Friday, March 18, 2011

St. Joseph teaches priests how to offer the Mass

The Just Man is often presented as a model for fathers – indeed, he is a patron for all fathers. He is a model husband and the protector of virgins. St. Joseph is the Worker, indicating the dignity of human labor (a dignity which is threatened by socialism in all its forms).
Perhaps we may take a moment today to consider how St. Joseph is a model for priests – in particular, the Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary shows priests how to celebrate the Sacrifice of the Mass with dignity, reverence, and a manly devotion.
The need for manly devotion in the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy
The feminization of the Holy Mass is a serious problem in the modern Church. It is not that the Liturgy must be utterly masculine, especially if this be understood in such a way as to exclude women from participating (remembering, of course, that the truest and most active participation is spiritual and internal). Nevertheless, there is a growing recognition of the fact that the sanctuary is becoming a place where men (and boys) are losing their manhood and becoming more like women – this may then have the odd counter-effect of making some women act like men, but that is a problem for another article.

What are some indications of this feminization of the Liturgy and, together with it, of the men (and boys) who serve at the Sacred Rites? Consider, for instance, the hyper-relational emphasis of the modern Liturgy (rather, of the Liturgy as it is often celebrated in modern times). The focus is all too often turned from sacrifice to salutation, from worship to welcome. Obviously, greeting and welcome have their proper place in the Liturgy, but adoration and sacrifice must not be ignored. This movement from offering adoration through sacrifice to greeting and welcome is certainly an indication of a movement from a masculine to a feminine perspective – not that all men want to offer sacrifice, nor that all women want to build community; but these are certainly underlying drives in each gender, respectively. Nor do we say that one is bad and the other good – it only need be emphasized that the male priest (and the altar boys) are very often pressured to deny the masculine sacrificial focus in order to accentuate a more feminine form of community-building. Indications of this would be the use of modern hymns and modern musical instruments, increased “commentary” and ad lib speaking, the placement of the altar closer to the nave, and (above all else) facing the people throughout the Liturgy.
There is great need in our day for a renewal in manly devotion in the Liturgy generally, but especially in the manner in which the priest conducts himself at Mass.
The “business man” approach will not due
There is, however, another difficulty in modern Liturgy: Even those priests who desire to celebrate the Liturgy well and in a manly fashion, often have little or no idea of what this manly devotion should look like. Having been given poor example from the parish priests of the past generation, younger priests are often lost – they have good intentions, but little ability to bring their good will to fulfillment.
One example of this problem is the “business man” approach to the Liturgy. Fed-up with the silliness of the past forty years, some young priests will offer the Sacrifice in a dry and rough fashion. It is quite likely that these priests are attempting simply to “say the black and do the red” without adding anything – an intention which is certainly good at heart, but which can lead to real problems. These priests will celebrate the Mass in a business-like fashion: They perform the rubrics with precision, but refuse to add any devotion. The result is that some younger priests look like robots at the altar – whether they rush through the Mass (especially the words of institution and the elevations) or they speak in a dry monotone, these priests end up (perhaps unknowingly) detracting from the dignity and reverence of the Liturgy.
St. Joseph teaches the priest how to offer the Mass
Perhaps in our day, young priests ought to look to St. Joseph. Consider that he was very tough – a real man’s man. He worked hard, he was dedicated and faithful, he had a spirit of silent intensity about him. There is no doubt that St. Joseph was no sissy. But, when he comes before the Blessed Virgin and the Christ Child, the Just Man is all tenderness, devotion, and love.
Those strong hands and arms, toned by years of hard labor, held the Child with such care and delicacy! St. Joseph was a manly man, but he knew that there is room also for gentleness and warm reverence.
It is true, the Foster Father was not a priest; but the manner in which he held and caressed the Child Jesus has inspired the Church to present him as a model for all priests, that we might offer the Sacrifice with manly devotion, tender reverence, and pure love.
The priest’s prayer to St. Joseph, before offering the Holy Mass
O Blessed Joseph, happy man, to whom it was given not only to see and to hear the God Whom many kings longed to see, and saw not, to hear, and heard not; but also to carry Him in your arms, to embrace Him, to clothe Him, and to guard and defend Him.

V. Pray for us, O Blessed Joseph.
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

 O God, Who has given us a royal priesthood, we beseech Thee, that as Blessed Joseph was found worthy to touch with his hands, and to bear in his arms, Thy only-begotten Son, born of the Virgin Mary, so may we be made fit, by cleanness of heart and blamelessness of life, to minister at Thy holy altar; may we, this day, with reverent devotion partake of the Sacred Body and Blood of Your Only-begotten Son, and may we in the world to come be accounted worthy of receiving an everlasting reward. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

O felicem virum, beatum Ioseph, cui datum est Deum, quem multi reges voluerunt videre et non viderunt, audire et non audierunt, non solum videre et audire, sed portare, deosculari, vestire et custodire!

