Wherein Fr. Z responds to Fr. H’s “brick by brick” comment

popebenedictbrickbybricknew5tranwebThis from the inimitable Fr. Hunwicke at his always gratifying page with my Usual Treatment™:

How to introduce the Vetus Ordo to a country church overnight

For weeks before my induction I had been in the parish seeing people in their homes and in the fields … endeavouring to prepare the minds of all who would listen for the changes I contemplated making in the services.

“All had been made ready for the solemn offering of the Mass. Nicholas Peters had learnt to swing the censer, Peter Curnow … to make the responses, when on that first Sunday after my induction the people of St Hilary flocked to the church and found, in the place of a clergyman reading Dearly beloved, a strange figure in vestments at the altar with a little boy who knelt at his side. Many were watching for the first time the drama of the Mass. They were there as spectators who watch a play with a symbolism and language unknown to them. Man cries for redemption, Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison. God answers man’s despairing cry in the opening words of the Gloria in excelsis, proclaiming the advent of the promised Saviour, but still they do not understand.

“‘Whatever is he doing up there now?’ they say. ‘Can ‘e make it out at all?’ The summit of the drama is reached when, the whole company of heaven having been summoned to man’s aid, the words of consecration are spoken and the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus who offered Himself on the Cross at Calvary. They are aware of the silence, broken by the ringing of a bell. ‘Did ‘e hear the bell? What is that for, my dear’ they whisper. The bell rings again at the Domine non sum dignus. There are a few who kneel in wonder at what is being accomplished; it is for them a moment of prayer such as they have never experienced before. But for many who crowd the church the great drama of the Mass remains without meaning.”

I know what readers are thinking … “That’s not very brick-by-brick”.

Sed contra, dear Father.  That’s brick by brick indeed.

There was preparation beforehand. Moreover, in building the structure – one “made of living stones” – not all the bricks and stones were lain at the same time.  As in that congregation described, some kneel in wonder, some wonder what’s going on.  Some sense the moment, some are distracted by externals.  At the next offering of the Holy Sacrifice, more bricks will be prepared and set in place.

As he works, the bricklayer, the stonemason, must dress the stones and bricks, chipping here, smoothing there.

Furthermore, there are those entirely familiar with every aspect of the liturgical actions down to the last jot and tittle who nonetheless do not have an encounter with the Mystery tremendum et fascinans because they are absorbed in whether or not the missal stand was placed at their approved angle when the server shipped it from the Epistle to the Gospel side.  They participate lacking in wonder, because they are listening for errors in pronunciation or of pitch.  Their principle active participation is to measure up the liturgical action against their own expectations.   Those who know less, some times rise to greater and actual participation.

Hence, the priest in the account above has a great advantage in the continuance of his work brick by brick.  He can dress the stones who, at that Mass, found no meaning, even while he builds with those who knelt in wonder.

True “brick by brick” work has to have a beginning.  That was a beginning.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone and he who believes in him will not be put to shame.”

    When what happens is totally predictable, there is little occasion for the invidious stare, but much for obedient prayer.

  2. Mike says:

    There may be a happy remedy for the rubrically obsessed in Nothing Superfluous by Fr. Jackson FSSP. Having learned something about why just that number of candles is lit or the book is pointed such-and-so a way, I’ve become better able to appreciate everything that’s going on—as well as to marvel that so few details (to be fair to virtually every celebrant) are missed in any given celebration of such an intricate and meaningful ritual as Holy Mass.

    Nothing Superfluous: An Explanation of the Symbolism of the Rite of St. Gregory the Great US HERE

  3. William Tighe says:

    Readers may be interested, perhaps surprised, to learn that the case about which Fr. Hunwicke writes took place at an English Anglican church, specifically St. Hilary’s Church, St. Hilary, Cornwall, where the Vicar, Bernard Walke (1874-1941) replaced the Prayer Book services with the Roman-Rite Mass shortly after becoming its Vicar in 1912; cf.:


  4. jaykay says:

    “For weeks before my induction I had been in the parish seeing people in their homes and in the fields …”

    Brings back memories of the 60s and 70s when Parish visitations were still the norm – we had 5 Priests in our Parish in those days. Eheu. Then again, even back then, it was always the “housewife” who was at home… and we kids, if it happened to be during the holidays from school, although not often as we were out of the house so much and not generally encouraged to return thereunto until official meal times (which were mandatory), wouldn’t have seen them very much.

  5. Pingback: THVRSDAY CATHOLICA EDITION | Big Pulpit

  6. TonyO says:

    There won’t EVER be a “perfect” moment to introduce the EF to people who have never had the experience – if by “perfect” we mean something unreachable like “they will ‘get’ the whole of it and all the nuances as well, and at the same time will enter into the mystery with a profound heart-to-heart contact with God. ”

    But if we settle for a “best” time as meaning something that is in fact reachable at least some of the time, then often enough the “best” time will be “right now”. Don’t let “perfect” become the enemy of “the good”.

    That said, there is simply no reason whatsoever not to take steps to avoid some of the more avoidable difficulties that can be easily anticipated. For example, you can have a mass brochure prepared beforehand that not only has the English translation of the parts of the Mass in order, but also at various moments a picture / diagram of the positions of the priest and altar boys and (in the few cases where this happens) the priest does something SPECIFIC to that moment, so that the lay person can “find” where in the Mass the priest is at given moments. And, obviously, at least a few (written) narration pointers along the way, like “here the altar boy changes the side of the altar that the Sacramentary is placed in order to…” There is no need to descend to the level of detail that discusses the angle of the missal stand, etc. But you can certainly enter into the descriptive part comments like “here the laity are invited to profound adoration of the Lord Jesus present body and soul…”

    Many good missals have a lot of the above. But a missal is expensive, and most first-timers will not have a missal with them, because they have not prepared for the Mass that well. Also, using a missal requires some practice, and the layout presumes that the user understands the basic system – which is decidedly not the case for a first-time assisting at Mass in the EF.

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