Matters Liturgical: October 2012 Archives

A Few Souls Weep

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Exposition and Adoration

Not long ago, on a Friday evening, while visiting a major international Marian shrine recognized by the Holy See, I attended exposition and adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament. There are a number of priests on staff at this particular shrine.

The sacristan, a layman who manages to be unfailingly kind and business-like at the same time, emerged from the sacristy; opened the tabernacle; removed from it the monstrance containing the Sacred Host; placed it, rather unceremoniously on the altar; genuflected and left.

Minimalism

There was no singing, no use of incense, and no priest, therefore no use of the humeral veil and none of the marks of reverence and adoration that should accompany such a rite: liturgical minimalism of the most egregious sort.

A Para-Liturgy of the Laity

A couple of devout ladies in the first pew took charge, announcing page numbers and reciting a sequence of vocal prayers at at pace that was more than lively. Their recitation was so fast that I marveled at their ability to crank on without stopping for a breath.

The entire service was conducted by laypersons. At the conclusion there was, given the absence of a priest, no Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament. The monstrance containing the Sacred Host was summarily removed from the altar, replaced in the tabernacle and . . . well . . . that was it.

A Spiritual Cancer

I found myself grieving over the whole situation. It was an experience of liturgical minimalism such as I have never seen. It was exposition and adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament on the cheap. The absence of the priest was symptomatic of a spiritual cancer that, even after the Year of the Eucharist and the Year of the Priest, is metastasizing throughout the Church.

It Was Bound to Happen

What was happening there? The liturgical minimalism and irreverence that have come to characterize the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in so many places have now invaded the rite of exposition and adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament. It was bound to happen. The ethos of Holy Communion received in the hand, of the abusive use of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, and of the loss of any awareness of sacred space has now overflowed into the cultus of the Most Holy Eucharist outside of Mass.

The rite of exposition and adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament is fast becoming the exclusive purview of the laity, and often of the sacristan, or of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. A rite that, in the mind of the Church, is to be solemn, festive, and hierarchically ordered has become something sad, bland, and common.

The Priest and the Body of Christ

The practice I witnessed first-hand at the shrine of X. is symptomatic of something grievously wrong. A wedge is being driven between the cultus of the Most Blessed Sacrament and the priest who is ordained not only to confect the adorable Body and precious Blood of Christ, but also to offer the Holy Sacrifice, to handle the Sacred Species, and to present the Body of Christ to the gaze of the faithful and to their adoration.

Foretaste of Heaven

In former times, the authorization of the Ordinary was required for exposition and Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament. I remember well seeing, as a young lad, a framed and beautifully handwritten document on the sacristy wall listing the days on which exposition and Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament were permitted. Exposition and Benediction were privileged moments, anticipated with joy: a foretaste of heaven that passed all too quickly, leaving the fragrance of incense hanging in the air.

Something Has Gone Very Wrong

In fifty years time we have come to quite another scenario: a layman in work clothes (or a lay woman) places the monstrance on the altar and walks away. A few ladies begin a series of devotional prayers. And, here and there, in the semi-darkness of the church, a few souls weep, for they understand that something has gone very wrong. Very wrong indeed.

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De retour

I returned from France last evening. Ah, the beauty of France, the intelligence and wit of the French, the grace of so many friendships rooted in the faith, the reverent approach to food, drink, and the shared table! While in France, given the circumstances of my séjour, and for compelling pastoral reasons, I celebrated Holy Mass in the so-called Ordinary Form, something I have rarely been obliged to do since the gift of Summorum Pontificum.

Dignity and Loveliness

Let it be said, straightway, that in both places where I offered the Holy Sacrifice in the Ordinary Form, the setting was impeccable: worthy sacred vessels, exquisite chasubles in wool with hand-embroidered adornment, immaculate altar linens, beautifully arranged flowers, etc. The singing too was lovely -- all in French (even the Ordinary of the Mass) -- but executed with reverence, attention, and artistry.

Introductory Rites

I thought that I might, however, share with my readers and, especially, with my brother priests, some reflections on the experience of the Ordinary Form, given that I have celebrated daily in the Usus Antiquior since 2007. The first thing that struck me was the inappropriateness of beginning the Holy Sacrifice from the chair facing the congregation, rather than at the foot of the altar facing the liturgical east. Beginnings, introductory rites, and the crossing of thresholds are hugely important, precisely because they have such an impact on all that follows. Nowhere is this more true than in the sacred liturgy.

