You will forgive me for continuing with what has basically become a little series on the Pope’s recent ruling that any group or priest can now say the old Latin Mass—which he calls the Mass of Pope John XXIII. But I have to keep talking about it. I think of this as such a huge thing—because it has something incredibly important to do with our prayer life as Catholics—and with the most important and powerful prayer we can say—the Mass. There is not one of us who was alive during the 60’s who would have ever predicted that the Mass as we knew from our youth would ever return. We all thought it was dead. The whole world thought it was dead. Even the Pope when he was a Cardinal said he thought it was incredible that the older way of celebrating Mass was now actually despised by some people—and the Cardinal asked how could that have ever occurred—that the thing we considered our holiest prayer—the liturgy that defined us was now outlawed; and if you liked the old Mass you were somehow disobedient and disloyal to the Church of Christ? And it is true that the Pope contended formonths withthe American and French Bishops whowere absolutely opposed to allowing freedom for Catholics to go to that mass. Everyone was wondering- how would the Bishops finally respond to what the Pope was planning? Well I think this Document is the Pope’s response to the Bishops—to their failures over the past 40 years— in passing on the faith— in maintaining a Catholic culture of life and family—in fostering vocations and devotion to the Mass. The Pope more or less said, “You have had forty years to make it all work—well here is my response to you.” And I am sure the Pope is confident that many good things will come to us from the Old Mass being celebrated more openly and freely. Many graces will come into our lives and into the life of the Church. First of all there will be a good influence on the way we priests and people celebrate the New mass—the Mass of Paul VI. By occasionally celebrating the old Mass we will understand more clearly that there is something so special about all masses—that it is not worship service consisting of songs and homilies and prayers—strung together in some order. We will learn very subtly that the Mass is not about the sermon—though it better be good. It is not about the music—though that must be good as well. When from time to time we celebrate the old Mass in Latin with everyone facing in the same direction- with a hundred more genuflections and signs of the cross and blessings and altar- kissings, we will learn that the Mass is an objective act of worship—beyond the priest—beyond the people—a set ceremony at which the Son of God comes down upon our altars and makes present for us --from 2000 years ago-- His own Sacrifice. Now I can imagine there are a lot of people who might say, “Mass in Latin? You have got to be kidding! No one knows Latin anymore. Maybe no one even knew it in the old days. Why on earth would anyone want to do a worship service in a language they do not understand? That they can’t have the faintest idea of what is going on.” Well that’s a good point except that it fails to acknowledge that we understand many things in our world without our spoken language being involved. Do we need a brochure to understand Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony? Would a Chopin piano concerto be better if there were words? Why doesn’t the Sistine Chapel have cartoon bubbles over the saints’ heads to tell us what is going on? Because we do not always need our language to understand something. We need light and dark, sound and silence, motion and stillness. We don’t need a line by line translation of the Mass—all we need to know is that somehow Christ has given himself up for us as our Sacrifice and then given Himself to us as our Food. It is the gestures and movement, the sounds and sights that tell us that—and maybe more surely than words by themselves. Latin, English, Spanish,Bohemian—it doesn’t make a difference—the words act as a vehicle for the real movement in the Mass which is our hearts being carried-- in a sense-- wordlessly, through the heart of the priest to the very heart of God.Heart speaks to heart- And the proof that the Mass is deeper than words is that that way of saying Mass nourished a whole Catholic society for centuries and centuries. My parents went to that Mass—as did my grandparents and great grandparents-- on and on for millennia. My people spoke Irish and Italian before they spoke English—and the last time anyone in my family spoke Latin was around the Fall of the Roman Empire: but they had no problems understanding so deeply what was going on in the Mass. It was about Jesus and them. I have no doubt thatmy vocation came while serving that Mass at St. Rita’s—And I didn’t know Latin any better than the 6th grader next to me -- but I loved the Mass—and wanted to be a priest. We know that the vocations of millions of young men to the priesthood and women to the sisterhood was nourished at that Mass—and this despite the fact they did not really know Latin.
In the final analysis no one needs to hear or understand the literal meaning of every word or any word.It is enough to know that somehow Christ is being offered in an unbloody manner for the sake of our souls. And if you know that—you know what the Mass is all about.