I read Mass this morning. Wherein Fr. Z rants.

mass TLM

“Supplices te rogamus, omnipotens Deus: iube haec perferri per manus sancti Angeli tui in sublime altare tuum, in conspectu divinae maiestatis tuae: ut quotquot, ex hac altaris participatione sacrosanctum Filii tui, Corpus et Sanguinem sumpserimus, omni benedictione caelesti et gratia repleamur. Per eumdem Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.”

I read Mass this morning. No, actually, I sang Mass this morning, but saying “read Mass” is more fun. It annoys liberals.

We have various phrases which means basically the same thing, but with certain nuances. And old-fashioned description of what the priest does, he “reads” Mass, stresses that he is not the author, and that he is God’s instrument. “Says” Mass underscores the verbal aspect. “Celebrates” Mass emphasizes our Christian hope and optimism (perhaps too much sometimes). “Prays” Mass has always stuck me as being a little cloying, perhaps overly pious, depending on who says it, why, with what tone and how many times. Otherwise, it’s a great term.

I think it would be good to attempt to hold all these words in one’s mind simultaneously even though we pick one at a time when talking. Otherwise, how about something like “readisaycelepray”? Today I “readisaidceleprayed” Mass, of course shifting that “read” to past tense.

And notice that all of those ways have in common the concept, “Mass”. Not “liturgy”… “Mass”.

What doesn’t work is anything having to do with “preside”. That opens up all sorts of problems. The whole notion of priest – no, sorry, presbyter, as the head of the assembly, presiding at liturgy. After long doses of this sort of thing, people ( including the priest presbyter – remember, “presbyter” should always set off alarm bells), get the sense that they, too, are celebrating, praying (never reading!) “liturgy” in the same way as the … ehem… presider.  I can have a separate post on the priest/presbyter thing, why liberals want to get rid of priest and substitute presbyter and presider. (HINT: It has to do with Sacrifice.)


Let’s be clear about this.

Ten thousand million billion lay people can stand around an altar, with the arms extended, saying, praying, speaking, yodeling, Siberian Throat-Singing the words of consecration (and, yes, let’s say “consecration”, not “institution”, which is another alarm bell term).  Let them stand there for 100 years, repeating the words over and over again.   At the end of 100 years, on the altar there are still bread (now stale) and wine (probably dried up).  That’s all.  Extra  dust maybe.  No change in the substance of the bread and wine will have taken place.

Fr Z with JPSonnen at S CeciliaOn the other hand, today I was at the altar and, when reading, I said the proper words, prayerfully and with measure of Christian joy, God made them change their substance into the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ.  Had I said them loudly or whispered… same effect.  If I had merely read them, rather than intensely concentrating on their meaning, same effect.  If no other human being had been in the church, same effect.  God did it through me, as His alter Christus, not because I am earnest, not because I was celebrating or presiding, but because I am ordained and lay people aren’t.  And let’s remember that deacons are ordained but they aren’t priests.  Only priests and bishops are priests, sacerdotes, who confect the Eucharist.

Lay people in the pews have no effect whatsoever on the sacramental, real change of the bread and wine to the Body and Blood of the Lord, transubstantiation.

Of course we priests do what we do for you.

But wait!  We also do it for ourselves, whether you are there or not.

We also do it for the whole world, whether you are there or not.

Readisaycelepraying Mass is good in itself, whether there are a thousand people or not even a server.  The effects of each reverently offered Mass (that’s another word, “offer” Mass) are beyond our ken.  The renewal of Christ’s once-for-all Sacrifice has benefits for the world that we cannot fathom.

Moreover, the more Masses , the better.

