I was given a link to a video about Holy Mass in the traditional Roman Rite made at the oratory of the Institute of Christ the King in San Jose, CA.
It is interesting to view this video immediately after posting about Pope Francis’ remark about “punctilious (sic … “ostentatious”) concern for the Church’s liturgy” in GEE 57.
When I look at the architecture of the church in this video, the vestments, the attentive care to the ritual, I don’t see ostentation or punctiliousness. I see love.
When you love, you pour your care out on the one whom you love. You are relentless and punctilious in your concern for your beloved. You lavish your best upon those whom you love. You break yourself in self-sacrifice and bleed out when needed.
When you love God, you love His Church. When you love God and His Church, you love the sacred liturgical worship God gives us through His Church so that we foster the essential virtue of religion.
When you love you give your best. Enough is not enough. Enough is just the beginning.
If the liturgy of heaven before the throne of God will be forever increasingly alluring and glorious, then so too our earthly foreshadowing of the heavenly liturgy should be increasingly triumphant. We can start small, with the best we can provide now, humble as it might be. If clay is all we have, we’ll use clay beautifully until we have gold. Then we’ll use gold, until we can add diamonds.
People who do not understand why grand and triumphal liturgy is entirely appropriate, do not understand what it is to love.
This is not to say that small and simple liturgy is entirely inappropriate.
The core problem that critics of triumphal and lavish liturgical worship have is a stony heart and inflexibility.
It is possible to have both simple and grand, each in the right place and moment. The one doesn’t exclude the other.
That said, there is a hierarchy to these modes of worship and it is obvious which has priority.
In his Summa Theologiae II-IIae, q. 30, a. 4, St. Thomas Aquinas explores whether mercy is the greatest virtue. Answer, it is and it isn’t. That is to say, he makes distinctions.
Objection 1. [Remember that when Thomas gives an “objection”, he is giving a false claim which he will later refute.] It would seem that mercy is the greatest of the virtues. For the worship of God seems a most virtuous act. But mercy is preferred before the worship of God, according to Hosea 6:6 and Matthew 12:7: “I have desired mercy and not sacrifice.” Therefore mercy is the greatest virtue.
I answer that, A virtue may take precedence of others in two ways: first, in itself; secondly, in comparison with its subject. On itself, mercy takes precedence of other virtues, for it belongs to mercy to be bountiful to others, and, what is more, to succor others in their wants, [NB] which pertains chiefly to one who stands above. Hence mercy is accounted as being proper to God: and therein His omnipotence is declared to be chiefly manifested [Collect, Tenth Sunday after Pentecost].
On the other hand, with regard to its subject, mercy is not the greatest virtue, unless that subject be greater than all others, surpassed by none and excelling all: [chiefly, God!] since for him that has anyone above him it is better to be united to that which is above than to supply the defect of that which is beneath. Hence, as regards man, who has God above him, charity which unites him to God, is greater than mercy, whereby he supplies the defects of his neighbor. But of all the virtues which relate to our neighbor, mercy is the greatest, even as its act surpasses all others, since it belongs to one who is higher and better to supply the defect of another, in so far as the latter is deficient. [See? Mercy is and isn’t the greatest. It depends on your point of view, God or neighbor. Yet, they are connected, for charity directs us to mercy.]
[Watch this!] Reply to Objection 1. We worship God by external sacrifices and gifts, not for His own profit, but for that of ourselves and our neighbor. For He needs not our sacrifices, but wishes them to be offered to Him, in order to arouse our devotion and to profit our neighbor. Hence mercy, whereby we supply others’ defects is a sacrifice more acceptable to Him, as conducing more directly to our neighbor’s well-being, according to Hebrews 13:16: “Do not forget to do good and to impart, for by such sacrifices God’s favor is obtained.”
In this question Thomas is tackling the question of mercy being greater than charity. Hence, even the issue of worship is brought back to mercy.
Worship is not done merely for its own sake. It is not done merely for God’s sake, who has no need of it, for He is already perfect. Worship is for our sake, but not for our sake merely, as if we were closed in our ourselves. Worship is for uniting more closely with God in devotion so that we can in turn be more closely united toward our neighbor who is in need.
