When I first started out in training for the priesthood, I worked in a parish helping to take care of the elderly people in the neighborhood. There was an old car for me to use to take the ladies to their doctors’ appointments.
One of these ladies became a good friend to me, and we stayed close for years–until her holy death in 2003. She was not particularly friendly, however, when we first met. In fact, when I told her I was from the local parish, and I offered my services to her, she pronounced the following in no uncertain terms: “Listen, I am glad that you are here to help me. But I do not hold with new-fangled Church. I believe in the old-time Catholic religion.”
Perhaps you, dear reader, are aware that the Sovereign Pontiff Benedict XVI has restored to all Catholic priests the option of keeping the old-time Catholic religion alive. I.e.: Mass in Latin. The priest facing east, the same direction as everyone else. The priest praying the ancient prayers and making the gestures of supplication to God that were faithfully done for centuries–until things were simplified, updated, and revised around 1970.
This week the Archdiocese of Washington had an optional training session for us priests who never learned how to say Mass the old way (that is, anyone under sixty). You can read all about the training sessions here, if you are interested. The priest who taught us is a member of a religious order called the Norbertines. They get to wear a white cassock like the pope, but they wear black shoes instead of the papal red. (Here is an interesting fact: The Pope wears red shoes because St. Peter’s feet would have been covered with fish blood when he hauled in the nets on the Sea of Galilee.)
Anyway, I am definitely not one of those priests who thinks that the new Mass—with English readings and prayers—is a bad idea. Most priests–even us rigid young ones–think that having the readings in English is a good idea. I very much like to say Mass the way I originally learned it six years ago from my beloved teacher, Fr. Stephen Nash (who is now a monk called Daniel at a monastery in Austria).
I will say this, though: There are some things about the Old Mass which make it more prayerful. To me, it makes more sense for the priest to face God when he is praying and not face the people. Praying to God and looking at the people at the time is one of the most ridiculous things I can imagine. There are moments during Mass when the priest speaks to the people; he should look at them then. But when the priest is praying, it makes sense for him to face the same way as the people–that is, toward the Lord.
The old Mass also makes it much clearer that the Mass is a sacrifice. In the Mass, the priest and the people together offer the Son of God to the Almighty Father for the salvation of the whole world. It is the only sacrifice that actually works. The human race has tried just about everything else: chickens, heifers, people…none have done any good. But the Precious Blood of Christ offered to the Almighty Father on the altar actually does bring about the forgiveness of sins and fills the world with grace.
If it is not a sacrifice, it is not the Holy Mass. The new way of saying Mass sometimes seems like an occasion for teaching and singing, but not a sacrifice (even though it is one). A priest should try to be a good teacher and leader, but first and foremost he is a man who offers sacrifice to God. The old way of saying Mass makes this much clearer to everyone, especially the priest himself.
I must admit that I have found it rather difficult to learn how to say Mass the old way–but I am getting there. I had better be getting there, since I am celebrating the Solemn High Tridentine Mass at 5:00 p.m. this Sunday (at St. Mary Mother of God parish on 5th St., N.W.) May it be for the greater glory of God and the salvation of souls!