Thus endeth the rant.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Joseph-Mary says:

    There is an interesting new book from Dr. Peter Kwasniewski called “Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis”. It makes many excellent point but one is about the reduction of the number of Masses in the world these days. Less priests, yes, but with concelebration there are much fewer Masses. I recall visiting Clear Creek Abbey and assisting at the Holy Sacrifice with 9 altars being used for the holy Sacrifice: 9 Masses at once. My friend and I were overwhelmed with the thought of receiving the graces of 9 Masses! In the book an example is given of a supposed monastery with 12 monks. In times past there would have been 12 Masses offered to the glory of God every day but with concelebration now perhaps only 1. Over the course of the year many thousands of Masses would have been offered in times past but now reduced to hundreds. Just think of it!

  2. frahobbit says:

    It seems I was told that at every Mass there are untold multitudes: those in Purgatory awaiting the graces to help with the suffering and to free them to go to heaven. Then there are all the angels, and redeemed people in heaven, whom we have known, and all the Saints in heaven, and then all the martyrs on Earth now as they prepare to join their sacrifice to that of Jesus, and all living the consecrated life, and all the Baptised, who say every day: “…offered in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world”…. because every Mass is in the presence of God, in whom we all dwell.

  3. Mike says:

    Two or three rants of my own:
    1a. The imposition by liberals of the euphemism presider makes no sense, as that term still connotes primacy and contradicts “communitarianism,” or whatever the iconoclasts chant these days.
    1b. Presider at least is preferable to the once frequently heard provider, a contemporaneous term of art still applied chirpily to abortionists.
    2. If Holy Mass, as I have been taught, is infinitely more efficacious than any prayer on Earth, how is it not a positive evil through frequent concelebration to markedly reduce the number of Masses that are offered daily?

  4. brhenry says:

    With all due respect, SP is not the answer. The EF is not the answer.
    Liturgical form is not the ultimate answer. The answer is Faithful Priests. Period. [Such an obvious point, it didn’t need to be made. Which is why I made my point.]

  5. Matt Robare says:

    If the priest readisayceleprays Mass, what do the laity do?

    I think I’ve most often seen “heard” and “went to” or “attend” (although attend used to be synonymous with heard or listened) and the hand missals Juventutem distributes at EF Masses contain an instruction from the Council of Trent on the faithful praying the Mass.

    Do we hearunderstandattendpray?

  6. John of Chicago says:

    I hope this is a question for a theologian–not a mathematician. As a kid I recall learning that the life, death and resurrection of Christ is of infinite value, therefore, a single Mass is of infinite worth, as well. I believe that. So, why worry about counting the number of daily Masses at a monastery or parish when one is of infinite value to the Father–just as would be two or a dozen. Aren’t additional Masses offered simply to give more people the opportunity to attend?

    [No. Every Mass is a renewal of Christ’s propitiatory Sacrifice which extends the fruits and merits of that Sacrifice to every soul in the world, whether or not they will accept them. More Masses, more graces. This is also why concelebration should be safe, legal and rare. Masses are offered because they ought to be offered, and not just so that people can attend.]

  7. YoungLatinMassGuy says:

    How my little layman’s mind works:

    Pray the Mass during Lent and Advent.

    Say or Read the Mass during Ordinary Times.

    Celebrate the Mass during Easter and Christmas.

  8. Amateur Scholastic says:

    I recommend an article by Fr Thomas Crean OP called ‘The Mass as an actual sacrifice in Catholic Tradition’, as a supplement to this post. It’s on Google.

    And it can’t be emphasised enough that any laypeople present receive the (tremendous) fruits of the offering, but it is not in any sense ‘their’ offering. It’s Christ’s — that is, the priest’s, which is the same thing. The EF shows this truth more clearly.

  9. Amateur Scholastic says:

    Oh, and I echo Joseph-Mary’s praises of Clear Creek Abbey. When I went, there were about six or seven (EF) Masses offered simultaneously in the crypt. Words can’t describe it.

    The monks also offer excellent hospitality in the Benedictine tradition, and the beer (given for Sunday lunch, perhaps not in Advent or Lent) is some of the best I’ve ever had. Book a retreat with them if you can.

  10. Cincinnati Priest says:

    Pow! Pow! POW-POW-POW!

