Liturgical Majesty & Solemnity

May 2007By Dale Vree

Dale Vree is Editor of New Oxford Review.

This Editorial must be written in the first person. When your Editor was a Protestant at the rough-and-tumble Dorsey High School in Los Angeles, I happened to walk into a Catholic church for the first time. This was in my senior year in 1961 before Vatican II. It was a weekday about 4 PM (no Mass in process), and not in a good part of town.

I was mesmerized. It was dark, but there were many votive candles lit. There were several people praying on kneelers. The altar was against the wall. Nothing like our Protestant Reformed churches.

I entered a pew. I put the kneeler down and prayed.

I will always remember that experience.

In my sophomore year at UCLA, I was becoming disconcerted with my Reformed Protestant church. I inquired about the Episcopal Church. I remembered my experience in the Catholic church. The Episcopal Church seemed the same. Votive candles lit, people praying on kneelers, the altar against the wall. It also had other things I associated with the Catholic Church: a Communion rail, sanctus bells, incense, genuflection, the Tabernacle up front on the altar, women and girls wearing chapel veils and hats, real stained-glass windows, and altar boys. In my junior year, I went up to the University of California at Berkeley, where I was confirmed as an Episcopalian.

The liturgy was The Book of Common Prayer, the 1928 version, in the King's English. (Since then it has been revised, not in the King's English.)

Why did I go up to Berkeley? My father planted in me a primitive proletarian consciousness -- to see things from a working-class point of view -- which he inherited from his father, Willem. My father, who never graduated from high school, also taught me to distrust the high and mighty. So I went to Berkeley because of civil rights, socialism, and Communism. The Free Speech Movement and anti-Vietnam activities would come later.

You may find this contradictory, but I didn't. The Episcopal liturgy was a little piece of Heaven on earth, and I wanted to make Heaven on earth for everyone.

When I went up to Berkeley, I was discouraged by the bohemians and beatniks (the hippies would come later), who intermingled with the radicals. They were into marijuana, LSD, shacking-up, pornography, hedonism, narcissism, a new era in rock music, and there were a fair number of homosexuals. It was a decadent bourgeois culture. There was no discipline, and therefore they could not make a revolution. Degenerates never made a revolution. And authentic Communists despise bohemians and decadence.

There was no hope for the New Left (as it was called), and so my wife, Elena, and I decided to go to East Germany -- hoping to find discipline (Disziplin) and the Kingdom of God on earth. There was Disziplin among some Communists and there were no bohemians, but there was no Kingdom of God on earth in East Germany. There were few people interested in the common good (solidarity, sacrifice, simplicity); most people were interested in their private goods (incomes, possessions, vacations, careers). Therefore, Communism could not work.

At that time I was an atheist, or maybe a Christian atheist (at that time there were Christian atheists). On occasion we attended a Lutheran church in Pankow in East Berlin. The liturgy was in German, of course. Something like the King's English.

On Easter Sunday in 1966, the Pastor (Pfarrer) preached about the physical Resurrection of Christ, something I did not believe. I heard the word Auferstehung again and again, which in English means the Resurrection from the dead. The Pfarrer's sermon caused the scales to fall from my eyes. After Easter Sunday, the Pfarrer said to me that the Holy Ghost would sometimes take control of his heart in the pulpit and override his prepared sermon. Something extraordinary coming from that pulpit had hit me. I believed and have ever since. I still hear the word Auferstehung. When you hear a foreign language, it may transform you.

The East German Communists had plans for my wife and me, but we didn't bite.

Returning to Berkeley, we attended an Anglo-Catholic church that didn't revise the liturgy (in the King's English). However, over the years turmoil erupted in the Episcopal Church -- priestesses, homosexuality, etc. So our church separated from the Episcopal Church. But we didn't want to be a rump (a splinter group) of a rump (Episcopal) of the Roman Catholic Church. So we converted to the Catholic Church and took the NOR with us.

At first, the new vernacular (Novus Ordo) Mass was fine with us, but as we got used to it, we realized something was amiss, we recognized liturgical abuses, and it was a letdown.

However, we found a parish in Richmond, Calif., whose pastor was a former Anglo-Catholic priest, and he knew how to do things right. There was choral and organ music (no band), incense, sanctus bells, etc. Some of the liturgy was in Latin. He frequently said the Eucharistic Prayer I (the Roman Canon) with the alarming words, "save us from final damnation, and count us among those you have chosen," which we had never heard in any other Catholic church. But then he retired. We were left adrift.

