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Reflections On Saying Mass (And Saying It Correctly) | James V. Schall,
S. J. | June 13, 2005
Every time I am at a Mass on Sunday or a Solemnity where, contrary to
the rules, the Creed is omitted, I wonder why. The Creed is that part
of the Mass wherein we, individually and as a congregation, affirm out
loud what, in essence, we hold to be true about the Godhead. We need to
hear, affirm, and think about this Credo, as it is called; the
Church needs to hear that it is affirmed.
I asked a friend of mine about this omission of the Creed. He told me
of a parishioner he knew who noticed the same thing. He asked his pastor
about it. The pastor told him that it was omitted because the Creed was
Now, the life of Christ itself was divisive. This division is what happened
when He dwelt amongst us. "Suppose ye that I am come to give peace
on earth? I tell you, nay; but rather division" (Luke, 12:51). The
Trinity, the subject matter of the Creed, is divisive. Jews and Muslims,
among others, reject it. There is practically no point of what we believe
or know that is not "divisive" to someone. The logic of this
dubious principle skip what is "divisive" is to
believe and proclaim precisely nothing as the essence of our faith. Is
nothingness what satisfies empty minds? Another friend told me that
many of the younger priests he knew do not wear vestments at private Masses.
I have even heard of Mass in swimsuits. There is no warrant for this shedding
of proper liturgical garb, except perhaps in the failure of bishops and
superiors to insist on the normal rules of the Church. Too much bother,
Often these days, I find petition prayers after the Creed to last longer
than the Canon of the Mass itself, with seemingly interminable lists of
things to pray for, not infrequently of dubious political or moral import.
Quite often the petitions merely repeat what is already in the Canon,
itself is also in the vernacular. Why pray for the Pope in petition prayers
when we pray for him in the Canon?
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
The kneeling, standing, sitting, bowing, genuflecting aspects of Mass
and Communion are up for grabs and cause all sorts of needless controversy.
No two parishes or dioceses seem to be exactly the same or even think
they should be. When we visit a new parish we often have that bewildered
look about what is going to happen next. The old suspicions seem borne
out in practice, that if you change one thing, on the grounds that it
could be "otherwise," then everything connected with it will
be changed. I sometimes wonder whether every parish will not end up having
its own liturgy, sort of like the reformation.
If there is anything clear in the later Eucharistic documents of John
Paul II, the Roman and National Liturgical Commissions, and Benedict XVI,
it is that each priest should say Mass every day, even if he has to do
so alone, and, unless ill or infirm, properly vested.
What is even more clear is that, granted cultural variety, the Liturgy
is not up for grabs so that we can refashion it to suit our tastes in
either doctrine, wording, or movement. It is not the private property
of priest or bishop. Benedict XVI recently said to the Roman clergy assembled
in St. John Lateran, "we are not sent to proclaim ourselves or our
personal opinions, but the mystery of Christ and, in him, the measure
of true humanism" (LOsservatore Romano, May 18, 2005).
This admonition, which is really a kind of charter of freedom from the
reigning mood of recurrent adaption, is no doubt aimed at the "actor
priests." 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."
The Mass is not a staged drama at which we applaud the talent of the performers.
There really is room for quiet and awe. The priest is there to do what
the Church asks in the way the Church asks. Both of these criteria are
set down in official documents and are easy to understand by almost anyone
who takes the trouble to read them.
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.
I know there are theories that want to take away any reading or prayer
tools (i.e., rosaries or Missals) from the faithful so that they are completely
beholden to whatever the celebrant (I dislike that word) comes up with.
The Mass is absorbing, but only when it is what it is supposed to be.
If I have to worry about whether it is orthodox or proper, I cannot follow
it with attention. With no authentic text before them, people do not know
what is supposed to happen. Today the Missal should be seen both as itself
a prayer book, as it is, and as instruction and information about what
is supposed to happen.
The laity have a right to (its in Canon Law) and should avail themselves
of the duty to inform bishops, and the Holy See, when what is laid down
is not observed. How can they do this if they do not authentically know
what is supposed to be going on? They should know that the clergy are
bound to the same rules that they are reading about in the Missal. It
is also their Mass in the sense that neither the clergy or they make it
up by themselves but both observe the same rite.
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.
"The Pope is not an absolute monarch whose thoughts and desires are
law," Benedict XVI remarked at an earlier Mass, also in St. John
Lateran. "On the contrary: the Popes ministry is a guarantee
of obedience to Christ and to his Word. He must not proclaim his own ideas,
but rather constantly bind himself and the Church to obedience to Gods
Word, in the face of every attempt to adapt it or water it down, and every
form of opportunism" (LOsservatore Romano, May 11, 2005).
This spirit, of course, is what we should follow with regard to the Mass.
We are a literate and intelligent people. Our faith is a faith also directed
to intellect. We should not only know what the Mass is supposed to be
because we too can read what it is intended to be, but we should witness
what it is when we attend it.
"The authority of the Pope is not unlimited," Josef Ratzinger
wrote in The
Spirit of the Liturgy; "it is at the service of Sacred Tradition.
Still less is any kind of general freedom of manufacture,
degenerating into spontaneous improvisation, compatible with the essence
of faith and 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.
Related IgnatiusInsight.com Articles:
Ratzinger on Liturgical Music | By Michael J. Miller
to U.M. Lang's Turning Towards the Lord: Orientation in Liturgical
Prayer | By Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
at the Feet of the Lord: Pope Benedict XVI and the Liturgy | By
Anthony E. Clark, Ph.D.
and Liturgy | Denis Crouan, S.T.D.
Thomas J. Nash, author of Worthy
Is The Lamb: The Biblical Roots of the Mass
of Vatican II | By Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J.
James V. Schall, S.J., is Professor of Political Philosophy at Georgetown
He is the author of numerous books on social issues, spirituality, culture,
and literature including Another
Sort of Learning, Idylls and Rambles, On the Unseriousness of
Human Affairs: Teaching, Writing, Playing, Believing, Lecturing,
Philosophizing, Singing, Dancing, and A Student's Guide to Liberal
Read more of his essays on his
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