Mass Hysteria: What the Mass Is and What It Is Not

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is a profound work of tremendous meaning, mystery, and beauty. For this reason, I think Catholics need to review just what the Mass is, considering that over the last 60 years many people were rendered ignorant, and those who did know have forgotten, a result of the strong Protestant emphasis (almost denying the real presence and the sacrifice) in the new Mass or Novus Ordo.

Before we begin looking at what the Mass is, it will be fruitful to examine what the Mass is not. Archbishop Alexander Sample’s article, “Celebrating the Spirit of the Liturgy,” gives us four examples of catechetical and theological efforts that have missed their mark in relation to explaining what the Mass is.

First, he tells us that at a youth conference, the statement was made that the Mass has lost “the spirit that we had going once we began the Mass,” even though the conference-organizers provided popular praise and worship music, which included electric guitars, drums, amplification, and a “lively beat” [1].

Secondly, the archbishop relates that he was at a “catechetical exercise” and witnessed an effort that had good intentions but was defective on a theological level. Specifically, this “exercise” was implemented to help young adults to be conscious of the Mass as “a very powerful and awesome thing, even if it was not ‘exciting’ on a human level.” The reason the Archbishop considered it a mistake on the instructor’s side is the “implied assumption” that the Mass should be exciting “on a more human or emotional level, especially for young people.”

Thirdly, Sample tells of a pastor who supported a polka Mass.  The pastor argued that “the musicians were very devout,” so it was OK.

The fourth and last example originated at a music conference.  A parishioner who was not pleased that the archbishop was implementing chant claimed that the chant would be harmful to the celebration.

Fundamentally, the archbishop tells us that these examples show that people have been trying to form the Church’s liturgy to “do something it was never intended to do.” That is to say, people are preventing the liturgy from glorifying God and lifting people’s minds and hearts to Him and are instead using the Mass to glorify their personal talents. The archbishop states, “We are specifically making present sacramentally and in an unbloody manner the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, which conquered death and opened for us the way to eternal life.” These four examples or errors regarding the nature of the Mass, and Archbishop Sample’s rebuttal, show that the meaning of the Mass is to celebrate the one and eternal sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross for our sins.

Here is the crucial point on which adults are to focus so they can renew or learn what essentially goes on at the Mass. Sample talks about three realities that take place during the sacrifice of the Mass. The first reality happening is that the priest and the faithful are “celebrating and making present” what has been previously completed — namely, Christ’s salvific death and resurrection. Secondly, the priest and faithful are looking forward toward Christ’s second coming or the end times, where he judges the living and the dead, “and while these two realities are being celebrated, we are simultaneously participating in the heavenly liturgy” in the sight of God.

In connection to the three realities that happened during the Mass, Archbishop Sample tells us that principally, Christ works in the liturgy and that we are simply instruments, and that the Mass happens even if the faithful are absent from Mass. Every Mass “is an act of Christ and of the whole church.” Then because of this, the Mass is not ours, but it belongs to Christ and his church. Sample writes, “Jesus Christ determines the meaning and purpose of what we celebrate in the sacred liturgy, we do not.”

Furthermore, every Mass, regardless of where it is celebrated, is at the foot of the cross, but also present at Christ’s tomb. Pope Benedict XVI encourages us to turn to the east because, like the second reality of the Mass, “The Son of God will come riding on the clouds of heaven and we symbolically look east for his coming. With our feet firmly planted on the earth, our eyes and our hearts turn to the Lord, anticipating his return in glory.”

Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Ecclesia Eucharista confirms the belief that the holy sacrifice of the Mass is a mystery, and this is because Christ’s Paschal Mystery includes His resurrection besides His passion and death. That is to say, “[t]he Eucharistic Sacrifice makes present not only the mystery of the Saviour’s passion and death but also the mystery of the resurrection which crowned his sacrifice.”

Moreover, the pope tells us that the sacrifice of the Eucharist strongly unites us to Heaven by its celebration, and from this, we see a glimpse of Heaven on Earth.

