Mass Basics

By DiGiovanni, Stephen M. | Sacred Music, Fall 2009 | Go to article overview

Mass Basics


DiGiovanni, Stephen M., Sacred Music


I have always thought there are some basic requirements when considering the Mass, whether it be the Novus Ordo, (why is it still Novus after 40 years?) or the extraordinary form, the 1962 Missal. These are basic requirements that are sometimes overlooked or lost: that the Mass is a sacrifice of Christ and of his church, but that Mass is also a personal sacrifice of the priest and people. If so, what do we offer? We understand what Our Lord offered on the Cross, and, that through his church, that sacrifice continues. But what do we offer? If we look at a few of the church's councils, we find the answer.

During the years following the Second Vatican Council, a common view was that it was a "pastoral" council, which too often was a catchword for a laissez faire approach to theology, liturgy, and the personal life of the clergy. This was the basis for lessons that the priest had first and foremost to be vigilant about his personal well-being. Days off were essential as were personal interests and relationships. The second lesson was that the healthy parish priest offered educational and formational programs in his parish, not merely Mass and the sacraments. Just a few weeks ago, a pastor of a local parish repeated this to me, aghast that I suggested otherwise, even though my parish has programs galore.

If Mass and the sacraments are not essential to the life and work of the priest and parish, then there is no longer a vocation problem: priests are not needed, educators are.

The councils of the church taught otherwise: the priesthood is essential to the life of the church, since Our Lord continues his eternal priesthood through the ordained priesthood, to sanctify and transform us all by his grace. The health of priests, both spiritual and physical, is tied to this reality, since to be faithful, the priest must offer himself as a sacrifice for the salvation of the world in imitation of his Lord: a life of daily virtue, as opposed to self-interests, vice, or self-indulgence.

Let's look at the Fourth Lateran Council for a look at those clerics who whose lives and ministries were less than priestly, even in the year 1215:

   We regretfully relate that not only certain lesser clerics but also
   some prelates of churches pass almost half the night in unnecessary
   feasting and forbidden conversation, not to mention other things,
   and leaving what is left of the night for sleep, they are barely
   roused at the dawn chorus of the birds and pass away the entire
   morning in a continuous state of stupor. There are others who
   celebrate mass barely four times a year and, what is worse, do not
   bother to attend mass otherwise.... We strictly command such
   persons, in virtue of obedience, to celebrate the divine office,
   day and night alike, as far as God allows them, with both zeal and
   devotion. (1)

The Council of Trent also had something to say about the daily life of priests:

   There is nothing that more constantly trains others in devotion and
   the worship of God than the living example of those who have
   consecrated themselves to the divine service. For when these are
   seen to have raised themselves from worldly affairs to a higher
   level, others turn their eyes to them as to a mirror, and gather
   from them what to imitate. Hence it is most important for clergy
   called to share the Lord's portion so to fashion their whole life
   and habits that by dress, gesture, gait, speech and in every other
   way they express only what is serious, moderate and wholly devout.
   They must avoid even small faults, which in them would be great, so
   that their actions may command the respect of all. And the more
   these standards enhance and benefit the church of God, the more
   carefully must they be preserved. (2)

One might consider that these decrees are ancient, and can't possibly be applied to the clergy of the modern world. …

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