The Catholic Moment: The source and summit
November 21, 2011
By Father Earl Fernandes
With Advent, the translation changes of the Roman Missal have taken effect.
Many hope the new translation will bring a renewal of worship of God. These changes may be difficult for some, but it is hoped that in the end, Catholics will appreciate the liturgy, and especially the Mass, more deeply.
As parishes prepared for the changes, presentations were given throughout the archdiocese. Almost all these presentations referenced the Second Vatican Council, reminding the faithful that the Eucharist is the “source and summit of all life in the church.” I have heard that quote often, but I wonder, “Is that how people in the pews really think?”
Theologically, it makes perfect sense, but at times, I have my doubts about whether Mass is a priority for some people. Happily, one member of the faithful dispelled my doubts.
On Oct. 28, I offered a solemn high Mass in the extraordinary form of the Roman rite at Guardian Angels Church, where I celebrate Mass in the ordinary form every Sunday. The next day a parishioner sent me this email, which he allowed me to share:
My wife and I appreciate your celebration of Mass in the extraordinary form. We hope that you can do this again. For me, it was not just a trip down memory lane, but a strong reminder of the Mass and the church’s importance in my family’s life. My family is the product of centuries of devotion to God in His church. My Irish and Italian ancestors were baptized, nurtured and buried in the arms of our faith. It really strikes me that the church is in my genes and in every fiber of my being not from tradition but from grace. Today, my favorite family time is spent at Mass at Guardian Angels with my wife, daughter and any others who can join us.
I was a server in the days of the Tridentine Mass and memorized every prayer in Latin and English, often having “practice masses” with my dad in order to master the prayers and the rubrics. Strangely, last night’s Mass sparked one of the few good memories of my Ma. (I know that there are more, but these are hard to come by for a life-long child of a very badly suffering alcoholic.) One summer evening, Ma and I went to Benediction and the servers were absent. The priest asked me to serve even though I had not completed the training. With shaking knees and a bit of trepidation, I participated in my first liturgy. It was amazing and wonderful. I did start the priest’s cope on fire when I was incensing him but that was quickly and very kindly handled by Father. The priest waived any further training and blessed me on the spot as a server. For a rare moment, Ma glowed and spoke with pride of my serving as we walked home on that blazing hot Thursday evening-a very rare event. Last night really helped me bring that one very good moment into focus.”
His message has less to do with the form of the Mass or its language than with the power of the Mass in the life of the Catholic. For him, and for many like him, the Eucharist is the source and summit of his life. Amid the “liturgical wars” and the fight over the new translation, it is easy to lose focus, to overlook the essential — the real presence and the importance of Christ and His church gathered in worship. The sacrifice of Christ has the power to heal the wounds of sin and division. The Mass has the power to transform our way of seeing the world and those in it. Imagine (if it is possible for a Catholic) the world without the Mass. Would it be better or worse?
It is discouraging sometimes to think of how many “lapsed” Catholics there are, of how many who have stopped encountering the Lord in the Eucharist. Still, there is great consolation in the words of the “Last Gospel,” the prologue of St. John’s Gospel: The light shines in the darkness and the darkness could not overcome the light. At Christmas time, so many who do not regularly practice return to Mass, hoping to see things differently in this “new” light — the light of Christ. Indeed, the Catholic moment par excellence is the celebration of the Eucharist.
Father Fernandes is an assistant professor of moral theology and dean of the Athenaeum of Ohio/Mount St. Mary’s Seminary.