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More on the Mass

The freeing of the Old Mass seems to be drawing closer. There have been assurances to that effect from a leading cardinal, as well as petitions from various French and Italian intellectuals that may help counteract interventions from French hierarchs worried that Charles Maurras is going to rise from his crypt or some such.

I will take advantage of the absence of editors and other gatekeepers on the web to say that I think that if this really happens it will be an event of world-historical importance. Writing this post with this stuff going on in Rome is like Hegel completing the Phenomenology of Spirit within earshot of the Battle of Jena, only less work.

Here’s why:

  • The Mass is the central institution of the Catholic Church. Its function is to make what is ultimately real available to us in concrete and even tangible form.
  • The Post-Vatican II Mass is obviously a construction of particular men meeting in committee and designing something in accordance with their own notions. It emphasizes explicit instruction of the people and the relations among those present at the particular celebration. It thus turns its back on the transcendent, disguising the nature of the Mass as an event of ultimate metaphysical importance.
  • The Old Mass in contrast is an expression and even constituent part of the Church throughout time. It is indifferent to the particular identity of those present. It downplays instruction and sociality in favor of its own specific action, and so is not a means to some other end. It is therefore possible for it to present the becoming present of ultimate reality without ambiguity.
  • Present political disputes at bottom have to do with a sort of politics of being: where you stand depends on what you think things are. The disputes have to do with issues as basic as the nature of rationality and reality. At bottom, the question is whether or not man constructs reality.
  • There are lots of Catholics, and the Roman Catholic Church is, at least historically, the central institution of Western Civilization. A clear representation of ultimate being in the Mass is therefore, at least potentially, a matter of supreme practical importance. That importance is of course increased if you believe, as I do, that the Church and Mass are what they purport to be.

On such a view the restoration of the Old Mass becomes the key to the resolution of the current civilizational crisis. It means defeat of modernity through its rejection in what is historically the central institution of Western culture, the Mass. It thus brings history to an end in a sense quite different from the Battle of Jena. Where that battle and Hegel’s completion of The Phenomenology of Spirit at the same time and place supposedly brought the development in history of spirit (a.k.a. human culture) to culmination in full self-conscious self-sufficiency, the restoration of the Old Mass will bring “history” itself to an end as an overarching mode of understanding the world as a construction of human thought, desire and action. It will mean that man is not self-sufficient, that the transcendent and timeless precede culture and thus all human thought and action and are actually available to us here and now through an institution understood as divine in origin. Garry Wills said that the 2004 election was the end of the Enlightenment. He was wrong, as always, but he was on to something big.

For a discussion of Masses old and new that keeps its feet on the ground more than my ravings, and provides useful background on the differences, see this piece by conservative Catholic historian James Hitchcock. He’s got some great “money” quotes from various reformers. And for the voice of the Dark Side, here’s something from progressive Notre Dame theologian Fr. Richard McBrien.