A UK TLM recounted

Damien Thompson has in an report worth paying attention to.  What I find especially interesting is the exploration of some themes we have been presenting here for a long time:

Latin Mass marries beauty and truth
Posted by Damian Thompson on 12 Jun 2008  at 17:11

Last night I attended what may have been the most beautiful religious service of my life.  Fr Julian Large (a former Telegraph journalist) celebrated the traditional Mass in the Little Oratory to mark the publication of Alessandra Borghese’s book In the Footsteps of Joseph Ratzinger. The experience was unforgettable.

This was splendid Roman liturgy on an intimate scale. Fr Julian, wearing a blood-red chasuble embroidered in gold, gave a virtuoso demonstration of the sacred gestures of the traditional Missal, almost hidden at times by great pillars of incense. The effect was solemn, not remotely camp. And, because the priest offered the sacrifice of the Mass ad orientem – facing the same way as the people – his personality become irrelevant.

Princess Borghese’s book, whose publication was sponsored by Sir Rocco Forte, is an intimate and affectionate exploration of Benedict XVI’s Bavarian roots. The Pope would have been delighted that she chose to launch it with a Mass using the older Missal – which is superior in so many ways to the hastily assembled (and barbarously translated) Bugnini Missal forced on the Church in 1970.

A few years ago I read a remarkable article by the Australian Dominican Fr Efraem Chiffley, entitled “Sacrifice and Sacred Space”, which suggested that eastward-facing liturgy is more closely linked to man’s natural orientation to the sacred – manifested even in ceremonies as remote from Christianity as those of the Aborigines – than mundane “chat show” services.

Another Dominican, Fr Aidan Nichols – whom I hope the Holy Father is taking seriously as a candidate to succeed Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor – makes a similar point. “Rites that do not allow a sense of distance deny to the people, paradoxically, a means of appropriating the act of worship, crippling them just at the point where they could be taking off Godward by a leap of religious imagination,” he writes.

There is not much physical distance between priest and people in the Brompton Oratory’s chapel. Yet the sense of cosmic possibility created by the rubric left the worshippers awestruck and perhaps a little unsettled. At dinner afterwards, the conversation kept returning to the Mass we had attended, so great was the impression it created.

Interestingly, in her speech the princess spoke not about the finer points of liturgy but about her personal relationship with Jesus. And listening to her approvingly, I noticed, was none other than Nicky Gumbel, vicar of the distinctly Protestant Holy Trinity Brompton next door.

Gumbel’s Alpha Course has revived parts of the Church of England with modern orthodoxy. Pope Benedict wishes to revive the whole Catholic Church by reintroducing orthodox liturgy to a Church impoverished by the 40-year tyranny of the Sandalistas. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the future of English Catholicism depends on the appointment of an Archbishop of Westminster who shares his vision. But where can we find such a man?

Frankly, they could consider the parish priest of Blackfen.

What are some of the important issues this piece raises?

The priest is not the center, though he is central to the sacred action.  Jesus Christ is the true Actor in Holy Mass.  The priest is alter Christus.  But the priest must not allow himself to become the focus of the action.  Aside from ad orientem worship, the older form of Mass, with its more precise rubrics, has a built in way of controlling the priest.  During the 2005 Synod of Bishops a constant point of reflection was ars celebrandi, the "art of celebrating" the sacred liturgy.  Much depends on the priest, and his manner, but – in a deeper sense – nothing must depend on him insofar as his own force of will or personality is concerned.  The priest must learn a delicate balance.

Ad orientem worship is so important on so many levels.  Not only does it help control the priest, keep his personality out of the way, but it also keeps everyone focused on eschatological dimension of Mass: Christ will come.  I share the opinion of the great liturgist Klaus Gamber, that one of the most damaging changes after the Council was the turning around of altars.  And it was all so unnecessary: the documents did not demand that Mass be celebrated versus populum but over time the impression was given that it was obligatory.  Now, hesitantly… hestitantly… we are working back in the right direction.  Pope Benedict wrote about ad orientem worship, and argued for its superiority to versus populum worship.  However, when he wrote about that years ago, he warned that we should move carefully in the "right direction" without created yet another shock to the Catholic people.   But we have come to the right moment to move forward.

Also, every Mass should direct us toward an encounter with Mystery, should promote "awe at transcendence".  Each rite does this in a different way.  There are times in the Roman Rite when you cannot hear what is going on and others when you cannot see.  The language itself is, should be, separated from daily speech, either because it is in liturgical Latin, or because the translation harks to the Latin original and has vocabulary which is not common to the lowest denominator.  The movement, gestures and words should look beyond the present time and the local space so that you will not be locked within yourself or within your community.  Instead, by giving up that familiarity, you are increased beyond yourself.



About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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