Mass and Triumphalism. Wherein Fr. Z rants.

The other day I posted something about churches and synagogues losing membership.  HERE

This is going to happen, friends.  Demographics, on top of decades of stupidity, are not on our side.

I’m not saying that this is the great “falling away” of 2 Thessalonians 2.  I’m also not saying that it is isn’t.   To my mind, the “restrainer” of whom Paul wrote is probably St. Michael the Archangel.   We collectively stopped praying the St. Michael Prayer after Low Mass as part of the Leonine Prayers in 1965 and… all hell breaks loose.  Breaking loose is what one does after the restraint stops.

I was deacon for a Solemn Mass this morning.  During Mass I pondered briefly the brainless accusations many libs level at those who want traditional forms of worship.  For example, they trot out the label “triumphalism”.  Using gold vessels, having rich vestments, singing complex music that requires work on the part of those who hear, maintaining decorum in movement… these things are triumphalistic.  The implication is that traditionalists want a Church to grow back into some kind of secular dominance.  They, on the other hand, are spirit-filled rather than institutional.  They are all grown up now, so they don’t have to bend the knee.   Clay and cheap stuff is adequate for virtue signaling, after all.

That’s not what sober tradition is about.

Sober tradition (all liberalism is stoned) recognizes the eschatological dimension of worship.  As I have been preaching and writing for years, we build our churches and fill them with beauty, we develop our worship and participate in it because we are all going to die.   Awareness of the Four Last Things pulses within every word and gesture, every stitch of lace and every quilisma.

Liturgical worship, properly understand and properly activated, keeps the participant in a constant tension between the reality of Christ’s definitive, once for all time, defeat of death and the reality that, even though we belong wholly to Him in His mystical Body, we still have to die.

By our sacred liturgical worship we fulfill our obligations to God by the virtue of religion and we confront the fact of our impending death.  We go to Mass because of love of God to whom we owe everything.  We go to Mass because we are going to die.

At Mass, during which really hard things happen – such as the descent of heaven to earth in anticipation of the descent of the New Jerusalem – which allow us a foretaste in our worship of the liturgy before God’s throne, we come into touch with Mystery, which is transforming.  All our efforts in worship must be directed at fulfillment of the virtue of religion and obtaining that transforming encounter in which God wants to give us what He knows we need to deal with our role in the economy of salvation and with death.

All of this is hard.  So why should worship be easy?

All of this is mysterious.  So why should liturgy be banal?

All of this is grand beyond telling.  So why should Mass be mediocre?

What we do…. at least what we do here where I am involved… has nothing to do with the dopey charge of triumphalism that lazy-brained libs toss around.  It has everything to do with recognition of the opposite of triumphalism.  We know that the Church is going to go through a tribulation, not a worldly triumph.  We who belong to Christ will have Christ’s experience.  That means persecution and emptying.   Our traditional worship is our propaedeutic for suffering.    It is where we practice dying.

Elsewhere I have described the reason why we dress our priests and bishops in solemnity and with beautiful and costly garments.  They are our priests who offer our sacrifice.  They are, however, at the same time also the victim on the altar of sacrifice.  Christ’s priesthood, in them, also means victimhood.  Just as during the time of the Temple the sacrificial lambs were spotless and pampered, so too our priests… right up to the moment their necks are slashed open and their blood drained.   We vest our priests because they are also our living offering.

Traditional sacred liturgical worship is all about learning the way up Mount Moriah.

The Church is going to get smaller.  Do we want to keep what we have?  Maintain our buildings and properties, etc.?  Sure.  But not at the expense of our role in the the economy of salvation and God’s timeline.

We will probably lose much of what our forebears built with their hope and sacrifices.  We have, after all, actively squandered our patrimony like the son who fled from his father’s house.

It’s time to get up, turn, and go back to the point where we started to stray and work to get it right.




