|Doesn't it just say: I have been|
crucified with Christ; it is no longer
I who live but Christ Jesus who
lives in me.
This series was triggered by a set of articles in New Liturgical Movement by one Professor Peter Kwasniewski of Wyoming Catholic College making the opposite claim. While New Liturgical Movement often has some well researched historical articles that are invaluable sources for the historical development of the Liturgy, Doctor Kwasniewski usually contents himself with more specious essays bordering on the inane. Nevertheless, as poorly reasoned as his article was, it does give me the opportunity to point out why the Liturgical Reforms of Vatican II are not only greatly beneficial to Christian life but were absolutely necessary to correct the faulty trajectory the Church was headed down ever since the Neo-Scholastic/Romantic revival of the 19th century. So lets look at reason 5 of why the New Liturgy is superior to the pre-conciliar rite: Because of its centrality in conforming us to Christ, the Liturgy must be a clear and unambiguous witness of our Trinitarian and Incarnational faith
Let’s begin with “What is the Mass?” And let’s go back to the old Baltimore Catechism so beloved of the krazies who want to bring back the old Mass and everything with it. the Catechism says
The Mass is the sacrifice of the New Law in which Christ, through the ministry of the priest, offers Himself to God in an unbloody manner under the appearances of bread and wine.
This actually isn’t a bad answer. At least as a beginning. The trouble with the Catechism, however—and the theological framework which produced it—is that it takes the sacraments in isolation and does not see the relationship between them. The key sacrament of the Catholic Church is not the Eucharist but Baptism and the Eucharist can only be understood in the light of what happens at Baptism
Now for Baptism I am not going to go back to the Catechism because the Catechism reflects the problem created when Scholastic Theology—based on Aristotelian logic—replaced the ancient Patristic theological tradition in which the Fathers of the Church rooted themselves. The Fathers of the Church drew on scriptures and interpreted them in the light of neo-Platonic thought which was not so much rational as mystical. The Fathers saw our earthly rites as having spiritual or heavenly meanings. They were big into symbolism while the Scholastics liked a certain literalism. The Scholastics got a bit carried away with the idea that Baptism is about “washing away” original sin. The Fathers of the Church, drawing on Saint Paul, had seen Baptism as entering into death with Christ and being raised with him to newness of life.
Or are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.
The earthly rite of entering into the waters of baptism and emerging from them are symbolic of being buried with Christ and being raised with him. It had nothing to do with original sin.
The idea of original sin is in the Fathers of the Church, Saint Augustine in particular, but it is found only in the Fathers of the Western Church and is rooted, in great part, in a misunderstanding by Saint Augustine of Saint Paul’s famous line
Therefore, just as through one person sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and thus death came to all, inasmuch as all sinned
Augustine had mistranslated this passage to read
Therefore, just as through one man (Adam) sin entered the world, and through sin death, and thus death came to all because one man (Adam) had sinned.
As the Western Church began more and more to emphasize original sin in the central Middle Ages (800-1100) it also forgot the Patristic theology that Baptism is about dying and rising with Christ. When the Scholastics came along in the 12th and 13th centuries, they saw the water being poured and thought: “Washing, we are purifying the person of original sin. Scrub! Scrub! Scrub! Out, out, damned Spot.”
The Eastern Church kept the practice of immersion baptism and so the visual symbol of dying and rising in Christ was strong, while the sacramental minimalism of the Western Church permitted baptism to be reduced to a sprinkling or pouring and the sign became purification rather than dying and rising. This is one reason why it is so important to restore immersion as the normal form of baptism. But I don’t want to wander far away from the topic of the Mass, so let me refocus.
In the first centuries of the Church, the practice was that only the baptized faithful could be present for the Eucharist. The unbaptized, including the catechumens, were dismissed at the end of the sermon. Thus the first time Christians were present at the Eucharist was on the night of their baptism. They had just been through this profound rite of being led down into a pool of water where they were submerged three times—in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. They had died in Christ and were then led up out of the pool and anointed with sweet oil as prayer invoking the Holy Spirit were said over them by the bishop, and finally dressed in a new white garment. Carrying a lighted candle or small oil lamp they were then brought into the Church where they heard the Bishop invoke God to send that same Holy Spirit which had been called down upon them to now come down upon the gifts of bread and wine so that the bread and wine too could be transformed into Christ.
