Getting Down to Basics: What Is the Mass?

J.M.J.

I think it’s not unreasonable to say that many Catholics today, through no fault of their own, don’t really know what the Mass is. The majority of Catholic youth now aren’t formed using the simple, direct memorization format of the question-and-answer Baltimore Catechism, and most of what Catholic kids do learn is often given to them through Sunday school courses that (in my experience, at least) teach some basic elements of the Faith, but don’t clearly pinpoint certain doctrines and fully explain them. Principle among these “not fully explained” doctrines has been, unfortunately, the question of what the Mass is.

I, personally, was homeschooled and grew up with the Baltimore Catechism (the teaching tool of most American Catholics prior to the late 1960s). I’m genuinely grateful, to God and to my mother who taught me, because from early on I’ve known the answer to the question of what the Mass is pretty well. I’m thankful for that not to be an arrogant know-it-all, but simply because it strengthened my faith in those years. But I also had to go through parish CCD and other forms of religious education later, and this was my experience of them:

  • When they got to the point where they talked about the Eucharist, they said, quite correctly, that it was the true Body and Blood of Christ
  • They emphasized that it’s what we Catholics do as a community, following the command of Christ: “Do this in memory of Me.”
  • They pointed out that Protestants believe the Eucharist is merely symbolic, and not actually the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of the Lord
  • But what they did not say was what the Mass is for, what goes on during Mass, and the fact and meaning of the Mass being a sacrifice.

And this last point is incredibly unfortunate, because although it’s necessary to know that the consecrated bread and wine are Our Lord’s Body and Blood, it is equally important and necessary that Catholics be taught about the nature of the Mass. The Mass is the source and summit of the Faith, according to the Second Vatican Council, so its imperative that we know as much as we can about it. What is the Mass? What happens during it? If you, my good reader, are unable to answer those questions, then I hope I can be of service to you in answering them as we go along.

I think the three most prevalent misconceptions about the Mass today are these:

  1. The Mass is above all re-enactment of the Last Supper, and that, also above all else, it’s a communal meal.
  2. The Mass is the community worshipping God as it has traditionally done (I’ve encountered this one a lot: the Mass is just “Catholic worship”, and, to quote from the Fiddler on the Roof: “Where do we get these traditions? I’ll tell you: I don’t know.”)
  3. The Mass is a sacrifice in some sense, but we’re not sure what that sense is.

If those are misconceptions or incomplete notions of the Mass, then let’s ask the question, one last time, whose answer will clarify it all: what is the Mass, if it isn’t just “the way Catholics worship God,” or a re-enactment of the Last Supper, or a sacrifice in some vague sense?

Here is the definition of the Mass, which I’m going to explain further after you’ve read it, to make sure any misconceptions are clarified: the Mass is Christ’s offering of His Body and Blood to the Father, just as He did on the Cross, but this time in a “non-bloody” way, which means that, unlike the Cross, Christ offers Himself in each Mass without dying. 

We can clarify this definition further here in a minute, but given this definition, the Church has always considered that the Cross and the Mass are really the same thing: on the Cross, Christ sacrificed Himself and died; in the Mass, Christ still offers Himself in sacrifice to God, but does not die, since He has died already and cannot die a second time. But it’s the same sacrifice, for the priest is the same, and the victim of the sacrifice is the same, Jesus Christ, offering Himself in eternity now as He did on the Cross in time.

