It is the Mass that Cardinal Newman, the leader of the Oxford movement into the Church, said that he could attend forever, and not be tired. Father Faber, priest of the Brompton Oratory in the last century, described the Mass as the “most beautiful thing this side of Heaven”, and he continued:
“It came forth out of the grand mind of the Church, and lifted us out of earth and out of self, and wrapped us round in a cloud of mystical sweetness and the sublimities of a more than angelic liturgy, and purified us almost without ourselves, and charmed us with the celestial charming, so that our very senses seemed to find vision, hearing, fragrance, taste, and touch beyond what earth can give”
Father Adrian Fortescue, a great English liturgical historian, has said that the Mass of the Roman rite is the most venerable rite in Christendom.
Pious Popes, too, have often wondered at the majesty of the Mass. Pope Clement VII said in 1604:
“Since the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist by means of which Christ Our Lord has made us partakers of His sacred Body, and ordained to stay with us unto the consummation of the world, is the greatest of all the Sacraments, and it is accomplished in the Holy Mass and offered to God the Father for the sins of the people, it is highly fitting that we who are in one body which is the Church, and who share of the one Body of Christ, would use in this ineffable and awe- inspiring Sacrifice the same manner of celebration and the same ceremonial observance and rite”
Pope Urban VII in 1634 said:
“If there is anything divine among man’s possessions which might excite the envy of the citizens of heaven (could they ever be swayed by such a passion), this is undoubtedly the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, by means of which men, having before their eyes, and taking into their hands the very Creator of heaven and earth, experience, while still on earth, a certain anticipation of heaven.
How keenly, then, must mortals strive to preserve and protect this inestimable privilege with all due worship and reverence, and be ever on their guard lest their negligence offend the angels who vie with them in eager adoration!”
The Mass! What a treasure! Christ’s very own sacrifice on the Cross left for us wrapped in an act seeping with beauty and Divine celebration.
Of course we are talking about the “beauty” of the Traditional Latin Mass, also called the Mass of the Ages. In a fruitless search on the internet I have been unable to find any such words of deep love, awe and admiration directed towards the Novus Ordo Mass. (There are words of praise for the Mass in general, like those from Ven. Fulton Sheen, without specifying of which rite he is referring.) When celebrated reverently the NO Mass can be a true and holy Eucharistic offering. All too often though, the reality is that it becomes a community-centred rite, sadly lacking in focus on its fundamental sacrificial element.
Dietrich von Hildebrand, called by Pope Pius XII “the 20th Century Doctor of the Church,” was one of the world’s most eminent Catholic philosophers. Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict) wrote about Dietrich von Hildebrand in the year 2000: “I am firmly convinced that, when at some time in the future, the intellectual history of the Catholic Church in the 20th century is written, the name of Dietrich von Hildebrand will be most prominent among the figures of our time.” The following is an article he wrote on the Latin Mass that appeared in the October 1996 issue of Triumph magazine [and re-published July 2014 on the ‘Traditional Catholic Priest’ blog]:
“The arguments for the New Liturgy have been neatly packaged, and may now be learned by rote. The new form of the Mass is designed to engage the celebrant and the faithful in a communal activity. In the past the faithful attended Mass in personal isolation, each worshipper making his private devotions, or at best following the proceedings in his missal. Today the faithful can grasp the social character of the celebration; they are learning to appreciate it as a community meal. Formerly, the priest mumbled in a dead language, which created a barrier between priest and people. Now everyone speaks in English, which tends to unite priest and people with one another. In the past the priest said Mass with his back to the people, which created the mood of an esoteric rite. Today, because the priest faces the people, the Mass is a more fraternal occasion. In the past the priest intoned strange medieval chants. Today the entire assembly sings songs with easy tunes and familiar lyrics, and is even experimenting with folk music. The case for the new Mass, then, comes down to this: it is making the faithful more at home in the house of God.
Moreover, these innovations are said to have the sanction of Authority: they are represented as an obedient response to the spirit of the Second Vatican Council. This is said notwithstanding that the Council’s Constitution on the Liturgy goes no further than to permit the vernacular Mass in cases where the local bishop believes it desirable; the Constitution plainly insists on the retention of the Latin Mass, and emphatically approves the Gregorian chant. But the liturgical “progressives” are not impressed by the difference between permitting and commanding. Nor do they hesitate to authorize changes, such as standing to receive Holy Communion, which the Constitution does not mention at all. The progressives argue that these liberties may be taken because the Constitution is, after all, only the first step in an evolutionary process. And they seem to be having their way. It is difficult to find a Latin Mass anywhere today, and in the United States they are practically non-existent. Even the conventual Mass in monasteries is said in the vernacular, and the glorious Gregorian is replaced by insignificant melodies.
My concern is not with the legal status of the changes. And I emphatically do not wish to be understood as regretting that the Constitution has permitted the vernacular to complement the Latin. What I deplore is that the new Mass is replacing the Latin Mass, that the old liturgy is being recklessly scrapped, and denied to most of the People of God.
I should like to put to those who are fostering this development several questions: Does the new Mass, more than the old, bestir the human spirit–does it evoke a sense of eternity? Does it help raise our hearts from the concerns of everyday life–from the purely natural aspects of the world–to Christ? Does it increase reverence, an appreciation of the sacred?
Of course these questions are rhetorical, and self-answering. I raise them because I think that all thoughtful Christians will want to weigh their importance before coming to a conclusion about the merits of the new liturgy. What is the role of reverence in a truly Christian life, and above all in a truly Christian worship of God?
Reverence gives being the opportunity to speak to us: The ultimate grandeur of man is to be capax Dei. Reverence is of capital importance to all the fundamental domains of man’s life. It can be rightly called “the mother of all virtues,” for it is the basic attitude that all virtues presuppose. The most elementary gesture of reverence is a response to being itself. It distinguishes the autonomous majesty of being from mere illusion or fiction; it is a recognition of the inner consistency and positiveness of being–of its independence of our arbitrary moods. Reverence gives being the opportunity to unfold itself, to, as it were, speak to us; to fecundate our minds. Therefore reverence is indispensable to any adequate knowledge of being. The depth and plenitude of being, and above all its mysteries, will never be revealed to any but the reverent mind. Remember that reverence is a constitutive element of the capacity to “wonder,” which Plato and Aristotle claimed to be the indispensable condition for philosophy. Indeed, irreverence is a chief source of philosophical error. But if reverence is the necessary basis for all reliable knowledge of being, it is, beyond that, indispensable for grasping and assessing the values grounded in being. Only the reverent man who is ready to admit the existence of something greater than himself, who is willing to be silent and let the object speak to him–who opens himself–is capable of entering the sublime world of values. Moreover, once a gradation of values has been recognized, a new kind of reverence is in order–a reverence that responds not only to the majesty of being as such, but to the specific value of a specific being and to its rank in the hierarchy of values. And this new reverence permits the discovery of still other values.
Man reflects his essentially receptive character as a created person solely in the reverent attitude; the ultimate grandeur of man is to be capax Dei. Man has the capacity, in other words, to grasp something greater than himself, to be affected and fecundated by it, to abandon himself to it for its own sake–in a pure response to its value. This ability to transcend himself distinguishes man from a plant or an animal; these latter strive only to unfold their own entelechy. Now: it is only the reverent man who can consciously transcend himself and thus conform to his fundamental human condition and to his metaphysical situation.
Do we better meet Christ by soaring up to Him, or by dragging Him down into our workaday world?”