Those who attend the Traditional Mass regularly are deeply familiar with, and deeply appreciative of, the recitation of the Prologue of the Gospel of John at the very end of Mass. It has always struck me, and I have no doubt it strikes many others, as a beautifully appropriate moment of meditation, a long-drawn breath of the mystical words of Sacred Scripture, to send us on our way mindful of the awesome mystery of God, whose Word-made-flesh we have just worshiped and consumed. On a more practical level, it serves as a remarkably apt buffer between the end of the Mass, properly speaking, and the commencement of one’s private thanksgiving—or, as the necessities of life may demand, one’s departure from the church. It prevents that horrible phenomenon that one sees at nearly every Ordinary Form Mass celebrated across the globe, namely, that mere moments after Holy Communion, everyone in the pews rushes out the door, or worse still, begins garrulous conversation in the pews.
The wisdom of Catholic Tradition as displayed in the Extraordinary Form recognizes the fittingness of ending the Mass with a pregnant pause that demands our silent participation, including a final communal genuflection in humble acknowledgment of the Incarnation. The liturgical scholars who never cease to tell us that this reading of the Prologue developed as a medieval private devotion of the celebrant are simply missing the point of how the Holy Spirit introduces change into the liturgy, slowly, gently, almost indirectly, so that what began as a private devotion eventually grows into a moment of prayer beneficial to all. The liturgists, in short, do not believe that God in His Providence governs and indeed causes the organic development of the liturgy, and they believe that they are wiser than Tradition in determining what is and is not suitable to public worship. They seem to be unaware that the liturgy is meant to develop in the direction of greater meditation and interior participation in the sacred mysteries, even while it develops in external ritual, decorum, artistic vesture, and solemnity.
The more I ponder it, the more profoundly do I see why the Holy Spirit led the Church to place the Prologue of the Gospel of St. John at the end of (nearly every) Mass.
1. This Prologue, as Thomas says in his commentary on John, states the essence of our faith and refutes all heresies even before they have appeared; it proclaims in the clearest and boldest terms the Incarnation of the Son of God, on which our entire religion and its highest form of worship rests. The Prologue, in addition to stating the foundational truth that Jesus is the Son of the Father and the Lord of creation, points to the essence of the Holy Eucharist as the memorial and actualization of Christ’s redemptive work.
2. It brings into sharp focus the dependency of all being upon God, upon the divine artistry: omnia per ipsum factum sunt, et sine ipso factum est nihil, quod factum est. This throws down the gauntlet to every kind of idolatry, materialism, or Pelagianism that could possibly exist. “The chief obstacle to religion is for man to adhere to a false god.” Especially it strikes modern technological scientism at its root. As the great Thomist Charles De Koninck says in On the Primacy of the Common Good:
the limit to which experimental science tends is the condition of a demiurge. The method of invention of reasons which anticipate experience is a method of reconstruction. In this very precise respect considered abstractly, to reconstruct the universe is in some way to construct it. And if per impossibile this limit could be accomplished, the universe would be nothing but a projection of our own logoi.
St. John states, once and for all, as though to destroy in its root this perverse tendency of the human intellect to re-create the world: OMNIA per ipsum—scilicet, VERBUM DEI—factum est, et sine ipso factum est NIHIL. Nihilism is the denial of this all-encompassing Word through whom the All was made; Christianity is the acceptance, the passionate embrace, the adoration, of this Word, and the love for the All which exists through it and for it.
3. It shows the intimacy of the Father and the Son—an intimacy as great as this: In principio erat Verbum, et Verbum erat apud Deum, et Deus erat Verbum. It shows us that this Word is the principle of our union with God: in ipso vita erat, et vita erat lux hominum…dedit eis potestatem filios Dei fieri, his qui credunt in nomine eius. It reveals, as in the briefest flash, the link between the Name, the Face, and the Heart: his qui credunt in nomine eius…vidimus gloriam eius…plenum gratiae et veritatis.
4. Moreover, it inserts the mission of the faithful into the center of the mystery of God: fuit homo missus a Deo, cui nomen erat Joannes: hic venit in testimonium. The prophetic mission of John, who points out the Lamb of God, is our mission, too, as worshipers and followers of the Lamb who must bear testimony to the mystery into which, by divine mercy, we have been incorporated. To follow the Lamb wherever He goes, straying for no reason, avoiding at all costs a sliding back into the mundus which, though it was made by Him, does not acknowledge Him: per ipsum factus est, eum non cognovit. We are being asked to know Him, to be born from God, ex Deo, and not by blood, ex sanguinibus—not by violence (recall how the liturgy at the offertory speaks of the men of blood: Ne perdas cum impiis, Deus, animam meam, et cum viris sanguinum vitam meam), not by fleshly desires and satisfactions, ex voluntate carnis, not as though we were the source of our redemption and the goal of our beatitude, ex voluntate viri—not, in a word, as though we were Pelagians who save ourselves, but solely, humbly, thankfully, gloriously from God, ex Deo.
5. John the Baptist is proclaimed at every Mass as the one who preached ut omnes crederent per illum. ALL will believe through his preaching, so that we shall never forget that Jesus Christ came in the flesh at a given moment in history, to a given people, in the most particular of particular circumstances, and that John, as a consequence, is always the one who prepares the way of the Lord for us. We must go to Jesus in the way He chose, that is, by hearing the Baptist’s preaching of repentance and turning away from sin. We do not believe in a Cosmic Christ, in some abstraction of Hegelian theology, but in the carpenter’s son, the Jew of Nazareth, whose way was prepared by a single wild prophet in the desert. This prophet will always be preaching to the desert of the world, and will always precede Christ with the message of conversion—just as the Lesson precedes and disposes us to the Gospel, in which the Truth Himself teaches us.