Now, a couple important clarifications…

Clarification 1: the Mass is not the “repetition” of the Cross, as though Our Lord’s death on the Cross wasn’t good enough, and He needs to be offered over and over again. That’s the objection Protestants use against the Mass, and it’s quite simply untrue. Christ is not re-offered in the Mass. Rather, as the Scriptures tell us, He is still offered (Revelation 5:6, for example, says that Christ, the Lamb of God, is in Heaven “standing as though slain”—because He offers Himself in sacrifice even after having died; and Hebrews 7:24-25 say that Christ has a “permanent priesthood, always interceding for us”). Indeed, He died only once, and this single act of dying brought about the Redemption; but He didn’t offer Himself in death and then be done. Instead, even after having risen from the dead and ascended into Heaven, He still offers Himself, immortal and glorified, as the perfect Sacrifice to God the Father. His offering is continual and unceasing, and the Mass “brings it down” from Heaven and makes it present on the altars of our parishes. It’s equally correct to say that the Mass takes the Crucifixion of Our Lord from 33 A.D. and brings it to the altar in our present place and time. Whether we want to think of it as “tapping into” and making present the death of Christ on Calvary, or tapping into and making present the self-offering of the Risen Christ in Heaven, both are correct: it’s all one, continuous, unending Sacrifice, which is offered in the Mass under the appearances of bread and wine, through the instrument of the ordained priest (and, by extension, us the laity; more on that below).

Clarification 2: the Lord offered Himself by Himself on the Cross; in the Mass, He uses the ordained priest, who acts in the Person of Christ and functions as His instrument. It is still Christ who offers Himself in the Sacrifice of the Eucharist, but He does it through the priest. The priest, Father Whoever, acts as Christ’s instrument (rather like a person using a piano to make music: the musician [Christ] plays the music [the offering of the sacrifice], but the piano [the ordained priest] is what allows the music to be played).

Because of all this, we can see that the Mass is really Christ’s action more than it is ours. It can be so tempting to think of the Mass as what we do to or for God; but really, the Mass is what God, the Second Person of the Trinity incarnate, does for us, and anything we do within the context of the Mass is merely a participation in the priesthood of Jesus Christ.

But at the same time, it would be incorrect to assume we do nothing. There is a reason that Malachi 1:11 prophesies that “From the rising of the sun to its going down, in every place, a pure offering will be made to [God’s] name.” For the Sacrifice of the Eucharist is, in addition to being the action of Our Lord, the action of us, too. We, priest and laity alike, are all “priests” in our own way. The ordained priest is the one who can be the direct instrument of Our Lord in the offering of Him, the one who can act in His place and actually do the offering, as it were. He alone has been given authority by God (through his ordination) to stand at the altar and “make it happen.” But we the laity have a priesthood about us as well, and we are able—and required—to offer the Lord to the Father ourselves, doing so, as the concluding doxology of the Canon says, “Through Him, and with Him, and in Him.” In every offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, Christ the Lord is the “true” priest, the ordained priest is the instrument priest through which Christ directly offers Himself, and we the laity are all priests, too, called upon to offer the Sacrifice of the Eucharist—the Sacrifice of the Body and Blood of Christ—together with the ordained priest and, in the end, with Jesus Himself.

This has been a great deal of information, and a great deal more could be said still, but I hope it was informative, if you didn’t know these things before. If you did know these things before, I hope this has clarified the nature of the Mass further. As a parting gift, I’d like to leave you with this image. Especially if you had not known clearly about the nature of the Mass before reading this, this picture makes more sense now, doesn’t it?

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The good God bless you, until next time.

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“Heaven Is a Place On Earth”? Indeed It Is!

J.M.J.

I think that maybe the biggest problem with us is that by repeating things, they become routine. This applies to everything: work, school, play, the company we keep, pastimes we enjoy, prayer, worship, and on and on. Allow me to point out a few moments in Scripture before we truly begin:

When the angel visited the Virgin Mary and announced to her Whose mother she would be, she said, “Let it be so” (Lk. 1:38), and at that moment, the Holy Spirit came down and formed, in her virgin womb, the human nature of God’s eternal Son. John the Baptist found such joy in the presence of the incarnate Lord and His Blessed Mother that he leapt for joy in the womb of Elizabeth, while she herself was moved to say, “How does this happen, that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Lk. 1:41, 43). Then, when Our Lord was born, all the angels appeared and acclaimed, “Glory to God in the highest” (Lk. 2:14). When Simeon saw the Child Jesus, he considered his life finished at last and said with complete contentment, “Now you may dismiss your servant” (Lk. 2:29).

