The Catholic Thing
HOME        ARCHIVES        IN THE NEWS        COMMENTARY        NOTABLE        DONATE
Heart and Soul Print E-mail
By Brad Miner   
Monday, 14 February 2011

If – as I try to – you go to Mass nearly every day, you might say that attendance has become a habit (and surely the good kind). But as is true of any habit – whether good or bad – you may over time come to take for granted why you do what you do. In the case of the Mass, you may forget to remember its graceful meanings or fail to savor its intricate details: the standing and the genuflecting, the reading and the reciting, the materials worn and used by the priest and even the taking of Communion itself – each may become more a commonplace routine than a sacred ritual.

If so, you must read The Mass: The Glory, the Mystery, the Tradition by Cardinal Donald Wuerl and Mike Aquilina. This is a book about the renewal of our understanding and love of a central element of Catholic life. As Cardinal Francis George writes in his preface to the book, “active participation in the Mass is the very soul of participation in the life of the Church.” Or as Wuerl and Aquilina put it: the Mass is “the heart of Catholic life. For individuals and for the community.”

Implied in the authors’ approach is the imminent appearance of the new English version of the Roman Missal that we’ll all begin using on the first Sunday of Advent (November 27, 2011). As each aspect of the Mass is described – from the Procession to the Blessing and Dismissal – readers will note the new language of the Third Edition. (For instance: instead of “And also with you,” the new response, “And with your spirit,” is used.)

If the book has a flaw, it’s that it misses the opportunity to be not only a guide to understanding the various elements of the Mass we’ve been hearing but also a practical handbook of transition to this new missal. For that matter, there’s not a word about the return to many parishes of the Tridentine Mass, although many of the Latin words and phrases of the pre-1963 rite are mentioned in passing.


       Available via The Catholic Thing Store at Amazon

It’s rare that I’d write this, but I suspect I’d have enjoyed the book ten times more if it had been twice as long. But then I’m fascinated by the current fluidity of the Mass, by the fact that in my neighborhood I can hear the Mass as it was in the Fifties and early Sixties, with its solemnities and its silences, and also in its Seventies and Eighties version, streamlined and denatured. Is the new Missal meant to be a hybrid of the pre- and post-Vatican II liturgies? Is that even possible? Or are we going to be closer to, as the Holy Father put it in one of his book titles, the spirit of the liturgy – to worship that is authentically Catholic? I’d have enjoyed reading Cardinal Wuerl’s reflections on these questions.

As it is, however, Cardinal Wuerl’s and Mr. Aquilina’s book is a short, authoritative study of some fascinating details concerning the history and practice of the Mass that many of us think we know but probably don’t. For instance, I was unaware that during the first two-hundred years of the Church the language of the Mass was Greek or that the liturgy wasn’t standardized by the Church for another thousand years or more, the first authoritative Roman Missal appearing only in 1570.

And I’m very happy to have become reacquainted with the glosses of the Mass: paten, ciborium, pyx, corporal, lavabo, credence table. No Catholic who reads this book can fail to be more well-informed about the Mass, and all will deepen their appreciation of our most sacred ritual.

The book almost convinces me to appreciate more the Sign (or Kiss) of Peace. “We should do,” the authors write, “what is culturally appropriate.” In support they quote Saint Ambrose: “When I am at Milan, I so as they do in Milan; but when I go to Rome, I do as Rome does.” Still . . . I’m actually unsure what’s culturally appropriate in my parish, where for some the Kiss seems the hungered-for human contact they get nowhere else and for others like an attempted mugging.

I was disappointed that music is mentioned only in passing, never fully discussed. Over the millennia, Catholics have created some of the world’s greatest music to accompany the Mass, from medieval polyphony to Mozart’s requiem. If offered, I’d gladly attend workshops to learn plainchant. As it is, I cringe at what’s sometimes sung in churches. “This Little Light of Mine”? It’s time to revise our hymnals too.

I loved the fact that The Mass makes frequent reference to our Jewish roots, emphasizing the connection between the Liturgy of the Eucharist and Passover. There are still some “experts” who dispute that the Mass reenacts a Seder, but Cardinal Wuerl and Mr. Aquilina have no doubt:

It took place once, but for all. Now when we go to Mass, we speak of the Paschal Mystery as a present reality, just as the families of Israel spoke of their deliverance during the Passover ritual.

