Friday, August 03, 2007

Beauty Will Save the World

Recently, my brother-in-law has been coming to Mass with me on Sundays. He was a Protestant, but through study and prayer he came to see the foolishness of the sola scriptura and sola fide positions and is now coming into the Church this Easter. Deo gratias.

Now, the Church we go to celebrates a regular Novus Ordo Mass. It does not have any of the more aggregious abuses (no drums, or guitars, or clowns, or dancing), but it does have the standard ones, like versus populum, all vernacular and so forth. There is no Haugen or Hass (usually), just regular organ music and traditional hymns. The priest generally uses Eucharistic Prayer 2 and there is an undue multiplicity of Extraordinary Ministers. Most people receive standing in the hand. So, all in all, I'd say that my parish is pretty standard. Of course, we have the unique blessing of being in a 175 year old building that fortunately managed to survive mostly intact the liturgical reformation of the 1960's, so I guess that is not standard; but all in all, we are a normal, American, post-Vatican II Novus Ordo parish.

After Mass the other day, my brother-in-law came out and said to me, "You know, I think the Mass is the most beautiful thing I've ever seen." I was amazed, because, having never seen a Traditional Latin Mass, all he had was a vernacular Novus Ordo, and still he was struck by the beauty of the liturgy (regardless of how reductionistic it might have been). As Martin Mosebach said, the tragedy of the reform of the 60's is that it has forced us all to become liturgical experts. I can no longer view a Mass with the virgin eye of somebody ignorant of the inner rubrics of liturgical worship and thus I am unable, unlike my brother-in-law, to see a Mass, any Mass, for the first time and be immediately struck by its beauty. For that, I have to use a great deal of concentration and try to forget the whole liturgical mess that the Church is in right now.

A dignified Novus Ordo can be beautiful; it really can. I criticise the Novus Ordo not because it is intrinsically bad but because it could be more good: it could be filled with more goodness, truth and beauty, like the Mass of St. Pius V. The thought that immediately came to mind was this: if my brother was so moved by a standard Novus Ordo, how much more would he be moved by a Traditional Latin Mass? Of course, the point of the Mass is not whether or not we happen to be "moved", but it cannot be denied that even the exterior beauty of the Old Mass was instrumental in converting both Protestant and heathen nations, like the Russians, for example, who said of the Mass they witnessed in Hagia Sophia (probably the litugy of St. John Chrysostom), "we did not know whether we were on heaven or on earth." Anyone who has ever read the account of Cortes' invasion of Mexico will recall the scenes where the native tribes stood in subdued awe as they watched the Spaniards celebrate a solemn Mass for the first time and how they reverenced the Gregorian Chant as if it were some sort of magical language, for (as Cortes historian Prescott says), "they did not know that such sounds could come from men." The Mass has an intrinsic beauty to it that attracts, as all beauty entails attraction because beauty reveals the good.

Furthermore, the entire reason why the Mass is so beautiful extrinsically is because of what is actually happening intrinsically. The beauty of the Mass is meant to call attention to the Sacrifice of the Mass, wherein God the Son offers Himself to the Father, which is the most beautiful act fathomable and one to which all our efforts of musical and artistic power must be turned in order to make its beauty more apparent and substantial to our weak minds.

One of my favorite quotes by Dostoevsky is "Beauty will save the world" (I think this is from The Idiot, but I'm not sure). Bringing the Mass down to the level of earth will not convert people, especially Protestants. But the Mass of St. Pius V, the Mass of All Ages, by its beauty already has a proven track record of converting thousands of Protestants. Please, for the sake of the Church and for the good of souls, unleash beauty, and it will perform its own work better than any liturgical committee ever could.


Anselm said...

Well said. And you're right, that quote is from The Idiot. I hope you get a chance to take your brother in law to a Traditional Latin Mass someday soon. Pax!

Alexander said...

Hm, are there no TLMs near you?

Boniface said...

Well, there is one about an hour and a half away in a beautiful old Church in downtown Detroit, but I have a pregnant wife and two small children and it is not easy to make that kind of journey. But, I hope to take him down there sometime just the two of us.