Much later in the life of Christ, in the 14th chapter of St. John’s Gospel, Our Lord is speaking to the Apostles about the place He is going to after His resurrection. Philip, in all sincerity, blurts out, “Lord, show us the Father, and it will be enough for us” (Jn. 14:8). There is a certain frustration in Our Lord’s response: “Have I been with you so long, yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father. Do you not know that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me?” (Jn. 14:9-10).

Why do I mention all this? Because of the privilege which we have even today, which can be so often forgotten about due to the routine nature of our lives. When Our Lady said, “Let it be done to me according to your word” and Our Lord was made flesh in her womb, God became tangible. He became something we could see, touch, speak to, and hear, with the senses. In His new nature He became limited also, not losing but voluntarily placing aside the Divine Majesty so as to live like us and, ultimately, redeem us to the Father. The Lord, who until now had been infinitely distant, became intimately close. And this brought immense joy to all those who recognized what had happened: to Elizabeth, to John the Baptist, to Simeon, and to the whole Host of Heaven. Our Lord wanted Philip to recognize that He, Jesus Christ, is truly Emmanuel, “God with us”.

So now comes the important part: Do you, my fellow Catholics, recognize that the very same miracle which occurred in the womb of the Blessed Mother happens at every Consecration in the Mass? When Our Blessed Lady said to the angel, “Let it be done to me”, the Lord was made present there, physically, where He had not been so before, and all of Heaven was “concentrated” into Our Lady’s womb. The same thing happens in the Mass. When the priest repeats the words of Our Lord, “This is My Body . . . this is My Blood”, the Host and the wine are changed into Christ, and so, as at His conception, He is made physically present where He was not before, and all of Heaven is concentrated into what once was bread and wine on the altar.

It can be so difficult to remember this when we go to Mass, Sunday after Sunday, with our off-key choirs and boring homilies and unedifying church buildings and whatever else. But it is the reality of what happens in the Mass. Whether it is a Mass where the red is perfectly and reverentially adhered to and the black is perfectly and reverentially said, or a Mass where the priest makes up half the prayers and tries to be the center of attention, it is still the reality of the Mass (provided the correct words and matter are used, the correct intention had on the part of the priest, and the priest validly ordained, of course): God the Son, and in fact the entire Trinity due to the union of the Divine Nature, comes down to us in our own church and lifts us up to the sphere where, even now, He is “as a Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8). The only difference between Heaven itself and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is that in Heaven, we will see Almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as He is, while here we see Him only veiled, and in Heaven there will be no more barrier of sin to separate us from sharing in His life.

Fr. Calvin Goodwin, FSSP, said the following concerning the Mass: “…at the moment of Consecration, it’s not so much that Christ merely comes down, but that He lifts us all to the sphere where He lives in glory, once again beyond time and the limitations of this world, to the very presence of God” (qtd here, “Roman Catholic Mass Explained”). The Mass itself says, before the Sanctus, that we sing of God’s holiness together with the hosts and choirs of Heaven. The Holy Mass is not just the worshipping act of your or my particular parish, it is the act of the entire Church, both in Heaven and on Earth, a unitive act where you might say that Heaven and Earth are temporarily joined together. So in a certain sense those who say Heaven is a place on Earth are correct: they need look no farther than the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

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!

The Problem With Liturgical Pickiness—From A Guy With Very Specific Liturgical Views

Good evening, everyone!

I’m not gonna be going on about Latin or English in the Mass right now, but as a background to the topic of this post, I was talking about the liturgy recently (big surprise there) and it was on the very subject of Latin vs. English. My opinion may strike some as almost being schizophrenic: I actively like the vernacular, and when I go to a Mass in Latin I find it takes an extra effort to pay attention, but as a matter of fact I don’t like the vernacular and think we should go back to using Latin.