Introibo Ad Altare Dei

It is more than curious that the verse from Psalm 42 traditionally recited at the foot of the altar before the Confiteor was eliminated from the Missal of Paul VI: Introibo ad altare Dei; "I shall go unto the altar of God." I find it strange that in a Missal characterized by a multiplicity of options, the traditional use of Psalm 42 was conceded no place. Instead, other options were invented, adapted, or otherwise introduced into the introductory rites.

Toward the Holy Sacrifice

Upon leaving the sacristy and the entering the church, the heart of the priest is set upon the altar, not the chair, nor the ambo. All that precedes the heart of the Holy Sacrifice (that is, the Canon of the Mass) is ordered to it. Even the proclamation and hearing of the Word of God, culminating in the Holy Gospel, is ordered to the Great Thanksgiving, to the Sursum Corda, and to the mystic actualization of the Sacrifice of the Cross.

Chair and Altar

The priest enters the sanctuary in order to approach the altar, conscious that he will stand before it to offer the Holy Sacrifice. By going directly to the chair, albeit after having venerated the altar, the direction of the liturgical action is skewed. The priest himself becomes the focus of attention. His sign of the cross, and his greeting; his introduction to the Act of Penitence, all tend to deflect the attention of the faithful away from the latreutic finality of the Mass, latria being, of course, the technical term for the worship and adoration due to God alone.

At the Foot of the Altar

By placing the introductory rites, including the Act of Penitence, at the chair, the Mass begins in the configuration of a self-contained, closed horizontality. Even though the Confiteor is addressed to Almighty God, the impact of it is substantially diluted by praying it (a) from the chair, facing the people; (b) while standing erect rather than while inclining profoundly; and (c) into no particular direction, if not into some vague space around one's own feet or above the heads of the people. This particular element of the New Order of the Mass is not a success. It does not do what it is supposed to do. It needs to be corrected. Is it not time to rediscover the significance of praying, and of bowing low at the foot of the altar?

Dominus Vobiscum

The correction of the Introductory Rite and Act of Penitence in reference to the Usus Antiquior and the replacement of the first salutation of the congregation (Dominus vobiscum) after the Gloria (or Kyrie) and before the Collect, will go a long way toward the recovery of a sense of the Godward direction of every liturgical action and, in particular, of the significance of approaching the altar with a view to offering the Holy Sacrifice.

The Poor New Offertory

The second thing that struck me was the paucity of the reformed Offertory rites and prayers. Others have commented on this matter at length. It would seem to me necessary to restore the Offertory Antiphon to the New Order of the Mass and to restore the Offertory prayers and gestures of the Missal of Saint Pius V as well.

Ad Orientem

It goes without saying that the rubric of the New Order of the Mass that assumes the eastward position from the Offertory until Holy Communion needs to become always and everywhere normative. Nothing has done more to distort the ars celebrandi than the habit of offering the Holy Sacrifice facing the people. It is, in many instances, an affront to the Divine Majesty. It is, moreover, a tedious distraction to both priest and people, and a symbolic and, alas, subliminal, but all too effective, devalorization of the sacrificial character of Holy Mass. No amount of catechesis, however well-intentioned, will be able to restore to the ars celebrandi of the New Order of the Mass what the position ad orientem will bring about of and by itself. Here, more than anywhere else, actions do speak louder than words.

The Roman Canon

It was when I came to the Eucharistic Prayer, using the Roman Canon as adapted -- I rather think mutilated -- in the New Order of the Mass, that I found myself most deeply disturbed. The elimination of the traditional signs of the cross and genuflexions is redolent of a puritanical rationalism that either fears the participation of the body in worship or sneers at it; it is, in effect, the divorce of word from action, a kind of disincarnation of the text.

There is absolutely no reason to have altered the age-old and venerable words of consecration in the Roman Canon. Nothing in Sacrosanctum Concilium authorizes or justifies so barbaric an assault on a text universally regarded as sacrosanct and fixed by tradition. Fifty years after the Second Vatican Council, has not the moment at last come to repair the damage done by an erroneous interpretation and brash disregard of the letter of the Conciliar text and the intentions of the Council Fathers?

