There is no other major world religion on the planet that finds its source and inspiration in a rite that enables its God to become united with His people under the species of bread and wine. Today, Catholicism celebrates the feast of Corpus et Sanguis Domini Nostri Christi or more commonly known as Corpus Christi. It is a day when the Catholic faithful commemorate the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ which are made present always in every celebration of the Holy Eucharist.
In the Mass, God, through His Son, unites Himself with us. As Pope Benedict XVI reminded us in his excellent Apostolic Exhortation “Sacramentum Caritatis”, the Mass is “‘the mystery of Faith’ par excellence.” Right after the Consecration, we are reminded of this when the priest proclaims “Mysterium Fidei” – “The Mystery of Faith”. During Consecration, we believe that the bread and wine have become the real body, blood, soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ.
Thus, this sacrament of Divine Love, must merit our utmost attention and reverence. Why? Because it is Christ Himself Who becomes present before and among us. In the Mass, we firmly believe that the Savior of the Lord, along with the Holy Spirit, the Blessed Mother, St. Joseph and all the angels and saints, are present. The Mass is a gateway to Heaven! Do we even realize the overwhelming glory that unfolds before our eyes?
Unfortunately, since the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, this appreciation and deep love and knowledge for the Mass have been watered down or even, dispensed. The same Council stated that the Mass is the “font and summit of all Christian life”. Ironically, the effects of the same Council have made the Mass vulnerable to all kinds of threats: from the most discrete and subtle revisions to the most overwhelmingly despicable abuses committed against the Blessed Sacrament. The new form of the Masses have given innumerable priests the “chance” to inappropriate innovate and change the way it’s celebrated, making the rites self-serving and turning the priest into a celebrity. Thus, the applause after Masses, which have been used by some despicable priests as seeming TV shows.
It can be said and concluded that the crises the Church is experiencing today – exodus of members, dying vocations, lack of discipline among the clergy and the religious, etc. – can be traced to the liturgical crises that have plagued the Church since Vatican II.
If before, Catholics automatically kneel or genuflect at the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, today, they don’t even know that the Consecrated Host is Jesus Himself! There has been poor catechesis on the Eucharist since Vatican II! Just compare at Eucharistic or Corpus Christi processions from before Vatican II to the ones today. They are very telling.
One thing that was very apparent from before was a deep and conscious sense of beauty and reverence in the celebration of Mass in the pre-Vatican Church. Effort –great effort – was exerted to truly give glory to the Real Presence, and to properly orient the congregation to the Sacred Rites. Even during the height of World War II, photos attest of Masses being celebrated with much dignity and beauty amidst the rubble of destroyed cathedrals and burnt churches. Priests would be dressed appropriately for Mass even if they said those Masses in battlefields. Today, even within the comforts of an airconditioned chapel, the priests produced by Vatican II do not have – in general – that overt and conscious effort to preserve beauty in the Holy Sacrifice.
As Raymond Cardinal Burke said in the recent Sacra Liturgia conference in New York, “The beauty of the Sacred Liturgy is given concrete expression by means of the objects and the gestures of which the person – a unity of soul and body – has need in order to be raised to the realities of faith which transcend the visible world. This means that sacred architecture and sacred art, including the sacred appointments, the vestments, the vessels and linens, must be of such a quality that they can express and communicate the beauty and the majesty of the liturgy as the action of Christ among us, uniting heaven and earth.”
The current experience do not discredit the Council or the reformed Mass entirely. Absolutely not. I myself have attended simple but moving Eucharistic Liturgies making use of the Vatican II Mass. The said Masses were celebrated with much dignity and solemnity and with an amount of cadence that showcase the discipline and care by which the Sacred Species are treated.
The Mass of Pope Paul VI or the Mass of Vatican II, although it is valid, has unfortunately, many touch points which are susceptible to abuse. First and foremost, by allowing the language to be changed from the Latin to the vernacular, what used to be a Mass that united Catholics from pole to pole has now been appropriated for cultures. Before, a man from the United Kingdom can hear Mass in Japan and he will still understand the Mass since it follows the same rubrics and is said in the same language. Today, that is almost impossible.
