A “Historical” Mass to “Look Back in order to Move Forward”


On Tuesday, August 15 we celebrate the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The previous day (8/14) is the feast of our Patron St. Maximilian Kolbe, who was killed and cremated at Auschwitz on the eve of the Assumption.

In order to venerate him and Our Lady as a group, the Franciscans of Life made arrangements to attend a special event to which our community has been invited.

Gesu Church, the Jesuit parish in Downtown Miami, will be celebrating a Solemn High Mass in the “Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite”, on Tuesday 8/15 at 7:15 PM. Our community was invited by the celebrant, Fr. Christian Saenz S.J.

The Celebrant and the Parish

Fr. Saenz, S.J. – (C) Natalia Selin

Fr. Saenz studied at Belen, joined the Society of Jesus in 2002 and was ordained by H.E. Archbishop Wenski in 2011. He currently resides in Rome, where he is pursuing graduate studies.

 

Gesu Church is the most ancient Catholic church in the Archdiocese of Miami. In fact, it pre-dates the establishment of the Archdiocese itself. Until 1952, the entire State was under the jurisdiction of the Diocese of St. Augustine, and it was only in 1958 that H.E. Coleman Carroll was installed as the first bishop of the newly created Diocese of Miami. It was declared an Archdiocese by 1968.

Stations of the Cross and Stained-Glass Windows at Gesu Church – (C) TripAdvisor

The Church, now a masterpiece of architecture with beautiful stained-glass windows, a majestic organ, and a beautiful Main Altar entirely in marble, was initially built in wood in 1896 by the Jesuits and was known as Holy Name Parish. A new church was built on land donated by Mr. Henry Flagler and by 1925 Gesu Parish was built as it is today. In 1974 it was added to the United States Register of Historic Places.

Front of the Church of Gesu – (C) Natalia Selin

The Liturgy

The liturgy we will attend is the old form of the mass, which Pope Benedict called “extraordinary form” of the Roman Rite. This liturgy is the “father” of our current “ordinary form” of the Roman Rite, which was reformed by request of the Second Vatican Council under the authority of Blessed Paul VI.

There are many elements worthy of historical admiration and sacred respect in this form of the mass. For example, the exclusive use of the Latin language, once considered the only liturgical language in the West, as well as the use of Chant and the Organ.

Some elements will be easily recognizable as they carry (though simplified) into the current liturgy.

Some elements will seem new because they did not carry into the new liturgy or became optional. For example: the celebrant faces the Main Altar throughout most of the celebration and prays most of the mass in a low voice (“vox secreta”); alongside the priest and deacon there will be a “subdeacon” who will be tasked with handing the paten and other items to the deacon (the order of the subdeacon was abolished); before mass the celebrant will pray “at the foot of the altar” a psalm and an “act of contrition”; at the end of the mass the celebrant will read the “Last Gospel” (which is actually the first chapter of the Gospel of John); there is a special procession and ritual for the proclamation of the Gospel; there are no Prayers of the Faithful.

Priest (top right), Deacon (top left), Subdeacon (back, holding Paten with Humeral Veil) – (C) Natalia Selin

Some significant variations include: the Sign of Peace is exchanged only between the clerics; the Our Father is prayed aloud only by the priest with the exception of the very last sentence (“et libera nos a malo”, “and deliver us from evil”); the faithful are expected (but not obligated!) to receive Communion on the tongue and by kneeling on the communion rail.

One must attend such a liturgy with an open mindset of gratitude to the Church and to the Holy Spirit for:

(a) unifying the liturgy in the West through the Roman Rite after the Council of Trent (a work which is partially due to the Franciscans, to whom the Roman Rite was first entrusted and who spread it across Europe), placing an emphasis on the transcendence of God and Heaven;

(b) inspiring the Church to adapt to “unity in diversity” by carrying out a reform of the Roman Rite that takes into consideration the cultures, languages, and musical instruments of different peoples who are “one in the Spirit” just like the liturgy is the “One Sacrifice perpetuated throughout time and space”, thus emphasizing the immanence of the God-Man who becomes “all things to all men” and of the People who are “His body”.

It is very unfortunate that a lot of politics – especially in the United States – have mixed with the celebration and attendance of what is called simply “the TLM”. For this reason we do not discuss it often in our blog, though we have touched upon the topic and upon Traditionalist issues from time to time.

One question, however, is worth addressing: what is the official relationship of the Franciscans of Life with the “Traditional Latin Mass”?

First and foremost: we have a historical connection. The Roman Missal was preferred by the Council of Trent “thanks” to the early Franciscans who received it from the Holy Father and made it widespread throughout the Catholic world during 300 years, even though our communities always celebrated it in their own Franciscan way (called the Seraphic Mass) until after the Second Vatican Council. And it is worth of mention that the American Franciscan Liturgical Commission awaits approval from the Holy See for the new Roman-Seraphic Missal adjusted to our own liturgical calendar, never abolished.

