In his weekly Grotto News column - The Descant - Fr. Perrone has spoken once again about the Old Latin Mass, and on the topic of feast day on which it falls. I have added "white space" by breaking it up into more paragraphs so that it would be easier to read in this narrow-formatted column.
The big news story of the week is Friday’s Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Our Lord once said that when He would be lifted up He would draw all men unto Himself. That image of Christ borne aloft over an innumerable throng can be taken as a figure of the sacrifice of the Mass offered at all times and places for the salvation of all mankind. The Mass itself is truly the exaltation of our Lord’s cross, the crowning work of His blessed life, the redemptive action by which His one sacrifice is perpetuated until the end of time.
How appropriate a day this is then for the reinstatement of the so-called Tridentine Mass into the mainstream of Catholic life! Granted that any valid celebration of the Mass fulfills the bare bones essentials, yet the ‘exaltation’ of the sacred mysteries is rather harder to detect when the externals of the celebration have a glazing, secular cast. I have been diligently working to master the details (rubrics) of the Solemn Tridentine High Mass in preparation for the great return of this form of the Mass here on Friday evening at 7:00 p.m. While I have celebrated this form of the Mass several times–even a few times in solemn form–I have not previously needed to prepare altar servers and oversee the other requirements needed for this splendid liturgy. As I write, I still have miles to trek in order to be ready for Friday’s Mass.
There is one point I want to make in response to an objection that sometimes circulates when the subject of bringing back “the Latin Mass” (so is the matter often phrased) comes up in conversation, namely, that it is an exercise in nostalgia, or even, an attempt to ‘live in the past.’ First, I want to complain that this is a pejorative phrase, that ‘living in the past,’ a psycho-babbling expression meant to describe a form of pathology whereby one, unable to face the harshness of reality, mentally recedes into an imaginary past as if he were still living there and then. Similarly insulting is the attribution of returning to the old Mass as an indulgence in sentimentality, as in the offensive (in my view) expression, ‘with bells and smells.’
If anything, the ‘old Mass’ (pardon the expression) was tougher, more austere, like a towering gothic church, a monumental reality that was ‘out there,’ which one had to enter into by turning his back on the familiar, the secular, and the narrowness of the individual, to embrace the holy, the overarching, the transcendent and divine world without end. Compare that to the way the new Mass is sometimes celebrated, with the feel-happy music, the pleasant chitchat in church with your neighbor, and the casual ‘talk show’ atmosphere. Question: Which form of Mass would be more aptly described as sentimentality? (Careful now! This is a quiz of one’s intellectual prowess.)
Pardon me. I’m only having a little fun. What I mean to say is that the desire to celebrate again the Tridentine Mass, after an absence of so many years, is not to want to live in the past any more than visiting with one’s friends, or eating again a favorite dish, or hearing a familiar song is living in the past. But just if, let us say, in the present moment, one were forced to do without his familiar friends, foods, music, etc. and had to live alone, hungry and without his accustomed consolations. Would one then say that desiring to have those former goods restored would be a disordered yearning, a ‘living in the past’?
As I intimated already in this space, there is a true sense in which the Mass always means a return, a living in the past: the memorial of our Lord’s Passion, the re-enactment of His sacrifice in an unbloody form. Yet it is this sense precisely which has been vacant in many a modern Mass: the sacrificial emphasis, the immersion of the Church in the paschal mystery of Christ. Sure, this is necessarily there in any valid Eucharist, but it may be far from the consciousness of celebrating priests and their congregations. The old Mass nearly compels one to consider the cross, Calvary, and to become involved in Fr Perrone world: the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
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