Words are important. It’s how we communicate. Words can praise and build us up. Words can hurt, too. Sometimes we misunderstand what people are saying. We can’t comply with what someone might desire if we don’t really understand what he/she really wants, as a result of our inability to understand what is being said. I confessed once that in the past I tried to read “A Brief History of Time” by Steven Hawkins, and halfway through the book I had to admit to myself that I had no idea what I had read! So, with full humility I went right back to the beginning of the book and started again. The second time around I had much better luck with my ability to comprehend his meaning. Now, this book was written in English, my own native language, but I still did not understand it. I had to read it again, and the second time more slowly.
Now, let’s look at the Mass. First off, if we can misunderstand each other, if I can misunderstand a book written in my own native language, forcing me to pay better attention to what I am reading, doesn’t it seem equally possible that I might not fully understand the words of the Mass? Isn’t it more likely that here, too, I should pay better attention to really understand the words of the Mass? Additional comparisons of the words of the Mass with Steven Hawking’s book, “A Brief History of Time,” can be made. Dr. Hawkins’ book is a technical book, written in the language of science. The Mass is composed of technical words, too. It is written in the beautiful, rich, spiritually deep words of Liturgical Theology. Many of the words originate from ancient texts. As such, they are words with layers of spiritual meaning. They are words of Love. They are words of God. Although many of these words are from the past, they are also words that come from the deepest part of who we are. Inside all of us is the “memory” of Gods’ Love speaking to us, beginning at the moment of conception. We “remember” God’s Love in Mass, as we hear Him talk to us in this moment, now. The Church teaches us that the Sacrifice of the Mass happened only once, two thousand years ago, and it is not repeated, and yet we witness that one Sacrifice again at each Mass. It is all simultaneous! How can anyone think that one can fully comprehend all of the layers or meaning within such a mystery! For real understanding to take place; we have to hear it with all of our Being. It requires, needless to say, focused attention.
This need for learning focused attention is not alleviated with the reaffirmation of the Tridentine Mass. In fact, more is demanded for us to truly understand for the simple reason that it is prayed in a different language, Latin. After all this Mass, or any Mass for that matter, is not meant for our entertainment, or to reawaken a sense of nostalgia in those of us who, for example, might remember the Tridentine Mass as children as I do. Of course, superstitious reasons have to be rejected outright. The Tridentine Mass, in this case, is a gift, given to us to deepen our relationship with God. The words, although in a different language, still demand to be understood. We still have the responsibility, or better yet the deep spiritual need, to understand the words so that the Ancient, ever present Meaning can be grasped by us, indeed by our very Being.
Of course, the very soul of the Mass is Love. We are thought by theologians to love in an ever-deeper way by precisely experiencing God’s Love for us. A person without a soul is a corpse. If a person experiences the Mass as we commonly experience it with no goal of Love in mind, or hearing no Love expressed, he/she is jeopardizing their relationship with God, with the Roman Catholic Church, and with other people. Even here though, conversion can be experienced. One can experience a conversion by allowing one’s heart to truly open and be touched by God. And one can do this very well by just listening carefully to the Words of the Mass, reflecting on its Meaning, and hearing God say to us, “I love you
Peace! Fr. Walt