Rorate Caeli

"Just" the Mass?...

The readings for Matins in the Roman Breviary introduce the book of the Apocalypse (Revelation) of Saint John this week - and in this awe-inspiring piece of Holy Writ, a Catholic can see it everywhere: from the Blood and Sacrifice, to the martyrs and the omnipresence of the Lamb. It is the Mass, the center of human history, re-presenting the Sacrifice of the Son of God, prefiguring the time when History will be no more, when eternity finally sets in for all, those who remain with the Lamb, and those who forever remain far from Him.

How often have we, Traditional-minded Catholics, heard that "it is not just about the Mass," "this struggle is about more than the Mass," "do not focus 'only' on the Mass"?... Yet, is it "only" the Mass? 

Even for those living in critical personal situations, this world is materially more comfortable than what most of our ancestors ever knew. How can so much material well-being be so empty? Our comfortable world is a spiritual wasteland: in this desert, there is one source of true solace, the living waters and the aspersion of Blood flowing from the Lamb. 

Yes, it is all about the Mass, it is about doing our best so that others may know it and love it, the treasure preserved by our forefathers, as we do; we must "take the blood" of the Lamb "and put it upon our forehead", as Saint Catherine of Siena said. May the Holy Sacrifice be our mark, no effort should be spared in making more people aware of the real presence of the slain Lamb upon our altars through the tireless action of His Priests in its clearest and most unequivocal form in the Latin Church, the Traditional Latin Mass.

Therefore I say to you, keep your eyes ever open, and fasten them fixedly on the Lamb that was slain, in order that you may never fall into ignorance. (St. Catherine of Siena, Letter to M. Giovanna di Corrado)

We should not use a foolish humility, as do secular men of the world. I say, it befits us to receive that sweet Sacrament, because it is the food of souls without which we cannot live in grace. Therefore no bond is so great that it cannot and must not be broken, that we may come to this sweet Sacrament. A man must do on his part as much as he can, and that is enough. How ought we to receive it? With the light of most holy faith, and with the mouth of holy desire. In the light of faith you shall contemplate all God and all Man in that Host. Then the impulse that follows the intellectual perception, receives with tender love and holy meditation on its sins and faults, whence it arrives at contrition, and considers the generosity of the immeasurable love of God, who in so great love has given Himself for our food. Because one does not seem to have that perfect contrition and disposition which he himself would wish, he must not therefore turn away; for goodwill alone is sufficient, and the disposition which on his part exists.

Again I say, that it befits us to receive as was imaged in the Old Testament, when it was commanded that the Lamb should be eaten roasted and not seethed; whole and not in part; girded and standing, staff in hand; and the blood of the Lamb should be placed on the stone of the threshold. Thus it befits us to receive this Sacrament: to eat it roasted, and not seethed; for were it seethed there would be interposed earth and water-- that is, earthly affections and the water of self-love. Therefore it must be roasted, so that there shall be nothing between. We take it so when we receive it straight from the fire of divine charity. And we ought to be girt with the girdle of conscience, for it would be very shocking that one should advance to so great cleanliness and purity with mind or body unclean. We ought to stand upright, that is, our heart and mind should be wholly faithful and turned toward God; with the staff of the most holy Cross, where we find the teaching of Christ crucified. This is the staff on which we lean, which defends us from our foes, the world, the devil, and the flesh. And it befits us eat it whole and not in part: that is, in the light of faith, we should contemplate not only the Humanity in this sacrament, but the body and soul of Christ crucified, wrought into unity with Deity, all God and all Man. We must take the Blood of this Lamb and put it upon our forehead--that is, confess it to every rational being, and never deny it, for pain or for death. Thus sweetly it befits us to receive this Lamb, prepared in the fire of charity upon the wood of the Cross. (St. Catherine of Siena, Letter to Ristoro Canigiani)


  1. "Our comfortable world is a spiritual wasteland ..."

    I used to tell my students, when I was teaching at a university, that we were entering a new Dark Ages, and they would stare at me uncomprehendingly, iPhones and iPads in hand.

    I used to tell them that the City of Western civilization would soon be a desolate waste and that the barbarians were already at the gates -- only the barbarians were on the INSIDE of the gates -- and they would stare uncomprehendingly, as they looked up from their Facebook accounts.