The Words of Consecration and Mysterium Fidei

I would propose, then, that the words of consecration in the Eucharistic Prayers II, III, and IV of the New Order of the Mass be brought into conformity with the traditional text of the Roman Canon as found in the Missal of 1962, and as used at the Second Vatican Council and in the years immediately following it. This would entail the replacement of the mysterium fidei within the words of consecration of the chalice and the suppression of the acclamation introduced in the Missal of Paul VI, which, to be honest, would be, to my mind at least, no great loss. Its inorganic insertion into the Canon has the effect of an interruption of the flow and movement of the prayer itself.

Eucharistic Prayers?

Of course, one needs to ask if four Eucharistic Prayers are, in fact, necessary in the New Rite of the Mass. Of the four, Eucharistic Prayer II is the one most widely used, not because of any intrinsic sublimity, but because of its brevity. It is a routinely rattled text that has longed passed its expiration date. It should be given an honourable burial alongside the breviary of Cardinal Quignonez. Eucharistic Prayer IV is used very rarely, if at all, in most places. Eucharistic Prayer III, the so-called Canon of Paul VI is the second most widely used. Has the time not come to reduce the Eucharistic Prayers of the New Order of the Mass from four to two, keeping only the venerable Roman Canon and what is now called Eucharistic Prayer III? It should, I think be legislated that the use of Roman Canon be obligatory on all Sundays, solemnities, feasts of the Apostles and of the saints named in the Communicantes and in the Nobis Quoque.

Domine, non sum dignus

The threefold Domine, non sum dignus needs to be restored to the New Order of the Mass. The single recitation of the centurion's heartfelt prayer sounds pathetically and artificially truncated. The threefold Domine, non sum dignus is no vain repetition; it is a trirhythmic grace of compunction that batters the door of even the most hardened heart.

Holy Communion

The manner of distributing Holy Communion to the faithful has been addressed by the example of the Holy Father, but his example has not garnered the support it deserves in the episcopate. It would seem that most bishops are insensitive to the persuasive language of example and, thus, must be compelled by legislation. Holy Communion in the hand and the scandalously abusive proliferation of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion are matters that must be addressed by clear and binding legislation. The grave scandal among the Eastern Orthodox Churches that these practices cause is, of itself, sufficient to warrant their immediate suppression.

The Last Gospel

Finally, it is, I think, a good thing to close the Holy Sacrifice en douceur with the reading of the Prologue of Saint John. It is, in effect, a kind of final blessing over the heads and hearts of the faithful, a thanksgiving after Holy Communion, and a bridge from the Holy Mysteries into the world that they alone can redeem, heal, sanctify, and elevate. I would argue, then, for the addition of the Prologue of Saint John to the New Order of the Mass, except on those occasions when the Mass itself is immediately followed by another liturgical function.

Reform of the Reform?

These are but a few thoughts on my experience of returning -- out of pastoral necessity -- to the New Order of the Mass for less than a week. I could not wait to resume the Usus Antiquior. The New Order of the Mass is in dire need of correction, enrichment, and consolidation. The "reform of the reform" is the single most urgent task of the New Evangelisation. Is it not time to place clear and binding liturgical law at the service of life? The example of the Holy Father, however edifying and consoling it may be, is not sufficient to curb the liturgical abuses rampant in the Church and to "fix" the New Order of the Mass. Something more is required.

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Image: Dom Tarisse, Superior General of the Congregation of Saint-Maur


I have given Dom Benedict my blessing to pursue his study of the 17th century Monastic Breviary of the Benedictine Congregation of Saint Maur. The Maurist Breviary is a treasury of scriptural and patristic texts, artfully woven together so as to express luminously the mysteries of the feasts and seasons of the liturgical year. The Maurist Breviary is as suitable for lectio divina as it is for choral prayer. Dom Benedict will be sharing his discoveries, as time permits, on a new blog entitled, Pax Inter Spinas, A Modern Monk Discovers the Liturgical Riches of the Benedictine Congregation of Saint Maur (1621-1790). Do visit Pax Inter Spinas today.

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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