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Bold and Terrible Commerce: The Mass, and Those Privileged to Pray It

Editor’s note: This article is Part II of a series. For Part I, click here.

The traditional Mass can be compared to a tournament. At the beginning of a High Mass, the priest (knight) processes in with the deacon and sub-deacon (squires) and all the acolytes, torchbearers, and other servers (pages). The priest is arrayed in glorious attire, as are his assistants according to their rank. The choir is singing for its champion, who represents the king (Christ). The congregation bows to him. Coming to the foot of the altar, he does battle with his sins, backed with the beauty of the prayers. He proclaims the truth of the cosmic battle to all assembled (epistle and Gospel). He fights for his lady, the Church. Acting in the person of the king, he renews the great victory over death that Christ won for us on the Cross. The priest then strengthens all the people by helping them partake of the victory through Communion, so that all may depart to fight their own faults and win heavenly glory.

The priest is a powerful warrior; a custodian of secret truths and words; and, in a wondrous and mystical way, a father to all under his care. He is a champion for his people: he guards and nourishes them with the food of true doctrine; good example; and, most especially, the Eucharist.

All that I am saying may sound rather like a fairytale of King Arthur and the Holy Grail, or a Lord of the Rings rip-off.

Yet I find it extremely interesting that The Lord of the Rings, and books like it, suddenly became immensely popular just as “modern man” was supposed to have grown out of medievalistic symbolism (as the liturgists of the ’60s and ’70s would have us believe). Gandalf: Who does not love, admire, want to be like him? And yet what qualities of his are to be found lacking in St. Benedict? If we want spiritual protection, fatherhood, and angelic power over life and death, wisdom beyond that of mortals, we can find it all in Saint Benedict. Even if one looks purely for visual satisfaction, one finds a old man in flowing robes with a staff and long beard. This in not by accident. What JRR Tolkien shows his readers in the character of Gandalf is but a transposition of the qualities of any holy man of God.

What is there in Aragorn that cannot be found in St. Louis IX? In Galadriel that is not to be found in St. Hildegard of Bingen? All of the qualities people are attracted to in the genre of “fantasy” are to be found in the Catholic Church [1]. This present obsession with C.S. Lewis and Tolkien shows that people have a great hunger for true heroism.

It used to be the case that, instead of obsessing with the world of Tolkien’s Middle Earth through their teenage years, people had already seriously thought about or already entered into the religious or married state – and this even in the last century, not the middle ages. St. Thérèse of Lisieux entered the Carmel monastery when she was 15. At the same age, St. Padre Pio became a Capuchin. St. Peter Julian Eymard (my own patron) firmly decided to become a priest when he was 17. At the age of 16, St. Maximilian Kolbe received the Franciscan habit [2].

This is not to say there is anything wrong with, or not to be learned from, fiction – quite the contrary. Nonetheless, the disintegration of minds from reality has come to a point where young men and women no longer realize that the beautiful things in, for example, a book by Lewis or Tolkien are actually pointers to spiritual realities. Since the changes to the liturgy and the whole approach to the divine as advocated by the liberals during and after Vatican II, the identity of the church as “One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic” is lost [3]. The Catholic identity has largely been lost, giving rise to a need for an alternative.

Having lost their identity via liturgical lobotomy, people don’t realize (or are incapable of realizing) that we can be just as cool as any of Tolkien’s characters – much more, in fact. We need only to remember that the Catholic priesthood and consecrated life still exist, and that it is the reality of which wizards and wise men, beautiful and happy kings and queens, good and evil magic are but a faint shadow. These fictional things depict the spiritual economy of the priesthood, the Mass, and the sacraments darkly, as through a glass.

* * *

At the altar, time stands still. As the Canon begins, the priest approaches T.S. Eliot’s “still point,” where “time past and time present are both perhaps present in time future” – that is, where the sacrifice of Calvary is made present for us all, making time eternally redeemable. Silence and adoration are the only fitting things to do now; this immense, incomprehensible mystery is fittingly shown to us and emphasized in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. At the altar, “You are not here to verify, / Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity / Or carry report. You are here to kneel / Where prayer has been valid” [4].

