Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Introibo ad altare Dei

A reader of Father Zuhlsdorf's writes:
I finally figured out why I love the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. I attended the Requiem Mass for All Souls at ___ in ___ this weekend. The Priest and the servers were composed of the younger Priests in our diocese- all of which speak with a great deal of authority. I finally realized what appeals the most to me in the Extraordinary Form. It is a very masculine Mass. It literally pours out justice, mercy, humility, and obedience all at once. The Dies Irae, which I had never heard before, places man in his proper place in relation to the Lord and His redemptive sacrifice. The focus stays completely on that sacrifice. I was in complete awe. This form of the Roman Rite demands attentive prayer from the pew.
I believe in my heart that this masculinity is why some Catholics irrationally lash out at this form of the Mass. Our society has become so effeminate that it no longer wishes to be humbled, subjected, and challenged by the liturgy. We have become touchy-feely, so God must be touchy-feely. No wonder catechized children are so glassy-eyed. They are never taught that along with God’s mercy, he must also be feared, because he is ultimately just.
I am so grateful that the Extraordinary Form has returned to the church. It should never have gone away. This was only my second time at this form of Mass, and I am still righteously angry that I have been robbed of my birthright for so long. I made sure at the end of the Mass to thank the Priests, and I told them that this must spread across the Diocese. One Priest assured me that it is “coming back with a vengeance”. Good. This calm, powerful, and masculine authority and presence has humbled me and given me so much more respect for these Priests. They are no more or less human than any other Priest, yet my heart feels a natural desire to follow them.
Now, I know what you're thinking. As Mark Shea might put it, "So what, are you awful Trads saying you're better than us? You saying the Novus Ordo is inferior to the EF? That's what you think isn't it?! Confess you Pharisaical bastards!" The problem with the Novus Ordo, as I see it, is that it's so difficult to pin down. For the record, yes it can be celebrated with reverence according to the Church's historical and traditional praxis. But I think that any Catholic who takes the faith seriously will admit that in most cases it is not. In my own diocese, I'd estimate that ten percent, fifteen percent tops, celebrate the Mass more or less the way the Church envisions. The rest of the time, the Mass comes across as a production of the community and for the community. Priests often have a "liturgy committee" that sees the Mass as a skeleton upon which the people impose the flesh and sinew of their personal preferences. The priest and people face each other, they smile, crack jokes, hold hands, hug, make nice, and congratulate each other on how well they are living the Gospel. "They'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, yes they'll know we are Christians by our love..."

In contrast, the Extraordinary Form (or Traditional Latin Mass, Usus Antiquor, or whatever you wish to call it) doesn't even try to accommodate itself to the people. It demands that the people conform themselves to it. The priest is a man set apart, a man ontologically different from other men, who stands in the place of Christ himself. He leads the people as their spiritual father and shepherd. That is the essential function of the priest. The EF never lets anyone forget this role of the priest. The personal qualities of the priest are submerged into his function of offering the sacrifice of the Mass, that same sacrifice of Calvary represented to God the Father.

All of this remains true of the Novus Ordo Mass, objectively speaking. If anything, the Novus Ordo requires even greater discipline and self-sacrifice than the EF. In practice, the focus of the Mass shifts toward the person of the priest and the congregation. The priest often starts Mass with a warm up monologue. He often begins his homily with a joke or cute personal anecdote that may or may not have anything to do with the readings. The homily itself is usually a vague exhortation about how Christ was a touchy-feely nice guy so we should all be touchy-feely nice guys too.

I think the reader is dead on about why so many Catholics of a certain demographic are so violently opposed to the EF: it is unapologetically masculine. If Father celebrated the Novus Ordo with the same degree of masculine gravitas that the EF radiates, then the chancery would be deluged with angry phone calls about how Father is a raciss, sexiss, homophobic right-wing lunatic. I can be pretty tough on priests but I know something of what they experience every time they take a tentative baby step in the right direction. Father Z and I are in accord on this point: if your priest does something right, thank him and support him.

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