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Is the Mass “Just” the Mass?

Image courtesy of Joseph Shaw.

In my life, I have often encountered people who say something like the following to Catholics who love the traditional liturgy—or, for that matter, who wish to see the modern liturgy celebrated in a manner manifestly in continuity with its predecessor:

“You’re making too much of incidental things. No matter what form or style, it’s the Eucharist, isn’t it? Whether Latin or vernacular, Tridentine or Novus Ordo, sung or spoken, in an American auditorium or a European cathedral, the Eucharist is still present, and we are still nourished by it. Compared to this, nothing else reallymatters, does it? The rest is accidental, external, debatable, changeable. In fact, someone who gets caught up in ceremonies, rubrics, music, and so on, just shows that he’s been distracted from what is essential. After all, the Mass is the Mass.”

The problem I have with this all-too-common line is that it radically underestimates how the way we worship influences what exactly it is that we believe (lex orandi, lex credendi) as well as how prepared we will be to receive our Lord in the right spirit of adoration and humility when He does come to us. It reflects a modern materialist anthropology where nothing matters except “getting the job done”; whether the job is done nobly or poorly seems to matter a great deal less. It displays a breathtaking naivete about the subtle intersection of the sacramental economy with human psychology. It represents a break with twenty centuries of Catholic thought and practice.

Yes, the Holy Eucharist is always the Holy Eucharist; but are we ourselves approaching this august Mystery with the hushed reverence, lively fear of God, concentrated solemnity, and generous outpouring of beauty that we owe to the Sanctissimum? If not, why not? What does this say about the purity of our faith, the ardor of our charity? Have the sacred mysteries ceased to impress us, fill us with wonder, send us to our knees, summon the best of culture? Whom are we kidding—God or ourselves? The Mass is “just” the Mass as regards the confection of the Eucharist, but a Mass that is reverent and solemn in character is very different as regards us and our relationship to God than a Mass that is rapid and vapid, or one that is long and yet wrong. In fact, if we damage the so-called externals too much, we will end up undermining faith in the Real Presence.

The Most Holy Eucharist is the Church’s greatest treasure, gift beyond price, mystery, source of wonder, privileged secret. It is the pulsing heart of all her apostolic and contemplative life. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the exclusive means by which this gift comes down to us, renewed for each generation of disciples. Dishonor or abuse the Mass, make it appear to be less awesome and mysterious than it is, and you dishonor or abuse the One who comes to us through it alone. You deform the faith and the faithful.

Sacred music is the clothing of the naked word—and what beautiful clothing it must be, to be worthy of that divine utterance! The Church building is the home in which our Eucharistic Lord dwells: Emmanuel, God with us. It, too, must look unmistakably what it truly is. Vesture, furnishings, ritual actions—in short, everything that pertains to the carrying out of the liturgical action—should be like the Precious Body and Blood: holy, sacred, set apart. All that is not the Lord ought to be His visible throne, His consecrated dominion, beautiful, solemn, and awesome, that we may know that we are welcoming our King when He comes into His kingdom.

So, the next time someone says “the Mass is the Mass, after all,” you might consider replying: “Jesus is not just Jesus, He is the Son of God, the Ruler of All, Judge of the Living and the Dead; and the Mass is not ‘just’ the Mass, it is the Holy Sacrifice of Calvary made present again in our midst. And as any sane person would fall down on his knees before Jesus * and give Him the very best he could, we should all do the same with the Sacrifice of the Mass, since, in truth, we are falling on our knees before the Lord of heaven and earth—and one can rightly demand this of every single Catholic priest and layman who dares to set foot in a church.”

[ * Note: While Byzantine Catholics do not often kneel in their liturgy, they show their profound reverence and adoration in a hundred other ways that would put to shame lukewarm Roman Catholics. My point is not about kneeling as such but about making sure the realities of our faith are reflected and embodied in our actions and in the objects we build or use.]

Originally published at Views from the Choir Loft, Corpus Christi Watershed. A revised version of this article appears in my book Reclaiming Our Roman Catholic Birthright: The Genius and Timeliness of the Traditional Latin Mass (Angelico, 2020).

18 thoughts on “Is the Mass “Just” the Mass?”

  1. Dispositions of hearts for the sacred will vary according to ones relationship with the Lord. When forced to attend the Holy of Holies everything is more burden, more fear then love for the things of God. We should freely enter the solemn with the most benefit to appreciate all that is being offered. The witness of the traditional mindset is strong because they choose out of love, this is a great blessing for the Church. I see hope in the Church with more
    parishes choosing to be more reflective in their liturgy, more sacred-minded then just a day that must be obeyed and done ASAP.

  2. It used to be referred to as “the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass” for a reason. It is an unbloody sacrifice. Just like Abel and Cain’s sacrifices, one is more pleasing to God than the other.

    • Lucifer would agree, “they don’t know what the hell their doing”. We, the true angels of God, fought for our dignity, our rightful place in
      order and majesty, we would never accept the will of one would downgrade and downplay our splender to the greatest glory of God. Heaven will decide who is just and who is unjust before the throne for the greatest glory of God. The Church has spoken through Peter, both Peter and the Church are not polling high in some quarters. The angels who are thought of less by the superior angels had to trust obedience would be the right and correct action even if it meant a humbling of being.
      The Church permits different masses, some will say amen and some will not.