About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, Four Last Things, Hard-Identity Catholicism, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000, The Coming Storm, The future and our choices and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Kathleen10 says:

    This is wonderfully written, Fr. Z. Thank you so much for expressing this so well. If only the progressives would listen! But we are at cross purposes, traditionalists and progressives. Even the fact that we have two names, two camps, which is reality, makes plain we have two different goals. We actually want two different churches, and that is the battle going on in the temporal world. Two sides tugging, how long can it hold?
    We so completely agree with and appreciate what you just wrote so well. We understand the Mass as the high point of life, that there is so much more going on than human eyes can perceive, but we trust it is there. We comprehend in trust the Lord, Jesus Christ, is Himself present on the altar, that it is the priest that makes that possible through his human participation, no one else could do this. When our priest processes out, we bow in a gesture of respect for his office.
    Why does Our Lord not deserve the very best of worship, materials, hymns. Why would we want to focus on man when we have for one hour, Jesus Christ with us? We get man all week long, everywhere, but one hour to spend with The One Who will give us happy eternity.
    We are battling over the right to worship in the manner that seems right to us, and we are at cross purposes with a great majority of the Church, including this pope. Naturally, this causes suffering.
    Whatever the answer is to the situation we have, we know what we have at the end. Our hope does not ever have to dim. His promises remain.

  2. (X)MCCLXIII says:

    I’ve never understood what is supposed to be wrong with “triumphalism”.

  3. Fr. Z. says: They are our priests who offer our sacrifice. They are, however, at the same time also the victim on the altar of sacrifice. Christ’s priesthood, in them, also means victimhood. Just as during the time of the Temple the sacrificial lambs were spotless and pampered, so too our priests… right up to the moment their necks are slashed open and their blood drained. We vest our priests because they are also our living offering.

    This is what the women who want to be “priests” don’t get. They think they are being gypped out of power and prestige on account of their womanhood. They want to be priests because they have no clue what the priesthood is all about. (And the more fancy degrees Linda Liturgist has, the less she gets it.)

  4. monscarmeli says:

    Sublimely beautiful and inspired. Thank you, Fr.!

    For, truly, life is nothing more than our practice and preparation for death, and doing all we can to restore what was lost, not only at the Fall, but also at every point along the way. This is what Tradition teaches us.

  5. Father, that was beautiful!
    Also, in regard to, “We collectively stopped praying the St. Michael Prayer…”: I’ve been wanting to mention to you that we now say the St. Michael prayer after every Mass at our parish, a decision that was entirely our pastor’s.

  6. mysticalrose says:

    This is really one of your best posts, Father. And I have been reading for a long time. Thank you for it.

    But I did have to look up “quilisma”!

  7. Jonathan Marshall says:

    There’s absolutely nothing I (or anyone else) could add to that – ocean-going, weapons-grade, chateau-bottled Truth!!

  8. tho says:

    Father, since I have been reading your blog, by my count, you have hit more home runs than Babe Ruth.

  9. Gab says:

    So sad we cannot all just allow the others to live in peace.
    Whenever I start to feel a little despondent about the Church, a little fearful about the possibility that the TLM may be forbidden by the Church in the future, I think back to the homily you gave, Fr Z, on the first Sunday in August last year and take heed of your message about the Church and my spirits are lifted.

  10. Gab says: homily you gave, Fr Z, on the first Sunday in August last year

    Was that the one about McCarrick and the change to CCC 2267?

  11. Gab says:

    “Was that the one about McCarrick and the change to CCC 2267?”

    Yes it was, Father however your message overall about the Church was edifying.

  12. teachermom24 says:

    We had the joy and privilege of assisting at the TLM this morning (a 2.5 hour drive having to leave at 5:30 a.m–4:30 a.m. before the time change) but it, as always when we are able, was worth the trip. I thought several times during the Mass, what could anyone possibly object to in this? I know there are those who do, but I really don’t get it.

  13. Sawyer says:

    I agree in principle. Let me state some things based on my recent experience in the trenches. I hope this doesn’t throw water on people’s enthusiasm, but it’s reality.

