The Condition for Restoring the Sense of the Sacred: Priests with a Sense of the Sacred
Ignatians as priests are by divine vocation “ambassadors of Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:20) and therefore shoulder the responsibility for the sacred sanctuary wherein God dwells among men, the sacred liturgy.
Ignatians as Catholics and as priests know they must shoulder a sense of guardianship of the Church’s treasures, among which, after the sacraments, none is so sublime as the sacred liturgy of the “Mass of the Ages”. Thus, with the reverence of a man who is a guardian, he will protect, spread, and reverently hand on to future generations this magnificent heritage: Tradidi quod Accepi.
While here we are referring to the traditional liturgy of the Roman rite, naturally, as Catholics, Ignatians venerate the other ancient rituals of the Church: the Greek, Maronite, Syrian, Ethiopian, Armenian and Coptic.
Ignatians: Restoring the Sense Of The Sacred through the True
Pope Benedict XVI expressed the need for the evidently present sacred as follows:
“Do we still need sacred space, sacred time, mediating symbols? Yes, we do need them, precisely so that, through the “image,” through the sign, we learn to see the openness of heaven. We need them to give us the capacity to know the mystery of God in the pierced heart of the Crucified.” – Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Spirit of the Liturgy )
For this reason, due to God’s honor, the Ignatian will always strive to lead souls to enter with their whole being into the sacred liturgy.
In order to achieve this he will be an educator of the sense of the sacred. He will build a doorway for souls to the sacred through the beauty of absolutely everything in and surrounding the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. For Beauty is the radiance of Truth.
In the ancient rite of the traditional Latin Mass, the Ignatian has the way par excellence to lead themselves and others into the depths of Catholicism. It is through this ancient rite that Catholics can spiritually breathe since it protects the integrally Catholic ethos of our minds and hearts, particularly the doctrine that is most assaulted by modernity: the supernatural.
The overarching truth that the Ancient Rite taught men was that their membership of the Catholic Church was not about belonging to a cultural, political or philanthropic institution but to a religio: a society whose truths and principles are ordered towards the acknowledgement of God as the supreme Being, the Creator, Redeemer, and Lord of mankind by obeying Him and offering Him due worship and in this way to attain eternal salvation.
In the “Mass of the Ages” both cultured Romans and uneducated barbarians were able to recognize the embodiment of their own deep existential intuitions and needs. For it was earthy and resonated with the deeply human thrust to worship God that constitutes the religious impulse.
Symbolisms such as the eastward direction of prayer, prostrations and inclinations, intricate incensations, and sacred language enabled converts to sense the continuity with their primitive religious heritage whether at Stonehenge, in Celtic sacred woods, or at Mithraic temples.
Within its ceremonial they could catch the whiff of the salty breezes blowing from the ocean of eternity. As indeed Pope Gregory the Great and the wordsmiths and craftsmen of the Ancient Rite had always hoped they would.
The countless priests who had fashioned the Ancient Rite in order to encase in the most adequate way possible the sacred texts of tradition were utterly alert to their duty to make it radically, clearly, and throughly God-centered.
It had to teach unambiguously that the principle of the sacred must govern man’s existence ‒ that all his thoughts, words, and deeds must originate in, and be completed by, his duties to God. He must exit from it mindful that the world with its pomp and circumstance was passing and had to be measured in relation to his origin and destiny in God.
So, the Ancient Rite resolutely points upwards, focusing man’s sense of direction to the supernatural.
It seeks to make him alert to the fact that God is God, the Almighty, the One on whom he depends for life at every instant; and therefore the One to whom he owes gratitude, adoration, expiation for his sins, and petitions for salvation.
The Ancient Rite aims to make man ready to be in the very presence of “the eternal, living and true God” whom nevertheless he may dare to address as “Thee”.141
Championing The Sense Of The Sacred through the the Beautiful
When Catholics succeeded in building their own civilization in the Christendom of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, their artistic genius brought to birth sublime architecture in the Gothic cathedrals which were built in honor of the most sublime act in history – the Sacrifice of the God-Man made mystically present in the Sacrifice of the Mass.
“Medieval man wanted to Christify everything in the Gothic cathedral and all that happened therein; all was meant to be a total sensory experience of the truths of his religion; light, glass and stone, the waves of Gregorian and polyphonic chant, the sweet perfumes of oriental incense, the sight of soaring vaults, the rustle of silk chasubles, the touch of shining metal, and the shimmer of jewelled chalices. All these sensations, reflected Abbot Suger, raise man momentarily from the contingencies of his earth-bound existence to its eternal significance: “it seems to me that I see myself dwelling, as it were, in some strange region of the universe which neither exists entirely in the slime of the earth nor entirely in the purity of heaven; and that, by the grace of God, I can be transported from this inferior to that higher world in an anagogical manner [i.e., in a way that reminds me of eternal life].” (Abbot Suger, “On the Golden Crucifix”) (Quoted in William J. Slattery, Heroism and Genius [Ignatius Press, 2017])
Therefore, in the art and architecture of Ignatian churches, the dignity of the high altar, the statues, stained-glass windows, vessels, chasubles and all, absolutely all, must express the sublime realities occuring within those walls.
