The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) teaches us that the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life. This is no doubt the greatest of the Sacraments; as we learn from the Saints, in all the Sacraments we receive a particular grace from the reception of that Sacrament, but in the sacred Liturgy, we receive not only particular graces from that Sacrament, but the very Source of the Sacraments and the graces stemming from them – we are, in fact, receiving the very body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ.
The liturgical heritage and traditions of Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Anglicanism are no doubt beautiful, awe-inspiring, and baroque, guiding the individual towards spiritual realities and to a greater and more intimate relationship with the divine. Our liturgical heritage is rich in magnificent chants, elaborate vestments, and beautiful prayers throughout – all this, not for the entertainment of the individual attending the liturgical rites of the Church, but to bring him to a closer encounter with the divine and to a greater awareness of spiritual realities.
The Council of Trent (1546-1563) affirms the liturgical doctrine of the Church in stating that the Sacrifice of the Mass and the Sacrifice of Calvary are in fact one and the same Sacrifice. The Sacraments have been defined as an extension into time of Christ’s salvific Sacrifice which is outside of space and time. The Mass re-presents (makes present once more) the Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross two thousand years ago. That same Sacrifice is perpetuated in every sacred Liturgy celebrated throughout the world daily in all Catholic parishes. Such an act does not necessitate the priest to be the holiest of men; God no doubt uses even the most sinful of priests to confect such a great sacrament. This is because the validity and confection of the sacraments do not depend on the holiness (or lack thereof) of the ministers of the Church.
The Council of Trent teaches us that “holy things ought to be treated in a holy way.” For this reason, the liturgy has been celebrated with awe-inspiring chants and decorative vestments, incense, and prayers that lead us to the reality of the Sacrifice being re-presented before our very eyes. Part of our Catholic liturgical tradition is for each liturgical rite in the Church (Latin, Greek, Maronite, Byzantine, etc.) to pray in a uniform language appropriate for that rite, and for priest and people alike to celebrate the liturgy facing in the same direction, i.e., towards the altar. This is due to the fact that the sacred Liturgy is no mere social gathering of the faithful for prayer and devotions; it is not an occasion for the priest to take the role of a comedian or actor to entertain and amuse the people. Quite the contrary: leaving worldly affairs aside, we come together as the Christian community to partake of this Sacrifice and to receive, under the species of bread and wine, the very body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ. Here, we unite ourselves in a mystical manner with the universal Church not only here on earth but also with all the faithful in Purgatory and those in Heaven.
To ignore, resent, disapprove of, or neglect this liturgical heritage or otherwise disapprove of it is no doubt not only a disservice to the faithful and to the universal Church, but a lamentable practice which has become widespread even before the era of the Second Vatican Council. Many had become weary of the Latin language and Gregorian Chant, and the priest celebrating the Mass facing towards the altar rather than towards the people. This is an unfortunate attitude and approach which is widespread not only among some laymen and priests but also among some bishops! This is due to a revolutionary understanding of what the Council truly taught.
The Council taught that the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin Rite, while permitting the vernacular while not forbidding the Latin Language. Latin was to remain the norm and the vernacular was to be the exception to the norm, this order was not intended to be reversed! No doubt the same misunderstanding was applied to Gregorian chant and the direction in which the priest was to celebrate the sacred Liturgy. Contemporary music became the norm, changing the actual text of the prayers in order to fit certain modern melodies (this itself was a liturgical abuse). The vernacular translations of the Latin typical edition of the Roman Missal contain numerous and even significant errors in translations, often many of these being deliberate! The rubrics of the Mass always assume that the priest is celebrating the Mass facing towards the altar – yet this posture has become severely neglected throughout a good portion of the Church!
Much can be written on this subject – and much has!
It is my hope that the faithful become once more familiarized with the liturgical traditions and heritage of the Church, and that this awareness leads to a ‘reform of the reform’ that is discussed frequently in recent times.
May God grant us the grace of speedily restoring the lost treasures of the Church!
Future articles in this website will explain the issues discussed herein.
Miguel Agustin Livas