    What’s that? The sound of countless liberal “liturgsits” heads exploding in rage while every false tenet of their ideology is exposed for the vacuous nonsense that it truly is.

    Well done, Fr. Z. As one who heard more than my fair share of these silly notions in my seminary days (often disguised in the classroom as ‘education’), I am grateful for the truth and clarity.

    Rant on!

  11. danidunn says:

    What’s wrong with the term liturgy?

    The Orthodox refer to their Mass as the Divine Liturgy. [Good for them. When I speak of what the Easterners do I, too, refer to their Divine Liturgy. I am not an Easterner. We Latins talk about MASS. Liturgy can be anything, including the singing of the hours, the administration of a sacrament, a solemn blessing, etc.]

  12. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    I like (for laypersons) the old phrase, having “to hear Mass.” :)

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  13. JBS says:

    I thought the distinction was between “saying/reading Mass” versus “singing Mass”. For example, I say Mass on weekdays and sing Mass on Sundays and solemnities. At any rate, if Christ is the Word of God, then there should be great joy in sacrificially “reading” Him into the Mass.

  14. benedetta says:

    Tremendous rant, Fr. Z. Stunning. With sincere thanks as always.

  15. Rich Leonardi says:

    Cincinnati Priest:

    Please turn a version of Fr. Z’s rant into a guest column for the Catholic Telegraph of Cincinnati. There are few dioceses in the US with a more warped sense of participation than the AOC. The ghost of Joseph Bernardin still haunts this place. Explaining what happens at Mass and who does it would be a great service to the faithful.

  16. Maltese says:

    Father, have you seen the rood screen (in person or in picture) at St. Etienne du Mont in the Latin Quarter of Paris? About six years ago I stumbled on it by accident. It is almost as beautiful as the church itself! There are only a few remaining examples to have survived the Revolution, but it gives a glimpse of the praxis that Catholics had in centuries past. The rood there is not really a “screen”, per se, but a reminder that what is taking place behind the rood screen is significant indeed. Some Orthodox churches actually have a physical barrier that is more pronounced. It is a beautiful reminder that what takes place at the altar is the highest form of prayer that man can give to God: in persona Christi offering the unbloody Sacrifice.

  17. Sandy says:

    Bravo, Father Z! Your rant covers many bases, good ones. It is so irritating to hear all the old terms go by the wayside. As you often point out, words carry weight, as in Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi. To hear the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass called the Liturgy, I want to shout at the one saying those words. There are liturgies, but only one Holy Mass. It’s often that I’m grateful for those awesome nuns who taught us properly.

  18. defreitas says:

    Years ago, when my brother-in-law was a Ukrainian Catholic seminarian (who is now a Priest), was on retreat with a group of colleagues at a Byzantine convent, they had to attend a service at their chapel. He had been told that the sisters do a “red” liturgy. Not knowing what that was, he thought that this “red” liturgy was some sort of Latinization that the sisters had introduced into their service. When they finally come together he realized exactly what it was, an entire service without any singing, or chant, with the sisters and Priest just reading the liturgy. The poor Priest having been accustomed to this reality for some time had just abandoned the traditional ritual and did what the nuns wanted. On the morning of the service, the sisters came into the Chapel, followed by the Seminarians, started their pre-liturgical prayers, and waited for the priest to open the Holy Doors. My Brother-in-law told me that when the Priest came out, and said “Blessed be the Kingdom of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now and forever”, the Seminarians all in one loud voice sang out “AMEN”. The Priest, a little surprised, quickly began to sing the Liturgy. The sisters sent dirty looks their way because, “we had actually taken over their service, but what would it have cost then to sing with us. Here we were being taught to defend our Byzantine Catholic traditions and being faced with something that was completely alien to the Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom. The Priest was very happy non the less, and invited us back any time we were in town”.

