human, and it was more frightening than the most scary horror film. The death of God’s only Son was, in short, the destruction of the Creator by the very creatures whom He made. Let the irony and scariness of such a thing sink in before continuing to read. Such a thought alone is alarming. Now add to that the following: He let Himself be killed for His killers’ welfare, and He underwent what is said to be the most painful death of the time: crucifixion. The Creator was scourged, beaten, mocked, tortured, and killed by the created, He willed it, and He willed it for them. Isn’t that astounding?

At this point, take another look at a previous statement: that all things give glory to God in their own ways. If the gospel accounts are correct, Earth did indeed react when God died. The sky grew dark in the middle of the day, an earthquake occurred, and the veil of the Temple was torn in two. The planet, which God saw as good when He created it, had fallen so far that it destroyed Him, and quite rightly released a wail of lament when it realized this.

Though the Holy One died on our planet, remember that it is not the only planet He made. Rather, He made a vast universe which goes on much farther than the human can think of, and there very well could be life out in the cosmos somewhere. If this life, wherever and whatever it may be, were free from sin, then it would be close to God. The closer a thing is to God, the more it is affected by action done to God. If God is glorified, the sinless entity feels joy; if He’s blasphemed, the sinless entity is offended…but what if He’s killed?

If sinless life exists out there somewhere in the physical universe, don’t you think it’s reasonable to assume that Christ’s death really had an effect on it? Even if it’s countless miles from where Christ’s death occurred? What happens to God takes a toll on all other things, and His death was certainly the largest thing I can think of. What if not only Planet Earth, but the rest of the universe as well, was stung by the death of its Sustainer? It would only make sense.

Interesting to ponder.

God bless,

Michael