Sunday, July 29, 2012

Silence and Participation at Mass

When we turn our attention to the Latin Mass, the Extraordinary Form is frequently criticized for lacking "participation."  Upon hearing this, the traditionalist offers a riposte about different theologies of participation, the deficiencies of this or that, you know the drill.  Very rarely does anybody have success convincing either side.

I would like to do something different.  I will freely concede that for a decent number of people, they are not participating properly at Mass.  I myself have been guilty of this.  I bet you have as well.  My mind has spaced out when a priest speaks in English and in Latin.  I have words I "understand" come off flat from my mouth, and a phrase spoken in Latin carry more meaning, and vice versa.  Whenever the issue of participation comes up, we should just simply point out one fact.  Catholics behaving badly is not the fault of this or that liturgical form.  After stating that, we must then dismiss the issue at hand.  Instead, let us focus on what true participation is.  In order to do that, we must first focus on what we are as individuals.

Each and every person truly is a complex work of art.  For one, we have a body.  We also have deep knowledge of our bodies.  Therefore in worshipping God, we use what we know best.  That body conducts different motions that convey certain expressions and attitudes.    When Moses encountered God, he is instructed to remove his sandals, for he was stepping on Holy Ground.  What he did with his feet was significant in how he worshipped God.  With feet and tongue, David worshipped God in dancing around the ark, and composing some of the most beautiful Psalms.  Yet God also said that in true worship of him "all flesh will keep silence", as the prophet Habakkuk relates.

To add to this complexity we have our intellect.  With our intellect comes reason, and with reason we find a path to God.  Our God wants to be known and in many ways understood by man.  Just as we use our intellect to ponder the depths of a friendship with someone, we can do likewise with God, coming to a greater understanding and love of Him by thinking of things concerning Him.  Yet sometimes God appears in ways the intellect cannot fathom.  The author of  Ecclesiastes had knowledge surpassing all man, and yet found knowledge vanity when contemplating God.  Paul spent his life plunging deeper and deeper intellectually into understanding God and His Holy Law.  Yet the closest encounter he had with God involved him being struck dumbfounded and on the ground.

Finally, we can add emotional sentiments onto this complexity.  Many times these are a mix of physical and intellectual things.  These are also used in finding God.  When King David recognized his sinful ways, he was overwhelmed with emotion.  These emotions are also caused by gladness, such as when Zechariah proclaimed his joy in God's wonders upon the birth of his son John the Baptist.  Yet for all the importance of emotions, St. John of the Cross describes encountering Christ, whose very touch suspended all senses and emotions.

Knowing all these facts, what can we say about worship?  First and foremost, there is no one singular way to worship.  As with all things human, there are limitations.  The Mass overcomes these limitations by including all the different forms of worship.  Not only is there something for everybody, everybody will experience the full spectrum of worship.

Considered from this perspective, the question about whether or not we are participating properly at Mass takes on new meaning.  Not by mistake did the Council of Vatican II call for participation which is not just "active", but "full and active", that is, spanning the entirety of the human condition.  If you approach every part of mass every time with nothing but stoic contemplation, you are missing the chances where we publicly and vocally affirm our faith in God.  Yet on the other side of that coin, we cannot focus so much on the vocal aspect of things that we neglect the times when silent adoration is called for.  Neither is inherently superior, rather both are superior in their own proper times.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Why Latin?

When people find out you attend a Latin Mass, they always get hung up on the Latin part.  I remember taking a trip down to Franciscan University of Stuebenville, and spending the evening with a group of otherwise perfectly orthodox Catholics.  When a young lady learned I went to the Latin Mass, her response sticks with me to this day.  "Why Latin?  Don't you believe in the Holy Spirit and Vatican II?"  Crazy as it sounds, she didn't mean anything  ill by it.

To many, the Latin Mass is constructed as follows.  The congregation sits with their faces buried in a missal (or fingers thumbing on a Rosary) while the priest has his back turned to the faithful praying in silence so you can't hear him.  When you can hear him, it's in a language you deliberately cannot understand.  If that's how it has been taught to you, one would certainly think there's nothing about the Holy Spirit there!

From a certain perspective, there are elements of truth to each of these statements.  Yet that doesn't change the fact this characterization of the Churches ancient liturgy couldn't be any further from the truth.  Let us consider the use of the Latin language.

In my regular career, I work in a data center for a global corporation.  That data center is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  The servers in that data center are accessed by individuals in over 40  countries.  In those countries exist people speaking even more languages.  Many times, I have to be in touch with these individuals speaking a variety of languages.  We need to speak in a language we both understand.  In this case, every global support contact for our company has to be fluent in English.  Whether I am speaking to Jaromir in Kostelec, Azmat in Russia, Ignacio in Mexico City, we communicate in and are understood in one language.  If one prefers a nerdier example, a physicist in Tokyo and a physicist in New York can communicate to each other in their work even if neither knows the language the other speaks.  They speak through the language of mathematics.

The Catholic Church is like the business I work for in the aspect of its size.  She spans countless cultures and languages.  Whenever Catholic leaders from across the globe put together things having to do with the Catholic Faith, they as well have a universal language.  The documents of an Ecumenical Council are worthless from a doctrinal point of view unless in Latin.  The official liturgical books are only authoritative in the  Latin.  Attempt to write something authoritative on canon law in your native tongue with no reference to the Latin, and your likely to get laughed out of whatever venue you are in.  Precisely because the Church exists here on earth on a global scale, you need that universal language.

