What is the deepest point of the Mass?
For well catechized Catholics, the answer is clear: in each Mass, Jesus Christ makes his sacrifice on Calvary 2000 years ago present to us in our time and space, making himself substantially present under the appearances of bread and wine, uniting us to him (and therefore to each other) as the Body of Christ through the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. We worship God by uniting with Christ in the sacrifice he made for us.
Referring to the Dogmatic Constitution of the Second Vatican Council on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, Pope Benedict XVI reminded us all that the Eucharist is “the source and summit of our Faith”:
The love we celebrate in the sacrament is not something we can keep to ourselves. By its very nature, it demands to be shared with all. What the world needs is the love of God; she needs to encounter Christ and believe in him. The Eucharist is thus the source and the summit not only of the life of the Church, but also of her mission: “an authentically Eucharistic Church is a missionary Church” (Sacramentum Caritatis, 84).
Why do so many Catholics, even those who go to Mass, no longer understand or believe in the real presence of Christ at Mass? It is because of the pure, hard and painful fact that we can no longer avoid and must urgently accept: many Catholics practicing Mass no longer ritually experience this sacramental truth about the Eucharist in their participation in Sunday worship. That is, the way Mass is celebrated too often does not accurately reflect the theological reality of what is actually happening.
In one October 2021 survey by The Pillar, only half of Catholics who attend mass every week agreed with the statement: “I believe that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ.”
The generational breakdown of belief in perhaps the most distinctive tenet of the Catholic faith is, to put it bluntly, equally lamentable. While 70% of Catholics born in the 1960s who attend weekly Mass believe in the Real Presence, only 25% of those born in the 1990s and 41% of those born in the 2000s do.
The generational shift in Catholic belief is accompanied by an equally significant collapse in Catholic identity: while 31% of Americans born in the 1980s identify themselves as Catholic, only 12% of those born since 2000 make.
We must not delude ourselves: the Church is experiencing a crisis of which it has not known the magnitude before. It will take a lot of hands to fix it, but it will also require a clear focus on the fundamental questions: how do we convert the hearts and minds of the people on the pews? How can we evangelize a culture, as we are called to do, when we are not successfully evangelizing the next generation who attend Mass most Sundays?
There are many answers to this problem and many new things to do, including better catechesis in parishes, in parents’ homes and in Catholic schools. We must spread, in particular, more schools based on Truth, Beauty and Goodness, the classic Catholic model which continues to show the capacity to transmit the faith without interruption by the acid bath of the culture in which we live, and worse may yet be to come. What is classically Catholic works, and the growth of the classical Catholic education movement gives much hope for a renewed Church with the power to evangelize through sound catechesis.
But the first catechesis for Catholics is the liturgy, and again, it’s what is classically Catholic that works – works today as it has worked for generations before.
How have Catholics for generations recognized the Real Presence? They encountered Jesus Christ at Mass every Sunday, seeing supernatural reality with the eyes of faith. If the manner in which we worship God does not effectively communicate the heart of what the Mass is, auxiliary measures, however helpful, will not be enough to stem the continuing collapse of faith here in the United States and throughout all of the West. Catechesis with manuals won’t work very well if people don’t see what they are being taught in the way Mass is celebrated every Sunday.
This is why the apostolic letter of Pope Francis Traditional custodians risked triggering the liturgical wars that he sought to end. Unity in Christ is what matters most. But taking seriously the challenge of helping the faithful to truly encounter Jesus at Mass is at the heart of a liturgy that unifies us in the Lord.
Thus, with the help of the Benedict XVI Institute, I have taken up this challenge in recent years to introduce and promote the beautiful new sacred music in both forms of the Roman rite.
While opponents of the Latin Mass relish one message Pope Francis has given us, how many are embracing the other challenge he has issued to restore liturgical reverence and dignity throughout the Church?
Pope Francis himself has denounced the widespread liturgical abuse, a phenomenon for which we cannot blame the Second Vatican Council so much as this obscure “spirit of Vatican II” interpreted in an individualistic, one might even say selfish, way in too many ways. ‘places.