But why in the world would I argue we should use something (Latin) other than the thing I technically prefer (English)? That, my dear readers, is an idea I want to talk to you about now.

In a word, I would say this: in the end, the Mass is just not about us. To be sure, some liturgical principles should be maintained everywhere. To be sure, any liturgical celebration should be entirely founded on the traditions of the Church (a topic open to varying interpretations itself), and to be sure, I have my own opinions and pray about them. But in the end, I think we need to remember something: it’s not about us.

Did you notice that across the whole spectrum, especially across countless Catholic blogs, there’s a bunch of opinions about what would make the best liturgy? In conversation, I’ve heard many older Catholics say that they like the reverence and feel of the Mass before 1965, but don’t miss not being able to understand what the priest is saying; so basically they’re saying that, if they could pick, they’d take the reverence and aura of the older liturgy and do it in their own language. A ton of examples could be used to illustrate this mindset. What if you like Praise and Worship in the Mass, a distinctively new thing, but like to receive Holy Communion kneeling down and on your tongue, a distinctively old thing? What if, say, you like it when only the priest gives Communion, but you like Communion under both species rather than Communion under one kind only, so you start pressing for intinction? I’m not saying you can’t have your likes and dislikes. That isn’t my point. But how good is it, do you think, if we keep picking and choosing all these different aspects, as so many Catholics invariably end up doing? At what point do we begin to see the liturgy as a great big set of opinions, with our individual opinion—rather than the countless individual opinions of other people—representing the ideal liturgy? Before the 1960s, such an idea would have generally been unheard of. The liturgy was codified in all its different parts and was viewed as something that the Church was given and meant to safeguard. Now, whether someone is labelled a traditionalist or a liberal, it seems like the liturgy is viewed as something you can tinker with at will—making the liturgy what Cardinal Ratzinger once called a fabricated and on-the-spot product.

How do we get out of this? Honestly, I don’t know. In the end there will inevitably be varying opinions about what makes “good liturgy” and “bad liturgy”, but in my humble opinion, this would be helped partially by slimming down the huge number of options for everything in the current missal, giving us instead a set formula for each part, which would be used every Mass. This would give greater stability to the celebration of the liturgy in general; then, though many will disagree with me, I think we should do all we can (to borrow from the Pope Emeritus again) to bring the “current” Mass in line with the “previous” Mass, thus, again, limiting the differences. Finally, it would be my hope that we would, after many, many years, perhaps, have once again a single liturgical form, founded soundly on Church tradition, without a plethora of options and variations. This, to me, would decrease the “mental narcissism” of many Catholics—including me!—and would allow us to view the Mass, once again, as something objective, codified, and not formed by majority opinions. And if we were to reach such a point of resignation, we could repeat the outstanding principle laid out by St. John the Baptist: “He must increase, and I must decrease” (Jn 3:30).

Two Hypotheses on the Present Liturgical Crisis

After the Second Vatican Council, the Church experienced radical changes everywhere, but most notably in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Particularly at the parish level, the Mass went from all-Latin to all-English, almost overnight. The priest was turned around, so the people could see what was happening on the altar more easily and so that they could “actively participate”. This also helped to give the Mass a Last Supper sort of feel, so that the sacrificial nature of the liturgy was heavily downplayed. No longer was interior participation seen as good; instead, the view predominated that the people must perform external functions so as to achieve the “full, conscious, and active” participation that Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Council’s text on the liturgy, called for. Now the congregation not only MUST say the responses (which had been permitted but not mandated in some quarters before the Council), but they also should read the readings in front of the congregation, sing in the choir, carry the Book of the Gospels to the altar, receive the Blessed Sacrament in their unconsecrated hands, and even help distribute the same Eucharist themselves, because to do any less would be failure to actively participate. Chant as the primary liturgical music was scoffed at. After all, wouldn’t that be a detriment to “full, conscious, and active participation”? Chant was promptly replaced, in most places, by banal, trite English songs whose lyrics mainly dealt with community, and the warm fuzzies of God’s love, and “breaking bread” and “sharing the cup”. Thus, with all of this added together, the Mass was stripped of any transcendence or mystery. The idea of awe in the presence of the Holy Eucharist was snuffed like a match under a shoe, and belief in Transubstantiation has plummeted to devastating lows.

