Tag Archives: liturgy

Private and Public Catholic Mass?

I’ve struggled with the idea that Catholic worship is ever a private affair of the priest. A conversation with a friend has sparked this post. Our Catholic liturgical life bears the burden of always being a public event. We believe that holy Mass is an act of the whole Church hence, the regulations say, that a priest ought not to offer Mass “except for a just and reasonable cause” (GIRM 254). Even when we make the serious claim that the Communion of Saints and Angels are the only ones in attendance the Church Triumphate is present. Mass, the Divine Office and the sacraments are by nature public. So, it is inconceivable that the we could hold to such ideas that hold as ‘normal’ that there is a private Wedding ceremony, a private baptism, or a private funeral. Mass, the Divine Office and the sacraments are exercises of Christ’s work in the world and the Church’s ministry.

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) says, “Mass should not be celebrated without a minister or at least one of the faithful, except for a just and reasonable cause. In this case, the greetings, the introductory or explanatory remarks, and the blessing at the end of the Mass are omitted” (254).

There is a constant metaphysical sense of our Catholic worship. Thinking with the Church there are times when a priest, without a congregation and without a server (to represent the faithful) may offer Mass by himself. The Church teaches that every effort ought to be made to have a server make the responses and to keep the priest honest in following the rubrics, but there may be times when the priests needs to offer Mass only in the presence of the Angels and Saints. Remember, we do not hold that a priest owns the Mass for himself. Yet, we are also taught that a priest does not need a lay person for the proper celebration of the Mass. Traveling causes these tensions, or there is a need to offer Mass for a particular intention that needs immediate Divine assistance, e.g., the sick and dying, a special circumstance in society or church. A priest in a nursing home may offer Mass without a congregation. Bishops with a rare day free of public ceremonials may offer Mass privately from time to time. Jesuits, many monks and hermits frequently offer Mass in alone. All this seems to be contextualized by the Code of Canon Law that says, “This is true with respect to the liturgies celebrated by religious communities” (678,1). Ultimately, it is held by the Catholic Church that it is both licit and valid for a priest to offer Mass alone.

Still, what does it mean to have a public and private Mass in Church? What does the Church tell us?

With priests whose ministry is restricted, some are permitted to offer Mass privately, that is alone.  Since it is the Diocesan Ordinary that regulates the celebration of Mass and sacraments, the bishop ought to state clearly that Father so-and-so is only able to offer a “private Mass at which no member of the faithful is present.” The regulation ought not leave neither the priest nor the faithful wondering what the intent of the Ordinary is on such matters.

Private has two layers of meaning: 1) alone, and 2) with a small group in a non-public oratory like a chapel in a house of nuns, or a side chapel in a church.

Clearly, we define as a “private” a celebration of not having to be done behind locked doors. Rather there is no public service announcement in social media.

What we mean as “public” ought to be defined as a celebration of the sacred Liturgy that’s made known to the faithful so that they can freely participate. Redemptionis Sacramentum (2004) states that the “public exercise of divine worship” is that which “the faithful are accustomed to frequent” (23).

In Presbyterorum Ordinis, the Second Vatican Council teaches:

In the mystery of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, in which priests fulfill their greatest task, the work of our redemption is being constantly carried on; and hence the daily celebration of Mass is strongly urged, since even if there cannot be present a number of the faithful, it is still an act of Christ and of the Church (13).

“It is necessary to recall the irreplaceable value that the daily celebration of the Holy Mass has for the priest, be it in the presence of other faithful or not” (49).

Whatever the case, there is an intrinsic value of offering the sacrifice of the Mass. Priest, whatever the form, ought to pray a thoughtful and rubrically responsible in offering Mass.

The Catholic use of incense

Catholics in many places these days dislike the use of incense. Most often it is a knee-jerk reaction to smell or other perceived “toxins” in the air. In fact, there are no toxins released. At the sight of a cold thurible loud coughing and carrying-on ensues. All the noise is, I suppose, is a passive aggressive way of telling the priest to put the thurible away. But laity (and some clergy) may be unaware of the reasons we use in incense in the worship of God.

