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Rev. John Zuhlsdorf, a scrappy blogger popular with the Catholic right.
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[T]he even more mainline Catholic Fr. Z. blog.
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There is an article by Fr. Chad Ripperger that addresses the question “Are certain masses more meritorious and efficacious to your soul than others?” It is available online at:
While the article is mainly comparing the ordinary and extraordinary forms of the Mass in this respect, it makes distinctions and gives categories that would be helpful for any comparison.
I understand it is (or used to be) standard theology that any two Masses, while both infinite in intrinsic merit, are likely–depending upon externals (including high versus low, etc.)–to differ in their efficacy as channels of grace. From a sermon by a TLM priest:
“Ex opere operato (or ‘from the work itself’) refers to the graces that we receive from the Mass itself. . . . . . Ex opere operantis (which means ‘from the work of the worker’) refers to graces that are granted to us by Our Blessed Lord according to the amount of devotion and attention with which we assist at Holy Mass. The Mass celebrated by a holy priest with much devotion is more valuable than the Mass celebrated by a priest in the state of mortal sin who celebrates in a sloppy way. All the little insignificant ‘furnishings’ also add to making us able to receive more grace in this way. Mass celebrated with beautiful vestments in an ornate church will raise our souls to better participate in these Mysteries than Mass celebrated in a locker room. Paintings and statues will move us to devotion easier than bare walls. Fasting for 3 hours will merit us more graces than fasting for one. Traveling for an hour to Mass on a Sunday will likewise grant us more grace ex opere operantis than going to a church next door to our house. So while we automatically receive a certain amount of grace from the Work itself, it depends on our attention, devotion and state of soul as to just how much more grace we may merit over and above that amount.”
Also – I occasionally see/here comments about those glorious days of the 1950s when parents knew enough to leave their children at home when they attended Mass.
And I wonder– could it be that, perhaps, some of the craziness after the council was precisely BECAUSE we Catholics did NOT take our children to Mass?
The priest at my Church is always encouraging us to bring the Children in to visit the tabernacle– even the infants. He reasons that Christ is like the sun– simply being in His Presence changes us.
Even when our minds wander, even when we are not perfectly silent, even when we have the hiccups, we are changed by Mass. Transubstantiation is a cold, hard, fact, not some subjective state that depends on your behavior. Christ is just as present to that baby who keeps trying to sing out of turn as he is to you.
Mass is NOT about feelings. It’s not about whether the congregation was paying attention hard enough. After all, the congregation is SUPERFLUOUS TO THE MASS – A Priest can say Mass alone, and JESUS IS STILL THERE.
If the other people at Mass distract you, kneel down and say a quick prayer. ASk your Guardian Angel to keep your eyes turned to Christ, and not toward that gentleman in the next pew who appears to be constructing a ball from his ear wax and OH MY GOSH. Doesn’t that woman realize that her purple polkadotted underwear is showing through her white dress? And…. Oh,…. where was I? Bells! There Are Bells! Hello, Lord! My Lord and My God! Thank you for being here, even though we certainly don’t DESERVE You……
From a priest reader:
Father Z: You have occasionally commented in your columns on the way the concept of “grace” has been excised from various prayers of the Mass (and/or from their translations), with the result that a couple of generations of Catholics are largely unfamiliar with it. I occasionally hear remarks in homilies that make me wonder whether grace has also diminished in the seminary instruction of future priests. (Although I do not recall any such indication from priests ordained in the past decade.)
An interesting quote from the Father Ripperger piece that Jayne posted:
“Among others, that, on the part of the Church, a High Mass solemnly celebrated has greater value and efficacy than merely a low Mass; – and also with regard to the Church’s impetratory power a Votive or a Requiem Mass for a special intention is more valuable and efficacious than a Mass harmonizing with the Office of the day.”
Henry Edwards: I have a question about the quotation from a homily that you quoted and was hoping that you could give more background, explanation, whatever? Your quote is “The Mass celebrated by a holy priest with much devotion is more valuable than the Mass celebrated by a priest in the state of mortal sin who celebrates in a sloppy way.”
The quotation seems to imply a Donatist interpretation of the sacraments and I was hoping you could explain more. It has always been my understanding that it is not the priest, but Christ working through the priest, who performs the sacraments. Ergo the grace regardless is being presented by Christ himself and is not affected by the worthiness of the minister.
On the issue of children at Mass, I would like to point out the practice in the Christian East. Children may receive the Blessed Sacrament whenever desired after their Chrismation, provided they are in a state of grace. Regardless of whether the Sacrament is received, the power of the Liturgy itself is an indispensable need for the child’s growth and formation in the Christian life.
If I may help here.
The piece by Father Ripperger will help to answer your question:
Dear Fr. Thomas,
I don’t feel qualified theologically to comment significantly on possible interpretations of the quotation from a homily by an FSSP priest whom I respect as one of the most knowledgeable I know. I simply quoted it a copy that I requested from him quite some time ago.
However, my own limited understanding would be that the intrinsic merit or ex opere operatio grace is independent of the personal worthiness of the priest himself.