They had died to selves and been raised in Christ; now they were to be fed with bread and wine that had been transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ. There is an intimate contact between Baptism and Eucharist. Every Eucharist is a renewal of the Baptismal commitment:
I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live but Christ Jesus who lives in me!
And so too for us. We are nourished by the Word of God in the Liturgy of the Word. Then gifts that represent us—bread, “which human hands have made,” and wine, "the fruit of the vine and work of human hands”—are placed on the altar and the priest prays that the Holy Spirit will come upon these gifts to make them for us to be the Body and the Blood of Christ. But the priest also prays that the Holy Spirit will come upon us and make us One in Christ, that is unite us in the Body of Christ which is the Church. Thus the Eucharist renews our Baptismal Vocation to be transformed into Christ by being joined with him in his death and raised as a member of his resurrected Body the Church.
Now, why didn’t Sister Mater Dolorosa teach us this back in the fifth grade at Saint Sophronia’s Academy for the Pour Souls? In great part it was because over centuries of deformation the Roman Rite had obscured its own rich heritage. Perhaps the greatest flaw in the so-called Extraordinary Form is the lack of a proper epiclesis in the Canon of the Mass. The epiclesis is the prayer invoking the Holy Spirit to transform the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. This is not a minor prayer. In the Eastern tradition—including the Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church—it is considered the consecration proper, the same role played by the Words of Institution in the Western Church. It is essential for validity—or would be, if only we hadn’t lost it in the Western Church. Thank heavens for economia which is the theological principle that permits the Church to jump the theological gaps between theory and practice. The equivalent prayer in the “Roman Canon” used exclusively in the Extraordinary Form reads:
Be pleased, O God, we pray, to bless, acknowledge, and approve this offering in every respect; make it spiritual and acceptable, so that it may become for us the Body and Blood of your most beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
See, no mention of the Holy Spirit though still the petition that the gifts will become the Body and Blood of Christ through God’s action (as differentiated from the “power” of the priest celebrant.)
The prayer invoking the Holy Spirit upon us to make us one in Christ’s Body is even more ambivalent with, again, no mention of the Holy Spirit and no explicit mention of us being united in the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church, only that we may be filled with every grace and blessing.
In humble prayer we ask you, almighty God: command that these gifts be borne by the hands of your holy Angel to your altar on high in the sight of your divine majesty, so that all of us, who through this participation at the altar receive the most holy Body and Blood of your Son,may be filled with every grace and heavenly blessing.
In the Mass, then we are intimately joined to the sacrifice of Christ where we renew our commitment to be crucified with Christ into death and be rasied no longer alive to self but alive in Christ Jesus as a member of his Risen Body. While such grace is operative in the Liturgy regardless of the rite in which it is celebrated, in the so-called “Traditional Mass” it has been obscured by rituals that imply that the sacrifice is Christ being offered for us by the priest rather than directly involving ourselves—by grace, not our own efforts—in dying and rising with Christ. Nor is it clear in the “Traditional Rite” that we ourselves are to be transformed into Christ. We are passive recipients rather than active participants of grace.
It is ironic that Luther was so opposed to this theology of the Sacrifice of the Mass because the Traditional Mass really reflects his anthropology. For Luther, the human person was was sinful to the core—“a pile of shit” is how Luther described him. Grace does not change that but rather like the snow that covers the “pile of shit” covers the flaw from God’s eye. Man is still worthless, but Grace bridges the gap with God. Our Catholic understanding begins in the same place. We are—and this is for all your fans of original sin out there—that same pile of shit. But grace transforms us—makes us, as it were, into manure: something good and life-giving. In fact, the Eucharist takes us sinful people and transforms us into something far greater than manure but into Christ himself.