Perhaps it's because I just read the article on the Mass by Dietrich Von Hildebrand which I posted earlier this morning, but I found the experience particularly disturbing. So I came home and reread Dietrich Von Hildebrand's article. Let me highlight some points he made and questions he asked that were illustrated by this morning's Mass which was certainly not unorthodox:
- Does the new Mass, more than the old, bestir the human spirit–does it evoke a sense of eternity? Does it help raise our hearts from the concerns of everyday life–from the purely natural aspects of the world–to Christ? Does it increase reverence, an appreciation of the sacred? The answer from my perspective? No. The Mass was a rather typical Novus Ordo. The priest was not a showman. His homily was fine, if not inspired. But was there and air of "reverence" or an "appreciation of the sacred?" Not that I could tell.
- Reverence is of capital importance to all the fundamental domains of man’s life. It can be rightly called “the mother of all virtues,” for it is the basic attitude that all virtues presuppose... Reverence gives being the opportunity to unfold itself, to, as it were, speak to us; to fecundate our minds. Therefore reverence is indispensable to any adequate knowledge of being. The depth and plenitude of being, and above all its mysteries, will never be revealed to any but the reverent mind. There was little evidence this morning of reverence either during the liturgy or before and, particularly, after Mass. If all the talkers in the church believed in the Real Presence, it sure didn't show. I had to hustle my grandchildren out of the church with the admonition not to socialize until we were outside.
- Only the reverent man who is ready to admit the existence of something greater than himself, who is willing to be silent and let the object speak to him–who opens himself–is capable of entering the sublime world of values. Not even thirty seconds of silence occurred during the Mass. We often hear that prayer requires not only speaking to God, but listening. Certainly at the Mass that should be a crucial element. It was non-existent this morning. Trying to meditate after Communion required mental competition with the banal Communion song, Blessed are They that proclaims not the holiness of God but us.
- Do we better meet Christ by soaring up to Him, or by dragging Him down into our workaday world? No answer needed.
- In no domain is reverence more important than religion. As we have seen, it profoundly affects the relation of man to God. But beyond that it pervades the entire religion, especially the worship of God. There is an intimate link between reverence and sacredness: reverence permits us to experience the sacred, to rise above the profane; irreverence blinds us to the entire world of the sacred. Reverence, including awe-indeed, fear and trembling-is the specific response to the sacred. There was no sense of "awe" this morning, no "fear and trembling" approaching the living God. It was a celebration of the community which is one of the major critiques of the traditionalists about the Novus Ordo.
- Nothing could better obstruct the confrontation of man with God than the notion that we 'go unto the altar of God' as we would go to a pleasant, relaxing social gathering. This is why the Latin Mass with Gregorian chant, which raises us up to a sacred atmosphere, is vastly superior to a vernacular Mass with popular songs, which leaves us in a profane, merely natural atmosphere. Amen! And the socializing in the church after Mass indicates that the congregation is just extending the "pleasant, relaxing social gathering" of the Mass to the time afterwards.
- The new liturgy actually threatens to frustrate the confrontation with Christ, for it discourages reverence in the face of mystery, precludes awe, and all but extinguishes a sense of sacredness. An obvious fact in view of the way people act and dress.
- What really matters, surely, is not whether the faithful feel at home at Mass, but whether they are drawn out of their ordinary lives into the world of Christ–whether their attitude is the response of ultimate reverence: whether they are imbued with the reality of Christ.
- Is it not plain that frequently the community character of the new Mass is purely profane, that, as with other social gatherings, its blend of casual relaxation and bustling activity precludes a reverent, contemplative confrontation with Christ and with the ineffable mystery of the Eucharist? There was little sense of mystery and no sense of awe!
- Whence comes the disparagement of kneeling? Why should the Eucharist be received standing? Is not kneeling, in our culture, the classic expression of adoring reverence? The argument that at a meal we should stand rather than kneel is hardly convincing. For one thing, this is not the natural posture for eating: we sit, and in Christ’s time one lay down. But more important, it is a specifically irreverent conception of the Eucharist to stress its character as a meal at the cost of its unique character as a holy mystery. Stressing the meal at the expense of the sacrament surely betrays a tendency to obscure the sacredness of the sacrifice. This is one of the common criticisms raised by the traditionalists which is obviously well-grounded in the truth as Von Hildebrand sees it.
- A Catholic should regard his liturgy with pietas. He should revere, and therefore fear to abandon the prayers and postures and music that have been approved by so many saints throughout the Christian era and delivered to us as a precious heritage. To go no further: the illusion that we can replace the Gregorian chant, with its inspired hymns and rhythms, by equally fine, if not better, music betrays a ridiculous self-assurance and lack of self-knowledge. Let us not forget that throughout Christianity’s history. silence and solitude, contemplation and recollection, have been considered necessary to achieve a real confrontation with God. This is not only the counsel of the Christian tradition, which should be respected out of pietas; it is rooted in human nature. Recollection is the necessary basis for true communion in much the same way as contemplation provides the necessary basis for true action in the vineyard of the Lord. A superficial type of communion–the jovial comradeship of a social affair–draws us out onto the periphery. A truly Christian communion draws us into the spiritual deeps. There were no "spiritual deeps" at this morning's Mass I'm afraid. Von Hildebrand's description of "bustling activity" and "profane irreverence" would more accurately describe it.
The last paragraph of the article warns against an overly individualistic approach to the liturgy and then states the antidote:
- The fundamental laws of the religious life that govern the imitation of Christ, the transformation in Christ, do not change according to the moods and habits of the historical moment. The difference between a superficial community experience and a profound community experience is always the same. Recollection and contemplative adoration of Christ–which only reverence makes possible.
And that is the fundamental thing missing from most of our liturgies these days -- true reverence. Obviously, a person can approach the Mass with reverence and practice it despite what's happening around him, but when the atmosphere of the Mass is worldly...it becomes a real challenge.