V.  Ora pro nobis, beate Iospeh.
R.  Ut digni efficiamur promissionibus Christi.

 Deus, qui dedisti nobis regale sacerdotium: praesta, quaesumus; ut, sicut beatus Ioseph unigenitum Filium tuum, natum ex Maria Virgine, suis manibus reverenter tractare meruit et portare, ita nos facias cum cordis munditia et operis innocentia tuis sanctis altaribus deservire, ut sacrosanctum Filii tui Corpus et Sanguinem hodie digne sumamus, et in futuro saeculo praemium habere mereamur aeternum. Per eundem Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.


Tribus superbia said...

Thank you. I for one would enjoy reading more about what a devotional yet liturgically normal ( in the sense of 'according to the norms' ) celebrant looks like.

Thank you for the always apropros advice to 'ite ad Joseph'.

-Tribus superbia

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Tribus superbia,
Good question! A few things I would look for in a devotional and liturgically normal celebration of the Sacred Liturgy are:
1) Reverence in holding the host -- the priest should move and carry the hosts like it is Jesus, not bread.
2) A devout elevation -- The priest may allow for a slightly extended elevation (perhaps a few seconds) and then lower slowly.
3) When consuming the host and Precious Blood, the priest can be sure to do so with reverence, not being rushed. Certainly, he shouldn't start doing other things (arranging other chalices, ciboria, etc.) while still chewing...
4) Reverently speaking the words of consecration -- this is a big one, since many many (even conservative) priests and bishops really rush through the words of consecration.

Moreover, I would say that there are also some more general things that young priests can think about ... like remembering that human beings (men) offer the Mass, not robots; hence, the rushed, mumbled, and jolty actions of some priests (especially when celebrating the Extraordinary Form) are totally out of place.

By and large, from my perspective, the problem is not generally with the more traditional groups (FSSP, St. John Cantius, etc.), but with the neo-Conservative priests and bishops. The neo-Conservative group act like businessmen (both in rushing the Mass and in wearing the clerical suit rather than the cassock). When it comes to celebrating the Mass, young priests would do well to look more to priests like those at St. John Cantius than many of our prominent priests and bishops.

The priest isn't just "getting a job done" ... he is "ministering at the altar of the Lord".

Marcelo C. said...

Once I was present at an Orthodox liturgy and was struck by the naturalness with which the priest goes about the words and gestures of the whole celebration. That naturalness - not rushed, but also not too overtly solemn - is something I'd enjoy seeing in Catholic worship, particularly among liturgically inclined priests (like those in many Benedictine monasteries here in Brazil) whose slow, ostentatiously grandiose manner is something I'd also consider "robotic".


Marcelo - from Brazil

Adoro said...

Beautiful post!

The Church is already feminine, and the liturgy in proper form combines the best of men and women together; with the accouterments proper to the feminine, and the sacrifice proper to men.

The liturgy in some places has been androgynized to such a degree that the theological truth of the Mass, and therefore, of the Church has become confused to mean mere earthly roles as opposed to the eternal worship it is supposed to reflect.

Things are getting better, but it will be a long time before this out of control pendulum swings back to rest in its proper place.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Adoro, Your point about the Liturgy being "androgynized" is very good!

shane said...

"What are some indications of this feminization of the Liturgy and, together with it, of the men (and boys) who serve at the Sacred Rites? [...]"

Reginaldus, there is one very big other factor related to the feminization of the Liturgy that you have not mentioned - perhaps not unconnected with the recent scandals.

Indeed for many Catholics it is the big elephant in the room.

Marcelo C. said...


I think one of the points of Reginaldus' post (he should correct me if I'm wrong) is that what he rightly calls the "feminization of the Liturgy" contributes not a little to the big problem you're talking about.

St. Paul says the Church is Christ's Bride, or Wife. When the priest *and* the people face the altar during the celebration of the Liturgy, that reality - the marriage between a feminine Church and a masculine Christ - is mystically enacted and reaffirmed, and the correct sexuality of each of the faithful, the priest included, is confirmed. When the priest faces the people and the people face the priest, and God remains forgotten at the back of the church, it is as if a female Church had turned her back on her male Consort and found comfort in a relationship with a same-sex partner. Well, the Mass is a sacred rite, the most sacred of rites; when correctly performed, it leads to the uprighting and sanctification of nature, but when twisted it also can, and will, twist nature.

The effect of a misguided rite is very real and extremely powerful. In that sense, a senseless use of the modern Catholic liturgy can further the problem of homosexuality, especially among those most intimately linked to its celebration. As I see it, Reginaldus' comments show an awareness of the problem and suggest some means to diminish it.


Marcelo - from Brazil.

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