  19. quamquam says:

    Concerning the comments on concelebration, Pius XII stated that ‘With regard to the offering of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, the actions of Christ, the High Priest, are as many as are the priests celebrating, not as many as are the priests reverently hearing the Mass of a bishop or a priest.’ (Address of November 2, 1954)

    His primary target was the error that it was equivalent whether priests themselves celebrated Mass (necessarily including saying the words of consecration), or whether they simply heard the Mass of another priest. However, my point here, based on his words, is that one hundred priests concelebrating has the same sacrificial value as those one hundred priests celebrating one hundred separate Masses.

    ‘In reality, the action of the consecrating priest is the very action of Christ who acts through his minister. In the case of a concelebration in the proper sense of the word, Christ, instead of acting through one minister, acts through several. On the other hand, in a merely ceremonial concelebration, which could also be the act of a lay person, there is no question of simultaneous consecration, and this fact raises the important question: What intention and what exterior action are required to have a true concelebration and simultaneous consecration?…The concelebrants must, themselves, say over the bread and the wine: “This is my body”, This is my blood”. Otherwise, their concelebration is purely ceremonial.’ (Pius XII, Address to the Assisi Liturgical Congress, 1956)

    The upshot is, from the point of view of offering the Eucharistic Sacrifice and obtaining its fruits, nothing is lost if priests concelebrate rather than all saying separate Masses.

  20. Kathleen10 says:

    Oh poo, you call that a rant? You must not yet be feeling well. Feel better soon!

  21. Mike says:

    This is why I always cringe when the cantor at nearly every Sunday Mass at my parish says: “To preserve the sanctity of the Eucharist please turn off or silence your cell phones.”

  22. xgenerationcatholic says:

    Has anybody heard this: “Fr. so and so will perform Mass…” I saw that in a bulletin a few years ago. Perform Mass??? Who writes that stuff?

  23. Andrew says:

    Matt Robare:

    What do the laity do?

    According to the Catechism one is “obliged to participate in the Eucharist” (CCC 2180) or if you prefer the Latin “fideles obligatione tenentur Missam participandi”.

    The Code of Canon Law reads “The obligation of assisting at Mass is satisfied wherever Mass is celebrated in a catholic rite … (Can. 1248 §1) Which begs the question: is satisfied? By whom? What precisely is the understanding of such a passive and vague expression? The Latin is different and much more precise: “Praecepto de Missa participanda satisfacit qui Missae assistit ubicumque celebratur ritu catholico …” (One who assists at Mass fulfills the precept of participating at Mass wherever it is celebrated according to a catholic rite …)

    See the difference between “the obligation is satisfied” and “one who participates, satisfies the precept”? I could just say: “the obligation was satisfied by the priest: I didn’t need to be there.”

  24. rbushlow says:

    Thank you Fr. Z for your clarity and direct exposition of the issues regarding the Holy Sacrifice of The Mass.

    The best us of the term liturgy is when referring to the Eastern Catholic “Divine Liturgy”.

    Thank you for your service to Jesus Christ and His Church.

  25. jhayes says:

    Mike wrote 1a. The imposition by liberals of the euphemism presider makes no sense,

    “Presides” is the term used in the GIRM, which is an official part of the Missal. To give some samples:

    27. At Mass or the Lord’s Supper the People of God is called together, with a Priest presiding and acting in the person of Christ, to celebrate the memorial of the Lord or Eucharistic Sacrifice. In an outstanding way there applies to such a local gathering of the holy Church the promise of Christ: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in their midst” (Mt 18:20)….

    30. Among those things assigned to the Priest, the prime place is occupied by the Eucharistic Prayer, which is the high point of the whole celebration. Next are the orations, that is to say, the Collect, the Prayer over the Offerings, and the Prayer after Communion. These prayers are addressed to God by the Priest who presides over the assembly in the person of Christ, in the name of the entire holy people and of all present. Hence they are rightly called the “presidential prayers”

    32. The nature of the “presidential” parts requires that they be spoken in a loud and clear voice and that everyone listen to them attentively.[44] Therefore, while the Priest is pronouncing them, there should be no other prayers or singing, and the organ or other musical instruments should be silent.

