Letter #77: The Shekinah and the Old Mass

November 19, 2018, Monday

“After leaving Succoth they camped at Etham on the edge of the desert. By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, left its place in front of the people” (Exodus 13:20–22)” —The word “Shekinah” does not appear in the Bible, but the concept clearly does. The Jewish rabbis coined this extra-biblical expression, a form of a Hebrew word that literally means “he caused to dwell,” signifying that it was a divine visitation of the presence or dwelling of the Lord God on this earth. The Shekinah was first evident when the Israelites set out from Succoth in their escape from Egypt. There the Lord was present. He “dwelt” with them in a cloudy pillar during the day, and in a fiery pillar by night… In the New Testament, Jesus Christ is the dwelling place of God’s glory. Colossians 2:9 tells us that “in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.” In Christ, we see the visible manifestation of God Himself in the second person of the Trinity. Although His glory was also veiled, Jesus is nonetheless the presence of God on earth. Just as the divine Presence dwelt in a relatively plain tent called the “tabernacle” before the Temple in Jerusalem was built, so did the Presence dwell in the relatively plain man who was Jesus. “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2). But in heaven, the Shekinah will no longer be veiled (1 John 3:2).

Concerning the Possible Abrogation of Summorum Pontificum

A “trial balloon” was recently launched in Italy which some are interpreting as a “preliminary test” to judge whether it might not be opportune in the not-too-distant future — perhaps after — Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI dies (he is now 91) — to “abrogate” his 2007 Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum. Here is a link to a OnePeterFive story on the matter. (And see below for excerpts.)

I oppose any such “abrogation” and do not think it would be legitimate if attempted.

But some observers are suggesting there is considerable support for such an effort. Indeed, some say it is a principal goal of many progressive liturgists and theologians, that they are intent on suppressing all celebration of the old liturgy in the Church.

Clearly, such an attempted abrogation would be a rupture with the thinking and wishes of Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI.

The meaning of the old liturgy

The essence of the Catholic liturgy is the “presence” (dwelling, habitation) of the true God in our very space and time.

This “presence” is referred to in Jewish theology as God’s Shekinah, the unutterable and surpassing “glory” of the Lord’s presence.

The Shekinah is glorious because of God’s majestic holiness.

This holiness is an ontological quality — God is holiness, He is “holy,” the essence of His being is “to be holy” or “to shine forth in holiness”).

This is why Jesus said once, “God alone is holy.”

This is also why, in the Catholic liturgy, shortly before the consecration — shortly before the arrival of the King of all — we sing the powerful, ancient, awe-inspiring “thrice-holy” (“trishagion,” the “three times holy”) hymn: “Holy, holy, holy” (“Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus,” as it was in the old Latin).

Hearing this prayer at Mass as a child, I asked my father what it meant. “That is the name of God; holiness is His nature,” he told me.

And in this way I was introduced into a conceptual world of immanent and transcendent, earthly and heavenly, holy and profane.

In this sense, the liturgy, the Mass, was my earliest, most profound formation (lex orandi, lex credendi — “the law of praying is the law of believing”).

There was born within me, attending Mass in the 1950s, before the Council, a certain veneration for that old liturgy, though spoken in another language. The veneration was not primarily because of what the liturgy was in itself, its prayers and chants and hymns and gestures — though those things were certainly also a motive for veneration — but because of what it pointed to.

That old liturgy, as I witnessed on those Sunday mornings that even today, as I recall them, seem dense with significance, made what was intrinsically “beyond” and “unknowable,” “invisible” and “transcendent,” into what was able somehow to be within reach — to be known despite its unknowability, to be visible despite its invisibility, to be immanent, here with us, despite its transcendence, as we knelt uncomfortably in the pews of St. James Church in Danielson, Connecticut, where my father, who is now 92, was a school teacher.

That liturgy gave us an incontestable sense of our dignity as humans, in relation to the uniquely holy God, the source of all true dignity — because we were connected to Him, sought by Him, bound to Him.

And this sense of inalienable dignity became a source of social and political conviction.

We were “sons and daughters of God,” though we were hardly able to tie our own shoes, or neckties, and we were “brothers and sisters of Christ,” along with all the children of the world, against all the Herods who might menace us with destruction, in their ferocious desire to kill our eldest brother, Christ.

For this reason, the old liturgy was, for me, never a matter of any “right-wing” political or social agenda.

Far from it.

It was rather at once the inspiration and the guarantee of my conviction that all of us should commit ourselves to a discipleship which would comfort the oppressed, weak, impoverished, and give sight to the blind, and give hope to the hopeless.

Far from being something external to me, cold and forbidding, the old liturgy seemed to me something like the very tunic of Christ, His robe, the warm garment that he wore as he walked in Palestine.

