You will forgive me if I dwell one more Sunday on the new permission the Pope has given for the celebration of the old Latin Mass—which he names the Mass of John XXIII. I just cannot relegate it to last week’s news.
Along with teaching ever more clearly that the Catholic Church is the One True Church of Christ—this permission for the Latin Mass will define for all time—the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI.
It is also my fondest hope that we at St. Odilo in the near future might be able to bring this Mass back with some regularity and all of its beauty.
I think it would be wonderful for the life of this parish and for the spiritual life of all this area. We could be a center of the best of Catholic tradition, the best of Catholic worship—the best of Catholic music and art. And all of that would become a magnet to draw people to Christ. For is that not why we are here? For us to draw closer to Jesus ourselves and then draw others.
And truly that is one of the hopes of His Holiness, Benedict XVI—that if the Old Latin Mass is freed up, and people and priests become more familiar with it— it will have a wonderful effect on the way we celebrate and understand the English mass.
Now some people might say—how could that ever happen—how could people pray in a Mass that is not only in Latin but where the priest for almost the whole Mass is turned away from the people—he has his back to them.First he is mumbling in Latin and then for all practical purposes it looks as if he is ignoring them—avoiding them—hiding from them.
But that is not what he is doing. He is actually facing God. Since the priest addresses the prayers to God the Father, it makes sense for the priest to face God rather than the people while saying those prayers.
The word used by the Church to explain why he is facing that way is “Orientation”. He is symbolically facing the East—the Orient—the direction of the Dawn—the city of Jerusalem—the moment of Easter – Jesus’ Final coming in Glory.
Orthodox churches are very strict about this—and they would never even build a church unless it was literally facing East. We Latins we Romans were always more relaxed about that—we were satisfied as long as we considered the priest to be facing the symbolic east.
I know we are so accustomed to the priest looking at us when he says the Mass, but what can accidentally happen is that we begin to feel as if the priest is talking to us.
I sometimes wonder when I am standing there facing the congregation if the impression I am giving is not that I am addressing God but that I am discussing wonderful things about God.
I remember years ago in Cicero at Our Lady of Charity—it was bitterly cold out one morning—10-15 below— and at the Mass that day there was just the altar boy and I. And he asked me, “Father, if nobody shows up, who you will say the Mass to?”
I answered, of course, “…to God.”
But it dawned on me that this little boy and maybe a few others—kind of thought the Mass was about the priest giving a sort of lesson to the people regarding God and holy things—rather than the Mass being an objective act ofsacrificial worship.
We must realize that the priest is not turning his back to us as if he were preventing us from taking part in something that is his private personal possession.Ironically that can happen when he does face the people, because there is the temptations to believe that in order for his congregation to get all they can out of the Mass they need his endless explanations and exhortations.That it is somehow all up to him—and that he better make it peppy and snappy or it won’t work.
If facing the same way tell us anything it tells us this ritual, this ceremony is not about the priest or his personality or his flip quips or his leadership style-- that he is not the Bob Barker of Roman Catholicism-- but rather that he is the humble unworthy representative of God’s people—and he stands with them and before them as the one who leads us to the mystic Calvary of Christ— all of us marching together to the New Jerusalem.
This is not a different understanding of the Mass. It is what we believe about every mass—and what we have always believed whether the Mass was in English or Latin—whether the priest faced the people or facing God. What always takes place is the invisible unbloody Sacrifice of Christ.
What the Pope’s new permission about the Mass means is that we will more clearly understand what we believe. We will see something in the celebration of either Mass that will teach us something about every mass