Spiritual Transport

A few years later, in January, my sister Aloise died, aged forty-nine, eldest of ten children, mother of ten. The family — her children and her siblings — were catapulted into a dumb grief. We took refuge in our conviction that our separation from her was impermanent. It was for us acutely the time not merely to recall the promises of Christ but to invoke their magical capacity to mitigate grief. We wanted to relive, in the funeral ceremony, the liturgical experience we had all grown up with — indeed, what had been the universal practice up until a few years before — the Mass in Latin. This request the priest we dealt with gladly granted.

And so on January 17, 1967, the weather in the little town in northwestern Connecticut, at subzero, in the homely brick church we had all known since childhood, the priest recited the Mass of the Dead and the organist accompanied the soloist, we sang the Gregorian dirge in words the mourners did not clearly discern, words which, had we discerned them, we could not exactly have translated; and yet we experienced — not only her family but her friends; not alone the Catholics among us but also the Protestants and the Jews — something akin to that spiritual transport which, in the late sixties, many restless folk were finding it necessary to search out in drugs or from a guru in Mysterious India.

William F. Buckley, Jr., Nearer My God: An Autobiography of Faith (New York:Doubleday, 1997).

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Prayers you don’t hear anymore, Part 2

“Guard me around about with the loving and watchful care of Thy holy angels: and before their most sure defence may the enemies of all good, flee in confusion. For the sake of this dread mystery and by the ministering hand of the holy angel of the sacrifice, do Thou, O Lord, preserve me and all Thy servants from that obstinacy of spirit wherein lies pride and vain-glory, envy and blasphemy, uncleanness and wrong-doing, doubt and mistrust. Let them be confounded that persecute us. Let them perish that are bent upon our ruin.”

Devotions in Preparation for Mass and Communion, prayer for Sunday, in The New Roman Missal (Fr. Lasance), 1956.

(See Part 1 here.)

The Mass in literature, part 4

This isn’t the Mass per se, but …

“Stephen Maturin was in fact sitting on a bench in the abbey church of St. Simon’s, listening to the monks singing vespers. He too was dinnerless, but in this case it was voluntary and prudential, a penance for lusting after Laura Fielding and (he hoped) a means of reducing his concupiscence: to begin with his pagan stomach had cried out against this treatment, and indeed it had gone on grumbling until the end of the first antiphon. Yet for some time now Stephen had been in what might almost have been called a state of grace, stomach, break-back bench, carnal desires all forgotten, he being wafted along on the rise and fall of the ancient, intimately familiar plainchant. …

“Their abbot was a very aged man; he had known the last three Grand Masters, he had seen the coming of the French and then of the English, and now his frail but true old voice drifted through the half-ruined aisles pure, impersonal, quite detached from worldly things; and his monks followed him, their song rising and falling like the swell of a gentle sea.

“There were few people in the church and those few could hardly be seen except when they moved past the candles in the side-chapels, most of them being women, whose black, tent-like faldettas merged with the shadows; but when at the end of the service Stephen turned by the holy-water stoup near the door to pay his respects to the altar, he noticed a man sitting near one of the pillars, dabbing his eyes with his handkerchief….”

Patrick O’Brian, Treason’s Harbor (1983).

(See also Part 1 (last three quoted paragraphs), Part 2, Part 3.)

Holy Saturday

O God, who by invisible power accomplish a wondrous effect through sacramental signs and who in many ways have prepared water, your creation, to show forth the grace of Baptism;

O God, whose Spirit in the first moments of the world’s creation hovered over the waters, so that the very substance of water would even then take to itself the power to sanctify;

O God, who by the outpouring of the flood foreshadowed regeneration, so that from the mystery of one and the same element of water would come an end to vice and a beginning of virtue;

O God, who caused the children of Abraham to pass dry-shod through the Red Sea, so that the chosen people, set free from slavery to Pharaoh, would prefigure the people of the baptized;

O God, whose Son, baptized by John in the waters of the Jordan, was anointed with the Holy Spirit, and, as he hung upon the Cross, gave forth water from his side along with blood, and after his Resurrection, commanded his disciples: “Go forth, teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” look now, we pray, upon the face of your Church and graciously unseal for her the fountain of Baptism.

May this water receive by the Holy Spirit the grace of your Only Begotten Son, so that human nature, created in your image and washed clean through the Sacrament of Baptism from all the squalor of the life of old, may be found worthy to rise to the life of newborn children through water and the Holy Spirit.

Blessing of Baptismal Water, Easter Vigil.

Mass roundup

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Holy Thursday commemorates not only the beginning of Jesus’ Passion, but also the institution of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. In recognition of Holy Thursday, then, here is a roundup of past posts concerning the Mass:

Nothing if not a sacrifice

The Mass saves

What is the point of Communion?