Returning to Archbishop Sample, he reinforces what the pope says about the sacrifice of the Eucharist bringing about a glimpse of heaven; since the archbishop says that while we celebrate that which has already been accomplished by Christ’s death and look forward to what comes after, we are also participating in the “eternal wedding banquet of the Lamb,” which is in the sacred liturgy, and at this altar “heaven is joined to earth as we enter into the eternal mysteries” [2].

An aspect of the beauty of the Mass, according to Cyprian Love’s article “Glenstal Abbey, Music and The Liturgical Movement” [3], is the music that produces inspiring beauty, conveying the idea that the future will be beautiful. In other words, “the idea of a beautiful future is essentially the same idea of hope,” and accordingly, the primary purpose of beautiful music is to produce hope.

Furthermore, specific modes or styles of music can move the musical piece away from hope, and this movement is dependent on the fact that the beauty of music is fundamentally founded upon the hopefulness and is a “defining characteristic of beautiful music itself, considered as beauty and temporal form which points towards the future.”

Another way to explain the beauty of the Mass in conjunction with music, according to Peter A. Kwasniewski’s article “Blessed Silence” [4], is through silence. True sacred music comes from silence; it is not a burden or an aggravation to the faithful, but a humbling and “awed response” to God’s immense beauty in Heaven.

Finally, Archbishop Sample explains fully why the Mass has beauty in it. The Mass reflects the infinite beauty of God and his goodness, and this belief is applicable in a specific and singular way to the music that makes an important part of our worship. Pope Benedict XVI tells us that “certainly, the beauty of our celebrations can never be sufficiently cultivated, fostered and refined, for nothing can be too beautiful for God, Who is Himself infinite beauty” [5].

In conclusion, we see that the sacrifice of the Mass is in three essential parts. First, the celebrating and making present sacramentally that which is already been performed or done: that is, Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for our sins. Then the second is when the faithful are waiting for Christ to come again to judge the living and the dead, or simply the Second Coming. And thirdly, we are supposed to be participating in a heavenly or celestial liturgy in the sight of God.

However, as we’ve seen through Archbishop Sample’s personal experiences, the Novus Ordo Mass is almost always used, to one degree or another, to entertain the “faithful” on an emotional level or to bring Christ down to the gathered people — that is, we are not brought up to Christ’s kingdom of tranquility and adoration, but bring Christ down to our fallen world, where, unless we look up to God in his mercy, there is nothing but useless pain and suffering. It is obvious from this bringing of the infinite God down to our level that we do not understand that the liturgy is about self-sacrifice, through the adornment of the soul of the virtues that give us the ability to renounce the world in its totality and do God’s will only. Instead we make the Mass about glorifying ourselves as gods by showing off our talents whether it is playing our favorite types of music such as polka or jazz piano or rocking out to NET type concerts during Mass.

Human beings after the liturgical revolution have forsaken what Archbishop Sample discusses about Christ’s owning the liturgy: “Jesus Christ determines the meaning and purpose of what we celebrate in the sacred liturgy; we do not.” In addition, the music of the Novus Ordo, which tends toward a wide variety of sacrilegious music, does not do what the church’s musical tradition has always done: inspire people to hope for the next life exclusively via adoring God in heaven for eternity. The Novus Ordo music is indeed about inspiring people to hope for a better life, but unfortunately this is a life on Earth which makes one desire a better world for humans only, and without any real divine intervention, except in the service of therapeutic motives. Therefore, as we’ve reviewed in the article, how can one really say that that we are at the foot of the cross with God if it is one big beach party or watered down Woodstock-type performance? How can such music inspire us to cling to the cross? The ultimate answer is that it cannot. Nevertheless, humanity has taken over Christ’s liturgy in worshiping itself (keeping God in the picture under ambiguous terms to keep from feeling like worthless worms without any purpose). Out of fairness, we must say that many conservative Catholics do know not what they do — but unfortunately, they have been duped.


[1] Sample, Alexander. “Celebrating the Spirit of the Liturgy.” Sacred Music 140 (1) (2013) : 6–16.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Cyprian, Love. “Glenstal Abbey, Music and The Liturgical Movement.” Studies in World Christianity 12 (2)(2006): 126–41.

[4] Peter A, Kwasniewski, “Blessed Silence,” Sacred Music 141.1 (2014): 47–52, available in revised form at OnePeterFive here.

[5] Ibid.

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