"It is...Our will that Catholics should abstain from certain appellations which have recently been brought into use to distinguish one group of Catholics from another. They are to be avoided not only as 'profane novelties of words,' out of harmony with both truth and justice, but also because they give rise to great trouble and confusion among Catholics. Such is the nature of Catholicism that it does not admit of more or less, but must be held as a whole or as a whole rejected: 'This is the Catholic faith, which unless a man believe faithfully and firmly; he cannot be saved' (Athanasian Creed). There is no need of adding any qualifying terms to the profession of Catholicism: it is quite enough for each one to proclaim 'Christian is my name and Catholic my surname,' only let him endeavour to be in reality what he calls himself." -- Pope Benedict XV, Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum 24 (1914)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Theology of the Mass


Posted by Fr. Allan J. McDonald at Friday, August 24, 2012

Paul Ford a liturgist and pastoral musician wrote the following: “But what are we saying during the Institution Narrative, “Take this, all of you, and eat/drink of/from it,” if we really mean “only those who are Catholics in good standing who have also observed the fast”? ”

But that made me think that his take on this is precisely what is wrong with our theology of the Mass in the post-Vatican II era and it has to do with liturgical literalism as it concerns the Last Supper and the bodily gestures of the priest and the direction in which he faces!

In fact the Institution Narrative in the Eucharistic is a prayer to God recalling the specific event of the Last Supper and the words are directed to the Apostles who alone are present as an anticipation of Good Friday’s Sacrifice and how they will offer that one Sacrifice in perpetuity as a Memorial of the Good Friday event. Only a literal expression of that by the priest facing the people and gesturing to them would make anyone feel as though this prayer is directed to them literally rather than simply a prayer recalling a specific historical event directed to God in prayer. I’ve seen priests change the rubrics and gesture toward the people dramatically during the consecration as though the congregation is the “Apostles” and the words are directed to them rather than God. That’s the pitfall of the priest facing the congregation during this prayer to God that is highly stylistic and not literalistic.

Rather the laity are called to the Banquet of the Sacrifice at the “Ecce Agnus Dei.” “Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him Who takes away the sins of the word; Blessed are those called to the Supper of the Lamb.”

The latter is directed to the laity and those called to Holy Communion and should be done facing them to make that clear and literal. In this case the Sacrifice offered through the Eucharistic Prayer with its words of institution and the share in the Eschatological Eucharistic Sacrificial Banquet which is highlighted in the Communion Rite and specifically the “Ecce Agnus Dei” and the subsequent Communion of the priest and laity form a whole and are integrally related, although as in the case of the Old Testament priest who must consume the Holocaust prior to give what is left to those outside of the holy of holies, so too does the priest-celebrant consume first the Holocaust, but not dead flesh and blood as though Good Friday is all there is, but the Glorified and Risen Body of our Lord as a result of Easter Sunday. In other words we receive the Living Lord, the Lamb of God, not a dead holocaust.

The liturgical gesture toward the people in terms of the meal aspect of the Mass is at the “Behold the Lamb of God…Blessed are those called to the Supper of the Lamb.” And this as well as the Mass in its entirety is “eschatologlical” concerning the ultimate or final things, such as death, the destiny of humanity, the Second Coming, or the Last Judgment. So in effect it goes way beyond Pentecost too. Obviously though, Good Friday’s Sacrifice would not be “memorialized” if not for Easter Sunday and if not for Easter Sunday we would not be talking about Pentecost or the Last things.

Ultimately the entire Mass is a mystery and it is a step into eternity which has no trajectory in our time constricted notions of the future in the philosophical sense, it simply is just as God is “I AM.” So we shouldn’t stop at the Last things either but go to the mind of God and back in our sense of temporal time to the creation of Adam and Eve, their original sin, subsequent actual sin, the covenants to save them, the Old Testament priesthood and sacrifice and so on to the new dispensation–there is a connection to all that too.

The Second Vatican Council did not change any dogma or doctrine. It is a pastoral council and framed the discussion of many things in a “developed” way including the Mass. But so does every encyclical a pope writes even if no new doctrines or dogmas are defined but simply described in a new or different way, which might not always be a better way or the final way.

Certainly “Pope Pius XII Mystici Corporis Christi (June 29, 1943) on the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ is one of the more important encyclicals of Pope Pius XII, because of its topic, the Church, and because its Church concept was fully included in Lumen Gentium but also strongly debated during and after Vatican II. The Church is called body, because it is a living entity; it is called the body of Christ, because Christ is its Head and Founder; it is called mystical body, because it is neither a purely physical nor a purely spiritual unity, but supernatural.”–Wikipedia

So the Mass, in whatever form one celebrates it Extraordinary, Ordinary, Eastern Rites, etc hasn’t changed, but its expression certainly does and how it is described theologically does too, but it is still the Mass and thus a Mystery.

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