In a recent post I examined a much-praised article written by Cardinal Robert Sarah wherein he spoke of the Second Vatican Council’s treatment of the liturgy as a text largely ignored saying, “the time has come to listen to the Council,” as if listening to the Council is the solution to the present day liturgical crisis as opposed to a major part of the problem.
Along the way, I pointed, among other things, to the deficiency of the following conciliar statement; the same that Cardinal Sarah held up as one of the conciliar teachings that has allegedly been overlooked:
Although the sacred liturgy is above all things the worship of the divine Majesty, it likewise contains much instruction for the faithful. (SC 33)
The problem here is subtle, and yet profound.
Ask pretty much any Protestant to describe their Sunday services, and they’ll tell you in so many words, “We gather to worship the divine Majesty, but we also receive instruction as the minister expounds upon the Word!”
This description, however, inadequately illustrates the reality of the Mass which is first and foremost the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ – the most perfect act of worship of the divine Majesty into which humankind can possibly enter.
It occurs to me now based upon some of the feedback I’ve received that this topic deserves closer scrutiny than I was able to give it in the previous post.
In Mediator Dei, Pope Pius XII described Holy Mass (of which SC 33 is speaking more specifically) as follows:
Thus the commemorative representation of His death, which actually took place on Calvary, is repeated in every Sacrifice of the altar, seeing that Jesus Christ is symbolically shown by separate symbols to be in a state of victimhood.
Moreover, the appointed ends are the same. The first of these is to give glory to the Heavenly Father. From His birth to His death Jesus Christ burned with zeal for the divine glory; and the offering of His blood upon the cross rose to heaven in an odor of sweetness. To perpetuate this praise, the members of the Mystical Body are united with their divine Head in the Eucharistic sacrifice, and with Him, together with the Angels and Archangels, they sing immortal praise to God and give all honor and glory to the Father Almighty. (cf Mediator Dei 70, 71)
In other words, Holy Mass is the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ offered to the Heavenly Father, and the praise of the divine Majesty is best understood as one of the appointed ends of said Sacrifice.
The Council’s treatment of the Mass as “above all things” worship (that also contains instruction) suggests that it stands on its own as such apart from the true Sacrifice of the altar. This treatment invites (or perpetuates, as the case may be) the common misconception that the Mass is essentially the Catholic version of what the Protestants do.
In the brief excerpt from Mediator Dei quoted above wherein Pope Pius XII emphasizes the Mass as Sacrifice with worship being among its ends (the others being, “thanksgiving, expiation, propitiation, reconciliation and impetration”) the Holy Father referenced the Roman Missal no less than twice; specifically, the Offertory and the Roman Canon.
Let’s do likewise by highlighting those instances in the Roman Missal (for the Mass of Ages) that illustrate the degree to which the worship offered to the divine Majesty at Holy Mass is understood as inseparable from the true Sacrifice of Christ offered by the priest acting in persona Christi therein.
We offer Thee, O Lord, the chalice of salvation, pleading Thy clemency, that it may ascend in the sight of Thy divine majesty, with a sweet fragrance, for our salvation and for that of the whole world. Amen.
Clearly, that which is prayerfully offered in the “sight of Thy divine majesty” at Mass is not simply worship standing on its own; rather, it is described here as a pleading (or impetration) that is intimately connected with the Sacrifice – specifically, petition for the gift of “salvation” derived therefrom.
Suscipiat Dominus (Response to the invitation Orate fratres prayed by the server)
May the Lord receive the sacrifice from your hands, to the praise and glory of His name, to our benefit, and that of all His Holy Church.
The praise offered is understood as one of the “appointed ends” of the Sacrifice received from the hands of the priest.
Wherefore, Lord, we, Thy servants, but also Thy holy people, mindful of the same Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, of His blessed Passion, and of His Resurrection from the grave, and of His glorious Ascension into heaven, offer unto Thy most excellent majesty of Thine own gifts, bestowed upon us, a pure Victim, a holy Victim, an unspotted Victim, the holy Bread of eternal life and the Chalice of everlasting salvation …
Here we find it explicitly stated that what is offered at Holy Mass unto the Lord’s most excellent majesty is the selfsame Victim who was immolated for our salvation on the Cross.
Roman Canon, cont.
Humbly we pray Thee, almighty God, command these offerings to be borne by the hands of Thy holy Angel to Thine altar on high, in the sight of Thy divine majesty, so that as many of us as shall, by partaking from this altar, consume the most holy Body and Blood of Thy Son, may be filled with every grace and blessing Through the same Christ Our Lord, Amen.
Once more it is made clear that it is not mere worship that is offered at the Mass, but the worship that is nothing less than the Body and Blood of Christ.
Placeat Tibi (at the end of Mass)
May the performance of my homage be pleasing to Thee, O holy Trinity: and grant that the Sacrifice which I, though unworthy, have offered up in the sight of Thy majesty, may be acceptable unto Thee, and may, through Thy mercy, be a propitiation for myself and all those for whom I have offered it. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Here one finds two very important truths (both of which cause the Protestants discomfort) concerning what the Mass is above all else; it is true Sacrifice, as has already been stated, but just as importantly, it is the “homage” (or worship) offered by the priest in a singular way, in persona Christi.
I trust the point is made.
Is it mere oversight that the text of Vatican II presents the Mass as “above all things the worship of the divine Majesty” apart from any mention of that which makes the heretics shudder; namely the true Sacrifice that is offered therein?
Of course not; after all, the ecumenical purpose of the sacred liturgy’s reform was made plain as day in the opening paragraph of Sacrosanctum Concilium:
…to foster whatever can promote union among all who believe in Christ.
It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the new Mass that was crafted by the body of “experts” charged with implementing the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (the Consilium) is not only stripped of the Placeat Tibi, but also provides new narrative-style prayers as options in place of the Roman Canon, including the most-often used “Eucharistic Prayer II” that does not mention “sacrifice” even once, thus being entirely palatable to heretics.
All of this thanks to the fact that we have indeed listened to the Council; accepting the dubious claim that Holy Mass is “above all things the worship of the divine Majesty.”
At this I would like to invite you to read a magnificent treatment of the sacred liturgy, originally published in serial form at Rorate Caeli about four years ago, now available in full as a PDF:
The Roman Rite: Old and New – by Dom Pietro Leone