The New Mass is not this way. The priest is there to “mediate religion to the people” [5], to preside over a horizontal community gathering (as Cardinal Ratzinger said). He is there not to intercede to God on their behalf. Having separated from the Mass any sacrificial character, the Mass no longer has the ability to reward and fulfill the priesthood. Now that priesthood is no longer a great good to be assiduously striven after, men quite naturally gave up seeking it. For no reward, why make any effort?

* * *

It is time for men to remember that the apostle closest to our Lord was the beloved disciple. They will not lose anything by becoming close to our Lord. In fact, they will gain beyond their wildest expectations.

Pope Benedict XVI, in his inaugural address in 2005, said this:

Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way? If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom? And once again the Pope [ John Paul II] said: No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation. And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life. Amen.

If the religious life is to be attractive, it has to be – some might find this surprising – attractive! For men to see the priesthood as a comparable to – in fact, much greater, more demanding, and more rewarding a gift of self than – the married life, they must be gotten out of the ordinary – that is, the Ordinary Form, with its ordinary time, intelligibility to ordinary Catholics [6], and ordinary language and expectations.

If the priesthood is seen by our young boys as noble, honorable, and something special  –  a transformation of the man who is ordained by a power given by God that can only be wielded by the ordained  –  they will be drawn to it once more. Yes, the priesthood is a calling, but to make it possible for those called to answer, their intellects and wills must be given every opportunity to see the beauty of such a sacrifice and joyfully embrace it. And to complete their journey, seminarians must be allowed to act the part. They should be reminded that they are in training for something that transcends the lay state, and exhorted to act accordingly. Only then can they truly begin to entertain the sublime idea that they may, if God wills it, someday become Christ’s priests – and forever, sacerdos in æternum, be able to live the part! [7]

Service, Sacrifice, Fulfillment, Reward – these are inseparable from the priesthood’s success, its attraction, and its reward. It is not too late. Traditional monastic communities like the monks of Norcia, Silverstream, Clear Creek, and the Wyoming Carmelites prove this to be true. Traditional orders that serve in parishes, like the FSSP, the Institute of Christ the King, and the Transalpine Redemptorists prove this to be true. Communities of Canons, like the Canons Regular of Saint John Cantius and the Servi Jesu et Mariae prove this to be true.

The greatest men of all time undertake the hardest and most rewarding work of all time. Who were they, and what were they doing? They were the saints, and they were celebrating the Mass.

[1] I have no problems with The Lord of the Rings and JRR Tolkien. In fact, I love them. I am just pointing out that what is appealing in his stories actually exists.

[2] I am not suggesting that anyone should try to force a vocation or try to enter religious life before he is ready. In many ways, it takes longer for people to mature now than it did even 50 years ago. But I am pointing out that people need to realize that they have a duty to consider consecrated and married life in a much more serious way than they do right now.

[3] Not that Vatican II was the cause of all these problems, but it is a reference point and even dividing line between sanity and its alternative.

[4] T.S. Eliot, “The Four Quartets,” Little Guigding, line 45.

[5] Fr. Bryan Houghton, Mitre and Crook (New York: Arlington House, 1979),  43-45. This an excellent book – it wittily describes a fictional English bishop in the ’70s who decided to reverse the reforms of Vatican II in his diocese and how his clergy, laity, and fellow ecclesiastics react.

[6] A type of person that never existed, by the way.

[7] “The Identity Crisis in the Priesthood: Diminution by Design?” OnePeterFive by José Miguel Marqués Campo.

19 thoughts on “Bold and Terrible Commerce: The Mass, and Those Privileged to Pray It”

  1. Pope Benedict XVI-Cardinal Ratziger actually wrote and said if the Novus Ordo was done rightly according to the holy rubrics, statues and degrees, it would be beautiful and reveal the sacred mysteries efficaciously like the EF…..further the Sacrifice and It’s mysteries are not separate, etc., from the NO….blessings of Our Mother of Her BirthFeastday!

    • He has said and written a lot of nonsense in is lifetime, along with the sensible stuff. This example was definitely one of the former, not the latter.

