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The Spirituality of the Ancient Liturgy, Part III

By Fr. Chad Ripperger, F.S.S.P.

(from Latin Mass Magazine, Summer 2001)

Novelty begets spiritual gluttony. By spiritual gluttony is understood the spiritual defect by which one takes delight and concerns oneself only with the physical and spiritual consolations sent by God rather than using the consolation as a means to growing more holy. Spiritual gluttony occurs when people do spiritual or religious things because of some consolation or delight they derive from them and so the delight, rather than God, becomes the end of the action. Novelty begets spiritual gluttony because people tend to think that newer is always better, and so each new thing brings them some new delight. Here we see that novelty can easily degenerate into keeping people entertained, but the danger is that insofar as it prompts one to stop looking at God and fixating on the new thing that sates our appetites, it impedes our spiritual growth. All of the saintly spiritual writers warn that spiritual gluttony is very dangerous for the spiritual life.

The ancient ritual actually destroys spiritual gluttony on three levels. First, all of the silence takes away from our appetites the desire to talk. It is a fact that some people like vocal prayer because of the “spiritual high,” to use a degenerate sixties and seventies term, that comes from doing the talking. Second, the repetition ensures that the appetites, which constantly want something new, are not satisfied. Repetition in a spiritual good is something that is appreciated on an intellectual level, not an appetitive level. Our appetites can get bored when we experience the same thing; the intellect, on the other hand, is able to see the value of the thing each time it encounters it. Thirdly, a certain pleasure comes from being in control of something. This is another reason that the ritual must be fixed or determined by the Church and not by ourselves. For insofar as the ritual is determined by our choice among options and not according to the universal laws of the Church, we take a certain pleasure in being in control. But this to subordinate a spiritual good to our natural desires.

Moreover, while it is not part of the newer rituals themselves, some of the forms of music employed in them are used because of some sensible or appetitive pleasure derived from the music rather than for their usefulness in drawing the mind and will into closer union with God. This leads people to confuse the pleasurable experience with actually experiencing God. In effect, it leads people to think that authentic experiences of God are always pleasant. While in the next life they are, in this life the experiences of God are often arduous and exceedingly painful for us – not because of some defect in the way God handles us, but because of our imperfections and sinfulness which cause our pain. As St. Theresa of Avila once said, “God, if this is the way you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few of them.”

The point is that music and all of the other aspects of the ritual should be geared toward weaning people off sensible delights and consolations as the mainstay of their spiritual lives. This is why Gregorian chant which, has an appeal to the intellect and will, naturally begets prayer, which is defined as the lifting of the mind and heart to God. Gregorian chant does not appeal to one’s emotions or appetites; rather, the beauty of the chant naturally draws us into contemplation of the divine truths and the mysteries of the ritual.

To return to our discussion of liturgical options, by having a predetermined ritual by the universal laws of the Church, one avoids having one person force his disposition and his own spiritual life or lack thereof on the rest of the people attending Mass. In other words, it avoids having someone impose himself or intrude on the spiritual lives of the laity by the choices he makes which flow from his own interior dispositions and spiritual life. Since people naturally differ in disposition, when the ritual becomes the product of one individual or even a few, it loses its spiritual appeal to the rest of the people, who may not share the same dispositions.
The traditional rite, on the other hand, avoids this pitfall by determining the ritual itself. One of the advantages of the ancient ritual is that it does not matter which parish you attend; it is everywhere the same. Insofar as the options of the new rite allow for the particularization of the ritual, it ceases being catholic (meaning universal). In fact, in an age of hyper-mobility, it seems especially imprudent to have changed the ritual. I realized this when I went to Rome and attended Mass in Italian. Had the Mass been in Latin according to the ancient rite, I would have felt right at home at Mass; instead, I was left with the impression that I was merely an onlooker from the outside. This is why Latin and a fixed ritual allow the Mass to have a universal appeal: one can attend it in every country, in every parish in the world and still feel right at home. While we may not understand the homily or sermon when we are in a foreign country, we can nevertheless enter into the ritual in the same depth and fervor that we can at our home parish. This also avoids the unfortunate problem of people parish shopping, as it were, trying to find a priest whose choice of Mass options suits their own dispositions.

Latin also provides a form of self-denial by taking the translation of the ritual out of the hands of questionable agencies. Inclusive language is a classic example of what we have been describing: the desire of a small group to impose its own spirituality on everyone else. The desire for inclusive language is a manifestation of the expectation that the ritual should conform to the group rather than vice versa. Latin undermines this idea because everyone, as Pope John XXIII says in Veterum Sapientia, is equal before the Latin language. Latin forces a type of self-denial on us because we can not manipulate the language to our own ends. It also thwarts the inclination of the priest to ad lib, foisting his own personal disposition on those attending the Mass.

The Latin, the fixed rubrics, these things strip us of our selves so that we can become nothing. St. John of the Cross often noted that we must be nothing so that God can become everything in us, or, as in the words of St. John the Baptist (which we can apply to the ancient ritual), “I must decrease, so that He may increase.” Stripping ourselves of self, which the ancient ritual does, is a requirement for any authentic spirituality.

