The New Order succeeding the Old :

a greater realisation of heaven on earth?

by David Joyce

"test everything; hold fast what is good" - 1 Thess 5:21

The Holy Mass in the opinion of many over the centuries has often been a haven away from our fallen and corrupt lives. We walk off the streets, which are full of filth, materialism and vulgarity (and these days, road rage and the like) into what seems a touch of heaven. We creep in like cowering kittens, afraid of what will become of us, when suddenly the liturgy of the Church grabs us by the scruff of our necks and wrenches us from earth to heaven and back. We enter a world of light, of quiet hushed tones, of wisdom and divine goodness. The people present seek humility before their Creator, before the altar of the ultimate sacrifice: of their Saviour Jesus Christ. We seek out the Word of God, His teachings of love and freedom through the following of His commandments, and to receive Jesus fully in our hearts, souls, minds and on our tongues. There is no holding back as far as our Lord is concerned.

Upon leaving the Church, the smell of incense, the utterances of praise and thanksgiving gently dispel from our lips and minds. We are then tossed back into this fallen world of ours, but hopefully a little fresher, a little wiser, more nourished in our Saviour than before. It is as if we take a spiritual bath every week - we enter after a week of combating the forces of evil, cleanse ourselves in God's Word and Sacrament ready to take on another week of service and discipleship. We go back into the fray, with Jesus in our minds, hearts and bodies, we can rightly feel that we can take another bashing in His name, the One in whom we believe and in whom we live. Similar to getting home to a hot dinner, we can feel that we have "made it" back, anything in-between then fades into perspective.

I certainly find that Holy Mass should, and must, pull us up into the union of worshipping God in heaven. We should join the angels in perfect, heavenly worship. Mass needs to provide us with the nearest thing this side of heaven in attaining true worship that re- enforces the relationship between God and creature. It should give us the opportunity to gasp for air, before going back under to join the battle. Air that is clean, fills the lungs with an abundance of love to counteract the hate that threatens to strangle our society, that - in the end - entices others who are seemingly near drowning point. This air must be heavenly air, air that the angels in the full presence of God breath constantly and is given to us through the sacraments of the Church. If I am drowning, then the last thing I want is something to drink, however nicely flavoured it is. I need something that reflects eternal life, not my current state of sin. I do not need something that relates to my fallen state of life, but something that relates to my eternal destiny and draws me towards it. Jesus was in this world, but was not part of it, as He equally commanded His disciples to be. In the end, we are all pilgrims, on a fleeting visit to this ransacked house of ours. To restore order, we need to bring in the sacred, raise ourselves to heaven so as to partake in heavenly life. If we wish to ruin everything, not just our fallen world, then a sure way to go about it is to bring down the sacred to our level so that it itself becomes fallen so as to relate to us. To achieve eternal life, Jesus exclaimed that we must take up our cross and follow Him, in losing our earthly life we will find eternal life. Our fallen state must die, and only then will we find ourselves glorified in Christ. Therefore, at the door of the church, we must leave our fallen life behind, and enter "the most beautiful thing this side of heaven" (Fr. Faber on the traditional Mass). In Mass, we can join the angels and saints in heavenly worship, to become one with them in a union of spiritual praise and sacrifice. We nail ourselves to Christ on the cross during Mass, so that on the third day we too may be glorified in His name.

The New and Old Rite

This brings me to how the "reform" of Pope Paul VI has realised this aim: to advance the cause of heavenly worship on earth. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council aims to further the raising up of the faithful within the Holy Mass to new heights of spiritual involvement and holiness. The slight opening up of the liturgy towards the vernacular envisioned within the document is a noble and minor reform, especially as stated within what is now known as the Liturgy of the Word. The result, however, seems far from slight. Rather than condemning the result at this stage (the Novus Ordo Missae) as a break with tradition, let us examine several main points on how the new Mass compares with the old in reflecting heavenly worship on earth. Have we taken a great leap forward with this revolutionary change, or a leap backwards? I have chosen several concepts that many would term as describing heaven: worship, peace, spirituality, order and unity.

1. Worship

Why were we created at all? To share in God's eternal love through our worship of Him. God does not need to be worshipped, but to become fully human it is for our own good that we worship and adore God with our whole strength, heart and soul, as Jesus answered the wise scribe (Mark 12:28-33) in order to attain eternal life. To share in God's eternal life, we cannot but help and worship Him with all we have. I never encounter so much peace and consolation as and when I humbly endeavour to worship God with my whole being.

So, how does the worship of the new Mass compare with the old? There is, of course, one striking difference: the priest is positioned behind the altar, facing the people. With this single, simple change, the entire focus of the Mass has been changed from God to the priest, from a something, or rather someone, outside and above, to those inside and below. Moreover, when before the altar and tabernacle were the centre of attention, we now usually have a large "presider's" chair plonked down in the sanctuary. Avoiding eye contact with the priest becomes an embarrassing exercise, concentration is further hampered, and with the constant marching of lay people up and down the sanctuary to perform certain duties, the single act of worship is increasingly smothered.