      It’s impossible to put a go-faster stripe on a Protestant meal service and pretend it’s Catholic. Ratiznger’s self-delusion on this matter is remarkable.

      • I’ve been to several beautiful liturgies outside the OF and what surprised me was how the congregation was small and disengaged.

        Why do the elderly who had the EF taken away stay at the OF and not return to the EF? Do they remember something we don’t know?

        If the OF was eliminated overnight what would happen? …Nothing. Except now you would have liberal priests, gay priests, poor homilies, poorly-dressed, inappropriately dressed, and bad theology all at the same Latin Mass. If the Novus Ordo never happened, the sex abuse scandal still would have.

        It’s the culture, not the liturgy. If the Novus Ordo/OF was the cultural ‘safe space’ for conservative/orthodox Catholics then you’d be singing its praises.

        When Cardinal Sarah becomes pope he WILL evolve the EF/Latin Mass and merge it with the OF/Novus Ordo. Get over it.

        And it’ll be the devout older EWTN and younger Steubenville/March for Life Catholics that will have an easier time transitioning over than the ‘traditionalists’.

        • If you think Sarah stands a chance of being elected pontiff with the cadre of cardinals Francis/Bergoglio has stacked the college with, I have some pristine territory in the Sahara desert to sell you.

        • I can’t speak as to what the disposition of people is that you describe as “disengaged” – but I mean really, what you perceive as “disengaged” could very well be the person participating in the most interior way he is capable; after all, the most important component of “actuosa participatio” is the interior. It’s probably true that if a person is a real saint or at least obviously striving for it, then his interior dispositions will often show exteriorly; but the fact is, with the Vetus Ordo, the primary emphasis is (rightly) on interior participation, and does not require the type of external participation that the Novus Ordo does. So I guess all I’m saying with regard to your first sentence is, I wouldn’t be so quick to judge whether or not the people at these “beautiful liturgies outside the OF” (by which I assume you mean EF Masses) are “disengaged.”

          As to your second sentence: I think many traditionalists will admit that not everything was fine and dandy before Vatican II. It seems fine to me to admit that when the EF was the only Roman Rite Mass, since all priests, good and bad, celebrated this Mass, it was done more sloppy and irreverently more often than today, among those who celebrate the EF Mass today. However, it’s not like the elderly across the board all “embrace” the liturgical changes of the 60s. In any case, regarding them “remembering something we don’t know” – I think it’s important to make a distinction between a “flaw” in the Liturgy itself, and a “flaw” in the actual celebration (i.e. since the celebrant is a human being and all…). What “those old people” remember often seem to relate to things that aren’t inherent to the rite, and when they relate to things that are more specifically about the rite, the problem was that they didn’t have a proper liturgical (and possibly spiritual) catechesis. Long story short, it seems to me that what was needed before Vatican II with regards to Liturgy, rather than reforming the Liturgy (or, concocting a new one, which is what actually happened), was 1) liturgical formation – in order to participate interiorly with Christ, and to know, love, and cherish the Liturgy as handed down to them and developed throughout the centuries; and 2) very much related, a change of heart, formation of spiritual lives. Of which, of course, a big part is the Liturgy.

          I don’t have any comment on your third paragraph, except to say that I think your assessment is correct.

          “It’s the culture, not the Liturgy” – actually, there’s some truth to that, and it relates to what I just said above; that what was needed was a change in heart and/or change in way of life, not a liturgical change. Regarding the scenario where the choice would be between a “wishy-washy watered-down modernist Latin Mass” and a (you didn’t specify this, but I’m adding it anyway: reverently celebrated) Novus Ordo Mass, this is my own thought on that. The Vetus Ordo’s rubrics are strict enough so as to not allow any sort of “modernist”, “wishy-washy”, or “watered-down” bent – practically the only negative that one could have with the Old Mass is it being obviously irreverently/hurriedly said. That being said, I think many ‘traditionalists’ (but certainly not all) would still prefer a sloppily said Latin Mass to a reverently said Novus Ordo. The main reason being (from my perspective, at least) that they object to the creation of a completely new order of Mass which wanted to appease Protestants and be completely disregarding of the tradition of the Church and its liturgical developments over the years, and therefore would prefer to pray for and advocate holy, faithful priests that will be faithful to the traditions and teachings of the Catholic faith, through reverence and love for the traditional liturgy of the Church. In other words, they would prefer to pray for conversion of heart of priests who would say the traditional Liturgy irreverently or hurriedly, than to attend a created Liturgy which cuts them off from the traditional worship of the Church.

