Monday, January 18, 2021
Solemn Mass & the Divine Office: Tools for Evangelization
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“Let nothing be preferred to the Work of God” (Rule of St. Benedict 43:3)

It is no surprise that I have for many years now strongly asserted the need to restore the Church to Her traditional Liturgy, Her soundness of doctrine without ambiguity, and Her devotions and cultural traditions that incorporate Faith in all the rudimentary ways of life. As the years have passed, I have also understood more now than before that to restore the Catholic Faith and all things in Christ - to use the words of St. Pius X - does not mean returning to the year 1962 or even the 1950s. 

The 1962 Liturgical Calendar, while vastly preferable to the 1969 Calendar used in the Novus Ordo, was transitional in nature and reflects a number of modernist elements that aided in the expunging of Catholicism from daily life. Likewise, the reduction in fasting and Holy Days of Obligation, which began several centuries ago, left the Church in the early 1900s with a mere shell of these former glorious customs. The words of Pope Benedict XIV remarking that the weakening of the Lenten fast from its form in the mid-1700s would be to the Church's utter detriment have come true.

For those Catholics who understand that we have lost a pearl of great price, restoring the Church and the work of God to the center of a Catholic's life is of primary importance. While I have strongly advocated for the observance of fasting as practiced even before the weakening changes in the 18th and 19th centuries, I have only recently understood the importance of restoring the public worship of God in grandeur and splendor (i.e. the Sunday Solemn High Mass) to every parish.

It should come as no surprise that the first and foremost way to restore the Catholic Faith is to abolish the Novus Ordo. The Novus Ordo is deficient in its Theology, reflecting a fundamental error that can not be rectified by merely turning the priest ad orientem, adding incense, incorporating Latin chants, and rearranging externals. At its core, the Novus Ordo prayers were written by a committee and they are a rupture from Tradition. The Novus Ordo and the purity of the Catholic Faith are irreconcilable.

But, simply returning to the mentality in America in the mid-1900s to offer only Low Masses is also not the answer. 

But why? As the Baltimore Catechism reminds us: "All Masses are equal in value in themselves and do not differ in worth, but only in the solemnity with which they are celebrated or in the end for which they are offered." While all valid Masses are truly Catholic and pleasing to God (i.e. efficacious since Christ the Lord is truly offered on the altar and the Sacrifice of the Cross is made present again), the varying degrees in solemnity are for our benefit. However, even a Low Mass is preferable to the Novus Ordo since the Mass said according to the older liturgical books is at its core Catholic, it is valid, and it is pleasing to God assuming the priest offers it with reverence and with due care.

The solemnity in which the Mass is offered distinguishes Masses into four categories as the Baltimore Catechism reminds us:

  1. When the Mass is sung by a bishop, assisted by a deacon and sub-deacon, it is called a Pontifical Mass; 
  2. When it is sung by a priest, assisted by a deacon and sub-deacon, it is called a Solemn Mass; 
  3. When sung by a priest without deacon and sub-deacon, it is called a Missa Cantata or High Mass;
  4. When the Mass is only read in a low tone it is called a low or private Mass.
In the decades before Vatican II, the trend intensified for parishes to merely offer Low Masses - even on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation. The chants that were to accompany such sacred days were lost. The Faithful in the pews were also often robbed of the Divine Office which had ceased to be offered regularly even in cathedrals. Nowadays even in parishes that only offer the Tridentine Mass, it is exceedingly rare to find one that publicly offers the Divine Office in Latin using the traditional Divino Afflatu (pre-1955) liturgical books. Even the updated 1960 Divine Office is rarely ever publicly offered except in a few monasteries.


Solemn High Mass at St James London

Why has the Church ceased to offer Solemn Masses on Sundays and on Holy Days of Obligation? Why have parishes ceased to chant Vespers on such days? In fact, the Second Plenary Council of Baltimore in 1866 in Chapter Three of Title VI "De cultu divino" mandated the singing of vespers on all Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation, a law that had been on the books since 1791. 

As an article from America Press Volume 27 written 1922 remarks, the Divine Office, especially Vespers and Compline, along with the Solemn High Mass are powerful not only for the Faithful but for missionary work among Protestants:

"But the most amazing thing of all is to see the way the most valuable instruments that the clergy have are left unused. The evening service, which could be made so attractive, is now usually a hit-or-miss compilation of private devotions made to serve a public need. The rosary, so strange to Protestants in any case, is recited in so rapid a manner that hardly a word is understood by the Protestant who is present. Even Benediction is often given in a slap-dash manner. From all this the Protestant forms the opinion that the great thing about Catholic prayer is to have it over as soon as possible. Can we blame him so much?

"In the average parish High mass is very seldom sung except at a funeral. Yet many a soul has been coverted by a High Mass. Even where High mass or the Missa Cantata is the Sunday custom, the Proper of the Mass is left unsung and so the real teaching part of the service is not known by the poeple, and never is put before the truth-seeker at all. Yet the Missal is a storehouse of missionary material. What a splendid thing it would be if in every parish church it were possible to take one's Protestant friends to Solemn Mass or Vespers! What could be better adapted to attract Protesants than Compline properly changed? Why is it that with all the wealth of the liturgy at her disposal the Church in this country makes no effort to use it? Even in our cathedrals the Divine Office is not performed, nor a daily High Mass sung. Is it any wonder if the Protestant comes to think that the Catholic is weary of the worship of God? Music, art, the dramatic instinct, all these things could be used to advantage in this country."

There is much value in the Low Mass. I do not intend to dissuade priests from offering the Low Mass early on Sundays and throughout the week. Aside from Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation, I prefer the quiet and the stillness of an early morning Low Mass said quietly by a priest as the sun is rising. Years ago I read an article on this very topic by Dr. Peter Kwasniewski where he recounted a trip to a monastery where he experienced the beauty of monks offering private Low Masse in silence at the same time. This is a beautiful thing and this should not cease. In fact, silence is the language of God, as Dr. Kwaniewski has well remarked. However, despite this, he also wrote a fitting piece reflecting on the Problem of the Dominant Low Mass and the Rare High Mass. I would add to his work to also reflect that the rushed prayers of Rosary and Benediction in the evening, the absence of the Divine Office publicly chanted, and the lack of any regular Pontifical High Masses have hurt the missionary efforts of the Church and the ability to strengthen the devotion of lay Catholics.

Priests, please help us restore the sacred. Please offer Solemn High Masses and the Missa Cantata on Sundays and all Holy Days of Obligation (including the many former Holy Days like the feasts of the Apostles). Help us to experience Matins, Lauds, Prime, Vespers, or Compline. Help us to hear the chants of the liturgical year, experience the many blessings throughout the liturgical year from wine to herbs to throats to candles and cars, and help us to observe strict fasting. May all of this help restore in our own homes a Catholic ethos and may we slowly but surely restore our own families, homes, towns, governments, and nations as faithful servants of Christ the King.


1 comment(s):

del_button January 18, 2021 at 2:09 PM
BartS said...

Hello, the photo of the vespers was taken by me:
https://instagram.com/p/B0Bqwq3Iglo/
😉

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