Tuesday, June 28, 2005 +

“The Greatness of the Liturgy Depends on Its Unspontaneity”

Excerpts from “Reflections On Saying Mass (And Saying It Correctly)”, by James V. Schall, S. J. Thanks to The Anchoress.

What happens at the amazingly poorly named “kiss of peace” is too amusing to recount. No aspect of the current Mass is more inappropriately placed. It distracts us from what is going on at Communion at the very moment we ought not to be so distracted. I believe at the Brompton Oratory in London it is placed elsewhere. Josef Cardinal Ratzinger, in The Spirit of the Liturgy, praises the Church of Zaire for placing it before the Presentation of the Gifts. He adds that this placing “would be desirable for the whole Roman Rite, insofar as the sign of peace is something we want to retain” (p. 170). That is, we may not want to retain it.

The kneeling, standing, sitting, bowing, genuflecting aspects of Mass and Communion are up for grabs and cause all sorts of needless controversy.

Josef Cardinal Ratzinger has often remarked that today the priest must, like John the Baptist, “decrease.” The show is not about him. He is not there to call attention to himself, expound his own ideas, or entertain the people, a temptation almost endemic, as Ratzinger also indicates, to “turning the altar around.”

For a long time, following publication of the General Catechism and the Code of Canon Law, I have thought what the Vatican especially needs to do is to establish a universal popular Missal, an editio typica, on which all others everywhere in the Church are based. We need to get rid of the leaflet missals, burn them all like Luther, I believe, is said to have wanted to do to Aristotle. Each person in every parish should have his own Missal, which should not be changed every month, or year. The same Missal that we took to Mass at twenty should still be used at seventy. It is a great comfort to die with the same Missal we have used all our lives. I do recognize that many of the current English translations, especially of the collects, range from atrocious to vapid in comparison to the old Latin originals.

Each language group should have a common Missal, easily purchased in expensive or inexpensive versions. On one side is the official Latin text, the same in all missals; on the opposite page the corresponding vernacular—whether German, Greek, Arabic, English, French, Spanish, whatever—in exact translation. Nothing is wrong with old and familiar translations. The rubrics about what the priest should do and wear should be quite clear in the text and easily known by the reader. Latin should be used once in a while, if not often. The translation is right there. Everyone has what is being said or sung right there in front of him.

Even the slightest changes in wording and gesture usually imply a veering in thinking or understanding, even in doctrine. C. S. Lewis pointed out that we cannot say liturgical prayers together if the celebrant or other minister is making up the words as he goes along. The Mass words are very precise, very much expressive of a definite, well thought out understanding of who the Father is, who Christ is, what this sacrifice of the Mass is about in each of its details. Moreover, there is absolutely nothing wrong with reading what is also being said. In fact, it is often a help in praying the Mass, both because rarely in the average church are the acoustics and pronunciations clear enough for everyone to hear and because understanding takes constant repetition and attention.

Josef Ratzinger wrote in The Spirit of the Liturgy, “ . . . The greatness of the liturgy depends—we shall have to repeat this frequently—on its unspontaneity" (p. 166). That is a worthy conclusion to what I want to say here—“the greatness of the liturgy depends on its unspontaneity.” It is unfortunate that we have to repeat this reminder so frequently.

I add:

1. Many people now regularly attend Sunday Mass outside their own parishes. This is a very bad sign.

2. Remove “Take this, all of you, and drink from it” from the Mass, or give Communion under both species.

See also Notes 16 and Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Foreword to U.M. Lang’s Turning Towards the Lord: Orientation in Liturgical Prayer.