Monthly Archives: September 2016

Mass Tourism VI – Time Traveler Edition


See introduction to Mass Tourism series here for the motivation behind these essays.

This week I did not visit a local parish or go to Mass while on vacation. I did not participate in some Eastern rite of the Catholic Church as I am wont to do. No, this time I went to the small Endre parish— located one mile east of Visby on the island of Gotland, Sweden built in the 12th century—where Fr. Anders Piltz celebrated the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass on October 5, 1450, the 18th Sunday after Pentecost, many years before the Protestant Reformation.

Fortunately, I was somewhat prepared, having studied the traditional rite as it was celebrated for 400 years from the Council of Trent to Vatican II. But this was even before the establishment of the Tridentine Mass and there are several differences.

Endre has distinctly older components, specifically a rood screen that separates the people from the priests and all liturgical activity. It is only until communion that the faithful cross into the sanctuary to receive the consecrated bread kneeling down. A small version of what looked like an iconostasis stood above the altar.  Thin narrow stained glass windows punctuated the front and sides of the sanctuary. A roughly crafted crucifix hung under the pointed Gothic arch in front of the public area. The nave was walled solid with fading frescoes. A dull, cacophonous bell was sounded at the usual parts of the ritual.

The rite was, of course, in Latin and many of the liturgical formulas (Gloria, Credo, Sorsum corda, Sanctus, Agnus Dei) are exactly the same as we use in the current Novus Ordo Latin rite although the responses were not provided by the people but by a professional cantor. Some responses were not evident, such as the Confiteor or Suscipiat. The vesting prayers I could not equate to those I studied in Latin class but I understand these can vary. The Mass readings and specific prayers for that Sunday in the liturgical calendar adhered to the 1962 Roman Missal I possessed. The priest stood ad orientem as was the norm prior to Vatican II and is presently being revived. The incensing of the altar and then toward the people prior to the Liturgy of the Eucharist is exactly as is done at St. Catherine’s most Sundays. Much of the intonation was barely audible as parts were conducted discretely. This was the practice for centuries—the sacredness and mystery of transubstantiation was too prone to misunderstanding and vulgarization, and catechumens were dismissed before the Eucharistic Liturgy as a precaution.

Even though the liturgy of the Mass has changed, it’s astounding just how much of it is still intact and recognizable over five and half centuries later including an overhaul of the rite in the early 1960’s. Should you also wish to travel back in time and witness what Mass was like to ordinary people, simply click here.

And bring an old missal.

Great Cloud of Witnesses

As mentioned in the series called Paradigm shifts, the Catholic Church believes that the Church is made up of three major parts: The Church Militant, the Church Expectant, and the Church Triumphant. The first are those Christians waging spiritual warfare here on Earth, while the last is that standing in the presence of God interceding on the Church’s behalf. The penitent Church in the middle is that in purgatory.

When we read Hebrews 12:1 about a great cloud of witnesses, Church teaching understands this to mean the communion of saints, particularly the Church triumphant whose righteous prayers avail on our behalf. The author of the Hebrews recounts some of these witnesses including Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and others.

12  Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, * 2 looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

One analogy is to see these communion of saints in the heavenly realm cheering us on as if we are in some sort of marathon or sporting event running toward the finish line.  This correlates with Paul’s analogy in 1 Cor 9:24

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 Well, I do not run aimlessly, I do not box as one beating the air; 27 but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

I tend to think of the communion of saints in different terms, not as an active cheering section but a model of leadership as expressed in their Earthly life. Despite the gates of Hell prevailing on the world in which they lived, the saints (Church triumphant) prove that men and women like you and me can run the race and win. Maximillian Kolbe, Theresa of Calcutta, Thomas More, Martin Pascual, and countless others (including Peter, Paul, .. Cosmae, Damian, … Lucy, Agnes and those declared in the Canon of the Mass).

The image of St. Thomas More hangs on the wall above my computer in my home office to remind me that not all men have a price. The image of Martin Pascual is uploaded on this blog (see Hagiography) as a reminder to me that there is a life that transcends this one and we can meet our end with that reality painted on our face. I don’t mind that they may be cheering me on and praying on my behalf, but I view their life as one that I too can emulate, and, God willing (yes, with my participation), I too will subordinate the worldly pull for a greater prize.  The Communion of the Saints is not just doctrine I adhere to as one of the faithful, but it is just one of the many great treasures of the Church I possess as my patrimony and that of all Christians should they accept it.