Earlier I spoke about the liturgists who want to mutilate, abbreviate, and cast away what the Tradition has bequeathed to us. One might well apply the words of Saint Augustine to the promoters and proponents of the Novus Ordo: “It is not enough that these unhappy men are sick. They even exult in their sickness, and they blush to take the medicine which could heal them. By doing this, they are not healed; rather, they fall into a still more grievous affliction.” The medicine is the Traditional Mass. This is a divine medicine that will heal our Church of all her earthly afflictions, if only we, her members, have the humility and the wisdom to take it anew.
I would like to share with the readers of OnePeterFive the beautiful reflection of Saint Thomas Aquinas on Saint John the Baptist, taken from the Angelic Doctor’s Commentary on the Gospel of John, chapter 5, lecture 6.
St. Thomas Aquinas on St. John on St. John the Baptist
TEXT OF THE GOSPEL
31 “If I were to bear witness to myself, my testimony would not be valid. 32 But there is someone else who testifies on my behalf, and I know that the witness he bears on my behalf is true. 33 You sent [messengers] to John; and he bore witness to the truth. 34 I myself do not need proof from men; but I say this in order that you may be saved. 35 He was a lamp, blazing and burning brightly. And for a time you yourselves exulted in his light. 36 But I have testimony that is greater than that of John. The very works which my Father has given me to perform—those works that I myself perform—they bear witness to me that the Father sent me. 37 Moreover, the Father who sent me has himself given testimony on my behalf, but you have neither heard his voice, nor seen his image; 38 and you do not have his word abiding in your hearts, for you do not believe in him whom he has sent. 39 Search the Scriptures, since you think you have eternal life in them; they too bear witness to me. 40 Yet you are unwilling to come to me in order to possess that life.”
COMMENTARY OF ST. THOMAS
812 Three things perfected John and show that he was a witness accepted in his own right. The first concerns the condition of his nature, and he refers to this when he says, He was a lamp. The second concerns the perfection of his love, because he was a blazing lamp. The third is related to the perfection of his understanding, because he was a lamp that was burning brightly.
John was perfect in his nature because he was a lamp, i.e., enriched by grace and illumined by the light of the Word of God. Now a lamp differs from a light: for a light radiates light of itself, but a lamp does not give light of itself, but by participating in the light. Now the true light is Christ: “He was the true light, which enlightens every man coming into this world” (above 1:9). John, however, was not a light, as we read in the same place, but a lamp, because he was enlightened “in order to bear witness to the light” (above 1:8), by leading men to Christ. We read of this lamp: “I have prepared a lamp for my anointed” (Ps 131:17).
Further, he was blazing and impassioned in his affections, so he says, blazing. For some people are lamps only as to their office or rank, but they are snuffed out in their affections: for as a lamp cannot give light unless there is a fire blazing within it, so a spiritual lamp does not give any light unless it is first set ablaze and burns with the fire of love. Therefore, to be ablaze comes first, and the giving of light depends on it, because knowledge of the truth is given due to the blazing of love: “If any one loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and make our home with him” (below 14:23); and “I have called you friends, because everything I have heard from my Father I have made known to you” (below 15:15); “You who fear the Lord, love him, and your hearts will be enlightened” (Sir 2:20).
The two characteristics of fire are that it both blazes and shines. Its blazing signifies love for three reasons. First, because fire is the most active of all bodies; so too is the warmth of love (charity), so much so that nothing can withstand its force: “The love of Christ spurs us on” (2 Cor 5:14). Secondly, because just as fire, because it is very volatile, causes great unrest, so also this love of charity makes a person restless until he achieves his objective: “Its light is fire and flame” (Sg 8:6). Thirdly, just as fire is inclined to move upward, so too is charity; so much so that it joins us to God: “He who abides in love abides in God, and God in him” (1 Jn 4:16).
Finally, John had an intellect that was burning brightly. First, it was bright within, because of his knowledge of the truth: “The Lord will fill your soul with brightness,” i.e., he will make it shine (Is 58:11). Secondly, it was bright without, because of his preaching: “You will shine in the world among them like stars, containing the word of life” (Phil 2:15). Thirdly, it was bright because it manifested good works: “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works” (Mt 5:16).
813 And so, because John was of himself so acceptable—for he was a lamp, not smothered out but blazing, not dark but burning brightly—he deserved to be accepted by you, as indeed he was, because for a time you yourselves exulted in his light. He fittingly links their exulting or rejoicing with light; because a man rejoices most is that which most pleases him. And among physical things nothing is more pleasant than light, according to: “It is a delight for the eyes to see the sun” (Sir 11:7). He says, you yourselves exulted in his light, i.e., you rested in John and put your end in him, thinking that he was the Messiah. But you did this only for a time, because you wavered on this; for when you saw that John was leading men to another, and not to himself, you turned away from him. Thus we read in Matthew (21:32) that the Jews did not believe in John. They belonged to that group referred to by Matthew (13:21) as believing “for a while.”
 St. Thomas, Summa theologiae IIa-IIae, q. 122, a. 2.
 Primacy of the Common Good, 126.
 Augustine, City of God, X, ch. 29.
Dr. Peter Kwasniewski, Thomistic theologian, liturgical scholar, and choral composer, is a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College and The Catholic University of America. He has taught at the International Theological Institute in Austria, the Franciscan University of Steubenville’s Austria Program, and Wyoming Catholic College, which he helped establish in 2006. He writes regularly for Catholic blogs and has published seven books, the most recent being Tradition and Sanity (Angelico, 2018). For more information, visit www.peterkwasniewski.com.