05 March 2012

Actuosa Participatio

A great service provided by Shane is a series of what you might call e-scrapbooks: cuttings from Irish papers and journals chronicling the changes which took place in the Church around the time of the Vatican Council.

One piece - a monument to lucid prose - is a paper read to a Liturgical Congress in Glenstal Abbey in 1961 by Bishop (later Cardinal) Conway.  I will only reproduce a part of it here, but this section, on how the faithful should approach the Canon, is full of food for thought.

Closely linked with this is the second means which I have already mentioned - the focusing of greater attention on the Preface and Canon of the Mass. There is no need to emphasise that here again one must be realistic. Large numbers of our people assist at Mass most devoutly by reciting their own prayers or meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary and it would be wrong to discourage them from this. But a large and growing number of people use the Missal and it is of these that I am thinking in the, present context. Because one does get the impression that not all of those who are using the Missal derive the benefit from it that they should - that they concentrate rather a lot on getting the right Mass or getting the Collects correctly, and that the core or the Mass, the great Eucharistic prayer which is the Preface and the Canon, does not speak to them as it should. If that is so it is a great pity because nothing can compare with the simple strength and beauty of this prayer, whose roots go back to the earliest centuries of the Church, for bringing home to the faithful the sacrificial character of what is happening and the fact that the plebs sancta are participating in it. The wonderful prayer of the Preface which soars like the flight of an eagle up to the very throne of God where the Cherubim and Seraphim are singing Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, the profound bow of the priest at the Te Igitur now that he is standing before the altar of God, the simple opening words of his address: "Most Merciful Father, we humbly beg and beseech thee ... to please accept these gifts, these offerings, this holy unspotted sacrifice", the, prayer for the Church "throughout the whole world", the calling on the heavenly court, the stark poignancy of the petitions of the Hanc  Igitur: "arrange our days in Thy peace; save us from eternal damnation; number us among the flock of thy chosen ones" and so on. Nothing, I think, can compare with the simple beauty and dignity of this ancient prayer whose ipsissima verba must have fallen front the lips of Saint Patrick when he celebrated Mass here and which have been uttered by every priest who has said Mass in Ireland since his time. Nothing can surpass the simple and ineffable way in which it teaches the great truths we have been speaking about and applies them to the very action which is taking place - the notion of sacrifice and the plebs sancta who are participating in it are threaded through every paragraph and that in a language which the people can easily understand: “therefore O Lord, we beseech Thee, to please accept this sacrifice from us Thy servants and from thy whole Family ..." And yet, to very large numbers of our people this prayer is virtually unknown.

There are, I think, a number of reasons for this. For one thing, although the Latin is transparently clear, it is very often translated in Missals into rather stilted and archaic language (one version in a popular Missal speaks of "all true professors of the Catholic and apostolic faith").  Again it is often unattractively printed in a single narrow column, with nothing to make it stand out in prominence as it should and with little assistance to the eye in reading it intelligently. Lastly it is a prayer which requires some little explanation; the architecture of its various parts, the sequence of its ideas, are not immediately obvious (although they are there and very beautiful) and some of the references in it (like those to Abraham and Abel) may not reveal their full significance to the ordinary faithful. I think there would be a great deal to be said for having a clearly and attractively printed version of this prayer, In language which reflects the limpid  freshness of the Latin, made out as a text for study in the schools. It is difficult to believe that people would not grow to love it and use it always at Mass if once they really came to know it. And I think too that there would be something to be said for having it, along with, perhaps the offertory prayers, printed separately for the use of people who perhaps feel somewhat overawed by the Missal itself. Something like that used to be done in the old-fashioned prayer-books, and one feels that many people who never used a Missal, knew and loved the Canon of the Mass, without recognising it as such, in a way that some people who now use the Missal do not.


Ben Trovato said...

What a moving piece of writing. How much we have lost... (or almost lost).

Mike Cliffson said...

...../.... Large numbers of our people assist at Mass most devoutly by reciting their own prayers or meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary and it would be WRONG to discourage them from this. ..../..my caps.
Cor! I can remember(60s) when it was axiomatic : We MUST change this.
And it could, perhaps, have been....
Baby and bathwater?
Reculer pour mieux sauter, all over again

Left-footer said...

Magnificent! Who now (present company excepted) speaks, writes, or even thinks like Cardinal Conway?

God bless!