2. Peace

Heaven is surely, above all else, peaceful. No more car alarms, harassing telephone calls, stressful traffic jams or working environments. But does the new Mass reflect this ideal, or does it more reflect the stressfulness of modern day life? Let me briefly take one example: the reception of communion. Leaving aside the controversy of communion in the hand, does the common practice of taking turn in a line, receiving communion standing intrinsically more peaceful and prayerful than before, or more stressful? Surely the later! I personally find the practice a totally unsettling experience. A typical performance: in trying to keep up with the person in front, stepping out before the priest whilst he is saying the infinitely important words, "The Body of Christ" whilst trying to stick a quick "Amen" in there somewhere, exposing my tongue for my Blessed Lord and then having to shuffle out of the way for the person behind and get back to my seat, I simply have not the time to realise the immense gift and grace that I am receiving!!! Is this a reflection of our stressful society or what? Let us examine the same event at a traditional Mass: firstly wait patiently (I trust!) for a place at the altar rail, kneel down, prayerfully prepare yourself for the most awesome gift one can ever receive, realise it is your turn next, expose your tongue and without having to say anything you are then fed by the priest in the person of Christ with God Himself! Now, take a few seconds to begin to consume the Host while still praying, and only then do I have to get out of the way for the next batch of communicants. Viola! A touch of heaven!

3. Spirituality

To be filled by the Holy Spirit, is to attain perfect happiness in God. It is to achieve the integrity that we lost at the Fall, to finally cast off the chains of sin and inherit the divine freedom that only submission to God brings. For a Mass, and a church as well, to be "spiritual", is not an easy thing to define. However, taking the architecture of the church alone, to enter what looks like my front room does not hit me as immensely helpful on the spirituality front. Heaven is surely made of better stuff than this! The Mass itself must emphasise the sacred, and the true dependence of us mere creatures on God, who if He forgot us for an instant would mean we would all disappear in not even a puff of smoke. Humility is, therefore, of the utmost importance, in realising our state of nothingness before God, the Almighty. Call me a stick in the mud, but I find the absolute care in which the traditional Mass is performed of incredible significance, emphasising the immense actions of the priest happening before us, representing the sacrifice of Calvary. The absolute solemnity of it all is very striking, in contrast to the "happy clappy" services of the Novus Ordo Missae which seem to dispel the sacred in the name of (physical) participation. For God to touch my heart, my mind and senses need to be silenced, only then can God's constant whispering be heard. This is especially noticeable in the silence of the consecration during the traditional Mass: it is simply deafening.

4. Order

God created a universe of order, with our bodies under the authority of our human will, and where our will submits to the infinite wisdom of God. The opposite of order is, of course, chaos, and our world is devastated by the effects of the Fall where this perfect order was destroyed. We live in a chaotic world where confusion reigns, clarity is pushed out by public opinion, media hype and the incessant need to satisfy our desires. Christ, the only way out of this chaos, said we should shout the Truth from the rooftops, and so we should if we believed it enough. Above all else, the Mass should reflect the order and clarity of God's vision, it should preach the Church's doctrines without ambiguity. This seemed evident in the traditional Mass which "provided an insurmountable barrier to any heresy directed against the integrity of the Mystery" (the Ottaviani intervention). Does the new Mass also follow in this tradition? Apart from the apparent chaos of how the Mass is actually conducted these days, the actual liturgy hardly seems to come out better. Responses such as "Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again" hardly reflects the Catholic belief in the real presence of Christ on the altar at that stage of the Mass. And how does the response "When we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim your death Lord Jesus, until you come in glory" reflect the doctrine of transubstantiation (or even resurrection!) in that after the prayers of consecration the bread and wine are literally and substantially replaced by the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Himself? Does the way the ever proliferating number of Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist touching the sacred host and vessels increase our belief in the doctrine that the host is God Himself, and the priest is set apart from us? Does the notion that women are intrinsically different from men become clearer with the introduction of female altar servers, readers, etc.? Chaos and confusion are weapons of the devil, not of God.

5. Unity

Finally, we look at how unity is preached at Mass after the introduction of the Novus Ordo Missae. Totally against the text of the Constitution on the Liturgy, the unity the Church felt through its singular use of Latin in the Latin rite has been totally discarded in this age of cultural "progress". Has this helped the laity understand what is going on during the Mass? I think not. It is much more important to know what is happening during the Mass rather than what is simply being said by the priest. The missals contained, after all, the entire text of the Mass. Under the traditional Mass, I could enter a Catholic church in South America or Africa under that Latin rite from my house in England, and feel immediately at home. Now, if I go as far as Holland, I almost feel that I attending the wrong religion! It is obvious that after the introduction of the missal of Pope Paul VI, the people within the Church have become more divided than ever. We as the people of God should (ideally) come into ever greater union with each other through union with God, our Saviour, by uniting ourselves to the mystical body of Christ, the Church. Sorry folks, but we seem to be heading in the wrong direction for that one...

The New Mass: heaven in today's world?

I hope I have shown that this intention has not been realised in the drafting and implementation of the Novus Ordo Missae. The old saying of "lex orandi, lex credendi" (basically, how you pray reflects what you believe) is so important - I desire to find somewhere where I can pray and behave externally what I believe internally. I wish to engage in a liturgy that respects the Blessed Sacrament as the very body of Christ, through whom the Universe came into existence, and we have been given the incredible privilege of receiving into our very being. I am thirsting for the entirety of the Catholic faith - the fullness of the fullness of the faith, if you like. I find attending a typical Sunday new Mass these days a distressful, distracting and even a dangerous experience - does that sound like heaven to you?! It seems that in trying to relate ourselves to the angels a touch better we have succeeded in dragging them down to our fallen level: pity them! Do I sound nostalgic? Hardly, I'm only 26 years old! I do, however, feel that I have been denied my birthright, thrown away by liturgical experts like that of Esau in the book of Genesis. I do, however, often glimpse heaven in the traditional Masses that I frequently attend, a touch of eternal life among the ruins, a gasp of fresh air in-between the battering waves of Satan. I'm determined not to drown that easily.

Back to Lex orandi, lex credendi page

Last modified 6th March, 1997, by David Joyce.