At St. Margaret Mary Church in Oakland, I have found what I've been looking for. The indult Tridentine Latin Mass: the Tabernacle up front on the altar, sanctus bells, incense, organ music, Gregorian chant from the back balcony (where, if you listen carefully, you can hear the angels singing), a Communion rail, Communion on the tongue, real stained-glass windows, altar boys (not girls), genuflection, bowing, women and girls wearing chapel veils and hats, at the Pater Noster (the Lord's Prayer) no handholding, and at the Pax Vobiscum (the Sign of Peace) no handshaking. In the Diocese of Oakland we are told to stand at the Ecce Agnus Dei ("This is the Lamb of God..."); at the Tridentine Mass we all kneel. The priest does not face the people; he faces toward the East, turned toward the Lord. There are no jokes and no smiles from the priest. This Mass is a majestic and sacred event.

A glimpse of Heaven on earth, the Church Triumphant. The heart's greatest yearning and aching should be for the transcendental, the Kingdom of God, as it was for me in the beginning. I don't cry, but at the Tridentine Latin Mass I admit to tearing up sometimes.

The King's English, German, Latin: I wanted to hear the melodies of Heaven (for me), not lackluster, boring, banal everyday English. (Of course, the Anglican liturgy in the King's English and the German Lutheran liturgy are not valid; but the new vernacular Mass is valid.) The new vernacular Mass in pedestrian English just doesn't appeal to me. Moreover, there are no sanctus bells, no incense, no Communion rail, the sermons are usually vacuous, and we must clap for the band (which is always up front), etc. Archbishop Rembert Weakland, a liturgical "expert," said that the New Mass should not convey "a feeling of infinity or eternity or the world beyond," for it's really about "communal sensitivity" among parishioners. Then do we feel we have received Christ's Body from the world beyond? No wonder that among U.S. Catholics age 18-44 -- the majority of whom have only attended the Novus Ordo Mass -- roughly 70 percent don't believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. As Gregory Schuller (and his wife) said in a letter to the NOR (Feb. 2007), after the Tridentine Latin Mass "we leave feeling we have received the Lord." Christ's presence is tangible at the Tridentine Mass.

I don't think my experience is all that unusual. Before Vatican II in the U.S., Mass attendance per week was ranging around 70-74 percent; now it's about 25-33 percent. There has been a mass exodus from the Church since the Tridentine Mass has been marginalized.

I realize that many orthodox Catholics are content with the New Mass (minus the liturgical abuses). And I realize that the Eastern Catholic liturgy, the Novus Ordo Latin Mass, and the Anglican Use Catholic Mass are also beautiful and dignified. To each his own.

As the NOR veers from conservative Catholicism to traditional Catholicism, which we have been doing for a while, we must make the transition to the Internet. We have reconstructed our website and it's up and running. It is outstanding, as we've heard from many people. The problem is that it's a huge financial drain. We project our website will make money in about five years, but we can't wait that long. Why is a website so important? Because young people spend enormous amounts of time on the Internet, and it goes without saying that young people are the future of orthodox Catholicism and the NOR.

Given our financial constraints, we may have to scale back our website, which would be tragic. There are a gazillion websites out there. Our website attracts young (and now middle-aged) readers to the NOR, who then subscribe. If we have to peel off our website, what would we give up: our ever-expanding Archives (every issue from 1994-present, so far), our Ad Gallery (currently containing over 60 of our distinctive and unique ads), NOR Dossiers (over 50 to browse through), our En Español section (over 40 translations and counting), the NOR Gear Shoppe, our five-times-a-week New Oxford News Link, our Forum? We just cannot do that.

Over the past 10 years, a shocking number of orthodox Catholic periodicals have gone defunct. Included among the major periodicals that have failed are: Mary's People, Sursum Corda!, Catholic Heritage, New Covenant, The Canadian Catholic Review, Catholic Dossier, The Catholic Faith, Credo, Envoy, The Pope Speaks, and Catholic Parent.

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A glimpse of Heaven on earth, the Church Triumphant...what else need be said? Posted by: gespin3549
June 07, 2007 10:24 AM EDT
Yesterday, Jume 24, 2007, I went to Mass for the first time in a long time. The church, Mater Ecclesia in Berlin, NJ established in 2000 is the indult Tridentine Latin Mass. Not since my childhood have I experienced such beauty and I would recommend anyone serious in their faith to attend.
Dale A Becker
Posted by: daledeb2124
June 25, 2007 10:42 AM EDT
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