          Miracles are certainly possible with God – and that is exactly what it would take for Cardinal Sarah to be elected pope. Practically there is no way he could be elected pope, given the Cardinals today. I would love to be proven wrong, though (although many traditionalists would probably say he’s not traditional enough, but that’s another topic). Anyway, if he did become pope, I don’t know what he would legislate with regards to the Liturgy – more specifically, if he would “merge” the two forms of the Roman Rite – although given his latest writings, I’m sure that he would move towards making that more possible, and more specifically, I think we would be presented with what such a “merged” Roman Rite would look like. In any case, with regarding the comment about how easy certain groups would make the transition to such a “merged” rite, you’re probably right that many traditionalists would be very unhappy with changes to the 1962 Missal, but (I hope I’m not being too naive here) I think there would also be many of them who, depending on what the changes would be, would be able to accept them. Aside from the more extreme traditionalists, I don’t think that traditionalists are strictly against changes to the Liturgy; rather, they are against the changes that were made, and how they were made, and the reasons they were made. I think that many traditionalists, even if upset that the 1962 Missal would be changed, would be able to accept changes that truly represented organic growth, were faithful to and respectful towards traditions of the Church, were not be simply pandering to some clamorous dissenters (let’s be honest: a lot of changes came about through disobedient dissenters and/or heretical/unorthodox theology, both before and after the council), and reflected fully traditional understanding of the Liturgy of the Roman Rite.

          Sorry for such a long post. Lol. Conciseness is not a strength of mine.

        • Keep in mind the laity were taught not to question the priest and bishop. So when they created the new Mass they did not question why the new Mass was necessary. That’s why they accepted the new way to worship God.

  2. Engaging. Good job. And you are reading TS Eliot. Excellent. Over the different stages of your life you will get more and more out of him.

    I will, however, after the better part of 3 decades of fighting this good fight in the Roman Curia et alibi, offer that you left a lacuna in your honor list in the penultimate paragraph.

    You hold up monastic communities, orders and institutes. Rightly so. What you leave out are the ones who have truly experienced the perils of the knight-errant, the fearful dangers of the Ring quest. I mean, of course, DIOCESAN PRIESTS in their parishes, especially the younger men. They are often subjected to hostile pastors, unsympathetic bishops and an endless stream of complaints from less than well-informed laypeople even for something as simple as using a Roman vestment or injecting a little Latin into the Latin rite. When they dare to bring in *ad orientem* worship to a parish or the Traditional Latin Mass, many of these priests face serious opposition. More often than not their bishops throw them to the wolves.

    The work of the orders and institutes is important. But the real advances will be made when more and more garden-variety diocesan priests sharpen the blade, lace up the boots and get going. And these men are far more exposed to attacks than those sheltered in their orders and institutes.

    Have some regard for the lowly diocesan priest who may be more like Sam and Frodo than Gandalf and Aragorn.

    Fr. Z o{]:¬)

  3. Not sure why my comment to NICK under Padre’s comment was “detected as spam”…my only guess is, because it was too long? haha.


  5. Thought of this article this morning when the priest walked in smiling and greeting individual members of the congregation during the Entrance, looking not at all like a knight prepared for battle.

  6. I go to one of those 3 PM Sunday TLM masses. The parish priest (not the TLM priest) usually comes in before the mass, and walks around greeting and chatting and smiling. It never seems to occur to him that we should be praying, and in fact, he makes it nearly impossible. Not quite impossible. I buried my face behind my nice lace mantilla, while kneeling, and he decided not to try. I wasn’t actually praying; I was trying not to think uncharitable thoughts.


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