Secondly, the sacred hymns used for the Mass before – musical pieces that formed a treasure trove for the world of music – have been dispensed and replaced by songs that are bordering on secular in terms of lyrics and melodies. Modern music used for Mass has greatly sentimentalized the Mass. Some Masses today feature musical instruments that are totally incongruent to the requirement that the Mass be celebrated in solemnity. Drums, (electric) guitars and beat boxes disrupt and destroy the great dignity of the heavenly sacrament, and yet, priests and “liturgists” employ these.
Then, there is Sacred Architecture and Art, both of which have seemingly disappeared in the post-Vatican II era. One perfect example of such despicable changes is the Church of the Gesu in the Jesuit-owned Ateneo de Manila University, my alma mater. A cold, imposing structure, it does not properly orient the ordinary person to a full appreciation of the Sacrament of the Altar. The tabernacle does not communicate the reverence the Holy Eucharist requires while the sparseness and banality of the whole space allows the mind to wander away, and to be distracted. The place does not inspire.
This “simplification” of church art “in the spirit of Vatican II” reveal our post-modernist realities which limits and stunts our praise of God with the use of mediocre designs and almost self-centered, individualistic designs. The “zen” movement has turned our churches into boring spaces that do not communicate the profundity of our Church’s history and mission to bring souls to Christ.
No doubt, a church so poorly designed leads to liturgies that are so poorly celebrated.
There are many, many other facets of the post-concilliar celebration and approach to the Eucharist that harm both the Blessed Sacrament and the Church in general. Through this watering down of the Liturgy, so too have been the faithful’s appreciation and depth of love for the Eucharist. Many of the people I continue to interact who “love the Church” actually see it more as an “agent of good”, a seeming NGO. All they talk about is how the Church helps the poor. This isn’t bad at all but it undermines the grandeur and breadth of the Church’s mission, which is to save souls and bring people to Christ!
Many of the said people I know are not very liturgical and understandably so. For many Catholics today, feast days, devotions, gestures, prayers, hymns, etc. almost no longer matter. Everything for them is about other persons, about “doing” when actually, what is more important is “being”.
Again, we can point that out to the horizontal celebration of our Liturgies. With priests facing people today in the modern Mass and with no altars or retablos that are designed in a way that orient the priest and people to Christ, Liturgy today now focuses on people, and this is problematic. Why? Because our faith is not in people! Our faith must be anchored on Christ!
And who is Christ? Where is Christ? He is in the Blessed Sacrament! He is truly present there.
In today’s world, a certain hypocrisy and double-standard exist with regard to the appreciation of beauty. Like Judas who reacted negatively when the jar of expensive oil was broken to anoint Christ’s feet, people today forget to prioritize when to go “all-out” and when to be more modest. People even in the Church think that exquisite furniture, vestments, vessels and appointments are frivolities. They would rather use such funds “for the poor”. They have forgotten that we need to give our best and the world’s most premium products in rendering homage to the King of Kings.
In the context of the Liturgy, all facets of the Eucharistic celebration must be opportunities for catechesis, and the foremost of which is the emphasis on Christ’s Real Presence in the Mass.
In Filipino, bakit mo titipirin ang handaan kung ang nasa piling mo ay ang iyong pag-ibig?
I am one with so many experts and dedicated persons that the crises in the Church can be addressed first and foremost, if we address the crises in the Liturgy. We need to re-instate “beauty” in the celebration of the Mass because losing beauty is also losing goodness and truth. When we salvage the way we celebrate Mass, we will also help save the Church. And when we save the Church – the Mystical Body of Christ – we will also have the sound preparation to save the world.
The mission of the Church, we should never forget, is to bring souls to Heaven. Thus, the “font and summit of all Christian life” – the Holy Mass – should also be a heavenly and not a worldly experience.
Enough of the phrase “in the spirit of VaticanII”! The history, mission and existence of the Church is not based on any council. It is based on Christ, and His abiding Spirit, which has been with the Church since its conception.
There is hope though. Through the example, writings and life of His Holiness Pope Benedict, priests, religious, liturgists and lay people have been inspired to recover again the sense of the sacred. With the Church shedding numbers rapidly, it finds in Her young priests and active lay persons a group of persons ardently searching for the true, good and beautiful, things that this current, secularized world have forsaken in exchange for the commercial, banal and shallow.
The Holy Mass will soon be the bastion of all that is beautiful for it promises what the world of relativism can no longer give: truth and genuine goodness.