Daily Archives: April 18, 2017

The Mass of the ’40s vs. of today, a Catholic lament

1. The Latin was mysterious, signalling the (bona fide) mysteries of the Eucharist, vs. today’s liturgical populism, downgrading the mystical and downplaying the sacral. 

 2. The priest saying Mass was a functionary, reflecting the ex opere operato aspect of what he did.

 3. The priest at mass was (presumably) a priest at prayer, absorbed in that aspect, which meant he did not look at or survey people, even when turning to them to pronounce a blessing or solicit response.

 4. As functionary or performer of the sacred ritual, he was severely limited. Ritual reigned, ad libbing unheard of.

 5. People looked forward and saw the priest facing in the same direction, a crucial element in the transaction but not the focus. (Important point here and now, when the priest has become the focus, people look at him, there being nothing else, presuming they pay attention to what’s going on.)

 6. The priest never looked at the people, as already noted. It was prayer time, for him and the rest of us, moments of silence and attempted communing with the supernatural.

7. Mass over, church remained a place of prayer, not reverting to a social hall, as if the Sacrament did not remain, ensconced in tabernacle.

 8. All in all, there was less or no socializing in church, more or only reverence or at least silence.

It’s different now. You might be praying or trying to pray and the priest passing by, say before mass, might catch your eye in greeting, intent on being sociable.

He might even (though rarely) tell you later what he noticed (or didn’t) about you during mass, as it were counting the house. (Father sees you.)

He might, walking down a side aisle in clerics, as another priest was winding up his mass, remind a parishioner of a scheduled meeting as, post-communion, the parishioner, who had just received communion, was trying to commune with Jesus.

 The parish director of liturgy, chatting with another man in a rear pew during mass, asked if he might take his conversation into the hall steps away, might decline.

A parishioner, a very senior citizen, might greet people as they approached for communion, shaking hands as a sort of greeter, and might be shocked when a fellow parishioner trying to keep his mind on the sacred event ignores his outstretched hand. (The greeter is in the spirit of the event as presented on that day, the other man in the spirit of something else.)

In the days of long ago, there was consolation for the mass-goer in its ex opere operato aspect. Father may have been dumb as a rock (unlikely, in view of his training) or evil as Satan (also unlikely), but his masses mattered. Deus providebit was the byword, after all.

 But with any luck at all, he would be wise and good, supplying the ex opere operantis for the occasion.

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