Even if the faithful cannot be present

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Francès Mass St Greg.jpg

Canon 904: Remembering always that in the mystery of the eucharistic sacrifice the work of redemption is exercised continually, priests are to celebrate frequently; indeed, daily celebration is recommended earnestly since, even if the faithful cannot be present, it is the act of Christ and the Church in which priests fulfill their principal function.

The Work of God

A certain secular model of professionalism is pernicious when applied to the priesthood. The priesthood is a life, not a profession, and certainly not a career. While a weekly "day off" and an annual vacation are legitimate and healthy variations in the ordinary pursuits of priestly life, they do not dispense a priest from the "Work of God" -- the Divine Office -- into which the Church sets the daily offering of the Holy Sacrifice.

Desiring With A Holy Desire

The daily celebration of Holy Mass takes its place, in effect, within the living context of the daily Liturgy of the Hours to which every priest is bound (Can. 276 § 3); Canon Law also earnestly recommends daily celebration of Holy Mass (Can. 904). The priest who is faithful to the Divine Office, even on his "day off" or while on holiday, will desire with desire to complete and crown the daily round of praise with the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice, even if he must celebrate without the presence of the faithful. Thus will the word of Our Lord come to burn like a fire in the heart of the priest: " With desire I have desired to eat this Pasch with you, before I suffer" (Lk 22:15).

Trends

Certain trends holding sway over the past forty years have contributed in no small measure to a loss of attachment, among certain priests, to the daily celebration of Holy Mass. What theological suppositions and liturgical shifts of emphasis have shaped these trends or contributed to their entrenchment?

Sacrifice Offered to God

First of all, there has been a general weakening of adhesion to the essential character of the Most Holy Eucharist as a sacrifice offered to God in view of four ends: adoration, thanksgiving, propitiation, and supplication. This theological loss of perspective obviously goes hand in hand with the horizontalization of the priesthood to the detriment of its essential vertical (and mediatory) dimension. The priest, before being a man for others, is a man for God, a man who places himself upon the altar of the Holy Sacrifice day after day, offering himself through Christ and with Him as one victim (hostia) to the glory of the Father, out of love for the Spouse of Christ, the Church.

To the Altar

This reality is impressed upon the priest himself, and expressed to the faithful, when he alone ascends the altar, acting in the person of Christ the Head, with the body of the Church behind him, there to face God "on behalf of all and for all" (Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom).

Facing God vs. Facing the People

When, in fact, the trend of Mass "facing the people" came to be perceived as normative, a loss of awareness of the latreutic character of the Mass ensued. While addressing the Father in the Eucharistic Prayer, the priest found himself facing the people and, in some instances, was even led to believe that he should actively look at them. In most instances, this contributed, at least subjectively, to a loss of recollection, focus, and singlehearted devotion on the part of the priest. The physical change of direction led insidiously and almost imperceptibly to to a theological change of direction. Even without formulating it consciously, a question began to hang in the very air of the sanctuary: "Is the Mass a sacrifice offered to God or a service offered to the people?" A flashback to the Protestant Reformation.

I would argue, then, that the habit of celebrating "versus populum" has contributed significantly to the disaffection of many priests for the so-called "private Mass," or celebration of Holy Mass without an assembly. This is not the only factor to be considered. Although the Ordo Missae of Pope Paul VI specifically provides for celebration without an assembly, certain elements in it de-emphasize the theocentric direction of the Mass, actual communion with the intercession of the Mother of God and of the saints, and the benefits derived from the Holy Sacrifice for both the living and the dead.

The Rites Themselves

First among these elements would be the curious structure of the Introductory Rites with the salutation of the people being given before the Rite of Penitence, Kyrie, and Gloria, that is, before the Godward direction of the celebration has been unambiguously established. In no traditional Catholic or Orthodox liturgy does the celebration open with the salutation of the people followed straightaway by a monitio addressed to them. This is, I would suggest, the first "structural defect" in the Mass of Pope Paul VI. It is one that could, however, be remedied quite easily.

In the Liturgy of Saint Gregory, the Godward movement set in motion by the Introit and by the priest's private declaration at the foot of the altar, "I will go unto the altar of God," affects the entire theological direction and spiritual climate of the celebration. The place of the salutation after the Introit, Kyrie, and Gloria, and before the Collect, has about it a "rightness" that signifies and fosters the over-arching Godward direction of the celebration even before the Liturgy of the Word.

More could be said on the subject. For today I must limit myself to what I have written thus far. The commitment of priests to the daily celebration of Holy Mass, even on days off and while traveling, will be, I think, all of a piece with the ongoing reform of the reform. What must be recovered above all is a new appreciation for the latreutic character of the Holy Sacrifice. Readers comfortable with Italian will also want to read Cantuale Antonianum on this subject. I welcome comments.

4 Comments

Bravo e grazie!

I suspect the emphasis on concelebration also has a great deal to do with it.

Christ and the Apostles didn't all face the same direction probably.

I think there are different ways for the Mass in human history. What I think we have in the Roman Church today is a protestant version of the Mass. What I mean is that when the protestants enter the Church in fullness, their approved Mass would be similar to what we have now. ..The Vertical dimension can also go Up. Everyone can be gathered around the Altar and everything can still be Eucharistic centered. The emphasis would be more on Love. ..However, there may be elements in this setup that are missing.

As to if we should have a future protestant version of the Mass is another question however. What I see is that it doesn't necessarily engender Love as it should. So maybe it's not working out.

I once walked into a church doing the Tridentine Mass and felt a power I never feel in the ordinary Mass, resembling a physical drug even.

Continuing from my previous comment.. I think this Ordinary Mass isn't quite working out because of a missing component that I suspect to be that the participants have to have the virtue of Love strongly in their hearts for it to work out. There may be talk of Love today but it all's about pretty much "going to church". With the acute perspective of Love, everyone would be gathered in a circle and everything would go Up. In a certain sense, this would be more vertical than the Tridentine. But one needs the Love, and maybe that's missing.

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About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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