Thursday, March 20

2014 Lenten Mission

Fr. John Zuhlsdorf
This is a bit belated, but I wanted to write something up anyway. Last week, Tuesday-Thursday 11-13 March we had the first, hopefully at least annual, Lenten Mission at the Minor Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. As a convert from Protestantism, the easiest way I know to define what a “mission” is in this sense is to call it a “Catholic Revival” – a speaker, often a guest, delivers a series of services on consecutive evenings. This year we were truly blessed to have Father John Zuhlsdorf, often called (for obvious reasons) “Father Z,” a Catholic commentator and blogger, and (in the words of Wikipedia), advocate “for reverent celebration of both the Ordinary Form and the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite liturgy of the Mass and the revival of the Sacrament of Penance” [LINK]. I had discovered his blog, at the time known as What Does the Prayer Really Say, now going by simply Father Z's Blog [LINK], a couple of years ago, and have followed it assiduously ever since. I was very excited to hear a few months ago that he was coming here, knowing that we were in for a treat – doubly so since I found out in the context of one of our Latin Schola practices and that Father Z was going to culminate the mission with a full on Solemn High Mass – the first celebrated here in Natchitoches for fifty years. A website I found for the Diocese of Trenton, New Jersey, best defines the three levels of celebration in the Traditional Latin Mass: “First, there is the Low Mass. This is a Mass where the priest says all the prayers without singing and is only assisted by one or two servers. … Second, there is High Mass also known as a Sung Mass (Missa Cantata) where the parts that are said aloud in the Low Mass are sung by the priest and the choir. [This is what we celebrate at the Basilica every Sunday evening at 17:00.] Lastly, there is the Solemn High Mass where the spoken parts are sung and the Celebrant is assisted by two other sacred ministers: the Deacon and the Subdeacon” [LINK; there are other good Q&A links there at left]. I can only hope and pray that I have the opportunity to experience such a beautiful Mass again before I die.

Before I say a few words about the Mass itself, I do want to recollect Father Z's topics for Tuesday and Wednesday nights [see LINK in UPDATE below for the talks themselves]. An indefinite period after an hour-long address each night was devoted to allowing individuals' questions in the somewhat more intimate setting of the area in front of the north-side altar, which I also “hung around” for both nights. (I also wanted to at least let him know how much I have enjoyed his blog, both for its news and commentary and its spiritual guidance.) At a week and more removed I can't be absolutely sure when specific nuggets of wisdom were imparted.  The overall theme could be well summed up by the quotation from Wikipedia as cited above, with a heavy leaning toward the Traditional, “Extraordinary” Latin form of the Mass. Toward a more reverent celebration of – and participation in – the Mass in either form, Father stressed how much that we in the modern Church take for granted, but that is ultimately deleterious toward that end, was never intended by the Second Vatican Council in the name of which such unfortunate practices were introduced as turning the altar away from “Liturgical East,” where the priest was leading the people in worship, to where the priest is now facing the people and inevitably to at least some degree performing before them – with his back most often literally turned on the Crucifix as well as the Tabernacle. He commended our rector, Father Ryan Humphries, for at least beginning the process of rectifying that “backward” orientation here by bringing a free-standing Crucifix onto the altar in front of him as he celebrates Mass, still facing the people, so that at the very least he also faces and can have his proper focus on Our Sacrificed Lord. There were many other little things that he pointed out, from the virtual disappearance of the pre-Communion fast to the overly-organized queues of participants literally herded from the pews to Communion by the ushers, neatly in line, row by row – with the effect of calling attention to the individuals who, for whatever reason, choose not to take Communion, and hence results in a rather passive but very real peer-pressure to fall in line whether properly disposed or not. These and other recent (1960s ff.) innovations compounded with a long-standing “dumbed-down” and stylistically inelegant English mistranslation of the Novus Ordo Latin that has, thankfully, been at least partially rectified by the 2010 revision, have led overall to a lamentable loss of any sense of the sacred, awesome Miracle that is made present at every Mass.

