Battle for Liturgy: Battle for Soul of Catholicism

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“I am convinced that the crisis in the Church that we are experiencing today is, to a large extent, due to the disintegration of the liturgy.” (Pope Benedict XVI, Milestones: Memoirs,1927-1977

“Christianity is a hand-me-down affair. It bears the marks of those who came before” (Matthew Schmitz, )

The Soul of Catholicism is expressed in Her Traditional Latin Mass

The soul of the Church is Tradition  because the Catholic Church owes all of the truths that make her what she is to traditio, i.e. to the “handing on” or transmitting of these truths from Our Lord Jesus Christ to the apostles and from the apostles to succeeding generations who in turn have guarded and unfolded and expressed these truths under the assisting action of the Holy Spirit.  As Vatican II stated, referring to Tradition, “so the Church, in her teaching, life and worship, perpetuates and hands on to all generations all that she herself is, all that she believes” (Dei Verbum, n. 8).

Thus, by her very nature as a reality grounded on this sacred tradition the Catholic Church is traditional. Were she to cease to be traditional she would simply cease to be.

To Tradition she owes her truths. To Tradition she owes her liturgy (the sacraments, sacramentals and public prayer) ‒ the actions that vivify her and empower her to bring supernatural life to souls.

But through, with, and in these sacrosanct truths, the Catholic enters into the unfathomable mystical depths of the Redemption.

For it is here that one unites with the Church that above and behind its visible organizational structure is a mystical reality and an eternal institution because it is the Mystical Body of Christ.

However, since the liturgy has a human as well as a divine dimension, in order to facilitate man’s passage to the mystical depths therein, it is important that it

Exactly how the Ancient Rite communicated the divinely revealed truths of Catholicism reveals the genius of the “Mass of the Ages”. By its realistic insight into the human spirit, it recognized that man absorbs truths humanly through the entirety of his powers of intellect, determination, and emotions. By involving the psychosomatic nature of man in its integrity, appealing to his heart with subtle psychological intuition, the Mass of the Ages evoked in men the sense of beauty that inspired conviction, religious commitment, artistic creativity, and sociopolitical application.

Moreover, with skilled craftsmanship she surrounds these  words with symbolism and ceremonial thereby magnifying their visibility with increased impact on the participant’s sentiments and imagination. 

Hence, her ritual is no mere “service”, structured as a word-form, in which an ever so intellectual religion lays out in front of man’s intelligence her set of doctrines.

She sensitively guides man to worship God “in spirit and in truth” (Jn 4: 24) not only through words formed into judgments but also through the coded language of gestures, symbols and ceremonial.

With symphonic harmony, the Ancient Rite intuitively, with a seemingly natural empathy, speaks to the heart, evoking the human sentiments. No part of the individual with an open mind and  heart is left untouched and unaffected.

She is a “poem in action” that “seizes man’s existence in its entirety and makes it reflow towards its source” (Dom Gérard Calvet, La Sainte Liturgie par un Moine bénédictin).

Through her precise, clear, and elegant embodying of the Catholic truths within her ritual, the Ancient Rite provokes a sense of satisfaction in man’s intellect which in turn touches his heart.

Man, so often afflicted by suffering, conscious of guilt, tormented by the doubt that God may be inseparably distant from him, in urgent need of confirmation that his prayer will be heard and his wickedness forgiven, that God sees and foresees his needs, thus found in the Ancient Rite a sure conduit of light and strength.

The ordering of the Ancient Rite according to the demands of the intellect rather than the requirements of the senses and the emotions is coherent with a truly human use of one’s mental powers.

But it is also necessary for the formation of an enduring society of worshippers. Only by subordinating sentiment to intellect could the Ancient Rite foster that catholic (universal) spirit of the Ancient Faith.

For only in this way can she organize mens’ public worship of God in such a way that they can  be of one heart because first they are of one mind.

Only intellectual doctrines not emotions provide such a foundation since the latter by nature are highly individual, more difficult to communicate, changeable, and indeed often capricious and dangerous to the psyche when  unleashed from the will guided by truth.

By establishing this  harmonious order between intellect and sentiments, the Ancient Rite builds up and strengthens both the individual believer and the Church as an institution.

She strengthens the psyche against doubt; guarantees continuity through time; and enables prayer to overflow into common action.

