Friday, February 02, 2007

Introibo ad altare Dei

This was first posted on Introibo ad altare Dei 16 November 2006. I've been meaning to move it over here anyway, but Rorate caeli has posted an excellent essay on 31 Jan which is quite relevant. It's worth your time. However, what follows are my own sentiments on the matter.

"Introibo ad altare Dei: I will go unto the altar of God." So intones the priest as he begins the liturgy of the Traditional Latin Mass. So well known were some of these Latin phrases prior to 1970 that they were part of the vernacular: Buck Milligan would say the Introibo (sardonically) when preparing to shave in James Joyce's Ulysses, and I recall the Doonesbury character Zonker quipping Mea culpa (from the Confiteor) in a strip from the early 1970's. Finally, to round things out, we have hocus pocus, a lovely phrase used originally to identify jugglers, tricksters, and the tricks they performed. There are various theories regarding the origin of hocus pocus; one of these is that the words are an intentional ridicule of part of the Mass, the consecration of the bread by the priest: Hoc est enim corpus meum, "For this is My Body..." You see, in the center of the Mass is the re-presentation (in the sense of, making present), in an unbloody way, of Christ's sacrifice for us. When the ordained priest says the words of consecration in the Mass, Christ becomes present, entirely, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, under the accidents of the bread and wine. After consecration it is The Precious Body which is there, in the consecrated hands of the priest, under the accident of bread. Likewise it is The Precious Blood truly present, under the accident of the wine. So the Church teaches. This is not magic, and it is not hocus pocus. It is the Sacrament of the Eucharist, instituted by Christ himself.

All of these popular references became obscure, however, when the Novus ordo - New Order - Mass of Pope Paul VI was promulgated in 1970. Although it was popularly held that the Traditional Latin Mass, also known as the Tridentine Rite (in reference to the Council of Trent) was officially suppressed at the same time the Novus ordo was promulgated, such was not the case. It did, however, go underground for a variety of reasons, but recently it's been making a comeback throughout the Catholic world. The Coalition Ecclesia Dei lists 20 Latin Masses in 1980 in the U.S., and over 220 in 2006. In addition, there are at least three orders forming priests in the Traditional ways of the Church, to include properly saying the Traditional Latin Mass: The Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, The Institute of Christ the King, Sovereign Priest, and The Society of St. Pius X. The Society of St. Pius X is in a somewhat irregular status vis a vis the Vatican, the details of which do not concern us here. Suffice it to say that, in my opinion, we would have neither the Fraternal Society of St. Peter nor the Institute of Christ the King were it not for the Society of St. Pius X, and there we shall let the matter rest.

Why is any of this important, since most American Catholics have hazy memories, or none at all, of the Mass of All Time? Simply this: most Catholics today who love the Church know that something is wrong, very wrong. A generation ago the Church opened her arms to the world, and rapidly found herself ensnared in the web of the world's evil, from which it sometimes seems that there is no escape. The more she struggles, the tighter the web pulls. One of the surest and saddest symptoms of the sickness within the Church is the loss of understanding, and the loss of faith, among the faithful. This is reflected in the lack of understanding among Catholics on many things which concern us in this journal: Church teaching on contraception, abortion, and the long and growing list of things derived from those first two. But, these are peripheral things, and they are all symptoms, surface presentations of the deep sickness within the Body of Christ: a lack of faith in Christ and the Church that He founded. That is the illness. What is the cure?

Lex orandi, lex credendi. Fr. Anthony Manupella, in the March, 2002 issue of Homiletic and Pastoral Review, wrote that the original axiom was stated by Pope St. Celestine in 422 AD as, Legem credendi statuit lex orandi, or, "the rule of prayer determines the rule of faith." This has been shortened to, "As we pray, we believe". As is sometimes the case, those who are in opposition to the Church see this more clearly than many within the Church: a brief scan of any atheist website will produce short paragraphs explaining that how a person prays will influence what a person believes. This is why how we worship God, that is, the form (liturgy) we use in worship, has such an influence in the long run regarding what we believe about God, and our relationship to Him. If we worship God in a casual way, focusing more on ourselves than Him, we will come to believe He is a casual God, Who is ready, at our convenience, to chat about things over a nice cup of latte. Conversely, if we worship God like He is the Creator and Lord of all, and further, that He is a mystery, who nevertheless loves us and desires our salvation, well, sooner or later we'll begin to believe that, and accept it.

This is not to say that a reversion to the Traditional Latin Mass will magically fix the problems in the Church. After all, the forces unleashed by the Second Vatican Council in 1965 were endorsed by men who were formed within the Traditional Latin Mass. However, I believe that the resumption of widespread use of the Latin Mass is a necessary first step in order to begin the long process of restoration. Lex orandi, lex credendi. Further, I believe that this will happen, given time. The Novus ordo is sterile, you see. It doesn't make priests. Forty years from now who will be saying the Novus ordo? But as I look around in the little chapel where I and my family assist at Mass, and see the five or six (or seven) altar boys (including the oldest of my sons) in the procession, surrounding the altar, assisting the priest, who has himself become small, blending himself into the Holy Sacrifice at the great altar of God, I believe this (and these are not my words, but the words of our priest): the Church will right herself, the Divine equilibrium will assert itself, in God’s own time.


Anonymous said...

"The Novus ordo is sterile. It doesn't make priests."

Isn't it ironic that the dissent on Humanae Vitae paralleled so closely the time period of the introduction of the Novus Ordo Missae?

Great essay, thank you.

Andrew said...

A very good article.

I'm a medical student attending the traditional rite on Sundays. It certainly helps me get through the week.

Keep up the good work.