I love all things old and historic.
Well, maybe not all things but most things. The older the better as far as I’m concerned on many things. This is especially true for me (and many others) when it comes to the worship practice of the Christian faith. One of the things that brought about my conversion to Catholicism was that I began to read Church history and the Fathers and I began to have a hard time reconciling the practice and theology of the Protestants with the practice and theology of the early Church.
As I studied and prayed my way into Catholicism, I came across all the stuff going on with the argument from traditional Catholics that the Novus Ordo was no good. I want to be careful here ‘cause I know this is a sensitive topic for many within the Catholic Church. And it is an important one. And there are people on both sides of the argument that have valid things to say but…
Lex orandi lex credendi.
Perhaps you’ve heard of this. It’s a Latin phrase that basically means that prayer and belief are integral to each other and that liturgy is not distinct from theology.
As I was in the process of converting, I was reading all these spats about tradition and the liturgical worship of the Church At first it didn’t mean much to me. I heard all this stuff that Vatican II was no bueno. So, I did what I thought anyone would do and I read the documents from Vatican II.
Here’s what struck me. It seems really vague. I felt like, in the dealings with the liturgical life of the Church, there was just a lot of softness and lack of clarity. Maybe that’s just me. If your dealings with Vatican II have been different, that’s totally cool. I’m just saying that, when I read it, it seemed less than clear. As it relates to liturgy, it seemed to me that the Council assumed that the liturgy would stay in Latin, or at least would mostly still be in Latin, I don’t know. Like I said, it was kinda vague. It also seemed to me that other things like ‘ad orientem’ and kneeling to receive and other parts of the liturgy like that would stay the same. But again, kinda vague. I don’t want to be too critical of the Fathers of the Council and want to give them the benefit of the doubt but…
Here’s the thing. Whatever the intent of the “reform” of the liturgy was, I think it’s safe to say that the outcome of said “reform” has been less than great. I mean, the research has shown that most Catholics now don’t believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist…and other things. To be fair, I don’t think we can place all the blame on the liturgy. But the liturgy tells us something, it forms something in us.
Lex orandi lex credendi.
We’re not just brains on a stick. Humans are en-fleshed beings. So, what we do with our bodies matters. So, when we experience something in a certain way, it develops meaning for us and has strong implications on what we believe.
I’m talking about all this because I feel like it’s really important and because I have children. And I want my children to know what we (the Church) believe and how we live out those beliefs and how our beliefs form our worship and vice versa. I’m talking about this right now because of some recent things that have happened in my own family.
We are currently at a Novus Ordo parish. It’s a good parish and large. There are many faithful believers that make up our parish. So that is where we regularly, as a family, attend Mass. I had been wanting to experience the Latin Mass for some time. It is, after all, how the Church worshipped for the better part of 2000 years. After searching, I finally found a parish in our diocese that celebrated the Latin Mass. So, a few weeks ago, my oldest daughter (who is 7) and I went.
The experience of the Latin Mass was unlike anything I had ever experienced and would take far too long to talk about for one blog post, so I won’t go too deep into it. Yes, the Latin was hard to follow. But the experience was reverent and profound.
This last Sunday, my family and I went to our local parish. During lunch, my oldest daughter and I had a conversation. I wanted to know how her experience of both the Latin Mass and the Novus Ordo were different and get her feelings on things.
I was astounded (thought I shouldn’t have been) at how astute her observations were and the reasons she gave for things. I asked her how she felt about the differences. She started off by saying that the Latin Mass was “weird because I don’t speak Latin.” I told her I understood that and asked how she felt about possibly having to learn Latin. She said that would be “cool.” I then asked her if she felt there were any other differences. That’s when things got deep.
She said she noticed that our priest stood facing the congregation at a “table.” But the other priest (at the Latin Mass) "faced the big wall that was pretty.” I thought it was telling that she said the Novus Ordo celebration was a “table” not an altar. I asked her if she knew the difference and she said no. So, I explained to her why, traditionally, the priest faced the east (ad orientem) rather than the people (ad populum). After I explained it to her, I asked her what she thought about that. She said (paraphrasing slightly), “Well then, the priest should face God when he prays. Otherwise he’s praying to the people, not God.” I didn’t put those words in her mouth; I merely explained the difference and let her decide which was more appropriate.
The conversation then turned to the Eucharist. I explained to her again what we believed about the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Her response was, “Yeah, that makes sense.” Then I asked her about receiving the Eucharist in the Novus Ordo versus the Latin Mass and for her thoughts on that. She said, “Well, I feel like we should kneel when Jesus comes in the room." When I asked her about receiving on the tongue versus the hand, she said, "That’s Jesus and we aren’t supposed to touch him.” I said, “Why not?” She said, “Because we’re not priests.” I said, “Okay that’s fair. And Jesus told Mary Magdalene not to touch him after he’d been raised from the dead. But then he told the Apostle Thomas to touch him. So, which is it? The Apostles were allowed to touch him but not Mary Magdalene. Why do you think that is?” She said, “Yeah but they were his representatives and they were the ones that were supposed to go and tell the world about him.”
She gets it.
Here’s the thing. I’m not saying that we should keep the worship traditions of the Church merely to hearken back to the “good ole days.” I’m saying that the worship traditions of the Church communicate something. There is a clear difference in what the “reform” of the worship of the Church is communicating from what the traditional worship of the Church is communicating. My 7-year-old feels and understands that at a level that I was astonished by. I shouldn’t be surprised by that.
After all, lex orandi lex credendi.