The question which follows is inevitable: How did such radical changes occur? How did the Church go from having a liturgy which was described by Fr. Faber as “the most beautiful thing on this side of Heaven”, and which movies of old loved to showcase, to a liturgy that’s Protestant in style and which, as commonly celebrated, fails to point to what it even is?

A interesting question, certainly, and while there are those who hypothesize about Freemasons having been behind it all (which may be true for all we know, but it’s impossible to say), I’m going to suggest a simpler, twofold explanation:

Firstly, that the Council’s document, Sacrosanctum Concilium itself, is to blame. This may surprise some, and quite understandably. After all, Sacrosanctum Concilium said the Mass would still be mainly Latin, and Gregorian chant would be given pride of place, and there would be “no innovations unless the good of the faithful surely and certainly required them”, and it never said the priest should be turned around! All that is true. How, then, am I supposed to blame the document if it seems “traditional” enough? You’ll see.

Then my second hypothesis would be that the radical changes occurred because notable change was occurring at all.

Hypothesis 1: Sacrosanctum Concilium Itself Is Somewhat Problematic

While it’s true that this document seems traditional enough, it’s quite vague in a number of places and can be read in either a conservative or a progressive light. For example, the text says, with regard to the use of the vernacular, that it could be used “in such places as the readings and directives, and for some of the prayers and chants” (SC 36, 2). This doesn’t seem to imply the whole Mass, certainly, and that would please the traditionalist. Yet after suggesting parts in which to use the vernacular, it says the extent to which the vernacular is applied will be determined by “competent authority” (SC 36, 3), then subsequently approved by the Holy See. The progressive could read that part and go, “Oh, nice, this gives us some lee-way!”

Or what about Gregorian chant? The text says that it should be “given pride of place” since it is “specially suited” to the Roman liturgy. Thus, if a traditionalist were reading the document, he’d be relieved by such statements. But then, if we look closely, the text doesn’t simply say “Gregorian chant should be given pride of place”, it says, “other things being equal, it should be given pride of place” (SC 116), and it says that “other kinds of sacred music, especially polyphony, are by no means excluded from liturgical celebrations, so long as they accord with the spirit of the liturgical action, as laid down in Art. 30″ (116). Yet article 30, which is used as a “check” for the usage of non-chant music, is itself vague and could mean almost anything depending on the disposition of the reader.

Even the statement, “There must be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them” (SC 23), often thrown around by traditionalists, could easily be discarded by progressives with the argument that these innovations are required! Furthermore, the progressive liturgist could have an absolute field day with the sentence, “in the restoration and promotion of the Sacred Liturgy, this full and active participation by all the people is to be considered before all else” (SC 14). Is it really any wonder that laypeople perform so many priestly functions these days? After all, aren’t they “actively participating” which was the chief goal of the Council’s liturgical reforms?

In all likelihood, most of the Council Fathers weren’t expecting the liturgical reforms we got. Even Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, founder of the Society of St. Pius X, voted in favor of Sacrosanctum Concilium and he was apparently in favor of having the Liturgy of the Word/Mass of the Catechumens in the vernacular. I’d be willing to bet that at least a good number of the Council Fathers were expecting the Mass to be mostly the same as it previously was. But the Council’s text affords way too much liberty, and honestly, I’d say that “being loyal to the liturgical reforms as envisioned by Vatican II itself” is much easier said than done.