"Well that is the Church on a greater level.  What about the individual Church?"  You will frequently hear that question asked.  I will only say one thing.  If you look at the Mass you celebrate as different from the Mass celebrated in other Churches, you are doing it wrong.  There is only one sacrifice of the Mass.  That is celebrated in heaven, outside of time.  This one offering is made present on the altars throughout the world, due to a miracle.  No matter which day we attend Mass, we are attending the same Mass, the same sacrifice.  It was for this symbolic reason that masses were in a universal language.

Yet why Latin?  Why not English, or Swahili for that matter?  In short, it is what worked best throughout history.  There's no divine or theological reasoning behind it.  Latin was the language of all of Christianity for at least the first several centuries.   Latin was the language of the Roman Empire.  When the Empire fell, the Latin language influenced countless languages.  Most importantly, it fell out of use.  The meanings of the phrases became fixed.  In our English language, one need only look at such terms like "liberal" or "conservative" at the founding of our country, to how they are used today.  That dead language is one that can be reasonably learned by the greatest amount of people and the meaning of those words will be consistent and reliable.

Yet most importantly, this language links you to a greater tradition and patrimony.  When Christ celebrated the Passover Seder, he did not do so in the common language.  He said it in the dialect and tongue of those first Hebrews as they left Egypt.  In the thousands of years since, the language had developed.  By using the same words in the same language, it was yet another way to make present the anamnesis of the Seder.  Our defecient English language translates anamnesis as "remembrance."  To the Jew celebrating Passover (and the Catholic celebrating Mass), the "remembrance" or "memorial offering" is something far deeper.  When they partake in the rituals of the Passover, they are living what is symbolized by them.  When we Catholics of the Roman Rite assist at or celebrate Mass, we use that Latin language as a way to unite ourselves to those first Roman priests who celebrated Mass on the tombs of martyrs.  We unite ourselves with the Popes who carefully through the years developed organically that liturgy.

Does this mean that a Mass not done in Latin is somehow less of a Mass?  Certainly not!  Yet when dealing with such sublime mysteries, we go as far as possible  in immersing ourselves in them.  When dealing with the Mass, one cannot immerse themselves in it enough.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Why a Latin Wedding?

Whenever people here of our engagement, people always ask "So where are you going to be married?"  When they hear St. Josaphat in Detroit, a lot of people know how beautiful the Church isSeriously, its reputation precedes itself.  When they hear that we are having the nuptial mass according to the Extraordinary Form (or a Latin Mass Wedding), the reactions are mainly mixed, in and of itself a good thing.

That the reaction is simply "mixed" and not outright scorn and ostracizing is a sign that yes, the Latin Mass has found itself a place in today's Catholicism.  Is some of that scorn still present?  Indeed, yet for the most part that scorn is kept silent.  The far more likely reaction is either curiosity or confusion.  A lot of non-catholics (or those no longer practicing) have given most of the curiosity.  In an irony of ironies, traditionalism is a novelty today, and they are fascinated by the novelty if nothing else.  Others love the beauty.  To those curious, they can only attend our wedding and find out.

My focus today (and for quite some time) is on the confused.  It isn't that they are hostile to the idea of a Latin Mass Wedding.  They just don't understand what the big deal is.  I do not know if I can accurately convey why I view it a big deal.  Yet I hope to offer an explantion for why I love this way of celebrating Mass.

Throughout 2011 I did a series here at Common Sense Catholicism explaining various facets of the Extraordinary Form.  I'd like to revisit those works and reboot them with these considerations in mind.  The first section of postings will center around various questions about the Latin Mass and some basic answers, while the second portion will focus on the individual prayers contained in the Mass and the great meaning behind them.  Even if one attends nothing but the Ordinary Form, I hope this helps you in achieving a greater understanding of the one Mass, no matter how it be celebrated here on Earth, for it is the same in heaven.

Allow Myself to Reintroduce Myself

It certainly has been an interesting eleven months.  A lot has changed since then in my life and I'm sure those readers who were around before.  I went from being a rather busy blogger to disappearing.  Why?  A combination of marathon Skyrim sessions (getting the game to 95% complete takes a lot longer than you might think, and you might think it takes pretty darn long!) and the relationship I've been in for now almost two years.  That relationship has now led to an engagement set for June 1st, 2013.

Fast forward to today.  I've burned myself out on Skyrim, and PC gaming in general.  Even if I haven't been writing actively, I haven't completely disappeared.  The TOB debates still ravaged in the background, and I managed to participate when my advice was asked.  My traditionalism remained as always.  Indeed, I simply found different ways of expressing a lot of the things that I've written about, this time through actions instead of words.

Yet all exiles end eventually, and this one is no different.  For awhile I lacked a reason to write.  I now have a reason, which I hope to make clear throughout the following posts.  Yet in the end, there is one reason above all to write.  I once again enjoy doing so.  This isn't a career for me.  I had that chance yet felt called elsewhere.  Yet if it is not a career, it is still a huge part of my life.  That I have fun doing this I hope will come across in these writings.  Far too often my ideological kindred are doom and gloom.  It is hard not to be.  Yet the grace of God is meant to liberate human nature, and that liberation also comes from gloom and despair.  We represent a way of looking at the world that has lifted billions out of despair and sin, and guided them towards true and eternal happiness.  Why on earth would anyone belonging to such a patrimony be gloomy?

A lot of the projects I worked on in the past will resurface or be rebooted with the freshness these past eleven months have provided.  With that let us continue on our journey..... at least until The Elder Scrolls VI, future children, or a Detroit Tigers championship come upon us, whichever come first.