Having suffered and having risen, the robe he now wore was the liturgy, which contained at every turn His words, above all “Do this in memory of me,” and which also contained the words of his ancestor, King David, whose Psalms echoed mysteriously down over 3,000 years from 1,000 B.C. to the liturgies of my mid-20th century childhood.

All this means that my understanding of the liturgy has little in common with the understanding I sense in most of those who discuss the liturgy today.

They speak of the liturgy as a collection of words and actions that are clear and understandable, and are connected with “human rights,” while I recall the liturgy as Christ’s robe, wrapping me in a sublime “presence,” the glory of the divine dwelling which surpasses all human understanding.

Perhaps my loyalty to and affection for that old liturgy is in some way mistaken, heedless, or reprehensible.

Certainly an age which seeks to reveal all secrets by dissecting, weighing, measuring, cannot appreciate a time and a culture — a preconciliar time and a preconciliar culture —which took reality as a seamless garment, as a continuum flowing from the holy, toward the profane, then back again to the holy, from blessed union with God, to tragic separation from God, and then, finally, to joyful reunion with God.

The Catholic liturgy, the Mass, is, or ought to be, oriented toward and made into a living ritual in and through and by God’s “presence,” by His unutterable “glory” — a glory no eye can see, no hand touch — except, astonishingly, in the consecrated Eucharistic host… seen by the eyes of faith.

The Catholic liturgy is truly the locus, the “place,” here and now, in Danielson and Assisi and Rome and Moscow and Beijing and Jerusalem and in every place the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is celebrated, where the words “this place is holy” (“Hic locus sanctus est,” as it says on the threshold of the Portiuncula in Assisi) take on real meaning…

Because, during our liturgy, the glory (“Shekinah“) of the eternal, all-holy God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, dwells with us in this temporal and fallen world.

This is why people in church have, age upon age, bowed their heads.

This is why they have genuflected and knelt.

And this is why they have examined their consciences (the most noble part of any human being) before receiving the consecrated host, God Himself — though to the senses the presence of the divinity is undetectable.

The real presence of the real God in these liturgies nourishes the soul of all those present, who are all made in His image and likeness, meaning that they live from meaning, from logos — from the “word” of God.

(Below, selections from the articles on the possible proposals to definitively suppress the old liturgy)

The Struggle over the Liturgy

Here is a link to a OnePeterFive story about some in Italy “taking aim” at the old Mass as something that should be suppressed or abolished (link).

The story, by Steve Skojec, is based on reports found on the Italian Catholic website called Messa in Latino (“Mass in Latin”).

So first I will translate the original Messa in Latino stories, then summarize the Steve Skojec report based on them.

On November 14, Messa in Latino received a communication from an informant inside the closed meeting of the Italian bishops; the bishops were discussing, among other things, liturgical issues.

Messa in Latino wrote (link):

“Rumors from the Assembly of the Italian Bishops’ Conference (CEI): attack on the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum.

“For several hours, rumors have been circulating constantly, coming from the Assembly of the CEI, in progress now and dedicated, as we know, to liturgical themes. According to these rumors, during the discussions, a violent attack on the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum was launched, both a scholar and by a bishop. They are said to have argued that the juridical structure [of Summorum Pontificum] is actually nothing (so it is said). Warning! At the moment it is only rumors, so we can hope that the rumors are groundless or, at least, exaggerated. Unfortunately, however, they are not unlikely: so there is already enough to cling to our Rosaries and pray intensely that our Bishops are preserved from such excesses of inadmissible and irrational ideological fury.”

So, the news was dribbling out, as a “rumor,” that a bishop and a scholar were attacking the document that Benedict XVI issued in 2007 to protect the right of Catholic priest to celebrate Mass according to the old rite.

On November 16, Messa in Latino confirmed the rumor, and added some details, as follows (link):

CEI: “The ancient Mass should be repealed, Pope Ratzinger made a mistake”

“The rumors that had come to us have been confirmed: in Rome, on the occasion of the Assembly of the Italian bishops conference (CEI), an attempt was made to strike out against the motu proprio of Benedict XVI [that is, Summorum Pontificum, issued on July 7, 2007, stating that the old Mass had “never been abrogated” and permitting its celebration by all Latin rite priests worldwide]. And so to strike out against Benedict himself, who was so fond of that reform, which he carried out against ferocious opposition.

“What’s happened?

