Voce mea ad Dominum

Random thoughts from an amateur theologist.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Heaven on earth

"And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself."- John 12:32

I had a new experience of this verse in St. John's gospel today. I attended a Tridentine Latin Mass at
St. Patrick's Church in New Orleans today. This is the Order of Mass put forth by the Council of Trent, and which was used in the Catholic Church prior to the order instituted by Pope Paul VI which is currently in use. It is completely in Latin with the exception of the homily and some of the songs sung which were in English.

A few things remained quite a while with me after I left the church. First of all was the fact that the priest and deacons faced the altar. In the Pauline Mass, the priest faces the people. Now, the proponents of the Pauline Mass over the Tridentine Mass say that the priest should not turn his back to the people. After attending this Mass, I am of the opinion that the priest is not so much turning his back on the people as he is facing the altar of God and Christ truly present in the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle. He is focusing on Christ and indirectly is asking us to do likewise through his posture, so I found myself not focusing on the priest in the Mass, but rather focusing on what he was focusing on, i.e. the Lord.

Second. Much of the Mass was chanted and the chants were ethereal. The choir was in a loft in the back of the church, but I never once turned around to see how many there were or who they were. The singing and chanting served only to focus my attention more on Christ, so there was no need to see who was doing the singing because that was irrelevant. What was important was that the voices were giving glory to God and calling me to do likewise.

Third. Many of the prayers said by the priest were done silently and ended with a loud per omnia saecula saeculorum to which the people respond Amen. The image in my mind was that of Moses in the Holy of Holies conversing with God on behalf of the People of Israel, and this led me to think of Christ conversing with the Father in the true Holy of Holies in heaven on behalf of the Church. Suddenly, the term in persona Christi took on a vivid reality in a way that is not as evident in the Pauline Mass. The priest is conversing with God at His altar on earth as Christ is conversing with the Father at the altar in heaven.

Fourth. There was a lot of silence in this Mass, but it was sacred silence. It was time to realize that you were in the presence of holiness. There was nothing awkward about it like that silence you experience when there is a lull in a conversation. This was beautiful silence in the presence of God.

And lastly, I was completely unaware of time passing during the Mass. In a subtle way, I had sort of stepped out of time for a brief moment to experience eternity in the Eucharist only to have to walk out of Church and return to the world. For all I knew, 2 hours had passed, but in reality only about 45 minutes had passed.

So what does this have to do with Jesus' quote in St. John's gospel? Throughout the Mass, all focus was on Christ. From the opening Asperges me to the closing Ite missa est, all present were drawn to him and away from themselves. We were in heaven on earth.

Joannes Paulus PP. II, ora pro nobis.


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