Friday, September 28, 2007

Fr. Perrone's Sermon from the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

As if being short on time isn't bad enough with regards to posting, blogger was not cooperative for the last two days that I had a few minutes to post. I'm' finally in and want to bring you the Sermon of Fr. Eduard Perrone on the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. This is from Grotto's first Mass of the Extraordinary Use in over 40 years.

Exaltation of the Holy Cross, 2007

In a penetrating passage of the letter to the Galatians, Saint Paul expressed the only way in which one can rightly say that Christ’s crucifixion was an ‘exaltation.’ Not by way of oratorical flourish, or bombastic indulgence, Paul soberly conveyed a meaning of the Christ’s cross that was expressive of the deepest involvement possible of a human creature in the divine act of our Lord’s sacrifice. Surely, he was aware that the cross in and of itself was hardly a thing to boast about. There is no exaltation in crucifixion. The cross was an instrument of shame, torture and execution. “Accursed! is anyone who is hanged on a tree”–he wrote. Yet, strangely, he boasted about Christ’s cross, boasted because he saw it as a means for him to become assimilated to Christ. “Through it,” he says, “the world has been crucified to me and–note this–I to the world.” This seemingly strange shift of focus from Jesus crucified to Paul crucified (in a manner of speaking) indicated, among other things, that there can be an enduring way in which Christians participate in Christ’s singular act of sacrifice. What our Lord experienced on Good Friday could involve henceforth, in some manner, every member of the Church by participation.

In the long history of the Church, there have been various ways it has identified with our Lord’s passion and death. In a corporate sense, she has known suffering persecution, suppression, and ridicule from those who have opposed her. But in an ascetical sense, the cross of Christ has been integrated into the life of the Church’s membership through the spiritual discipline and moral regulation of a Christian’s life. Consequently, being ‘fully alive’ is a wholly different thing for a Christian than for a sensualist or a worldling. Paul’s sense of this was expressed in these terms: ‘Life for me is Christ. The life I live now is not my own: Christ is living in me.”

A “life no my own!” This sense of identity of the Christian with Christ-crucified found expression not only in the circumscribed manner in which Christians were to live in the midst of the world, but also in the way they were to worship. It became evident, already from apostolic times, that there was an intrinsic connection between our Lord’s death on Good Friday and the worship which was rendered to God as it centered about the mystery of the Holy Eucharist. Again, it was Saint Paul who made explicit the connection: “as often as that you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death, until He comes” (1 Cor 15).

There are some indicators in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist which express its sacrificial nature. The use of an altar (which is a stone-table used expressly for sacrifice), the requirement of a priest (the very name which means ‘one who sacrifices’), the consecration of the two separate species as a symbol of death’s separation of blood from the body, and the revelatory import of our Lord’s words of consecration as a Body to be ‘given up’ and a Blood to be ‘poured out,’ words with deep sacrificial signification. Thus the Catholic Church has always rightly understood that the Mass is the re-presentation of the one sacrifice of Christ on the cross; that the Mass is the ‘Exaltation’ of that once bloody offering now in a manner ever as much real but unbloody. This perennial truth of apostolic faith concerning the nature of the Mass–its sacrificial nature–has become obscure in the thinking of many, if not most Catholics in these times. The causes of this ambiguity are not hard to trace in liturgical practices which often have not sufficiently acknowledged the sacrificial nature of the Mass.

Tonight we are reinstating in this parish church a manner of celebrating Holy Mass that was known and practiced by generation upon generation of our spiritual ancestors. It was the way Mass had been celebrated for many centuries. Until the latter part of the 1960s, the so-called Tridentine form of the Mass had been said in this church, and in the three preceding church structures on this spot which this building has replaced. While I believe that what has taken the place of the traditional Mass since that time has been valid and–dare I have hope to say holy?–yet there has been, in my view, something lacking in the newer rites in their ability to convey in a wholly satisfactory way something essential to the Mass. And that element is its sacrificial nature.

As you well know, His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI has, for reasons he made abundantly evident in his earlier writings, now conferred upon all priests of the Roman rite the faculty to celebrate Mass in its former and traditional form. He conveyed his will in the extraordinary form of a moto proprio. How should we understand of this act of the Pope who has now spoken with the full power of his command over the universal Church? Is this a thing of great consequence either for the weal or woe of the Church, or is it merely an insignificant gesture with little practical import?

Personally, I believe that the moto proprio permitting the universal celebration of the Traditional Mass is a momentous act of the Supreme Authority of the Church, one which, in history, may prove to have been a signal event in the record of these times. As you know, reaction to the Holy Father’s initiative has been mixed. Those who expressed dismay over this ‘turning back of the clock’ (as it has been termed) have seen–rightly in my view–that there is a far reaching significance to the return of the old Mass which even many of its most ardent proponents have not grasped.