I do not doubt for a second that some people have breathing issues. Asthma, COPD, lung cancer, etc are a regular diagnosis for some people. I have a friend who gives me the evil eye when she sees the smoke coming down the aisle. In one parish I heard someone saying that the use of incense there is only used for funerals. And I know that priests and servers have yet to find reasonable solutions in using incense. One safe way not to get into fighting match is to remove the smoking thurible from the sanctuary after it is used and bring it back when it is next needed.

Why is it that Catholics use incense?

The history of using incense in worship is long. Some scholars point to the ancient world of the Assyrians, the Babylonians and the Egyptians,  to ward off demons. At least this is one theory. The Israelites burned incense in Temple rituals, with their offerings of oil, grain, fruits and wine (Numbers 7:13-17). We also read in Torah that Moses erected an altar for the burning of incense at the entrance to the meeting tent where the Ark of the Covenant dwelled (Exodus 30:1-10).

Psalm 141 sings: “Let my prayer be counted as incense before thee, and the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice!”

The minor prophet Malachi tells his people

From the farthest east to the farthest west, my name is honored among the nations and everywhere a sacrifice of incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering too, since my name is honored among the nations (1:11).

In the Book of Revelation, John writes that incense is used in the heavenly worship before the throne of God:

Another angel came in holding a censer of gold. He took his place at the altar of incense and was given large amounts of incense to deposit on the altar of gold in front of the throne, together with the prayers of all God’s holy ones. From the angel’s hand, the smoke of the incense went up before God, and with it the prayers of God’s people.

Hence, aromatic smoke signifies our prayers, which rise to heaven and to the ear of God. I happen to use different scents for different occasions: Mass at Christmas is not the same as at Easter or a funeral Mass or a Benediction rite.

Liturgical historians tells us that the Church’s use of incense had very clear points in history that incense was introduced and for what reasons; often it began when the bishop offered Mass and later use was extended to Mass offered by the priest. The Catholic use of incense is governed by the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM). The particular times when incense may be used during the Mass:

  • at the entrance procession;
  • at the beginning of Mass, to incense the altar;
  • at the procession and proclamation of the Gospel;
  • at the offertory, to incense the offerings, altar, priest and people;
  • at the elevation of the sacred Host and chalice of Precious Blood at the time of consecration.

If used at at the entrance procession and then at the preparation of the altar, the priest is directed to incense the Crucifix and/or the Paschal Candle (during Eastertide). At the Mass of Christian Burial, the priest incenses the casket as a sign of blessing, purification, prayer rising to God and of honoring the deceased. This final point, honoring the deceased, reinforces Catholic teaching that the person has certain dignity.

And if the Lauds and Vespers is prayed in a solemn manner, incense is used at the singing of the Benedictus and Magnificat. One last time you will smell incense used is at the Rite of Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.

The gesture of incensing is a venerable and stable tradition of religion; it is a gesture that is not arbitrary. Moreover, it is a profound symbol and it ought neither to be ejected from the Liturgy nor from our experience of prayer. Often I would lite a small amount of incense for my personal prayer in my room because it helped me pray.  It aids the sensuality of worship of the Triune God; incense engages the powerful sense of smell which ought to trigger in us a greater experience of wonder and awe; it aids one’s sense of solemnity in worship.

What are sacramentals?

There is a contingent of the Catholic people who still believe in the pious usefulness of sacramentals –not to be confused with sacraments–, those items blessed by a priest or deacon that point to the Divine Majesty: people, medals, scapulars, water, crucifix, vestments, vessels for Mass, salt, oil, pictures of saints, rosaries, etc. I am one of those Catholics who believe that the proper use of sacramentals are extraordinarily helpful to the practice of my faith.

