Friday, September 5, 2014

The Reform of the Reform

The chapel at Thomas More College of the Liberal Arts
Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi – “The law of praying is the law of believing”.  I can’t quote that enough. It suggests not only that how we pray is a reflection of our belief, but in fact, and perhaps more importantly, that how we pray informs and shapes our belief.  Our most direct encounter with God colors everything else.
     I explored this vital point last week (“Quick! What’s The Source And Summit Of The Christian Life?” here), in the course of which I briefly alluded to a blog post by Fr. John Zuhlsdorf [here] in which he discussed ways to improve the celebration of the Ordinary Rite (“Novus Ordo”) of the Mass.  Today I’d like to look a little more closely at what the good father said.  Here’s the heart of his post:

We must use the actual prayers of Holy Mass, the propers, that is, those antiphons and so forth which are provided in the Roman Missal. I also suggest

-  all male service in the sanctuary;
-  phasing out of Extraordinary Ministers of Communion where they are not truly 
    needed;
-  the use of Gregorian chant and polyphony and the Latin language, as the Council 
   did ask for;
-  inculcating a silent and recollected atmosphere before and after Mass;
-  elimination by teaching and invitation of Communion in the hand;
-  providing the opportunity and example of kneeling to receive Communion;
-  phasing out, through catechesis and preaching, of the community “group grope” sign 
   of peace;
-  working with readers (if they are employed) to read well;
-  dressing in your Sunday best on Sunday, decent and respectful on weekdays;
-  women might wear chapel veils or mantillas;
-  bring the tabernacle back to the center of the church if He has been exiled;
-  bringing back traditional devotions in the church space outside of Mass 
    (novenas, Exposition, Stations, Vespers, etc.).

In my discussion last week I commented: “I’m willing to bet that any church that followed Fr. Z’s advice from this article would be bursting at the seams.” I didn’t expect to see such a liturgy any time soon.  Imagine my surprise and delight, then, this past Saturday when I found myself attending the very Mass (almost) that Fr. Z was prescribing.  The place was Thomas More College of the Liberal Arts (TMC) to which we had brought our son to kick off his college career.  A Mass was offered Saturday afternoon for the convenience of families whose travel back home after leaving off their scholarly offspring would hinder their attendance at Sunday Mass the next morning.
Marian Grotto at Thomas More College
     The TMC campus was originally a farm, and a beautiful chapel has been reverently created in what had once been a barn (a nice touch, given where Jesus Christ was born).  The first thing I noticed when I entered the chapel was the wooden altar, topped with the tabernacle and of simple but traditional design.  It appeared to be affixed to the back wall: any Mass here would necessarily be ad orientem. And I could see by the late-day sun falling on the altar from the open double door in the back of the chapel that the priest would literally be facing East (Latin purists among you might want to point out that he would also be, literally, ab occidente – but I digress).  The small chapel was almost filled (I and several of my sons had to stand), and the people were all silently praying, several of the women wearing veils. There was no music during the Mass, unfortunately (although other masses at the school do have sacred music), but a sense of reverence pervaded the entire liturgy.  The Mass was in the Ordinary form, and mostly in English, although many of the prayers (the Confiteor, Gloria, Credo, etc.) were said in Latin; there was one male altar server, who held a paten under the chins of communicants, every one of whom received kneeling on a Prie-Dieu that was brought out for communion.  The problems that arise when the “Sign of Peace” gets out of hand, so to speak (which I discuss here), were avoided by simply omitting the optional rite.
     As for Fr. Z’s last point about devotions outside of Mass, those are also abundantly available on campus (see here), as well as Mass in the Extraordinary Form every Friday (and a shuttle to bring students to another celebration in the Extraordinary Form in a local parish every Saturday).  It’s encouraging to see that this and some other Catholic colleges (allow me to refer you once again to the Cardinal Newman Society’s list, as I do here) are working hard to retain and even enhance their Catholic identity, and that they see the reverent and faithful celebration of the Eucharist as the heart of that endeavor.
     This or something like it, I think, is what the "Reform of the Reform" [here] will look like. Of course, a small Catholic college is one thing, a parish is another.  It will be even more encouraging to see the same sort of Mass start to proliferate outside the world of academia.  It’s my impression that many diocesan priests are afraid that a more traditional-looking, less informal Mass will drive lay people away.  They should take heart: most of the grumbling about, and resistance to, the new, more literal and reverent Mass translation a few years ago did not come from the laity.  Most took it in stride, and many welcomed it enthusiastically.  I'm sure the same would be true of a more traditional looking (and feeling) Ordinary Form Mass.  More importantly, there’s something else that will keep them coming back: the Real Presence of the Incarnate Word, right there on the altar.  As Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).