    34. Since the celebration of Mass by its nature has a “communitarian” character, both the dialogues between the Priest and the assembled faithful, and the acclamations are of great significance; for they are not simply outward signs of communal celebration but foster and bring about communion between Priest and people.

    [See the above.]

  26. Michael says:

    I wish we would get back to calling it, not just the Mass, but the *Holy Sacrifice of the Mass*, on a regular basis!

  27. Matt R says:

    Mosy properly, a bishop presides when he cannot celebrate. This is seen in the Solemn High Mass in the presence of a greater prelate, who presides in cope and miter on more solemn occasions. This ought to be done more often…

    Good points, Father.

  28. Rant on, Father.

    I think (and this is my own musing) that it has to do with the whole notion of, as it was stated in the throw-away missallettes back in the 70s and 80s, that “liturgy is the ‘work of the assembly'” as if it’s not a Mass if there is no assembly.

    You go ahead and “read” Mass. I’ll gladly “hear” (I was going to say that, but the esteemed Dr. Peters beat me to it) Mass. They aren’t our words anyway, they’re the words that join us in space and time to the sacrifice that opened the gates of Heaven.

    I was privileged to “assist” as acolyte at Mass yesterday; Father offers Mass ad orientem at St. Vincent’s in Yardville NJ. What you say about the focus of the priest (not the presider, not the facilitator, not the whatever fashionable term gets used by the so-called experts) is true. His eyes are fixed on the sacrifice on the altar during the consecration…and his gaze is fixed during the elevation on the image on the crucifix over the tabernacle. As he says: “I know better what I am doing, and my role is to lead, not entertain”. I think he gets it (and I’ve arranged, and paid for him to attend, next year, the EF training class at St. John Cantius.)

    (I would also note that the pastor has kneelers at the head of the center aisle for those who wish to receive kneeling and on the tongue…fully half of the communicants do so…)

    Orientation and proper understanding of just what it is that is going on in the Sanctuary infuses and directs attention where it truly belongs. It’s not hard.

  29. The Masked Chicken says:

    “Ten thousand million billion lay people can stand around an altar, with the arms extended, saying, praying, speaking, yodeling, Siberian Throat-Singing the words of consecration (and, yes, let’s say “consecration”, not “institution”, which is another alarm bell term). Let them stand there for 100 years, repeating the words over and over again. At the end of 100 years, on the altar there are still bread (now stale) and wine (probably dried up). That’s all. Extra dust maybe. No change in the substance of the bread and wine will have taken place.”

    Sounds like the prophets of Ba’al.

    In the alternate universe where seldom is heard a discouraging word and the skies are not cloudy all day, they might call the priest the Transubstantionist. Has an ominous ring to it, eh?

    The Chicken

  30. The Masked Chicken says:

    Should be, Transubstantionationist. In that alternat universe, no one does proof reading, either.

    The Chicken

  31. John Nolan says:

    On Christmas Day I shall be singing, at 8 am, the Dawn Mass ‘Lux Fulgebit.’ I will then drive 4o miles to sing the Day Mass ‘Puer Natus’. Why? Because congregations want to hear it, priests want to celebrate it, and because I and a few others are competent to deliver it. All the same, it’s an enormous privilege.

  32. jhayes says:

    For the Christmas Midnight (actually starts earlier) Mass at St. Peter’s, Francis has directed that the 8-minute aria “Et Incarnatus Est” from Mozart’s unfinished Mass in C will be sung at the Credo.

    Manfred Honeck, director of the Pittsburgh Symphony will conduct a locally-assembled orchestra with the Israeli soprano Chen Reiss


  33. jhayes says:

    i.e. Great Mass in C minor K 427

  34. jplsr says:

    You left out The worst. It appears in every newspaper article. “Father or Bishop X led mass.” It must be in the AP style book.

  35. Mike says:

    . . . It appears in every newspaper article. “Father or Bishop X led mass.” . . .

    Would that some followed Mass more closely than they are wont to do.

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