    Many of the seminarians I now teach seem to have a better sense of the situation, if not all. Most of them will soon begin to appreciate more fully, if they do not already, that the Mass is everything -- just as soon as the crunch comes.

    Thank you for this post.

  2. Pertinacious Papist

    Amen. The Holy Mass as an inseparable element of Sacred Tradition is everything. We ought to love it more than any other event on Earth.

    St Catherine expresses a beautifully poignant understanding of what it represents and how we should prepare ourselves for it. St Pio of Pietrelcina lived out the true sense of The Holy Mass as he said it and as he lived it. Each time we are present at His Calvary with Our Blessed Mother and The Disciple whom He loved. This is the Gateway to Heaven.

  3. Anonymous2:28 PM

    Jan, until very recently, genuflection to man was prevalent with royalty. Just sayin' ...

  4. Skeptico4:11 PM

    Merely "Traditional-minded"?


  5. Barbara4:41 PM

    Wonderful post. Holy Mass is totally everything. Our Lord comes down from heaven everytime the sacred words are spoken. What in this world could be more important than that? Our Catholic faith is indeed most wondrous and mysterious - but it is also essentially simple. I was told by a holy priest who offers the Traditonal Latin Mass exclusively, that sanctity and authentic doctrine are transmitted by forming a love for the Mass in the people.

    Heartfelt gratitude to all our priests who offer to Almighty God the Greatest Prayer that exists in the world! What would we do without them?

  6. The Eastern Orthodox have a Mass which may very well be valid, and certainly has tradition, but they are, shall we say "doctrinally challenged". So I agree very much with Jan's point, and so should you.

  7. Anonymous5:19 PM

    If one truly believes that it's "just about the Mass"--in the sense that the ancient Mass that sustained the Faith through the ages is all that's required to purge the Church of its many problems (doctrinal and otherwise), if only all the Church's now dark corners can be exposed to the purifying light of Holy Mass--how can one have any higher priority than spreading the traditional Mass throughout as much of the Church as possible?

    Is it possible that insistence on universal doctrinal agreement aforehand--when the Mass may have to come first to reach that agreement--is simply a smokescreen in the case of some who have the Mass to give, but in their pride and self-satisfaction with current status have some other goal than providing it for the purification of Holy Mother Church? Or does it reflect a lack of confidence in the power of Holy Mass itself?

  8. Jan baker

    there is nothing false or disingenuous about it.

    St Catherine knew The Holy Mass in latin and its centre is the Holy Eucharist. It was the epicentre of her life. She existed on it. Nothing on this earth is as important. St Pio said that the Earth could live better without the sun than without The Holy Latin Mass. In our day, where The Holy Mass has died out what is left behind?

  9. Inspiring post. More like this would be a welcome encouragement.

  10. Erasmus wisely said that God does not allow an evil unless a greater good can come from it (He is in control after all, even if man's free-will steers a wrong course).

    The TLM is, of course, the greatest prayer on earth. It combines reverence to our Lord, esteem for our Lord, anticipatory Joy and Sorrow at His Sacrifice (a dichotomy, I know), awe at the second Person of the Trinity, etc.

    Most of that is lost at a NO. The entertainer-priest is usually using theatrics to, well, entertain; Christ is weeping on the crucifix behind the priest, if there even is one, forgotten. Your focus is on a man, not DA MAN (sorry for the slang!)

    So, the likes of Kung and Rhaner got their hearts desire in the new happy meal mass, and commensurately we've seen its fall-out (which I won't expound here but to say that only a small percentage of Catholics out there see the mass as sacrifice or believe in the Real Presence).

    Which leads me back to my original point. Liberal piests and bishops for years had been like sharks in a cage banging to destroy the TLM (I'm reminded especially of the St. Severin movement in Paris, but it was world-wide).

    Be careful what you wish for!

    Well, the rest is history; like a force of nature, Lefebvre saved one of the greatest treasures the world has ever known from those who were charged to protect it!

    Could Part compose his hauntingly beautiful Agnus Dei, or Mozart and Palestrina their masses for the Novus Ordo? Banish the thought! The NO is banal, and inspires banality. That which is from God inspires beauty.