    My diocese is experiencing the initial stages of a sort of bifurcation between becoming-more-traditional parishes and contemporary parishes, with contemporary parishes winning the registration numbers game so far as traditionally-minded priests upset parishioners with their gradual return to liturgical tradition. As a result — I’m not kidding — many hundreds of families defect from the becoming-more-traditional parishes to nearby parishes that are solidly contemporary. That puts quite a strain on the finances of the parishes that are attempting to restore tradition, as you can imagine, as well as dealing blows to catechetical, liturgical and service ministries that no longer have sufficient numbers of volunteers. Meanwhile the contemporary parishes are benefitting from burgeoning offertories that are funding growth and expansion and attractive ministry programs and activities.

    So… I’m all for save the liturgy, save the world, but at least in the short run there are tremendous sacrifices and suffering associated with attempting to transform a typical parish into something more authentically Catholic. Many modern-day Catholics have not acquired the spiritual, aesthetic nor intellectual taste for tradition yet. Some people speak and write as if the TLM or more reverent Novus Ordo will automatically bring swaths of young people with large families to the church doors. In reality, in my diocese’s experience, it’s painful and uncertain labor to bring such a vision to birth and it has an initially and distressingly negative effect on parish community life.

  14. Patrick71 says:

    “We will probably lose much of what our forebears built with their hope and sacrifices.”

    This used to worry me until I joined my new traditional parish. We’re in a small building that is slowly looking more and more like a real church. It’s simple. It’s humble. It’s packed five times each Sunday and it’s growing. There is even at least one priestly vocation after less than a year since the parish was established and the church dedicated.

    We’ll be ok. God is good.

  15. fishonthehill says:

    Wow, that is an interesting situation. Without revealing too much, I am curious, is this an urban, suburban, or rural situation? My diocese happens to be the only urban Diocese in the nation. (that will get people thinking)
    What you described is somewhat akin to ghettoizing. I wonder if the “powers that be” planned it this way? Or are you speaking of grassroots change or by designation?
    So for arguments sake, the parish of Saint Mary of Industry City has been established for 100 years. Built by immigrants, is stunningly neo gothic ornate, and untouched by the reform, because there was no money to make changes in the late sixties and seventies as populations had shifted. So now in the 21st century it is designated as somewhat traditional haven. But there is no school, as that has long closed, and most parishioners are in fact hipsters, so your bread and butter has to travel to the old neighborhood to have some tradition. Meanwhile, Saint Mary of the Strip Mall, is built recently, in an area that is bustling with residential homes, Catholics and younger families and is naturally flush with money as populations have shifted to that area.
    I am curious about your particular situation; because, I find that the more attention paid to the liturgy, the sacraments, and the church itself, causes a renewal that includes numbers, dollars, and souls. And the renewal I speak of, is more in line with what Fr. Z just spoke of.
    Just curious.
    P.S. Amazing words Fr. Z

  16. Spinmamma says:

    Adding my little words of admiration for this beautiful and edifying post.

  17. Fr. Kelly says:

    I am grateful for the restoration of the oratio super populum in Lent in the Roman Missal 3rd Typical Edition for the Ordinary form.

    These are especially powerful when Mass is offered ad orientem and the priest stays at the altar after Communion.

    He turns to face the people and says:
    The Lord be with you
    and with your spirit
    Bow down for the blessing.
    The priest turns back to the altar to pray the prayer (which is directed to God) and then turns to the people for the blessing. and dismissal.

    These are wonderful blessings, and they reflect the priest between the porch and the altar offering prayers for the people.

  18. Jerome Charles says:

    You expressed this so beautifully and passionately. It’s too bad that your thoughts so often trail off about “libs,” rather than just being able to soak in what you are part of in the moment, that which is so precious to you.

    I appreciated the gentle way that Kathleen10 spoke of those in the “other camp,” and the “tugging” of sides. We all could practice more charity when speaking of people who think differently than us. We all could spend more time this Lent reflecting on the Fruits of the Spirit as they present or do not present in our lives–and pray to be more centered in the Holy Spirit.

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