This is a very different book than one of my favorites, The Mass in Slow Motion (1948) by Msgr. Ronald Knox, a beautiful, poetic (even introspective) description of the rite by one of last century’s finest Catholic writers. Sad to say, that book is out of print, and is anyway a guide to the Mass that Catholics priests used to say. (These were lectures Knox gave to schoolgirls, and it’s lovely to note how he spoke up not down to them, assuming their intelligence and their interest.) Cardinal Wuerl and Mr. Aquilina have given us the definitive guide to the Mass priests will be saying, probably for at least the rest of this century.

 
Brad Miner, a former literary editor of National Review, is senior editor of The Catholic Thing. He is the author of, among other books, The Compleat Gentleman.
 
© 2011 The Catholic Thing. All rights reserved. For reprint rights, write to: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

The Catholic Thing
is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

Rules for Commenting

The Catholic Thing welcomes comments, which should reflect a sense of brevity and a spirit of Christian civility, and which, as discretion indicates, we reserve the right to publish or not. And, please, do not include links to other websites; we simply haven't time to check them all.

Comments (9)Add Comment
0
...
written by fatherdannychamps, February 14, 2011
Thanks for the article- I hope to read it soon.

Just a note about the standardization of the Liturgy- it seems that while 1570 was the Tridentine standardization, the actual form and structure of the Mass was pretty consistent long before that- it would seem that some would say the Ancient/Tridentine Mass only dates to the 1500's, but that is simply not the case. Sure it was standardized and promulgated for the Roman Church in a particular way at that time, but I would venture to say that most of the prayers, readings cycles, Liturgical calendar...goes way back. We mustn't fall into the trap of believing the Ancient Mass is only from Medieval Times- that is a tactic employed by those who believe history began in 1970.

Maybe a "Liturgist" (which I am not) can help clarify this important point.

Thanks and I do look forward to reading the book.
peace.
0
...
written by Bill, February 14, 2011
Mr. Miner: If you were invited to a Seder and you suspected that the central figure at the seder who was Divine would be tortured and executed by your co-religionists by the very next evening, would you enjoy the seder? In the Traditional Mass which priests say today, and have said since 1570, is the Supper in which Christ instituted the Eucharist along with another unbloody Sacrifice of the unblemished Lamb(Christ)by the (Other Christ) the sacerdotal priest who alone can accomplish this. It is the idea of "a community meal" in lieu of the above described Sacrifice introduced at Vatican II which has made the New Mass (Novus Ordo), and all that pertains to it. suspect.
As many of the prayers and responses are taken from the Traditional Mass, the new Missal is not being received well as it exposes why the New Mass was introduced in the first place. It attempted to establish a new religion which Benedict and sound bishops are now trying to back away from.
0
...
written by Bill, February 14, 2011
fatherdannychamps is correct.The Roman Rite, with some minor modifications, does go back to ancient times as did the Athanasian Rite. I cited 1570 as that was the time of the Counter Reformation when the Roman Catechism was produced. The Church wanted to homogenize both Its liturgy and Its catechesis so there would be no confusion as to what was truly Catholic and what was heretical. A recent example of this is the Catechism of the Catholic Church in 1994 when the Church again tried to determine and teach what was in fact True.The fact that we have had three(?) Missals since Vatican II signals why Benedict and the sound bishops are taking steps to correct decades of liturgical abuse.
0
...
written by Martial Artist, February 14, 2011
Mr. Miner,

You wrote: "If offered, I’d gladly attend workshops to learn plainchant." That comment leads me to suspect that you are unaware of the one week chant intensives that are held several times annually, at a number of locations around the country. Granted, these are to learn Gregorian chant, rather than plainchant, but they routinely organized to include training of individuals ranging from rank beginners to the very experienced. Should you, or anyone else be interested in attending one, information is available at the blog Chant Café and other sites.

Pax et bonum,
Keith Töpfer
0
...
written by Louise, February 14, 2011
In one sentence, my heart soared when I read " . . . 'The Mass: The Glory, the Mystery, the Tradition' " only to be thrust to the depths of despair when the title was followed by " by Cardinal Donald Wuerl and Mike Aquilina." I knew that not a lot of good could come out of that.