It is interesting that the Roman and Catholic concept of piety, pietas, duty, devotion, concerns that which we owe, which we are bound to give, that which is our duty. When we use pietas in reference to us, we refer to the devotion we owe to God. Pietas can also describe our relationship with others, such as Aeneas for his father and fatherland. However, when pietas is used in reference to God, as in liturgical prayer, it refers to His mercy towards us. We owe God everything in duty and He owes us nothing. Hence, words such as piety and devotion have a bi-directional force, which is in harmony when, out of devotion to God we come also to show mercy and charity to neighbor. By religion (related to justice) we give what is owed to God: worship. By mercy (related to justice) we give what is due to our neighbor: providing what they lack and truly need.
Our sacred liturgical worship of God brings great harmony in our lives as individuals and as communities small and large when it produces corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
However, it is charity that has the logical priority over mercy, because true mercy flows from charity. We love is God and worship Him in devotion and love, with the result that we love God’s images, ourselves and others, properly.
Otherwise, it is self-referential.
Those who are locked in only on liturgical worship and its details, without consideration for works of mercy, probably don’t get why we have liturgical worship in the first place. They are probably defective in love.
Those who are locked on to minimalism in worship and are scornful towards its details and it’s possibilities of grandeur and beauty, and instead want constantly to sell that jar of precious ointment, the nard, for alms for the poor, probably don’t get the deeper why of why we help the poor. They are probably defective in love.
The woman with the jar of nard didn’t spend all that money just to keep it for herself and admire its elegant lines and lovely fragrance. She had a greater use for it and its contents and that purpose involved her own hair and the Lord’s feet in a magnificent work of “mercy” towards Mercy Himself. In her humble action, she obtained Mercy’s mercy. Judas, on the other hand, disdained the beauty of her purpose for the jar and its contents, seeing only its immediate utility, and wanted to sell it for a good that was a lesser good, not seeing that greater ultimately leads to multiplication of the lesser. He also wanted to steal some of the profit from the sale, which is certainly self-referential. Don’t be that guy.
By the way, I used the Summa reference here because I just recently reviewed it on account of it’s being referenced in a footnote in Pope Francis’ recent Gaudete et exsultate 106. What’s puzzling is that, once again, whoever did his homework for the Pope in that paragraph seems to have misused Aquinas, as also occurs in Amoris laetitia. The use in GEE 116 simply picks out part of St. Thomas’ response. In respect to our neighbor, mercy is more important than external acts of worship. However, just as charity is greater than mercy, so too worship is greater than external acts of mercy because worship moves us to external acts of mercy. Somehow that last part was ignored.
Let’s wrap up this rant.
The Eucharist – itself and its celebration – is the source and summit, the origin and goal, of our Catholic life. There is no disconnect between proper and even magnificent liturgical worship and works of mercy. Authentic leitourgia, “work of the people”, is simultaneously work for the people.
When I read that Aquinas quote in the Pope’s document, I looked it up in the Summa and realized, as you said, that it was being taken out of context.
Fr. Z., we agree with you completely.
What bizarre times we live in, and for faithful priests and religious it must be surreal. It is for the laity too but not at all in the same way. I’m all but out of words on this guy and what he/they are trying to do. God bless you for your fortitude and faithfulness.
The Pope’s snide comments on liturgy stand in direct contrast with Pius XII in ‘Mediator Dei’; his snide comments about concern for the doctrinal purity of the Faith stand in direct contrast to the whole history of the Church.
[Let’s for a moment assume that, as awkwardly phrased as it may have been, the Pope wasn’t trying to be “snide” in GEE 57. You might want to take a look at my post about that paragraph. HERE]
I’ve heard it said that the path to Hell is paved with good intentions. I don’t know who said it, but I’m thinking it must’ve been an associate of Screwtape & Wormwood as part of their program of disinformation. Because in reading the bible a recurring theme seems to be God’s intense interest in the intentions of mankind. At least starting with the disparity in intention behind the sacrifices of Cain and Able. Does God need us to provide Him with meat or produce? Nope! It is our love ( or feeling of obligation, meh) that drives us to make offerings to Him. Able’s was more pleasing because he held nothing back, he gave his best. Cain said, “eh, He doesn’t need this. I’ll just give Him the wiltey bits and keep the good stuff for me.” His offering was less than enthusiastic, and so then was God’s response. Jesus points out the widow’s offering of a penny being greater than all the riches of the wealthy, because she gave everything, whereas the wealthy gave from their excess. Sephora and her husband…Yikes.