Manners and the Mass

Manners and the Mass, Part 2

How Jesus saves us

Bid these offerings be brought by thy holy angel

My prayer be an incense offering

Draw near in obedience

The Mass in literature, Part 1

The Mass in literature, Part 2

The Mass in literature, Part 3

Agnus Dei

Asperges me, Domine

And with regard to Jesus’ washing of the feet, which also is commemorated on Holy Thursday:

Serve as I have served you

A blessed Holy Triduum to all!

The Mass saves

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Can we ever offer God perfect worship, completely wholeheartedly, disinterestedly, free of distractions, and with a totally clear conscience? Even if we could do all that, would our worship be worthy of God? Could our music ever be beautiful and magnificent enough, and our places of worship as well? Even if we made them as beautiful as human art can accomplish, would they be worthy of God, who created the whole earth, the sun and the moon and the stars?

If we can’t do these things, is there any point in worship? In modern days people are in the habit of saying, “Of course there is! God knows our hearts and will forgive our shortcomings and imperfections.” But this is due to the mere habit of thinking as Christians. The notion of divine mercy has been so drilled into our heads in Western civilization, even those of us who aren’t Christians, that it’s nearly an axiom, a first principle. But this assumes what we’re arguing for. We assume God will forgive our shortcomings, only because we know (on some level) that Christ has already appeased his justice, by offering perfect worship in our behalf, in his sacrifice on the Cross.

Before the Cross, do you suppose people thought that they could offer any old worship, in any old place, in whatever frame of mind they happened to be in, certain that it would be acceptable and pleasing to God, notwithstanding its being utterly unworthy of him, nay not even the best of which they were capable?

If Jesus’ death on the Cross was a sacrifice, then it was worship, as surely as the worship of the Old Covenant Temple. But even Old Covenant Temple worship was not assumed to be always worthy and pleasing to God. It was worthy only if done in complete accordance with the requirements that God himself had laid down. And even then, they knew that in fulfilling the worship requirements of the Law, they were not meriting God’s approval by the perfection of their worship, but only doing what was required of them.

Why then do we assume God approves of our worship, poor and lowly as it may be? Only because Jesus’ sacrifice, again, was worship — worship utterly pure and worthy, infinitely meritorious. And because his worship is our very own.

Without Jesus’ worship being our own, our worship would be as pathetic as we know it to be. We sit distracted, we’re tired, we can’t wait to be done. We snapped at our wife on the way to Mass. We’re carping to ourselves, or whispering to each other about the homily. We’re covertly glancing at our more attractive neighbors in the pews. Is this an acceptable sacrifice? Does this merit heaven?

It merits heaven because eating of his Body, we participate in his Sacrifice (1 Cor. 10:18). Participating in his Sacrifice, our worship is his worship.

It doesn’t require perfect participation in the Sacrifice, only participation. The Sacrifice is perfect forever, and we can’t sully it. If my attention were total and my singing perfectly on-key, my thoughts always chaste and my patience untiring, for an eternity, my worship would still be unworthy without the Cross; but by the same token, an eternity of my mind wandering, or my off-key singing, can’t make the slightest dent in the perfect obedience and infinite merit of the Cross. It is now and ever shall be the perfect, holy and living Sacrifice of our redemption.

Therefore I needn’t sing perfectly, I need only sing. I needn’t be utterly free of distraction, but make some effort to avoid distraction. Not perfect contrition, but as much contrition as I’m capable of.

This doesn’t excuse laxity at Mass. We should do our best if for no other reason than because God is so merciful as to allow us to offer meritorious worship in our own behalf. If we can’t appreciate that and act devoutly in consequence, why go there at all? But if we fail in giving full attention, and commit venial sins by our wandering eyes and minds, well, that’s just the kind of thing that Jesus came to save us from: The Physician is here for the sick, not the well.

“Charity is the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God.” (Catechism 1822.)

A single act done by virtue of divine charity is sufficient to merit heaven, since it is Christ who acts in us. And if charity is the virtue by which we love God above all things, then a single act of perfect worship by which we express our love for God — attending a single Mass with the right intention — does the same. “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood” — not a certain minimum number of times, but he who eats and drinks it, period — “has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:54.)

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Merry Christmas

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As we look forward, O Lord,
to the coming festivities,
may we serve you all the more eagerly
for knowing that in them
you make manifest the beginnings of our redemption.
Through Christ our Lord.

The Roman Missal, Offertory for the Vigil of Christmas.

Sing we now of Christmas,
Noel, sing we here!
Hear our grateful praises
to the babe so dear.
Sing we Noel, the King is born, Noel, Noel!
Sing we now of Christmas, sing we now Noel!

“Sing We Now of Christmas”, French Traditional.

Come butler, come fill us a bowl of the best,
Then we hope that your soul in heaven may rest.
But if you do draw us a bowl of the small,
To the devil go butler, bowl and all!

“Wassail! Wassail! All Over the Town”, English Traditional.