Latin Mass Magazine – Fall 2017
The Priesthood and the Holy Eucharist are bound in as intimate a union as you and your body. Reasons for this are clear to a Catholic as his own name. The Holy Eucharist is Our Lord’s very own Body and Blood, soul and divinity, under signs of bread and wine. Just as it was only Our Lord Who could create this Sacrament, so it is only Our Lord Who can repeat it. But where is Christ today to repeat this wondrous transformation?
No need to search far and wide. Find a priest, and you have found Christ. Perhaps that dogma of the Church bears some clarification. It is not that Father So-and-So stops being himself and starts to be Christ. That would be rather preposterous. Correctly understood, when the priest offers Holy Mass or performs any of the sacraments he acts with the power of Christ. In fact, at that moment the priest is Christ. Amazing, isn’t it? Far more amazing than we shall ever know. Such a mystery required the Church to mint a very technical formula to express with absolute precision that wondrous fact. She tells us that the priest acts in persona Christi (in the person of Christ Himself). As unique is Christ, as unique is the priest. As indispensable to the human race is Christ, so is the priest. As essential is Christ to the salvation of all men, so is the priest. As central is Christ to the hope of the world, so is the priest.
All of this is true because Christ has willed it so. Our Savior has deigned that His redemptive presence in the world depend upon His priests. No priest, no Mass. No priest, no forgiveness of sins. In recognition of this staggery mystery everything about the priest separates him from the rest of men: his Roman collar/cassock replaces ordinary dress; his clothing during the sacraments or Holy Mass is distinctive. Even his form of address bespeaks his high dignity: Father (he gives life to our souls in the supernatural order). Abandoning any of these signs of the priest’s vocation is to chip away at the priest’s vocation itself.
As the priest is one with the Holy Eucharist, so is he one with the Holy Mass. The work of the Holy Mass explains him. It is his definition. It is his reason for existence. Holy Mass for the priest is the same as words for the English teacher or numbers for the mathematician. Without it the priest is inexplicable, as the English teacher would be without his words, or the farmer without his soil. It is true that the priest is there for men on scores of other occasions outside of Mass. However, that fact ought never to obscure the primary purpose of why he exists: to offer Holy Mass and forgive sins. All those other things that he does, as good and noble as they are, cannot compare or replace what he does at Holy Mass.
Every inch of the Traditional Mass bursts its seams with its regard for the priest. Lest anyone mistake that the Mass is the work of Christ with the priest in persona Christi, she crowds the actio Missae with tokens of that deep truth. Since the priest is ordained principally to “offer sacrifice” his hands are consecrated with Sacred Chrism. His hands are literally set aside and infused with the powers of transforming bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. Those consecrated hands become the ordinary way by which the consecrates species are to be handled. No other hands must touch the Body of God, save his. For this reason laymen are never to handle the sacred host in any fashion, in any circumstance. A supreme reverence for the Holy Eucharist inspires this prohibition. This same reverence inspires the faithful to loving compliance.
Nothing less but inexpressible love for the Savior in the Sacred Host brings the faithful to their knees to receive Him in Holy Communion. It is a gesture of their submission to Christ the King. In the very act of doing it, the faithful soar the heights of pure joy. It is like the kiss of a husband for his wife, or of a mother for her children. This gesture of kneeling for Holy Communion is a moment of deepest satisfaction. Few acts of man bring him closer to experiencing the closeness of God.
Similarly for the priest. You will observe what seem like endless genuflections of the priest. For a man of no faith they seem endless and merely repetitive. Love tells a different story. Each genuflection is a detail of reverential affection. Endless, indeed. Does the lover want his physical affections for the beloved to ever end? Does the mother carefully count the kisses for her infant lest they become too repetitive? As Blaise Pascal reminds us, “love has reasons that the reason knows not of”. We are justly suspicious of those who judge the genuflections of the priest to be excessive during the Traditional Mass. One rightly wonders if they have ever been in love.
Each time you step into the Traditional Mass you ever a swirling new world of grandeur, reverence, love, splendor, mystery, and intimacy. Each one of those things accompanied by proper signs and symbol which intoxicate us. Such explosive things are too much for many modern men to bear. But that will always be the problem of some modern men. Never, never of the Old Mass.