At which form of the Mass do we strive to give our all? At the one where large families drive many times an hour or more to attend, dress their many children well in clean suits despite bitter want, spend over an hour in the Mass presented in a dead language that we have to strive to study and understand because it is immuteable and leaves less room for abuse? Or in the Mass where we pat each other on the back for showing up for a half hour of feel good cheesy music and homilies that do not nourish the soul but are instead like the saccarine offerings that accompany an evening of entertainment at a movie theater, and then all clap for the music at the end?
God is interested in intentions. If the TLM seems overly punctilious in its desire to express the strength of emotion of the faithful for the things of Heaven, the lukewarm offering of the NO will be spat out in disgust of its tepidity, I fear.
The community at Five Wounds is wonderful! I have visited there before and sat in choir as a seminarian. God bless Canon Raphael Ueda and Deacon Matt Norman [Please keep him in your prayers, he will be Ordained a Priest this summer].
Thank you for that catch Fr. Z.
One clarification: This reference to Thomas Aquinas’ teaching on Mercy is in Paragraph 106 (Footnote 92) Fr. Z’s 2nd last paragraph in the rant refers to both 106 and 116. 116 is a typo.
All my punctiliousness aside, this is actually an important point, since under the guise of the authority of the Common Doctor, this Exhortation is asserting the opposite of his teaching, and placing service to our neighbor above service to God.
“enough is not enough. enough is just the beginning” – those are beautiful words when spoken about those who pray for us.
Not often – sometimes, but not often – I have experienced tremendous hospitality (generally not for me personally – like most (not all of course, but most, I think) of us, I am not the sort of person that people go out of their way to be kind to, never have been, and never will be on this earth, I am fairly sure of that : in the particular situation I am talking about, because I was doing a favor for someone else, I experienced tremendous hospitality, the sort that people like me rarely encounter – well, the best meal I ever had was when I gave a ride – a long ride – across several states to an older friend, with our destination being – as I know now – the home of even older friends of my passenger (that is, older friends of the old friend whom I was acting as the driver for) – and the hosts treated their old friend (and me the driver) to a meal they had been working on for days ( a hickory smoke house for the meat, fresh vegetables picked from the garden on the most recent sunny day, amazing sauces and pastries – wow that was a good meal, I have had a few Michelin 4 star meals and that was 8 stars) – it was the last meal those old friends who lived so far apart ever shared together in this world, they were getting on in years and probably knew it would be their last meal together, and as happy as I am for them that they got to share that meal, and as much as I know I was just a random guest, I still treasure, a little bit, the fact that I was included in their circle of true friendship and love — even if I was just a random recipient — I am not too proud to say I am grateful for that — and, to tell one more little story, the most heartfelt statements of Christian charity anyone ever pronounced when I was nearby, said by someone who was looking at me, and who meant those words for me (well and for everyone else in the room, I do not need to be singled out, ever, but they were for me too) were the result of my random presence at a deathbed (the narrative facts are not important, but there I was near a soul that was ready to leave this earth for whatever period of time souls that leave their bodies leave this earth, an earth that is so beloved in so many ways and so difficult in so many other ways- this was the 90s and I did not know that I would be alive 20 years later, I would have bet against it, but that is another story) — and my random presence was accompanied, to be accurate, by the more than abstract fact that I was obviously someone who, being a believing Christian, and who was not at all awed by death — sorry if I am not expressing this correctly, but I am describing a real thing: it is no small thing to hear such words of Christian charity at a moment like that. Lots of people have heard such words at such moments; I have heard them once, and will be able to remember them until the day I die (assuming the Apocalypse does not intervene, in which case I will never be aware of a moment when I could have forgotten those words of hope and love and charity). And all that in a supremely unpretentious little four-story pre-fab hospital building in a quiet suburb in Northern Virginia, with cheap fluorescent lighting and cheap everything – beds, bedclothes, even the uniforms of the nurses and the doctors were cheap – granted, it was a beautiful summer night outside, early summer when the leaves on the trees are so healthy and green. I remember the way the streetlights made the leaves of the trees look like heaven.