Whereas the putative sloppiness of his celebration would be among those externals that could affect the efficacy of the particular Mass as a channel of ex opere operantis grace to individual believers and participants.
@fatherz – thanks for pointing out the importance of one’s own disposition. I have been to sloppy (though not purposely disobedient) English Masses where the holiness of the celebrant was positively sanctifying, and I went to a Tridentine Mass that left me seething for various reasons…
I love High Mass. If I were single, and did not work shift work, I would probably almost always attend High Mass. As the father of six children from 1 tom 12 years of age it does not always work that way.
My mother who lived through the council and the changes prefers the Low Mass. She asks how could one do better than St. John and the Blessed Mother at the foot of the cross. They did not sing, they witnessed.
I wonder, since mass is the un-bloody sacrifice of Calvary with the priest standing in the person of Christ, offering himself to God the Father in reparation for our sins how can it make a difference, High Mass, Low Mass, Novus Ordo Mass.
This has been a point of frequent discussion at out parish. I am interested to hear others opinions.
Sorry if this is off topic father!
As for the level of graces, I strongly agree with the priest contributor. Grace is better thought of as a Who, more than a what. Holy Eucharist is the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. You can’t get more “what” than that!
Also, comparing liturgies for “amount” of grace makes me nervous. Are we going to compare Western and Eastern rites? Is the Dominican Rite superior to the Roman Usus Antiquor (well, ok, yes, bad example. But you get my drift)?
A few comments:
1) A priest never celebrates the Mass alone. He always joins in the Heaven liturgy of the saints and angels.
2) Mass is not a private devotional. It is the work of the Liturgy, that is, the actions that you perform (bowing, striking your breast, singing, standing, kneeling, etc.) in your public worship of God. We do not go to Mass primarily to get something (i.e. grace) but to give something, worship and adoration to God as we join in the Heavenly liturgy. We also renew our commitment to our baptism and renew our Eucharistic covenant with Jesus Christ by receiving Holy Communion. It is also the way we offer our priestly sacrifices (yes, you were baptized a priest, prophet and king – just not an ordained priest) that you have made in the secular world. There are many graces received at Mass, especially when one receives Holy Communion in the state of grace. However, it seems to me that Mass is so much more than a sign instituted by Christ to impart grace. So, it would seem that the better that the public worship is offered, the more God is glorified on earth – thus making it better. Of course, the more one gives themselves to the worship and adoration of God, the more they are filled with grace.
One has to be very careful not to confuse consolations with grace, a common mistake.
Paul and others: I post entries with a topic in mind. Stick to the topic. I don’t want entries derailed.
Grace is more or less though. Grace, most grace at least, is a what not a who.
The Council of Trent was explicit on not identifying sanctifying grace with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It is a formal quality of the soul. Hence we can be said to truly merit, not only de congruo, but de condigno greater sanctifying grace, heaven and greater rewards in heaven
The distinctions that Fr. Ripperger makes are wholly valid, and are not in the least unusual except perhaps in the last 40 years. Here is a clear example. A priest is in mortal sin and offers Mass. Now the sacrifice itself is made present, and the res of the sacrament of the Eucharist is there, but insofar as the priest is praying for anything or anyone, making petitions on his behalf or ours, it lacks merit. A person in mortal sin cannot merit for himself or for others. While I will take all the prayers I can get, a person is mortal sin is objectively incapable of meriting even de congruo anything by his prayers. The Mass itself has an objective value no doubt, but the manner in which its is offered is not pleasing insofar as the priest is in sin
We could take it further, a schismatic Mass is objectively unpleasing to God, not insofar as it is a Mass, but insofar as what belongs to the Church, His Body, is performed by people against charity.
Now the dispositions of the people at Mass manifestly have an effect on the degree they merit grace. Insofar as the ritual is disposing people to the correct disposition, it is objectively better (orthodoxy after all is about correct speech of God). Otherwise we could just have the words of institution, give Communion and leave…why do anything else? That would be a Mass and hence ” equal” to all other Masses? Well the very raison d’etre of ritual at all is cast out if we could not say some ritual is objectively better than none
Further, there is absolutely no justification whatsoever for any liturgical change at all except that in some way at least the new practice is seen as better (and if one takes St. Thomas seriously, the boon must be greater than the inherent dissolution of discipline that as by necessity follows any change in discipline). If I cannot than say doing X is better than Y, I also cannot say we should start doing X instead of Y. If I cannot say that, at least in the accidental perfections of the old rite or a solemn Mass that they are better, than no one can argue back for any of the liturgical reform either and they must admit it was all purposeless violence
And if it is better, it can only be better because it is more formative of the priest and/or congregation and thus for dispositive to grace
I have recently begun reading this blog and enjoying it immensely. I just want to add my humble two cents about this subject, a lot of what is discussed here is over my head a bit. :)
My conversion turned on the fact that I recognized Jesus in the Eucharist and the act of putting myself in his presence, even before I had any understanding of how to be “properly disposed” at mass. The exposure to His presence alone gave me the grace to believe.
I take all my children to mass, even those who haven’t converted yet–and let Jesus work on them :)