St. Pio, OFM Cap., celebrating the Seraphic Mass (moment of the consecration of the host)

Second: our Constitutions define very clearly our brothers’ relationship with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

“The Franciscans of Life are to attend mass together and in the Ordinary Form.

With the permission of the superior, they may attend and celebrate mass in the Extraordinary Form or invite a priest to celebrate it for them, as long as the harmony of the house is not affected.

However, the extraordinary should never become the ordinary.

If the Extraordinary Form is to be attended or used, let it be on a day when there is not a conflict with the two calendars so as to avoid missing a feast that is part of our Franciscan patrimony.”

Why would the harmony of the house be affected? Because, unfortunately, there are two common errors in which the inexperienced and unlearned fall:

(1) to consider the old Latin Mass a museum piece or something for nostalgic folks

(2) to consider the old Latin Mass as the highest expression/best mass/true mass/immemorial mass of the ages/mass of the saints.

Both positions are wrong and lead to a schismatic mindset, that is, a mindset of division and mutual rejection.

In 2000 years the Liturgy of the Church of our Lord has undergone a process of development which Pope Benedict describes as a hermeneutics of continuity. Each apostle handed down what he received, but in slightly different ways. A Coptic mass and a Syro-Malabar mass look nothing alike, yet one was handed down by St. Mark and the other by St. Thomas, and both are equally Catholic!

There are dozens of different ways to celebrate the mass in the East as well as in the West. Some religious orders also have their own missals and liturgical traditions.

After attending the TLM on August 15, whether one leaves mass inspired or bored, moved or untouched, one must keep in mind that the old rite was characterized by grandeur, rigidity, and a definite separation between the clergy and the laity. This was a result of 1500 years of historical development within the Western culture and also a response of the Counter-Reformation of Trent to the over-simplifications, customizations, and blending of roles of early Protestant sects.

After the two World Wars the world entered a new phase and the Second Vatican Council was inspired by God to “look back in order to move forward”.

New documents were unveiled which described the liturgy of the early Church (thus the Prayer of the Faithful were reintroduced, alongside the Sign of Peace).

Elements that were added over time and became redundant were removed (such as the reading of the Last Gospel after the mass has technically ended, or the tracing of many signs of the cross and continuous genuflecting).

A more active participation of the people, now mostly literate and with a Bible in their house, was promoted by celebrating the mass in the language of the people.

The “common priesthood” of all the baptized was emphasized by allowing the priest to celebrate mass facing the congregation (although this was always part of the liturgy, since even in the TLM the priest says “Orate fratres, ut meum ac vestrum sacrificium acceptabile faciat apud Deum”, “Pray, brothers and sisters, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God”).

While preserving intact and unblemished the holiness of the ministerial priesthood of clerics, the Church did away with roles such as Minor Orders and instead brought forth the laity into the sanctuary through Instituted Lectors and Acolytes, as well as Extraordinary Ministers (women lectors, altar boys and girls, lay ministers of Holy Communion) whose function is to support the priest and deacon when necessary.

Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite celebrated by H.E. Thomas Wenski, Archbishop of Miami – (c) The Florida Catholic

It would be foolish to believe that the development of the liturgy has come to an end. The hermeneutics of continuity will not come to a halt until Christ returns in glory. The Ordinary and Extraordinary forms of the Roman Rite will continue to influence each other, as will the Eastern and Western rites, and the secular and religious liturgies.

It is a great blessing to be able to “look back in order to move forward” and it is to be hoped that our participation will become more active in the Ordinary Form having “met its parents” and realizing that in this day and age we are called to be people open and receptive to the Holy Spirit “qui ubi vult, spirat” – “that blows wherever and however it wants”.

In the union of the Spirit, rigidity becomes unnecessary, and we are free to let the Spirit fill us with joy that at times expresses itself even loudly and in a way that appears confusing (didn’t King David in all his might dance before the Ark? Weren’t the Apostles called “drunk” after Pentecost, as they praised and worshiped as the Spirit guided them?)

On the other hand, today’s rituals are clearly defined by the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) and they provide many options to the celebrant for many occasions, thus avoiding the need for novelties, local customs, and ad-libbing – all of which were quite common during the first 1500 years of liturgical development.

This is a splendid opportunity for two traditions, Jesuit and Franciscan, to celebrate together the Assumption of Our Lady using the liturgical form that we once had in common.

Published in: on August 5, 2017 at 2:26 AM  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Excellent brother jay! Wish I could attend United in spirit!
    God bless the beautiful work you all do

  2. I will be there spiritually Brother Jay. My continued prayers for your community and you! God Bless you!


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