The new Book of Blessings has lots of blessings of things and places, but the Weller edition of the Roman Ritual is head and shoulders better than the Book of Blessings. The order of blessing always includes the reading of Scripture, a prayer, and the sprinkling of holy water. It belongs to the Church to set the parameters of sacramentals; over the years she has given directions to maintain, modify, develop and abrogate sacramentals. Most are given to us by the Church, though some are given by the Lord. We ought to be obedient to Mother Church.

Sacramentals are not magic; they aren’t contributing to superstition. The difference between a sacramental and magic is the intention, the attitude or motivation for using the blessed object, place or person. The honest user of sacramentals want to be closer to the Triune God. The false user wants to manipulate God.

Let me return to the distinction I mentioned above: sacraments and sacramentals are not the same. They have different ends. The Church defines a sacramental as a sacred sign that brings about the effects obtained through the Church’s intercession. The seven Sacraments are designed by Jesus, and always do exactly what they are meant to do. Liturgical and canonical theologians say that sacraments work ex opere operato  (“from the deed done”). As I noted about, sacramentals are given to us by the Church, however, though some are given by Jesus. A sacramental “works” through prayer of the Church (ex opere operantis Ecclesiae) but they also work ex opere operantis, that is, through the pious disposition of the person using them –there is a subjective quality here. You know from experience and from movies that sacramentals keep away evil spirit, and piously take away venial sin and prepare the soul for grace.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) teaches that

Sacramentals are sacred signs instituted by the Church. They prepare men to receive the fruit of the sacraments and sanctify different circumstances of life. Among the sacramentals blessings occupy an important place. They include both praise of God for his works and gifts, and the Church’s intercession for men that they may be able to use God’s gifts according to the spirit of the Gospel. In addition to the liturgy, Christian life is nourished by various forms of popular piety, rooted in the different cultures. While carefully clarifying them in the light of faith, the Church fosters the forms of popular piety that express an evangelical instinct and a human wisdom and that enrich Christian life. (1677-79).

The Code of Canon Law (1983) upholds the theology when it says, “Sacramentals are sacred signs by which effects, especially spiritual effects, are signified in some imitation of the sacraments and are obtained through the intercession of the Church” (1166; Cf, canons 1166-1172).

I wear a Byzantine Crucifix that I’ve worn for the last 12 years. The reason why I wear it is to remember that I desire to be placed at the foot of the cross with Blessed Mary and Saint John the Evangelist. It was properly blessed by Abbot Joseph and I kiss the crucifix as I remove it from my person prior to bed. I also use holy water in the house and at the edges of the property. In the past I’ve had icons properly blessed.

The Catholic Encyclopedia will fill out more information.

A Catholic’s use of sacramentals is a richer, more colorful practice of the Faith.

As an example of what I am getting at, a wedding ring is a sacramental; it is blessed at the Wedding rites and it is intended to be a sign for the wearer and those who see the ring that a special bond exists between the couple that is blessed before God and the faith community. The ring blessed at a Wedding has different sacramental point than slipping a ring on before the JP. It’s different because it’s blessed at the Marriage rites by the priest or deacon and has the intention of point to Christ. But the ring is changed in a significant way, does the blessing disappear? Is an altered ring duly blessed at the wedding considered a sacramental?

Liturgical theologians, hence, hold that there are two kinds of blessings: constitutive and invocative.

We define constitutive blessings are given to places (e.g. churches, chapels, cemeteries) or things (e.g., chalices, crucifixes, liturgical vestments and books) that make them sacred and set aside for worship. See the Code of Canon Law, 1171. The blessing of a person (e.g., abbot or abbess, widow, virgin) is constitutive because it changes the status of that person but not in same way priestly ordination changes man.

Invocative blessings do not change the secular nature of the thing (e.g., rings, candles, house, car, butter) or give a person a new status (blessings give to people before a pilgrimage).

So, to answer the question. The ring’s secularity has been altered and one could in good faith have it blessed again.

For more information, read John Huels, “A Juridical Notion of Sacramentals,” Studia Canonica 38 (2004) 345-368.