“Archbishop Redaelli, bishop of Gorizia (who we know obtained a degree in canon law at the Pontifical Gregorian University) has asserted that the Old Missal of John XXIII was repealed by Paul VI (and this contrary to what was declared by Benedict XVI in the Motu Proprio) and therefore that Summorum Pontificum, since the legal premises upon which it is based are wrong, is without effect in the part in which it affirms the continuity of validity of the ancient missal and recognizes its unchanged vigor today. For this reason, the motu proprio is a legal “non-sense” and the “Tridentine” liturgy has not been legitimately re-established by the motu proprio and cannot be considered liberalized.

“With the consequence, hoped by the most hostile bishops, of a total cancellation and without exceptions of all the centers born and flourished after September 14, 2007 [the day Summorum Pontificum took effect].

(…)

“This intervention was followed by an even more hostile one by Girardi, Rector of the Institute of Pastoral Liturgy of Santa Giustina of Padua (one of the epicentres of post-conciliar aberrations), filled with the worst ideology of aggiornamento (‘updating’).

“Devoid of legal knowledge but full of liturgical arrogance (the famous joke that circulates in the Vatican is that the difference between a liturgist and a terrorist is that, with the latter, usually, one can negotiate…), Girardi argued that Summorum Pontificum is pernicious from the point of view of pastoral care, as it is contrary to the conciliar indications of the Fathers who demanded (he said) a radical change in the old missal. This is by no means true, as evidenced by the reading of the conciliar Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, which for example does not provide that the priest should be turned towards the people and at Paragraph n. 36 categorically prescribes: “The use of the Latin language, except for particular rights, is to be preserved in the Latin rites.”

(…)

“There is something sinister and psychopathic in all this and it is the envy of the bankrupt: in the collapse of their utopias, in the cold of the winter into which the radiant ‘conciliar spring’ has turned, it is too painful to face reality and honestly admit one’s mistakes. Better, then, to try to destroy the little that still works, like the zeal and the decorum of the celebrations in the ancient rite and the flourishing of vocations in traditional religious institutes. The case of the Franciscans of the Immaculate and the hatred of the immemorial liturgy are a clear example of this insane frenzy of crazy castaways, who try to take over the few rafts that still float, rather than thinking of climbing them up or building new ones.”

 

The OnePeterFive report on November 17, based on these two accounts just cited, is as follows (excerpts):

Italian Bishops Take Aim at Summorum Pontificum, Want Traditional Mass Abrogated

By Steve Skojec

November 17, 2018

As has so often been the case in the past year or two, an important report has surfaced on the Italian traditionalist blog, Messa in Latino (Mass in Latin). In it, the authors reveal that at the recent Italian Bishops’ Conference meeting in Rome (Nov. 12-15), an attack was mounted on the 2007 Motu Proprio of Pope Benedict XVI, Summorum Pontificum. That papal instruction affirmed that it is “permitted to celebrate the Sacrifice of the Mass following the typical edition of the Roman Missal, which was promulgated by Blessed John XXIII in 1962 and never abrogated, as an extraordinary form of the Church’s Liturgy.”

The attack was led by Archbishop Redaelli of Gorizia, who argued that the Mass was, in fact, abrogated (in direct contradiction to Pope Benedict) and that it can thus not be considered to be universally permitted.

Earlier this week, 1P5 contributor Hilary White, who lives in Italy, offered more insight into what the liturgical landscape looks like in Italy, and how this move might be interpreted. She says that the Traditional Mass “is barely surviving” in Italy “due to the blind, insane hostility of the Italian bishops to the Catholic religion.” She also argues that Francis has effectively taken over the Italian Bishops’ Conference, imposing his own candidate in Perugia and parachuting “a bunch of his toadies into key positions around the country to start softening up the local Church to his ideological platform planks.” Hilary continues, saying of Francis: “I’d bet money this is his idea made to look like theirs and he will acquiesce reluctantly to the overwhelmingly unified decision of the bishops – synodality, dontcha know. It will probably take a couple of years – one needs chronological distance in order to maintain plausible deniability – but it will probably show up as a ‘key principle’ after one of the Synods. Something that one or two bishops will complain was ‘never talked about’ in the discussions in the aula.

(…)

Traditionalists are treated by the Italian clergy and hierarchy like people with a contagious mental disease.

The blow struck by the Italian Bishops against the Mass of the Ages does not appear to be decisive. To my knowledge, no concrete action has been taken to repeal Summorum Pontificum in Italy — which, if it were to happen, would begin a domino effect in hostile dioceses around the world. We may not see the next step yet, but make no mistake: this is a portentous event, and it isn’t the last we’ll hear of it.

(…)

 

Next Letter

In the next letter:

(#3) The Possible Dangers of an “Official Catholic” List of Bloggers and Writers

(to be continued)

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By |2018-11-22T04:45:46+00:00Nov 22nd, 2018|Categories: The Moynihan Letters|