Hypothesis 2: Radical Change Happened Because Change Was Happening At All

My second idea concerning the radical change of the liturgy is that fact that the Mass was being notably changed at all. Now, we mustn’t think that from the Middles Ages to 1965 the missal had undergone no revisions whatsoever. It certainly had, and you can research them if you want, but none of them were so extensive that they changed the order of the Mass itself. To the untrained eye, the Mass in 1400 AD would look nearly identical to the Mass in 1962. Considering that the Mass had been like that for centuries, possible even a millennium, it’s not hard to believe that the idea cemented that the Mass was untouchable, that it couldn’t be changed.

Fast-forward to the Second Vatican Council. Wouldn’t it make at least some sense that as soon as the idea of genuine liturgical reformation was brought up, the progressives were leaping for joy? You can almost picture their excitement: “Changing the unchangeable? How can it be? We might actually expand horizons? Be given legitimate OPTIONS with regard to liturgical celebration, in contrast to the scrupulous rubrics of the current missal?”

And thus, everything became fair game. All options were explored, experimentation encouraged, and everything which smacked of traditionalism was looked upon sourly. This is the mindset that was hoisted upon most parishes, and if you ask most people, they’d say the pre-Vatican II liturgical style was in need of change and what we have now is drastically superior, since the congregation can “actually do things”, and that it’s more personal since we can sing happy songs, feed ourselves the Eucharist, and look at the priest’s face.

Deliver us, O Lord, from this current tribulation.

Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion

Since Vatican II (but not because of Vatican II, which is a common defense of liturgical abuse) we’ve had, at most parishes, a multitude of laypersons giving the the Holy Eucharist to the Catholic faithful – almost every time Mass would be celebrated. First and foremost, I would like to make the point that these laypersons who give Holy Communion are not actually to be called “Eucharistic Ministers”. The Eucharistic Minister (the “ordinary minister of Holy Communion”) is a bishop, priest, or deacon. The proper title for a non-ordained person who distributes the Eucharist would be “extraordinary minister of Holy Communion”.

File:US Navy 030727-N-8148A-100 Lt. Richard House, Assistant Command Chaplain, (left) and Lt. Chris Chandler offer Holy Communion during the first underway Roman Catholic Mass aboard USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76).jpg
“Extra-ordinary”: There is a reason for that title.

I’d also like to make the point, before going further, that even if Father positively encourages laypeople to distribute Our Lord at Mass every week, the Church disagrees. If the Church disagrees, Father’s own opinion doesn’t really matter.

With that said, the title “Extraordinary Minister” does not mean that the minister is wonderful (in the way that a cake could be called “extraordinary”, for example). To find the meaning of the word “extraordinary” in this case, it helps to realize that it is in fact two words: extra+ordinary. Extra comes from Latin and means basically “outside of”. Ordinary is synonymous, more or less, with “common”. Thus, we have “outside of that which is common”.

And indeed, the Extraordinary Minister should be “out of the ordinary”. In an excellent Vatican document from 2004 entitled “Redemptionis Sacramentum”, we read the following:

157 If there is usually present a sufficient number of sacred ministers for the distribution of Holy Communion, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion may not be appointed. Indeed, in such circumstances, those who may have already been appointed to this ministry should not exercise it. The practice of those priests is reprobated who, even though present at the celebration, abstain from distributing Communion and hand this function over to laypersons.

158 The extraordinary minister of Holy Communion may administer Communion only when the priest and deacon are lacking, when the priest is prevented by weakness or advanced age or some other genuine reason, or when the number of faithful coming to Communion is so great that the very celebration of Mass would be unduly prolonged. … A brief prolongation, considering the circumstances and culture of the place, is not at all a sufficient reason.

God forbid Communion take a few extra minutes, right?

Now it is important to note that if you or someone close to you has been an Extraordinary Minister in the past, you’re not guilty of a sin, especially considering that you probably began that function in obedience to the priest’s request. Nevertheless, now you know the Vatican position on it, and the Vatican holds more weight than the priest’s desire.

