Dr. Denis McNamara gave two lectures on Church architecture, sweeping quickly through many aspects of Church design, classical architecture, the meaning of many details that easily get overlooked, and why it matters. The amount of interesting information in these talks is amazing and, I believe, a lot more important than most Christians realize or probably would care to know but should. Denis is also one of the three voices on one of the best Catholic podcasts anywhere, The Liturgy Guys.
William F. Buckley Jr. was a faithful Catholic who preferred the Traditional Latin Mass and did not like the changes brought about by Vatican II or, perhaps more appropriately, the abuses in the name of Vatican II. In 1980 he devoted an episode of his television program Firing Line to discussing these changes, as well as the censure of theologian Hans Kung which had just happened.
On the show his guests were Msgr. Joseph Champlin, Michael Davies, and Malachi Martin. Fr. Champlin was a prolific author and vocal advocate of the new Mass, and a more liberal approach to Catholicism. Michael Davies was also a prolific writer and defender of the old Mass, warrior against the new Mass, and apologist of traditional Catholicism and those who continued to practice it, including Archbishop Lefebvre. Malachi Martin was also a prolific author, former Jesuit, advocate of the old Mass, frequent critic of the Church, television personality of sorts and, some would say, showman to a fault.
Here is the program:
I do not think this is one of Firing Line’s best episodes. Though the topic is of great interest to me, the guests are interesting, and the fact it stands as a kind of time capsule, nonetheless it lacks focus. On the one hand, the topic is just too big for an hour of television. On the other this is more like “inside baseball,” which, in fact, it needs to be but also suffers from. I wondered at times if the audience was bored stiff, thoroughly confused, or both.
Quick takes on each participant:
WFB: Always erudite, but his arguments remain more on the surface, expressing his personal proclivities and, I’m sure unintentionally, providing an excuse for viewers to assume he represents the old guard of stuffy Catholicism afraid of the new and exciting world of modernity and a more youth-oriented Church. And when he pushed on certain topics his interlocutors merely went their own way.
Fr. Champlin: My immediate response was negative. He seemed to represent exactly the kind of wimpy sentimentalist evasive liberal priests that turned the Church away from a cross-carrying, suffering servant, heroic virtue loving, proud-to-be Catholics, and hopeful to be martyrs Catholicism. Of course these are all stereotypes and we should be careful. Nonetheless, my inclinations are probably basically true. In light of a particular section of this program it is worth noting this observation about Fr. Champlin:
He is remembered in his own diocese of Syracuse (where he has served as Vicar of parish life and worship) for his fervent promotion and encouragement of Communion in the hand (when the practice was unlawful in the U.S.), thereby adding to the spirit of disobedience in which that practice was cultivated. He was also prominent in defending an aberrant policy of “Eucharistic hospitality” in the Diocese of Syracuse (which, in effect, permitted Protestants to receive Holy Communion in clear defiance of the restrictions contained in Vatican directives.) [From here.]
He also was wishy-washy on contraception in his popular book on marriage, “Together for Life.”
I must say, however, that clearly Fr. Champlin was “ganged up on” a bit. He was obviously (perhaps by design?) the only advocate of the new Mass, surround by three passionate and articulate advocates of the old. I think he did an excellent job of maintaining his composure and articulating his position.
Mr. Davies: He comes across a bit like a crusader, and his emotions nearly get the better of him several times. However, of all the participants he is the one I find most compelling. Like him I was a Baptist who converted to the Church. Like him I also have some Welsh blood in me, but not the Welsh culture or accent (actually his accent is from Somerset) . At times he seems ready to explode with information, which makes sense given his life’s undertaking of studying these things (and perhaps his passionate spirit). In short, compared with the others, only his arguments were actually compelling as arguments, though he did not have time to articulate them given the nature of television and the format of the show. He also kept his composure, and I hope he was able to pique the curiosity of many viewers to consider his views and his books.
Mr. (or is it Fr.?) Martin: Always entertaining, Mr. Martin loved the sound of his own voice. He seemed to be making an attempt to turn to show towards himself. I did not feel he contributed substantially to the discussion and, in fact, was a distraction. However, I do believe with a different format, for example a two hour discussion that was allowed the guests to ramble a bit more, and where he sat down with the others as a members of the group, he might have fit within the program better. Still, I never know how far to trust him.