The writer, Sigrid Undset, in The Wild Orchid, illustrates this point in her narration of the conversion of the novel’s hero, Paul, to  the ancient religion of his homeland, Norway, during the early twentieth century. As a student, he boards at a Catholic home and one day accompanies his landlady to a Low Mass (the simplest version of the Ancient Rite) merely for the sake of an interesting experience.

However, amid the simple surroundings of the chapel he is moved by something  he had never experienced before, an atmosphere of austere, intense contemplative adoration. It etched an indelible memory in his soul.

As time passed, increasingly “he longed for the poor Catholic churches ‒ with paper flowers on the altar and plaster dolls in niches, and the few people in their workaday clothes who collected there on weekday mornings and shivered as they prayed” , contrasting his experience to that of Protestant services where “it all seemed to be done in order to work up an emotion”. (Sigrid Undset, The Wild Orchid (London: Cassell, 1931), p. 223.)

Nevertheless, the Ancient Rite’s emphasis on communicating truths does not imply that she neglects the heart. Truth, because it is the intellect’s grasp of reality, is necessarily a fountain of deep emotion particularly when the particular dimension of reality dealt with is God.

Not any “god” but the one true God who has revealed something of his mystery to man through thousands of years of mystery-filled  theophanies and prophetic revelations which are unfolded to our ears in the texts of the Ancient Rite.

As divine truths they pulsate with a supernatural vitality that can penetrate to the intimate depths of man’s heart.

Through their human encasing in the concrete mindset of the ancient Jewish people, our spiritual forefathers, texts like the psalms are universally poignant for they cut straight to the essentials in man’s relation with God: the baring of one’s sinful soul in the Miserere psalm; the cry for aid “O Lord, God of my salvation, I cry out day and night before you, Let my prayer come before you” (psalm 88); the “zeal for your house has consumed me” (psalm 69); the shout of jubilation in so many introit antiphons; and the dramatic awareness of danger in so  many others.

The rich sentiments of the ageless rite become especially palpable in some of her Masses, hymns, and prayers. Noteworthy are the somber ceremonies of the Requiem Mass with the thunderous reminder of the Final Judgment in the Dies Irae; the hope-filled prayers of Christmas; and the jubilation in the Exultet of the Easter Vigil. The prayers said at the foot of the altar, dating from the tenth century churches of  the Franks, express a religious sensitivity ranging from the exuberant cry “Introibo ad altare Dei ad Deum qui laetificat iuventutem meam” [I will go unto the altar of God, the God who rejoices my youth] to the awareness of iniquity needing to be purged in the “aufer a nobis iniquitates”[ take away from us our wickedness].

This kaleidoscope of prayers, symbols and ceremonials, whose reflections produce changing patterns through the different seasons and feasts of the liturgical year, has never ceased during 2,000 years to fascinate keen minds. “To exalt the Mass,” wrote the convert to Catholicism, G. K. Chesterton, “is to enter into a magnificent world of metaphysical ideas, illuminating all the relations of matter and mind, of flesh and spirit, of the most impersonal abstractions as well as the most personal affections.”

The outcome is beauty. Beauty in the Platonic and  Augustinian sense of that aura radiating from something or someone harmoniously ordered by truth and goodness. The Ancient Rite’s precision in language of concentrated thought with an intense distaste for verbosity and her affection for poise and austerity in ceremonial impress the beholder with a sense of symmetry, balance and due proportion. All seems so natural and spontaneous and unpretentious, due, doubtless, to the countless anonymous craftsmen whose Godcentredness through veneration for sacred tradition would not countenance attempts to be artistic for the sake of being artistic. As a harmonious structure of truths and sentiments, the Mass of the Ages thus satisfies both intellect and heart, and is thus surrounded by the aura of loveliness. No wonder that countless converts through the centuries entered the Church through the portal of the ancient ritual’s beauty:

“The days were not long enough as I meditated, and found wonderful delight in meditating, upon the depth of Your design for the salvation of the human race. I wept at the beauty of your hymns and canticles, and  was powerfully moved at the sweet sound of your Church’s singing.  These sounds flowed into my ears, and the truth streamed into my heart: so that my feeling of devotion overflowed, and the tears ran  from my eyes, and I was happy in them.” (Saint Augustine, Confessions)