    Even Agatha Christie, a nominal protestant, noticed the sheer beauty of the TLM and begged Paul VI to save it, thus, as many of you know, came about the "Agatha Christie Indult"; ironic when those outside the Church try to save her from herself!

  11. At the N.O. perpetual adoration chapel I pray at, the journal where people request intercessory prayers is full of older relatives asking for mercy for children and grandchildren who have left the faith. In the past I have gently (no, really!) suggested that if more reverent music and other traditions were re-introduced than we would lose less young people to the spirit of the age. But these boomers and elderly say, "But I like the music, etc." And so things will proceed (albeit much improved from the 80s) as they have at NO parishes, and the youth will continue to be seduced away--falsely believing the Church has little substance and beauty, and certainly nothing worth dying-to-self for. As someone once said, 'Save the liturgy, save the world'.

  12. Malta:

    Arvo Part's Agnus Dei from the Berliner Messe, which you linked to, was composed for the Novus Ordo, for the 1990 German Catholic Days.

    Just saying.

  13. sipa, how many traditional renderings of the Agnus Dei do you hear on any given sunday at a NO?

    Just asking?

  14. Knight of Malta,

    I readily concede that I don't hear them much there*. But then again, in my country (where worship in non-native languages (and English, but that's a bit special) is treated as a sign of "colonial mentality" and thus branded unpatriotic and marginalized) practically our entire sacred music tradition was wiped out by the destruction wrought by WWII (a musicology friend of mine estimated that at least 80% of our sheet music was lost in the destruction of our capital city), the liturgical and socio-political tumult of the 1960s and 1970s, so we practically have no surviving tradition to begin with.

    However, all of the above is beside the point I wanted to raise in the first place - as a fan of Arvo Part's music, I just wanted to set the record straight about Berliner Messe.

    *Disclaimer: The TLM is the Mass I normally attend on Sundays and holy days, only attending the NO when I miss the former. In the schola at which I sing, we try to recover and use as much of the surviving scraps of our musical tradition that we could, when we manage to find them at all.

  15. Neil Obstat8:00 AM

    Malta said...
    Could Part compose his hauntingly beautiful Agnus Dei, or Mozart and Palestrina their masses for the Novus Ordo? Banish the thought! The NO is banal, and inspires banality. That which is from God inspires beauty.

    sipa said...


    Arvo Part's Agnus Dei from the Berliner Messe, which you linked to, was composed for the Novus Ordo, for the 1990 German Catholic Days.

    Arvo Part's work is remeniscent of Morten Lauridsen's. They are used almost exclusively for Black Tie concert events, not liturgical settings. They're not appropriate for the Canonized Traditional Latin Mass, for they demand their own attention, and do not direct the listener to think of the Mass prayers. They have their own beauty, so to speak, but it's not the same kind of beauty that Palestrina, Bach, Mozart, Hassler, Brahms, etc., contributed.

    All the classical Mass compositions were composed with the CTLM in mind, and the foundation for this music is in Gregorian Chant. John Rutter recently found inspiration from the Liber Usualis in his composition for the Rutter Requiem. But that's like the Lauridsen and Part work, suitable for concert settings, not liturgical.

    It's interesting how this works. Truly classical Mass music fits in the CTLM setting, and also works in a concert hall setting without the Mass. But in the latter case, the listener's mind is directed to the prayers of the Mass. Modern compositions, however, do not really direct the listener's mind to any Mass prayers, even though the words are from the Mass (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Agnus Dei). Instead, they have the effect of demanding their own attention, using complex rhythms and dissonant harmonies.

    We should remember that Palestrina's work was not immediately acceptable to the Holy See, and it took him many years of dedicated effort to achieve a place at Mass liturgy. His polyphonic style seemed much too complicated to the pious ears of his day, and authorities were concerned that listeners' attention would be drawn away from the Mass prayers. But as time went by, polyphony grew in recognition and acceptability.

    This is not a simple topic. The primary question to keep in mind is, "Does the music assist the listener in raising his heart and mind to God at Mass, or does it merely entertain him and tend to take his mind away from the prayers and their purpose?"

    It seems to me that the same question applies to the liturgy itself, and for me, the Novus Ordo liturgy itself distracts my mind from prayer, very forcefully, whereas the Canonized Traditional Latin Mass draws me into the Mass prayers. I can't really speak for everyone, but a lot of people I know think the same way.

