THE MASS: I ate some old cheese and had a really weird dream.

A few nights ago I found some really strong cheese at the back of the fridge (probably left over from Christmas). I ate it, and then went to bed. I had the strangest dream…

I was in my Church – the church in which I was Baptised , made my First Holy Communion, Confirmation and got Married in. The church I like to go and sit in, right up next to the Tabernacle to pray. But today I was not sitting praying. Today I was standing. The Tabernacle was open and Jesus was standing just outside it, and I was standing right next to Him. We were looking out over the church.

Let me show you a picture of my church. I have put a big yellow circle round the Tabernacle to show where we were standing in the dream:

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This is the view we had from where we were standing:

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Then Jesus began to show me the history of my church from about 100 years ago. It was like watching a film in fast-forward. The first thing I noticed was a priest directly in front of us dressed in very beautiful ornate vestments. He was wearing a heavily embroidered beautiful sort of cloak thing I haven’t seen before. Anyway, he performed the consecration and then elevated the Host right in front of us – facing us, using the old high altar.  Then I looked at the congregation and I saw women with hats. I was aware of people being born, growing up and dying. And I could see people’s prayers coming up off of them – rising like steam and hovering above them filling the air.

Here is a picture of my church from a long, long time ago:

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Then as time was fast-forwarding I saw physical changes within the church. The high altar was no longer used. I saw the new altar being constructed and put into place about 15 meters away from us. Priests now said Mass facing the congregation instead of facing us. Vestments had become simpler with brighter colours, and the whole thing just seemed a bit less formal. Women no longer wore hats. I saw people wearing short-sleeved tops. People were being born, growing up and dying. There were now 2 atmospheres I could see within the congregation. One was reserved and quiet, uneasy yet still trusting in God. The other was loud and brash and domineering. In parts of the congregation, hearts were growing cold. I looked at Jesus. He wasn’t saying anything, He was just there, showing me all this.

Here is a picture of my church with the new altar put in. This is how I remember my church as a child.

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Then came more building work. Massive building work. The whole layout of the church was changing. The new altar was removed. The altar rails were removed. The Baldacchino was removed and sold to an American pop star (this actually happened in real life). The first 6 pews were removed. The top of the pulpit was removed. The whole sanctuary was brought forward about another 15 meters into the congregation.

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Now the priests was very far away from us. He was right there in the middle of the congregation. All eyes were on him. The congregation were smiling and laughing. People were on the sanctuary dressed in jeans and trainers receiving Jesus in Holy Communion and then distributing Him to others. Holiness had been replaced with a generalised social acceptance and a more day-to-day relaxed attitude. People were being born, growing up and dying. The congregation looked different. People were now coming into the church expecting to gain something for themselves rather than coming to give something to God. People had an expectation to be entertained. Some priests began to entertain. The people laughed and smiled. All eyes were on the priest.

Here is a picture of my church now:

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And as we stood there watching as time past I felt the congregation move further and further away from us. Peoples intention was good, but they were so distant – like the same way people look when they are watching TV and you are trying to talk to them. Distracted I suppose, but more than that. I think it would be more accurate to say that for these people, their parents were distracted but they are just vacant. Their attention seemed not to be able to get past the priest.

This is the view from the Tabernacle during Mass.

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They were happy enough but undernourished. Like how you feel when you have spent a whole week eating nothing but junk food. They did not understand what was happening during the Mass. Prayers no longer rose like steam from the congregation. There was just this deadness. Heaven was all around them but they could not see or feel it. They were blind and deaf to the supernatural. It felt like it really wouldn’t have mattered whether we were there or not because quite frankly, we were just being ignored.

And then it hit me. The horror of what had happened, what was happening. The result of choices and changes over several generations. Slow enough so you would not recognise it in real-time, but as clear as day if you watch it in fast-forward like we were doing. I looked at the congregation and then turned to Jesus, and with tears in my eyes and my voice filled with despair I whispered “They don’t know You’re here…”

Then I woke up.

So… I went to my first Latin Mass, and felt something completely unexpected.

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I’ve been wanting to go to a proper Latin Mass for a long time now. When I say proper, I mean the priest has his back to the congregation 90% of the time.