To return to a long-lived, stable liturgical past, to reconnect ourselves to our apostolic roots through the recovery of the so-called Tridentine form of the Mass means much more that the reenacting of old rituals now near-forgotten. Rather, it signals an entire reordering and redirecting of an all-too wayward manner of modern Catholic life which has suffered losses in so many ways: theological, moral, pedagogical and sacerdotal among them. The old rite is a unequivocal confirmation and expression of the essential, perennial truths of the Catholic faith. It has proved itself over many past ages to be a unitive force in securing a common worship, moral adherence to the commandments, the edifying example of clerical life and discipline, and creedal orthodoxy.

The old Mass stood as an impregnable fortress withstanding the attacks of ideological, political, social and doctrinal chaos on account of its longevity and its didactic clarity. This is demonstrated and ensured by those very precise terms in which the sacred rites of the old Mass are prescribed for their lawful execution. Nothing is left to chance; nothing is improvised. The certainty of the truths of the Catholic faith divinely revealed is mirrored in the precise and exacting manner in which priest, ministers and laity alike are bound up in a liturgical action that is not of their own making or subject to their own caprice. Like Saint’s life which was not his own, the life of the old Mass is not the property of any individual, but a common possession of the Church, an ancient Christian liturgical patrimony. As such, the Mass is a mystery that is relived, a trans-historical event into which one enters. Like ascending unto the holy of holies, it is an act of pilgrimage by which one checks his own personality and his self-importance at the door of the church when he becomes conscious of the Presence of God before him.

As I said already, the ‘old Mass’ (if I may call it that) means above all else, the renewal of the sacrifice of Christ. There’s no mistaking this emphasis in the celebration of the Tridentine Mass. We are here all involved in an immense liturgical drama, in which God Himself–not we–is the audience, the spectator. We are here for His good pleasure, to render unto Him that one pleasing act–the old Mass does not hesitate to say it–the act of propitiation and appeasement–which can compensate for the innumerable offenses and crimes committed daily against His Sovereign Majesty. While these elements of atonement for sin and placation of God’s justice are a necessary effect of the celebration of a valid Mass said in whatever form, those elements are thinly emphasized in the newer rite of Mass. The towering presence of God and the unworthiness of the worshipers before Him is given explicit visual and verbal expression in the deferential posture and prayers of the celebrating priest and the participating faithful. Thus the emphasis on silence before the Divine Presence; thus the great care exerted in the minute detail of the ceremonial. Everything has transcendent meaning and everything therefore must be given meticulous observance.

Why am I so glad to have the Tridentine Mass? It’s certainly not because the newer rite has no value or beauty of its own. In fact, there are, in my unimportant opinion, some real gains in the newer missal. Rather it is because there is lacking or minimized in the new rite something which I have the felt need to express in my worship of God.

Any one who has loved can testify that the desire of a lover is to give of himself to his beloved, not by any half-measures or feeble declarations of love, but by a full-blown donation of his life. That total gift of onself to another, in the fullest, is not literally possible. Only by the sacrifice of one’s life, by one’s death, in other words, is that possible. “No greater love has a man than that he lay down his life for his friends.” But what is not literally possible is made possible by vicariously, by a substitutional act of self-sacrifice. In such a way, Christ, taking our place, gave God the complete offering of Himself as an expression of reparatory love. Anyone who is aware of the price his sins demands and anyone who truly loves God, wants to give Him his all out of justice, out of love. He wants to become one with Him who gave Himself for us in the sacrifice of the cross. While only a rather small number of martyrs have been privileged to give full expression to their passionate desire for union with God, our Lord Himself gave every one of the faithful a means whereby they can express their whole-hearted love and render Him compensation for their sins. It is by the co-offering of themselves with Christ in the daily renewal of His sacrificial act. That is happens in the Mass. There is no getting around the fact that the Tridentine form of the Mass expresses this involvement of the members of Christ with Him in His sacrifice in an explicit way.

I would not want you to think that the reason for brining back the Tridentine Mass is for nostalgia’s sake, as a look backward. It’s rather for the unmistakable centrality of the Lord’s cross in the Mass. This, I believe, is what motivated our holy father to allow us once again to draw from our liturgical tradition in a more profound way the richness of the paschal mystery of Christ.

I can’t put into words how much it means for me to stand before God, both as a representative of the people, and as one who represents Christ, however unworthy I am of these offices and offer the Holy Sacrifice in the sublime form of the Tridentine Mass.

May our Lady, Holy Mary, the only one of our race who was truly worthy of the sacrifice of Her Son, intercede for us in this parish dedicated to Her honor, so that we may now more fully, more completely give of ourselves to God through this manner of offering the Mass, and that it will be a more effective means of sanctifying our people and of giving delight to the one who has love us, even unto death, death on a cross.

Te Deum Laudamus! Home