My question is, if the constant use of Extraordinary Ministers is an abuse, how did the practice get so widespread? That’s a topic for another post, I guess.

God bless,

Michael

Doing Your Own Thing Again, Father?

It doesn’t take much to see that in the last fifty years, priests in the United States have liberally changed various parts of the Mass or put their own spins on them somehow. The examples are countless. The examples I’m going to give right now are comparatively pretty minor, but they help illustrate my point all the same.

What does the priest say when he concludes the Gospel reading? Come on, you should all know this. You in the back? Yeah! He got it!  The priest says, “The Gospel of the Lord” to which the congregation responds, “Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ”. Or at least, that’s how it should be.

At my church, he says not only “the Gospel of the Lord” but “the Good News – the Gospel of the Lord”. Now okay, it might sound like nitpicking. If he wants to add the words “Good News”, so what, right? Gospel means “good news” anyway, so he’s not declaring something heretical.

More on that in a minute while we observe a second thing. During the Concluding Rite, the priest SHOULD say this as he performs the Sign of the Cross: “May Almighty God bless you, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit”.

Our priest adds a slight change to that formula. He says, “May Almighty God bless US”. Now, again, this might sound like a nuance, since we do indeed want the Holy Trinity to bless the priest, too, but please consider some things.

1) The Mass is not the priest’s. The Church has prescribed that Mass, regardless of specific rites, is to be celebrated a certain way. The priest does not have the ability to change things as he sees fit. It doesn’t matter if he thinks it would make Mass better, it doesn’t matter if some otherwise dissident Catholics would give Mass a chance, it doesn’t matter what the priest’s personal opinions are. He cannot change the Mass.

2) The Mass isn’t a spotlight for the priest – it’s a spotlight for Our Lord, Who is present on the altar. A lot of priests treat Mass as though it’s their chance to entertain. They tell jokes during their homilies, they do crazy things in the Liturgy of the Eucharist, etc. etc. That’s not the purpose of the Mass. The purpose of the Mass is, chiefly, to make Calvary present here below and to be fed by the Body and Blood of Our Lord. Everything else about the Mass points to that. The priest is acting not in persona sui (in the person of himself) but in persona Christi. All his actions during Mass should reflect the One in Whose Person he is operating. If Christ Himself celebrated the Mass, would He be telling jokes or otherwise trying to make His congregation entertained? I doubt it. So why should the priest who represents Him here below?

3) The Mass is not about making the Church’s members happy. That the Mass should be full of joy is spot-on. But the problem is, when most people say the Mass should be joyful, they end up mistaking joy with “warm fuzzies” or “hymns that talk about community and God’s great affection”. I answer that joy is peace of mind, knowledge that one is right with God, in the state of grace, and prepared to come to Him in the Blessed Sacrament. Mass should be absolutely full of that, but “joy”, if you mean “feelings”, really doesn’t matter at all. Jesus Himself underwent a terrible agony shortly before His death, but He never did one wrong thing in His entire life! Saying things like “May Almighty God bless us” rather than “you” and calling the Gospel the “Good News” just screams of, “Let’s make the congregation feel included and good about themselves”. But since when do feelings really matter?

There’s nothing quite like a Papal Mass, which is almost always a reverent, to-the-rubrics thing.

Basically, it all adds up to “the Mass is not ABOUT you, it is FOR you”. The Mass is a gift! It’s the nature of gifts that they’re given by someone else, and no one in his right mind receives a gift and asks for modifications to it. He simply says, “Thanks” and gladly–or not so gladly–accepts what he’s been given. Jesus is perfect. His gifts are only ever perfect. How can we say the Mass, the ultimate gift, isn’t good enough the way He gives it? It’s terribly ungrateful to demand that it be changed when it could not be better than He, through the Church, has determined it to be [on the note of gifts being given–that’s why I dislike when people speak of “taking Communion”; one does not take a gift, he receives it].

God bless,

Michael