During the Lent that followed our return to the Church, my husband and I eagerly attended a video series given by the former Bishop of Pittsburgh. As eagerly as we listened, by the time we had got to the parking lot, neither of us could remember a word that was said or that had made any impression on us at all. What did impress us both was the background of the speaker--what are called "optics" in the latest TV commentator's jargon. The Bishop stood by a desk or table with a lamp on it and behind him was a wall of bookcases. There was no crucifix, no icon of Christ or His Mother, no holy painting, no statue of a saint or of our Lord, no stained glass--nothing to indicate, except the black suit, that this lecture had any connection to religion at all--let alone the holy season of Lent and the coming days of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus. The good Bishop said more about himself by his setting than he said about the Faith by his words.

A year or so later, in preparation for Confirmation (in our first conversion to the Faith, in those heady days of evangelistic zeal in the early '70s, no one ever told us that we should be Confirmed), we endured another series by the good Bishop. I have one memory of those four lectures (same setting, by the way). I took issue with the good Bishop's choice of words. I was probably quibbling, but, words are important. He said, "The work or the Church is to teach the Gospel." I blurted out, "No. The WORK of the Church is to celebrate the Eucharist. It is the MISSION of the Church to teach. it's not the thing." What else he said in four weeks escapes me. But, we were confirmed anyway.

“ 'We should do,' the authors write, 'what is culturally appropriate.' ” This seems as if it might be a misappropriation of the citation. I am not ever going to slap my neighbor on the back or raise my hand in the '60's peace sign, no matter what culture I am in. What a lost opportunity to explain why the sign of peace should be just as holy as the rest of the Mass and can be given with dignity and solemnity. Given the authorship, why am I not surprised?

The only example of the new translation that I ever find references to is "And with your spirit." If that is the greatest objection that the modernists have to the new translation, they should stop complaining and enjoy their victory.

I will try very hard to hold my disappointment in abeyance and wait for the great event, but I am deeply worried that, once again, we will hear only the squeaky bleep of an old rusty trumpet, and not the clarion call to Faith that we have been waiting for, that our ears are aching to hear. But, in the meantime, will someone please inform our dear leaders that our congregations are full of intelligent, informed people, who can actually read actual books, even when they have 450 pages, and who can actually understand words of more than two syllables. Mr. Miner, having told us all the important information that the authors left out, are you sure that "definitive" is the right word?


0
...
written by Nick Palmer, February 14, 2011
Brad, thanks for continuing to build my enthusiasm for the coming "transition!" I look forward to the change as a shock to the system -- mine for sure, and others' too. I hope that it will provide our priests an opportunity to help "acquaint the fishes with the water in which they have swum for so long" as your introductory paragraph so well describes.

I'm already off to Amazon to pick up Cardinal Wuerl and Mr. Aquilina's book.
0
...
written by fatherdannychamps, February 15, 2011
If I recall my ordination correctly, the word "service" is used primarily to refer to the offering of the Sacrifice, so I think Louise that you are quite accurate in your distinction between "work" and "mission" if we understand "work" as "service". Without that Divine Service of the Holy Sacrifice no of our other efforts make any sense as specifically Christian.

God Bless and Peace.
0
...
written by Louise, February 15, 2011
Dear Fr. Danny,

Thank you for adding that dimension of work as service. "Service" is another many-faceted word that bears a lot of thinking about.

I'm afraid my thinking at the time was much more mundane. I was thinking of work as that which keeps body and soul together; work is what provides sustenance to the body and strengthens it, whether in the sense of providing income or providing exercise for muscles--as in shoveling snow. In the Body of Christ, that work is the Eucharist. It is the "work" that Christ gave His Body to do to maintain life, vitality, strength, and to keep the arteries of grace open. "Work" precedes mission and it should never be confused with it.

Thank you again, Father. I find all your posts very helpful.
0
...
written by Louise, February 15, 2011
Dear Fr. Danny,

Thank you for adding that dimension of work as service. "Service" is another many-faceted word that bears a lot of thinking about.

I'm afraid my thinking at the time was much more mundane. I was thinking of work as that which keeps body and soul together; work is what provides sustenance to the body and strengthens it, whether in the sense of providing income or providing exercise for muscles--as in shoveling snow. In the Body of Christ, that work is the Eucharist. It is the "work" that Christ gave His Body to do to maintain life, vitality, strength, and to keep the arteries of grace open. "Work" precedes mission and it should never be confused with it.

Thank you again, Father. I find all your posts very helpful.

Write comment
smaller | bigger

security code
Write the displayed characters


busy
 

Other Articles By This Author

CONTACT US FOR ADVERTISERS ABOUT US