All, absolutely all, in an Ignatian church, must raise the minds and hearts of men, as soon as they cross the threshold, and especially during the august drama of the Holy Sacrifice. All must provoke the type of reaction felt by the agnostic convert to Catholicism, the genius Paul Claudel, who stated with regard to his experience of the Mass:
“It was the most profound and grandiose poetry, enhanced by the most august gestures ever confided to human beings. I could not sufficiently satiate myself with the spectacle of the Mass…”
The enactment and the surroundings of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in the sacred liturgy is able to pierce the materialist and secularist darkness in the souls of our contemporaries; it can reveal to their astonished intellects that the liturgy is the place and time where Heaven and eternity can be touched, provoking in them an attraction towards Catholicism as strong as that which empowered the first Christians to staunchly defy the Roman empire’s persecutions and resolutely cross the Church’s threshold. By unleashing the splendor of the Church’s liturgy Ignatians aim to educate modern man’s soul through the intrinsic lessons of this liturgy: the primacy of the eternal, the importance of contemplation, the need for silence and the beauty of dogma. As one of the great converts to the Faith stated:
“How I wept, deeply moved by your hymns, songs, and the voices that echoed through your Church! What emotion I experienced in them! Those sounds flowed into my ears, distilling the truth in my heart. A feeling of devotion surged within me, and tears streamed down my face – tears that did me good.” St Augustine of Hippo, Confessions
When Vladimir, Prince of Kiev, in the 800s , wanted to know which religion to bring into his country, he sent ambassadors to both Christians and Muslims to gather information on the two religions. The envoys who went to the Christians attended a liturgy in Santa Sophia in Constantinople and the report of the ceremonies inspired the prince ‒ who was followed by his people ‒ to convert to Christianity.
“We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth, for surely there is no such splendour or beauty anywhere on earth. We cannot describe it to you: only this we know, that God dwells there among men, and that their service surpasses the worship of all other places. For we cannot forget that beauty.” (Russian Primary Chronicle, cited by T.Ware, The Orthodox Church (Harmondsworth, 1963, 1968), p.269.
Witness of Saint John Vianney
Saint Jean Vianney, the priest whom Holy Church has designated as the patron saint of all her priests, shows us how to combine personal austerity and liturgical magnificence – all for the salvation of souls
“To attract people to his church, he made up his mind to improve its appearance—which would not only attract people, but would also make it less unworthy of God.
“There, again, you have a point in his character. For himself he had a soutane, a hat, a neck-band, a pair of shoes: one of each, to be worn to the bitter end; and he never had a cloak. Nothing, he held, is too ugly, too worn out, too wretched for the man; nothing is too splendid for the minister of God. When he mounted to the altar, he was ready to cover his humility with all the treasures of Golconda—if they had been put at his disposal. He could never find any ornaments splendid enough to clothe the priest when he represented God, the High Priest.
“Of all the money that he was to receive in the future—and he received a great deal—what did not go to the poor was poured out with splendid generosity for the beautifying of these services to the honour of God. Chasubles, altar linen, candelabra, statues—he refused none of them. In the beginning it was urgently necessary to repair and strengthen the church, if possible to enlarge it, for all that the worshippers did not yet by any means fill it.
“In 1830 the wooden steeple was replaced by a square tower of red brick. Antique columns in the Roman style were built to support the double windows. A second bell was hung, and baptized, “The Bell of the Holy Rosary.”
“Inside, a first chapel was opened to the right of the nave in honour of the Blessed Virgin—her statue decorated with handsome wooden panels, carved in relief with sheaves of wheat and bunches of grapes. Opposite, a little later, a second was built for St. John the Baptist.
“This time M. Vianney found himself short of funds, and just as his carpenter was pressing for payment, some person unknown, who had no knowledge of his difficulty, sent him the necessary money. Nevertheless, in the years that followed he decided not to tempt Heaven, buying only pictures and statues—for he wished that the saints, of whom he spoke so much to his congregation, should be living realities to them— St. Joseph, St. Peter, St. Sixtus, St. Blaize, St. Michael the Archangel (and many an angel beside), St. Francis of Assisi, St. Philomena, St. Benedict Joseph Labre. He also acquired an Ecce Homo.
“And so his little church was populated. It was Heaven on a small scale.” ( Henri Ghéon, The Secret of the Curè d’Ars,(Sheed and Ward, 1938, pp. 58-59)