III. Perfection in Virtue

This brings us to the next topic: perfection in virtue. The old Mass, insofar as it strips us of self, humbles us. This is necessary, since every one of us suffers from pride. Moreover, by not giving us control over the ritual, the old rite begets meekness, the virtue by which one does not go to extremes in one’s reactions or actions. There are countless stories of laity and priests being furious after attending the new rite because of something the celebrant did. The priest should not be the cause of anger during the Mass. By becoming the cause of anger, he erodes the meekness of the laity. Having a fixed ritual, provided the priest follows the rubrics and says the Mass reverently, minimizes the chance that the priest will anger the laity. In this way, the old rite assures meekness.

Humility is the root virtue in the concupiscible appetite, i.e., the thing in us that inclines us toward bodily goods. Humility is the virtue by which one does not judge oneself greater than he is. St. Thomas Aquinas tells us it is the root virtue of all the other virtues and that no other virtue can exist without it. The old Mass roots out pride and begets humility because it is not our action or our product but the product and action of God. Moreover, by coming up against the mysterious which for us in this life is insurmountable, it naturally causes in us a sense of our smallness in comparison to God. This in turn tempers the way we behave because we are in the presence of someone who causes “awe,” which is an overwhelming sense of wonder or admiration. “Awe” naturally causes us to stop and consider ourselves in the light of that which is awesome; it captivates us and therefore moderates what we do. The ancient ritual, in begetting humility and meekness – upon which all the other virtues rest – reminds us of the words of Christ, Who said, “Learn from Me, for I am meek and humble of heart.” In other words, “ I conform myself to the truth, I am not proud and do not judge myself greater than I am, I do not go to extremes in my reactions.” This is what we must desire in any ritual. The ritual should speak to us – not in our own words, but in the words of Christ. In this way the ancient ritual can be seen to be saying metaphorically, “Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.”
Once meekness and humility are in place, the virtue of reverence naturally follows. Reverence is the virtue contained under the more universal virtue of justice, and more particularly religion, in which one holds in honor and esteem some thing, usually sacred. The ancient ritual helps us to honor those things that are holy because, first, we are humble and recognize the greatness of sacred things. Secondly, we approach God in a sense of self-denial and subservience, and in this respect the ancient ritual excels. For the priest bows his head, genuflects and humbles himself often in the prayers that God might look upon his actions and be pleased.

Fortitude is also taught in the ancient ritual, if in no other way than that it is clear that it is spiritual warfare. At the very beginning, when the priest vests by putting on the amice, he says a prayer in which he asks Our Lord for the helmet of salvation so that he can fight off the incursions of the devil. Also, since the priest is not subject to a liturgical committee in making decisions on what should and should not be done, the traditional rite strengthens the priest and reaffirms the masculine aspects of being a priest.

Here we highly recommend the article by Fr. James McLucas on the emasculation of the priesthood, (The Latin Mass, Spring 1998) in which he argues that the newer rituals have, in fact, taken away from the priest those things that are masculine: e.g., the role of providing for and protecting his spiritual family. In the ancient ritual, he alone feeds his spiritual family by distributing Holy Communion. This also means he can protect the sacred mysteries. The systematic removal of all these things that emphasize the masculine and fatherly role of the priest has weakened our vision of the priesthood. Moreover, we tend to get what we offer as an example. Thus, if we place before people a weakened view of the priesthood that has little or no virtue of fortitude, then we can expect priests to become weak and effeminate, and attract seminarians who follow suit. Fortitude is defined as engaging the arduous good and the ancient ritual provides an avenue for the priest to obtain the greatest and most difficult type of fortitude: self-discipline through self-denial.

The ancient ritual also avoids violations of justice. The new Code of Canon Law states that the laity have a right to attend the liturgy said according to the rubrics. Now all the options have eroded the sense that the priest must render to the people their due; the flow of the Mass is at his discretion. This leads the priest to think that he can do whatever he likes. While Church documents are clear that he cannot do so, the fact is that all these options contain the implicit principle of “do what you want.” This is why, when the ritual is out of the hands of the priest, it naturally begets a sense of the requirement of justice in all of us. For when the priest does something that is contrary to the rubrics, or even in the rubrics but included as optional, it gives people a sense that the priest is concerned not so much about what God wants as about what he wants, especially if one attending the Mass does not like the particular option. Ultimately, the ritual of the Mass is about God, and ought to seek the best way of rendering to God His due. This comes through a deep sense of justice. Through the sacrifice to God and the conformity of the ritual to that sacrifice, we recognize that with respect to God, we have no claim of justice insofar as we are mere creatures. Therefore, the Mass must be about God and not ourselves. The ancient ritual helps us to forget and lose ourselves in the rendering of justice to God through the Sacrifice.

The ancient rite begets faith, hope and charity. It begets faith because it excels in its expression of Catholic theology. Faith comes through hearing and we hear the Faith in the very prayers of the ancient ritual. It begets hope because of its deep sense of the transcendent and our participation in the transcendent. It begets charity because it helps us to realize that worship is about God, not us. Charity is defined as love of God and neighbor for the sake of God. Even when we love our neighbor, it must be for the sake of God. Hence the ritual helps us to focus everything on God, thereby giving a proper direction to our spiritual lives. Even if this were not the case, the ancient ritual begets charity if for no other reason than that it keeps people’s imperfections at bay by taking away the ability of one person to impose himself on another, thereby averting anger, hurt feelings and the like.

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