This is of course how all Masses were before Vatican II. I’ve never really thought about that properly – ALL Masses were said this way up until the mid 1960’s. This is the only style of Mass my favourite Saints would have known.  For myself, being born 35 years ago today (yes, today, Dec 3rd IS my birthday!) the Novus Ordo Mass (Priest facing the congregation) has been the only Mass style I have ever known, and up until very recently I was under the impression that it was the only Mass that has ever existed.

When I heard about the thing called the Tridentine Mass I was fascinated. Why would the priest face away from the congregation? How bizarre! So I found a church near me that has a Latin Mass and I went along.

I got there early and found this particular church has Adoration and sings Gregorian chant for 30 mins preceding Mass. And i’m telling you – that chant was beautiful. I have only experienced silent Adoration – which I LOVE, so this was a completely new experience for me. But it totally worked. I really felt like these people were praising Jesus in the Eucharist in front of them. There was an atmosphere of joy and beauty and reverence. The air was so thick with incense you could barely see or breathe, and almost all the women were wearing mantilla’s. The age range was from new born to 90-ish. There was one lady with 4 small children who played happily in the pew.

When Mass began i was slightly nervous. I don’t know Latin. But i soon realised how much i did understand, and the bits i didn’t – well, i know the Mass so well anyway i had no problem understanding what was going on.

As far as the priest having his back to me goes… At first i found it a bit frustrating. I couldn’t see what he was doing for goodness sake! And then it began to dawn on me that I had become very accustomed to going to Mass to be ‘entertained’. Then it struck me that I automatically judge a priest on his ability to entertain me. How awful! I honestly believed the Mass to be a dialogue between the priest and the congregation (me no nutting!). Where does this put God?!

I am certainly not the only person to have thought like this. These two paragraphs explain it perfectly:

“The priest at the Latin mass looking at no one visible is praising, thanking, blessing. He is not a performer, the newcomers realize, gazing at a crowd above the footlights. He is not a professor, a lecturer, a nightclub host gesturing from a stage. He is someone facing the same direction as the people in the pews. He is humbly talking to the unseen God. A figure as powerless before the Almighty as anyone else.”

 “Some go to a Latin mass for the first time and watch as the priest at the altar stands with his back to them. With that simple turn they realize that the celebrant at this point in the liturgy is not addressing them. For the first time in their lives perhaps, they realize he is actually talking to God. He is praying.”

As the priest elevated the consecrated host (with his back to me) I realised that the Mass is addressing God. In fact it would be more accurate to say that the liturgy is our response to God’s call. The Tridentine Mass made it suddenly clear to me where the Holy Trinity is during Mass. I do think it is extremely important for the congregation to see what is happening on the altar and to hear the Eucharistic prayers as is done in the Norvus Ordo style Mass, but with that simple turn I learned more about the Mass in 1 second than I have in 35 years. I wish the priest would come around the front of the altar with his back to us when he elevates the host in the Norvus Ordo Mass. Just that brief moment says so much.

"No, don't panic, it's just incense..."

“No, don’t panic, it’s just incense…”

Another thing I realised is that the primary and most important aspect of a beautiful Mass does not rest on the style of Mass being said, but on the personal holiness of the priest saying it. I cant emphasise this enough. It makes all the difference. Holiness in a priest during Mass is something that is almost impossible to describe in words, but at the same time is almost tangible. A priests personal holiness (in my humble opinion) is the biggest evangelising tool he possesses. Homilies are great, pastoral kindness is great, but if people can look at him and see/sense God, THAT is the thing that will touch their souls most deeply.

The last and most surprising thing I felt was rebellion. I thought to myself “If this was me, 70 or 80 years ago, how would I feel? What would I be doing?” And the honest truth is that I would be writing little newsletters translating the Latin into English so that I could educate people as to what was being said at Mass! I guess that says more about my personality than anything else! But for the first time ever, I did feel a tiny pang of understanding towards older people who today, will look at me with such disdain as I wear my mantilla. Perhaps the good old days were not quite a rosy as I imagine them to be, although I do feel that at some point, the baby got thrown out with the bath water.

Hmmm. Lots to think about.

Sources:

https://thejesuitpost.org/2014/12/some-catholics/