Latin Mass (Extraordinary Form)
Contributed by Blake Everitt
‘Flumina plaudent manu; simul montes exsultabunt a conspectu Domini: quoniam venit judicare terram.’ 1
This exultant playfulness of nature is mirrored in the Latin Mass, where heart and soul are lifted up into an ineffable flow of exultation. The liturgy demonstrates humanity in ‘supernatural childhood before God.’ 2
The pristine glasswork of the language – receptive to the inpouring of Divine light – provides a staying refuge for the miseries of being: a ‘locum refrigerii, lucis et pacis.’ 3
Vessels of transcendence, intimations of Otherness, the words make crystalline incisions in the darkness, guiding us to a place of rest and expectation of Home. God, the ‘liberator and helper of human beings, flavour and beauty of angels’ 4, rewards us with what Samuel Beckett described as ‘gently light unfading on that unheeded / neither / unspeakable home.’
This experience of the sacred transforms the human heart into an altar: altar of flesh responds to the numinous symbolism of the altar of stone.
‘The altar is likened to the heart of man, and it is upon this altar of the heart that man needs to enact the great sanctifying sacrifice.’ 5
The tactile mystery and mercy of the Incarnation is here; so too is a true spirit of Christian humility, which Andre Louf describes as ‘the fruit of a meeting between a man wounded by sin and the loving mercy of God. The man whose eyes meet those of Jesus knows his own misery and sinfulness, and in that same moment he realises that he is forgiven.’ 6
The requirements of the liturgy ‘can be summed up in one word, humility.’ 7
It is a sacrificial or kenotic humility; one is ushered into this ‘land where God wants us to go and offer sacrifice.’ 8
It illuminates the Christian sense of existence itself: ‘to be at play, or to fashion a work of art in God’s sight – not to create, but to exist – such is the essence of the liturgy.’ 9
The revelation of existence caressed by the tenderness of God,
this is what is at stake in the liturgy. John of Patmos describes this transformed liturgical anthropology in the following terms:
‘Ecce tabernaculum Dei cum hominibus, et habitabit cum eis.
Et ipsi populous eius erunt, et ipse Deus cum eis erit eorum Deus :
et absterget Deus omnem lacrymam ab oculis eorum :
et mors ultra non erit, neque luctus, neque clamor,
neque dolor erit ultra, quia prima abierunt.’ 10
The stains of grief and alienation are wiped clean as a new ontology – an ontology whereby the creature is made to remember and regain the image of his Paradisal nature through the cleansing tide of the sea of glass – prepares one for the ‘Ecce nova facio omnia’ 11 of Christ’s Presence.
The ‘new creature’ which Paul speaks of in 2 Corinthians is purified by the Sacrifice, praised in the text of the liturgy as follows:
‘Deus, qui humanae substantiae dignitatem mirabiliter condidisti,
et mirabilius reformasti, da nobis per huius aquae et vini mysterium, eius divinitatis esse consortes.’ 12
Wounds are enkindled with the purifying fire of the Sacred Presence, that the incense of pain and distress just might rise high enough to recall the Wounded Side of the Son, from which mercy and grace pour forth:
‘Libera nos, quaesumus, Domine, ab omnibus malis,
praeteritis, praesentibus, et futuris.’ 13
Simultaneously, this liberation leads to abandonment, in prayer and concentration, of ‘the restlessness of purposeful activity; it must learn to waste time for the sake of God, and to be prepared for the sacred game with sayings and thoughts and gestures, without always immediately asking “why?” and “wherefore?”’ 14
Stillness and silence here act out the tranquil threnodies of those called to be, those whose – albeit temporary – immunity stems from the ‘non-acting action of prayer in the soul.’ 15
In this communion of attention fixed on the presence of Christ, this rapt tranquillity which strains towards it, the alienation of individual hearts is caught up and goes beyond itself in a eucharistic tenderness shedding its grace – its joy and playfulness – in a rigorous and luminous flow. ‘Nam claritas Dei illuminavit eam, et lucerna eius est Agnus’ 16:
the radiance of God and the Lamb fulfils the promise at the beginning of the Mass:
‘Emitte lucem tuam et veritatem tuam: ipsa me deduxerunt et adduxerunt in montem sanctum tuum, et in tabernacula tua.’ 17
This emission of light has ‘something in itself reminiscent of the stars, of their eternally fixed and even course, of their inflexible order, of their profound silence, and of the infinite space in which they are poised.’ 18
The existential, the cosmic, the salvific: the liturgy reveals the profundity of them all – and in doing so reveals the fundamental orientation of life as a whole.
1 Psalm 97: 8-9.
2 Romano Guardini, The Spirit of the Liturgy, p59.
3 ‘A place of respite, light and peace.’
4 Bernard of Clairvaux, Monastic Sermons, p244.
5 Jean Hani, The Symbolism of the Christian Temple, p103.
6 Andre Louf, The Cistercian Way, p63.
7 Romano Guardini, The Spirit of the Liturgy, p29.
8 Thomas Merton, The Wisdom of the Desert, p55.
9 Romano Guardini, The Spirit of the Liturgy, p60.
10 Revelation 21: 3-4.
11 Revelation 21:5.
12 ‘O God, who wondrously established the dignity of the nature of man, and still more wondrously restored it, grant to us that by the mystery of this water and wine, we may come to be fellows in his divinity.’
13 ‘Deliver us, we beseech you, Lord, from all evils, past, present, and to come.’
14 Romano Guardini, The Spirit of the Liturgy, p61.
15 Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, p119.
16 Revelation 21:23.
17 ‘Send forth your light and your truth; for they have led me, and brought me to your holy mountain and into your tents.’
18 Romano Guardini, The Spirit of the Liturgy, p85.