  3. Agree completely Dr. Kwasniewski. We show our love by the way we act. Carelessness and indifference is the posture of the typical Vatican II Catholic and is an insult to Christ. So it is not surprising that such a higher percentage of Catholics no longer believe in the Real Presence and why many of them no longer regularly go to Confession and yet receive Communion in a state of mortal sin often because they assume it’s OK to practice contraception. For all intents and purposes the Catholic Church has largely become Protestant in practice which is the outcome of the “pastoral” approach to morality on the part of our Bishops. What Christ have to say to the servants of His vineyard when He returns?

  4. Reverence before God is the key. At adoration, there seems to be reverence since those who are there are there because it is “ADORATION OF JESUS” in the monstrance. Yet, these same people when at Mass, don’t have a problem with standing before Jesus in the Holy Eucharist at communion and receiving our Lord, Jesus Christ, in their hand. Where is the difference between Jesus present in the consecrated host at adoration and Jesus present in the consecrated host at Mass? There is none! So why the discrepancy? What have we done, what have we done.

  5. The Holiest action of the One True Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church at any moment on earth is the Real Mass and, thus it must be actualised with all the possible solemnity, seriousness, beauty, truth, and goodness the church is capable of.

    How many Prelates have we seen and heard who give the Mass short shrift but who roll out the red carpet, and arrange for the best music/entertainment, and even have kosher food prepared for those visitors to, say, Domus Sancate Marthae, who are protestants or jews?

    The ceremonies for heads of states, visiting protestants/Jews/Atheists/Pagans/Mahometans visiting the Vatican ought not, but are, occasions of more solemnity then are the preparations and ceremonies for the Lil’ Licit Liturgy and in that way, those Prelates responsible for those actions are telling the rest of the One True Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church what is most important to them and what is most important is not Jesus even though their words may say otherwise.

    One can tell what it is they value most by what they do, not what they say, and what they do is to make Jesus decrease so they can increase and that is what the revolutionaries did to the real mass; they decreased Jesus so they could increase and be the focus.

    Modern Popes are humbler than Jesus in all their actions, especially the Mass where they take center stage with lengthy sermons while their Lil’ Licit Liturgies are such an impoverished-almost-to-the-point-of-disappearance offertory and sacrifice.

    Jesus has been Uncrowned in the Mass and even after a Papal Conclave, where now the newly elected Pope refuses to even wear the Triregnum his friends used to wish to place on his head.

    Can any extremer example of faux humility be thought of?

    These Popes are humbler than Jesus because they will not even let their friends crown them whereas Jesus let His enemies crown Him King.

    O, that’s right; it is not humility; it is fear of being mocked by the Presidents and dictators and the dog eaters, pagans, and perverted sex criminals of the United Nations because the Triregnum signifies his authority over them (even if they continue to deny it)

    Jesus allowed Himself to be crowned as King and he allowed Himself to be mocked; but, then again, Jesus is a real man

  6. To despise liturgical decorum and adornment strikes me as a demonic contempt for the incarnational, and a fortiori, the Incarnation. Being pure spirits, the good angels perhaps do not “get” the externals of the Mass with the immediacy we know, but only intellectually, and at a remove. Likewise the demons do not get it, but being consumed with envy, they detest what they cannot appreciate or enjoy. The Incarnation of the Second Person guarantees that the Eucharist in all respects is inescapably solid and sensible, and establishes permanently the duty of all physical creatures to acknowledge their Lord. If the disciples fall silent, the stones themselves will cry out.

  7. People have their predecessors, and three people when together are even more particular. Rarely do I find anyone mention that it is certainly possible to offend against His Majesty. Rarely do I find that it is possible to do so with poor worship.

  8. [In] the catholic Church … I recognized at once a reality which was quite a new thing with me. Then I was sensible that I was not making myself a Church by an effort of thought; I needed not to make an act of faith in her; I had not painfully to force myself into a position, but my mind fell back upon itself in relaxation and in peace, and I gazed at her almost passively as a great objective fact. I looked at her; at her rites, her ceremonial, and her precepts; and I said, ‘This is a religion’.
    Cardinal Newman’s reaction on becoming a catholic, Apologia pro Vita Sua 339-40

  9. How one worships and the nature of the worship matters.
    Conversion of Chris Ferrara’s wife becuase of the Latin Mass. Cf. Chris Ferrara vs Mark Shea The AOTM [] Video Start c.1:33:40

  10. Peter,
    You write: ” The problem I have with this all-too-common line is that it radically underestimates how the way we worship influences what exactly it is that we believe (lex orandi, lex credendi) as well as how prepared we will be to receive our Lord in the right spirit of adoration and humility when He does come to us.”
    How then did the Church have countless sinners including Popes ( with children ) and Popes who were nepotists during those centuries of the Latin Mass? Read the apologies of St. John Paul II for various historical sins of Catholics and then note the liturgy at the time. The Mass is not a magical talisman that makes men noble if only it is formed this way rather than that.

  11. If the Mass is the Mass and the form is altogether irrelevant, there was no good reason to change the form, and no good resist today to resist changing it back.


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