I am not trying to criticize anyone. But, back when I was a layman, I heard a lot of lame homilies on Trinity Sunday. Who knows? Perhaps by the time we are done here, you will be saying the same thing.
The thing that annoyed me was when the preacher would begin his Trinity Sunday homily by saying something like: “The Trinity is such a mind-boggling, impossible mystery, I simply cannot begin to explain it.” Then he tells you the story about St. Augustine trying to write a book about the Trinity, and the little boy by the sea, and putting all the ocean into one little hole, etc. Okay, okay—we get it. The Trinity is a mystery which surpasses our understanding.
The reason this annoyed me is: The best possible explanation of the mystery of the Holy Trinity is right in front of our noses. The Mass explains the Holy Trinity perfectly. The Holy Trinity is not abstruse, not remote, not unfamiliar. There is, in fact, nothing more familiar than the Trinity for people who go to Mass. Let me explain.
Greetings from Shenandoah National Park. My dear mom and I have repaired here for 36 hours to take in the wholesome air. Also, I have undertaken to put the finishing touches on my training for the Army Ten-Miler this Sunday. My last-minute-training theory is: If you can run up and down the hills on Skyline Drive, you can do anything.
Actually, biking up and down the Skyline-Drive hills is even more impressive. A few intrepid athletes were out trying to conquer the hills on two wheels (with no motor). I saw a lovely couple on a tandem bike working their way up a dizzyingly steep half-mile incline. Quite a show of force. Excellent teamwork.
I have a class presentation to give on the virtue of docility. In contemporary English, to be called “docile” is not necessarily a compliment. It can imply that you are easily led by the nose, obedient to a fault. Even without this pejorative connotation, “docile” tends to suggest a lack of proper assertiveness or a weak personality. When we hear ‘docile,’ we think either of a trained animal or a Stepford wife.
In the classical terminology of the great philosophers, however, “docility” is a good quality. In St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae, docile simply means “teachable.” According to St. Thomas, docility is one of the eight parts of the virtue of prudence. The teachable person is ready to learn from someone who knows more. In other words, the docile person takes counsel, listens to good advice.
Docility makes someone prudent by making him moderate in making decisions and taking action. Someone could be ingenious, knowledgeable, and shrewd, but he runs the risk of acting imprudently if he does not take advice, because no one can know everything about everything. Also, someone could be brave, quick, and thoroughly reasonable, but, again, he will act imprudently out of rashness if he is not willing to listen.
The virtue of docility is the great moderator of minds: Teachableness makes smart people smarter; it makes courageous people patient; it makes slow minds knowledgeable; it makes creative geniuses humble; it makes smooth operators wise.
Doing right requires knowing the truth. We learn more of the truth when we are humble enough to admit what we don’t know, and when we are meek enough to listen even to people we don’t like. The readier we are to learn from others, the better we will be at making good decisions and doing the right thing.
Don’t get me wrong here: Docility is not the only virtue. It is only one of eight parts of prudence, and prudence is one of four cardinal virtues. Everyone needs to be their own person; everyone needs to follow their own lights. It is not good to be led around by the nose, to be passive or submit to bad advice. But it IS good to be teachable. An all-around excellent person listens to good advice, then makes up his own mind.
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!