Besides such extensive liturgical commentary, Father Z also dispensed some good spiritual advice – besides just urging more frequent use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. He talked at length about the graces that can be gained through a devout Spiritual Communion when actual Communion is not possible. He also gave practical advice for what I might call (he did not) a “Prayer Recipe Book,” that I'd like to share. As we go through life, we encounter various pre-composed prayers that for whatever reason – I imagine it has a little something to do with God – resonate with us. They can be found in the pages of published prayer books or, today, browsing on the Internet – wherever. He specifically mentioned, with reference to his previous topic, searching out prayers for making a Spiritual Communion [e.g., LINK]. He suggested that we keep some index cards handy and, as we find such, we copy them out in longhand, assigning a keyword or two to each to aid in organizing the prayers. After a while, we will have accrued enough that we can put them into some kind of meaningful order, obtain a bound blank book, preferably one of higher quality (and I believe he specifically mentioned Moleskine [LINK]) and neatly, again in longhand, write those prayers out and create a unique aid for our own prayer life as well as a wonderful heirloom from parent to child or grandchild, a testament of one's own faith to those loved ones whom we pray will themselves keep the Faith. Tuesday and Wednesday nights were, all in all, tremendously invigorating spiritually.

Photo by Emily Myrick
But they paled in comparison with the Solemn High Mass of Thursday night – which happened to fall on and thus commemorated one of our Basilican Feast Days, the Anniversary of the Election of the Holy Father Pope Francis. A Basilica is, after all, specifically the Pope's church – that's why we have a rector and not a pastor. The Pope is the pastor. My wife and I attended Latin Mass in Baton Rouge (St. Agnes Church [LINK]) all through the 1990s; the addition of regular Sunday Latin Mass here at the Basilica at the beginning of Advent last was most welcomed by us. I just wish my son, now eighteen, could have grown up in the Latin Mass; he attended with us until he was four, but of course has no memories of it – and unfortunately does not have the love for it that we do. Anne and I have always found the sense of awesome Mystery I mentioned above amplified by the beauty of the Latin language. (To the oft-encountered objection, “But I can't understand it!,” Father Z would reply, “The priest is not talking to you!” Admittedly, I have an advantage, being able to read Latin, albeit rather rustily; Anne does not, and loves it none the less.) But none of those Latin Masses I'd ever experienced – by far most of them being of the second level listed above, Missa Cantata – was anything like this. It was truly awesome, as a friend and fellow convert posted to Facebook soon after it finished, “the most awesome thing I've experienced in my Catholic life!”

I had the great privilege of participating from the choir loft, part of the Schola Cantorum chanting the Mass parts. Our leader, that same friend and fellow convert, just earlier today posted a short write-up to his own blog, Life in the Liturgy [LINK], which includes a few specifics as to the music we used, to which I would only add that, despite it being Lent, the nature of the feast day warranted the proclaiming of the Gloria as well. In the sanctuary were, besides Father Z as the primary celebrant, priests and deacons from throughout our own and neighboring dioceses, as well as three young altar boys who have been diligently learning how to serve at the Latin Mass and made their “debut” at this Mass. What memories they will have! Unfortunately, although I was paying rapt attention to Father Z's homily concluding his three evenings of catechesis here in Natchitoches, I can tell you nothing of what he actually said. I was so overwhelmed by the experience as a whole. It was, nonetheless, the perfect conclusion to our Lenten Mission.

Judging by Father Z's own blog posts from last week [LINK, LINK, LINK, and LINK], he also appears to have enjoyed his “Southern Sojourn” in Nakatish.  If he ever wants to repeat the experience, I know he need but call.

Cheers, and Thanks for reading!

NOTE:  There are more pictures at New Liturgical Movement [LINK], including a picture of Father Z at the ambo.  The picture I use at the head of this post is from his blog.  Hey, my picture on my Blogger Profile is a few years old as well....

UPDATE:  The three nights of talks are now posted at the Minor Basilica website [LINK].

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