In the summer of 1977 I was a boy of eleven looking for things to do with my friends. So, when a sci-fi samurai western fantasy movie, panned by critics and expected to fail big, came to an old single-screen theater without any air conditioning in my hometown, I and a friend just had to check it out. I loved the movie so much I saw it six times that week, and twelve times that year. Of course the movie was Star Wars.
To say the film was immensely popular is an understatement. Why it was such a hit and spawned perhaps the greatest movie franchise in history seems obvious now. The film had great characters, sets, costumes, action sequences, soundtrack, and it followed the classic hero’s journey, which meant the story had deep and broad timeless appeal. But I would also argue that its pageantry played a big role in the film’s success. In particular, the final scene before the credits, in which the principal characters get their recognition and rewards, is a scene of formal, royal, and solemn pageantry. It ties up the story in a perfect bow.
In case you need to be reminded:
I want to posit the need for this scene to exist in order for Star Wars to have succeeded. You see, human beings are designed in such a manner that proper pageantry feeds our souls, clarifies the world, and focuses our passions towards nobility — and our souls are designed to love nobility. Think of an Olympic Games medal ceremony. Is it needed? Absolutely. Does it determine who won? No. But it is the most proper action for the sport at that moment, in that setting — it is about the glory of sport. In Star Wars this final ceremony casts the rest of the story in the right light. Theses characters are not merely winners, they are glorious. And the audience is ennobled as they carry some of that nobility, now in their hearts, beyond the closing credits and into their daily lives. In short, that final scene is what the movie is all about.
I want to argue that something like that final scene in Star Wars, something like that kind of pageantry, is both proper and necessary to the Mass.
A Mass can be very simple and humble. Even the hood of a jeep on the battlefield can serve as a makeshift altar.
A Mass can also have all the royal pageantry of a coronation. Think of the coronation of a Medieval king. There is pageantry, awe, solemnity, beauty, and reverence. There is also appropriate action: kneeling, proclamations, prayers, and a crowning — which requires the physical object of a crown.
And with a coronation there is also a change in ontology. In others words, a man actually becomes a king. The pageantry is not merely symbolic. In some very real way a man has actually changed — a man made king, king made flesh. This sort of understanding is something that was lost on the way to modernity. This is something we moderns do not understand well in an overt sense.
But we still act sometimes as though it is, in fact, true. In other words we believe it, though we might want to admit it for what it is. Our actions give us away. Watching the Olympics I am struck by how many times it’s mentioned that once an athlete has become a medal winner they will always be one, and that cannot be take away from them. They have changed from a non-Olympic medalist to an Olympic medalist. They are set apart. They are now an Olympian. They walk the earth as a different creature.
There is another activity we do that speaks volumes to this reality, and that is with our liturgical action in the Mass. Catholics believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. We believe in transubstantiation, that the bread and wine truly become the body and blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Knowing what we know, the Mass becomes a pageant of Christ the King. We celebrate His death and resurrection with kneeling, proclamations, prayers, and a sacrifice. It has all the solemnity and reverence of temple worship, of a wedding, and of a coronation.
Catholics are always faced with the questions of 1) do you truly believe in the Real Presence and, if so, 2) how should behave when in the presence of your king and savior and your God? Treating the Mass for what it is obligates Catholics to certain behaviors. We may not want to be overly prescriptive and proscriptive, but it’s fair to say that we all can figure out basic ideas of of action, dress, and other factors based on our culture, history, and humanness.
God does not need our worship. We don’t go to Mass because God needs us to go. Rather, God gave us the Mass so that we might draw closer to Him, and that we might be fortified against the pressures of the world. The Mass is a gift, and worship is like a healthy diet and exercise. The closer our worship is to what is most proper, the better it is for us.
A truly solemn Novus Ordo Mass can provide this fairly well, but nothing compares to the beautiful and appropriate action of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, a.k.a. the Traditional Latin Mass. Here is an example* from a parish in Paris:
Notice how this Mass has a kind of similarity to the pageantry of the Star Wars scene above, especially once the organ begins (okay, I know it’s no John Williams score) and the procession enters the nave and sanctuary. People only do these kinds of things in the presence of royalty. A Mass like this is one of the most human activities any of us can experience. It is strangely foreign to our daily experience, but then again it is Heaven on Earth, and thus not quotidien. Still, we are made for this. God created us to need this kind of liturgy (the work of the people) and to be fed by such appropriate pageantry.