In Traditional custodians, Pope Francis wrote: “I am saddened by the abuses in the celebration of the liturgy on all sides. Like Benedict XVI, I deplore that “in” many places the prescriptions of the new Missal are not observed in the celebration, but come to be interpreted as an authorization or even a requirement of creativity, which leads to distortions”.”
Pope Francis noted that the principles enunciated by the Council Fathers called for “the rites to be carefully revised in the light of sound tradition, and given new vigor to respond to present circumstances and needs.”
It is in this spirit that we will gather on January 15 at 11 a.m. in New York City, at Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral, heart of faith for generations of Catholic immigrants to this country, to celebrate Mass for the Americas.
The music for the mass, composed by the composer in residence of the Benedict XVI Institute, Frank La Rocca, is a double homage to our Blessed Mother under her titles of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception (patroness of the United States). and Our Lady of Guadalupe (patroness of Mexico and all the Americas).
In 2019, the Mass of the Americas embarked on an international unity tour with celebrations held or planned in Tijuana, Houston, Dallas, Guelph (Canada) and Allentown (New Jersey). Her latest celebration, in extraordinary form and held at the National Shrine Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC, drew more than 3,500 worshipers and 165,000 views on the basilica’s website. Guadalupanos, lovers of the traditional Latin Mass and students of the Catholic University of America were all united by the beauty and power of this Mass. Michael Olbach hailed it as “perhaps the most important Catholic composition of our lifetime”.
In an effort to demonstrate what the Revised Order of the Mass really looks like when celebrated with fidelity to the principles set forth in the Vatican II Dogmatic Constitution on the Holy Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium and in the continuity of the tradition received, the mass of the Americas at the old Saint-Patrick cathedral on January 15 will be in Latin (with general readings and intercessions in English), will give pride of place to Gregorian chant (alongside the sacred polyphony), and will be offered at the altar facing east, with all of us worshiping God together. Those who are not physically present can attend Mass EWTN, which will broadcast Mass from the Americas live.
When I was in Rome in January 2020 for the bishops ad limina visit, I gave Pope Francis a copy of the score of this Mass, which represents an example of the type of adaptation of the tradition to the contemporary world that he has called for.
As the Franciscan friars in California did with missionary church architecture, composer Frank La Rocca incorporated local culture (including popular Mexican hymns like The Guadalupe) in the music of the mass, elevating the local and particular culture into the sacred tradition, one that is timeless. It is true inculturation as the Church has always understood and lived it, and as Vatican II wanted it. It is a question of sanctifying the profane, of purifying it and raising it in the sacred tradition, not of “lowering” the liturgy to the level of popular culture as it reflects it and becomes practically indistinguishable from it.
During the audience with the Holy Father that we bishops ad limina visit took place on January 27, 2020, Pope Francis spoke of Our Lady of Guadalupe as metis (half-breed), what he suggested is appropriate for the Mother of the Son of God, for the Son of God is also in a sense metis: both human and divine. Mary unites us all, as good mothers do, in one family, through her Son Jesus.
In this process of unification and communication, sacred beauty is an integral part, not an additional luxury. Beauty escapes our fortified cognitive barriers, placing us in the presence of the God who loves us.
Pope Benedict XVI has encouraged us to interpret Vatican II in light of the continuity, reformation and mutual enrichment that is possible when old and new rites can mutually influence each other. Pope Francis’ Traditional custodians appeals to those inclined to more traditional forms of worship, and to all Catholics, to celebrate the current form of Mass with more beauty and reverence, with a sense of continuity.
This is what thousands of people will witness (through the miracle of the airwaves and the Internet) on January 15: a beauty that unites. A new example of the ancient and living Catholic tradition. A reverence that shows that Christ himself has returned among us, sacrificing himself to draw us to God. Guadalupanos, the curious, lovers of the Latin Mass and ordinary Catholics will come together to experience the sacrificial love of God.
In the renewal we need, the liturgy is the key: a respectful, sacred and solemn liturgy that embodies the truths of faith and brings us closer to the real presence of God among us. In this great task, sacred beauty is not an optional addition, but an integral part of the worship we need now.
Bishop Salvatore J. Cordileone is the Archbishop of San Francisco and the founder and chairman of the board of the Benedict XVI Institute for Sacred Music and Divine Worship.