    What present day music professionals are saying about Laruidsen's, Part's, and Rutter's works is that in "the years to come," they will be accepted like Palestrina was eventually, and they'll take their place in history as great composers of our age. All I can say about that is, "We'll see." (Those of us that survive, that is!) But it seems to me that there is a break in the art and practice of modern music that mirrors the break in liturgy that occurred with the revolutionary Novus Ordo.

  16. Marsaili3:01 PM

    I very much like the bolded part of the quote from St. Catherine's letter to Ristoro Canigiani:

    "We must take the Blood of this lamb and put it upon our forehead - that is, confess it to every rational being, and never deny it, for pain or for death. Thus sweetly it befits us to receive this lamb, prepared in the fire of charity upon the wood of the Cross."

    Of course we must profess the truths of the faith, but it will not likely have an effect on others if it is not done with charity and an understanding of God's love for all, especially sinners, because it was for sinners that our dear Lord was crucified, and we are all sinners.

    St. Catherine also wrote of the need for humility, and understanding the love of God. Here are a few quotes from her writings:

    "Humble yourselves....We cannot pass through the low door with our head held high unless we want to crack it. And the door we have to pass through is Christ crucified, who humbled himself down to the level of us witless fools."

    "Strange that so much suffering is caused because of the misunderstanding of God's true nature. God's heart is more gentle than the Virgin's first kiss upon the Christ. And God's forgiveness to all, to any thought or act, is more certain than our own being."

    "Everything comes from love, all is ordained for the salvation of man, God does nothing without this goal in mind."

  17. Neil, very percipient. Part's Agnus Dei is beautiful but would not work at the TLM; I prefer only monophonic Gregorian Chant, with interchangeable male and female chanters.

    But Mozart can do a mean Requiem Mass!

  18. Neil Obstat5:46 PM

    Knight, thanks. There is an enormous potential for excellent music for liturgical use for the CTLM. But at the moment, there isn't much opportunity or funding for it. It's not that the talent or capability of people to make an excellent music program for Mass isn't there. Priorities.

    You're fortunate to prefer a simpler style, for it's much less difficult to accomplish. But it still requires dedication to do well.

    It's sad to see the movie project for Abp. Lefebvre postponed for lack of funding. What a world!

  19. Neil Obstat5:26 AM

    ...As for Mozart, the world lost him all too soon. We have to wonder what would have been the history of music if he had lived only another 10 years!

    His Requiem Mass is second to none. Its performance with orchestra proffers an experience of a lifetime for any choir member or instrumentalist. I'm so glad he was able to get that written down.

    You know he composed all his music inside his head, and committing it to paper was merely a mechanical chore for him. Think of it as a poet who memorizes his poems first, and then writes them down after they are already perfect. We're left aghast at the mere thought of how much beautiful music he took with him to the grave. He could have been composing another Mass in his head even as he breathed his last.

    The Mozart Ave Verum Corpus, K. 618, (some say it foreshadows elements of the Requiem) with a duration of merely 3 minutes, stands on par with any other motet for 4 part choir, even Palestrina's works... provided the sopranos and altos maintain intonation! (joke)

    I recommend this YouTube clip for the audio (Riccardo Muti, Stockholm Chamber Choir, Sweedish Radio Choir):

  20. Neil Obstat6:05 AM

    ...forgot to say, both Ave Verum and the Requiem are quite appropriate for the CTLM. Traditional Mass choirs have sung the motet for Mass numerous times, at Offertory, or Communion. It's not really a processional or a recessional hymn. It greatly aids in contemplation of the mysteries of our holy Faith, which is our primary aim at Mass. The Requiem is composed specifically for the Canonized Traditional Latin Requiem High Mass. It would obviously be much too long for a Low Mass. Also, music was not traditionally used for Low Mass; but a lot more accommodation for a few hymns at Low Mass has become practiced in Mass sites I have observed, under the oppression of the Bugnini revolution, most often in the form of a recessional hymn only.

    I would suppose that no parts of the Mozart Requiem could be used for Low Mass, for it has no hymns or motets. But I wouldn't be surprised if someone could come up with a way of adapting a segment of it as a hymn of some sort. I would expect though, that doing so, you would encounter a lot of criticism, since musicians revere Mozart's works as rather "untouchable."


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