To not see this truth is to be broken in some substantial way. Modernity breaks people. The Devil breaks people. Sin does too, but modernity, as a tool of the Devil, has a special desire to rid humanity of right praise towards God. Evangelical Protestant attempts at worship recognize the need at some level, but fail because of some fundamental theological flaws, namely the disbelief in the Real Presence in the Eucharist. This disbelief has many consequences, including the development of a non-sacramental view of creation and our faith, and this leads to a false anthropology to such a degree that true Christian pageantry is lost and even disdained. Without the Real Presence there is no King in the building and thus no worship except, perhaps, our own vanity. Poor theology breaks people too.
*This example is of a SSPX Mass. I’m not including it to promote the SSPX, but they do know how to celebrate a Traditional Latin Mass, and I truly love the inclusion of the very human life that infuses the Mass — people arriving, families, sounds and textures, etc.
I like the Sign of Peace portion of the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Here is how it is described in the Order of the Mass:
Priest: Lord Jesus Christ, you said to your apostles: I leave you peace, my peace I give you. Look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church, and grant us the peace and unity of your kingdom where you live for ever and ever.
Priest: The Peace of the Lord be with you always.
All: And also with you.
Deacon or Priest: Let us offer each other a sign of peace.
[The ministers and all the people exchange an embrace, handshake, or other appropriate gesture of peace with those near them, according to local custom.]
Coming from Protestantland, and a non-sacramental, wary-of-formal-liturgy, heavy-on-teaching kind of church, I find this a wonderful moment in the liturgy. Like everything else in the liturgy, the Sign of Peace has great depth of meaning and is worth meditating on, and it might be interesting to ask what would an appropriate state of heart be at this moment in the Mass. Anyway, like many things we do at Mass, the Sign of Peace can become just another “one of those things” we do, but it shouldn’t. I also like having a moment to acknowledge with both eye and physical contact my brothers and sisters in Christ around me. It reminds that we are all in this together.
I also get the the recent request from the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments stating that the Sign of Peace should be done in a respectful and solemn manner (my words) and not be used as a time for glad-handing, roaming the church, or for the priest to come down from the altar and work the crowd. In other words, some parishes needs to “tone it down” a bit.
I don’t see a lot of this in my church, but one thing has always bothered me from the first time I attended Mass there and was a curious, no-longer-protesting, Protestant seeking the true Church, and wanting to really know what Catholics did at Mass. First, let me back up a bit. I have increasingly become convinced of the importance (radical importance) of seeing all believers as brothers and sisters in Christ, that I should not ignore (or shun) any, and that no matter who they are, no matter what social class or education level or economic strata or ethnicity, no matter how “other” they may seem to me, I should always be willing and ready to reach out to them because they are my brothers and sisters. I fail at this all the time. It’s a significant black spot in my life, but I still believe it is the right way to behave. Thus, though I believe it is good to see friends at church, and to great them affectionately, etc., I also believe the Mass should not be about seeing one’s friends.
Now, at the Sign of Peace, I always see several folks in my parish wander the sanctuary, making beelines for their friends (who just may be on the other side of the church) and giving them big hugs. As they do this, which is somewhat disruptive, they also pass by everyone else to get to their friends and then again back to their seats. This is not a particularly big issue for me, and I really do like seeing the affection for each other, but it seems that a more appropriate behavior for the Mass (and for what the Mass is about) is that one would greet whomever God has brought within close range. Give the Sign of Peace to your brothers and sisters who you may not know, but whom God has brought near. If you are to walk away from your seat to give the Sign of Peace, then seek out the person who is still sitting because they are elderly or cannot get up easily.
Of course, the recent and gentle “corrective” that’s getting more press than it deserves is, at least for us in the U.S., nothing new. Here is what our bishops say in “The General Instruction of the Roman Missal” (pp. 35-36):
The Rite of Peace
82. There follows the Rite of Peace, by which the Church entreats peace and unity for herself and for the whole human family, and the faithful express to each other their ecclesial communion and mutual charity before communicating in the Sacrament.
As for the actual sign of peace to be given, the manner is to be established by the Conference of Bishops in accordance with the culture and customs of the peoples. However, it is appropriate that each person, in a sober manner, offer the sigh of peace only to those who are nearest.
So… stay put. Give the Sign of Peace to those who are nearest to you. Then, after Mass, visit with you friends, and even give them big, affectionate hugs.
Anyway, we shouldn’t make a big deal out of it. We should just recognize the true nature of the Sign of Peace, not take it for granted, nor treat it lightly, have propriety in our actions, and love each other as authentically and with as much empathy and compassion as possible.