Traditional Latin Mass instrumental in conversions, still

The form of the Mass offered according to the Missal of Blessed John XXIII, the 1962 Missasl (known also as the Extraordinary Form [EF]) is a misunderstood theology, manner of worship and experience. It is this form of the Mass that has been heart of the Church’s prayer and sacramentality for generations, that has produced saints, and that has worshiped the Triune God.

The EF was freed from the shackles of ideology by Pope Benedict XVI in his 2007 motu proprio, Summorum Pontificum. You can read the Pope’s Letter to the Bishops about his motu proprio here. Also of interest is Cardinal William Levada’s Instruction on Summorum Pontificum. These three documents are required reading if you want to know what the Magisterium is teaching.

Let it be said that there are many, even among our clergy and supposedly educated types, who have a profound distrust and one could claim, hatred, for the EF that they act uncharitably toward those who may love the EF. In the ecclesiastical provinces of Hartford, Boston and New York have deacons, priests and bishops who actively work against the laity and clergy who have an affection for the John XXIII’s Missal. Knee-jerk reactionaries is not what you would expect from educated people! Experience tells me that it is not an exaggeration to say that there is still a great prejudice toward the adherents of the EF. I also know of seminarians harassed by seminary formation people and pastors for, and some have been dismissed from seminary formation for wanting to know, serve and pray the 1962 Missal, side-by-side the the Ordinary Form of the Mass.

I have found that attending to the Mass in this form to be beautiful, coherent, faithful, and challenging. The 1962 Missal has expanded my categories of faith and life. I generally attend the Ordinary Form; I do attend the EF regularly for several reasons: the Church in which it is offered is a beautiful place to worship; the Liturgy is often well-done (though not always), I want to know more about this Liturgy as a coherent form of worship, theology and as a way of life; I want to know why people feel the need to discredit and be obstructive of those who have dedicated themselves to this portion of the Church’s liturgical tradition.

The title of this post uses the word “still” because I want to emphasize that the EF can facilitate one’s conversion, even re-version, to Jesus Christ and life in His Church. The Mass of the Ages, as some will call the EF, brought humanity for millennia to Christ, and continues to do so.

Read this article, “Old form of Mass attracts new generation,” citing the experience of a former anti-Catholic and another who was an avowed atheist who are now a practicing Catholic due to grace and the liturgical praxis of the EF.

My purpose in writing on this subject is not to defend the the EF. I hope that the above article will expand your view that conversions to Christ, our own and new ones, is possible through one’s praying of the older form of the Mass. That is, we don’t have to be so rigid to exclude others without good reason. Furthermore, it is my hope that we all act with faith, hope and charity toward others who think a little differently from whatever criteria of the “norm” we happen to utilize. In short, may we be truly Catholic according to the mind of the Church and not our own measure of what it means to be Catholic. My desire is to have a reasonable celebration of both rites of the Mass that’s coherent with what the Church has done, with what the tradition as given to us over the years, and with what the Church hopes to be as a Christian people with eyes set on the Lord. I happen to think we need to continue with vigor the work of the Liturgical Movement and do things in the sacred Liturgy that are truly Catholic and not ape what our Protestant brothers and sisters do. Catholic Liturgy is not Lutheran Liturgy, and we ought to resist blurring the lines.

Saint Benedict, and all Benedictine saints, pray for us.

The Spirit of the Liturgy from Benedict to Francis

Abbot Michael C. Zielinski OSB, undersecretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship, discusses what is being taught by the most recent pontiffs. Abbot Michael notes the continuity and distinctions in celebrating of the sacred Liturgy by Popes Benedict and Pope Francis. But there are some things that Abbot Michael notes that are not liturgical per se, “the spirit” can be a bit vague some ways. Moreover, there are things that are already expected as the result of the theology and upheld by the rubrics. More reflection on what the synthesis and art of celebrating means, teaches and how it sanctifies. Here is a beginning… The Catholic News Service provides the video feed.

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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