As good as that meal was, and as much as the people at that deathbed were grateful for the prayers (the prayers of a fellow Christian) that I prayed with them as a loved one bravely and confidently died in our midst – the people who made that meal, and the people who were at that deathbed, at those moments when they treated with me with such kindness, probably felt that “enough is not enough. enough is just the beginning.” And that is the feeling I get in the silence and following along with the Offertory and the Canon at those reverent Latin Masses that I am fortunate enough to attend every Sunday, the memory of which nobody will ever steal from me.
Sorry for the long post. I was just trying to explain, as best I could, why I appreciated so much the “enough is not enough, enough is just the beginning” phrase. 1965 – the first year I understood that people sometimes (not often enough, but sometimes) pray for me, or promise to pray for me,whether they keep that promise or not, was a long time ago, and I have seen a lot since then. The meal was in 1989, the deathbed in 1998. Thanks for reading, and if you wish you hadn’t, well, sorry that you spent a few minutes of your life listening to my accurate (except that, on reflection, I think the deathbed scene was after the 90s) memories: well, if you are sorry you read all this, here you go: every page of the Bible is worth reading, so there, I gave you good advice. God loves us all.
Thanks, Fr Z for an excellent exposition of St Thomas here. When I read St Thomas I know I’m going to have my brain turned inside out. But if I persist, and have the help of commentaries such as this, it’s always worth it both intellectually and spiritually.
I wonder what the author/s of GEE do with the very high-resolution instructions on worship given by the LORD in Exodus and Leviticus? Perhaps they’re forgiveably obsessive and punctilious, because, poor things, it was all pre-Vatican II ?
Hugh says: brain turned inside out
Try reading an article a day for a while. You’ll get him.
“That woman in the house of Simon the leper in Bethany, who anoints the Master’s head with precious ointment, reminds us of our duty to be generous in the worship of God.
All beauty, richness and majesty seem little to me.
And against those who attack the richness of sacred vessels, of vestments and altars, stands the praise given by Jesus: ‘opus enim bonum operata est in me — she has acted well towards me’.”
– St. Josemaria Escriva, The Way #527
Thanks again, Father Z, for your rant,
Where, untangling the knots that I can’t,
You mow through the chatter
To the truth of the matter,
And punctiliously set straight the slant.
In the video, a lady says “Anyone who loves God, this (TLM) is where they want to be.” Anyone who loves Truth, this (WDTPRS) is where they want to be.
“The core problem that critics of triumphal and lavish liturgical worship have is a stony heart and inflexibility.” I think even more than that, the problem is that so many Catholics seem never to have been taught that we’re there for a Person and not an experience or a cultural thing. I think if they could actually have the experience of Christ as a person, the stony hearts would start to soften.
And I know this is slightly off topic, but those eyes and face in that picture of St. Thomas Aquinas looking aghast always makes me think of Rodney Dangerfield…
When I read these things from Father Z., et al -I come back to a serious thought. What will it be like to go to my last mass? Before I go to hospice, how will I experience that mass in a way I don’t experience now? Frightening, but it seems to be important to me for some reason. I can’t not think about it.
It also shows love to each other. We are not all built the same way.
For those who cannot see, the words and music are important.
For those who cannot hear, the art and sights are important.
For those who cannot read, the paintings, spoken words, symbols and statues teach them their faith.
You can go on.
It is all about loving and giving glory to God. But like so many things, loving God in turn means we take care better care of each other.
teomatteo says: What will it be like to go to my last mass?
A sobering thought, for a priest, too. What will it be like to say my last Mass? Of course it is somewhat easier to control abuses, etc., as a healthy priest. Many priests who are greatly reduced by age sometimes have little control over how they celebrate.
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That parish in San Jose, featured in the video, is the national Portuguese parish of “Cinco Chagas” or Five Wounds, which is a common Portuguese devotion brought from the Azores.
They have a special altar to the image of Jesus, scourged and crowned with thorns, called “Bom Jesus” or “Good Jesus.” The original image of “Bom Jesus” is found on the Azorean island of Pico.
Thank God, even after Vatican II, the Portuguese families who maintain the parish had the good sense not to allow any of the priests to wreckovate it. Even now, all the rails and side altars, with beautiful European statues, are well preserved.