Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A foretaste of the future Church?

Pope Benedict saying Mass in the Sistine Chapel ad orientem

St. Malachy's, my weekday parish, is refinishing its floors, so Mass is being said in the parish's Sacred Heart chapel.  This chapel features a beautiful mosaic of the Sacred Heart, with a marble altar beneath it, but the space is rather small, a good deal less than half the size of the church in which Mass is usually said.  Noon Mass draws a fairly large group, I thought, so I expected the chapel would be very crowded.  However, we all fit in the chapel with room to spare.   What seemed like a lot of people when dispersed turns out to be only a few when concentrated.  

Since there isn't room for another altar in front of the original marble one to permit the saying of Mass versus populum, the priests have been saying Mass facing the altar, or ad orientem.   The Mass is otherwise the usual type, said in English according to the Novus Ordo, but this simple change in the priest's posture makes a great difference.  For one thing, Mass is much less something we watch the priest do, and much more something we join with the priest (and all the Church) in doing.  Even more importantly, the sacrificial aspect of Mass is clear.  There is no mistaking that a sacrificial victim is being offered there.   Consequently, a mood  of adoration and thanksgiving is very simply established.

More than forty years ago, Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, wrote the following concerning the church's future:

“The church will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity."

The Church is indeed becoming small, and has already given up much of what she built in prosperity.   At St. Malachy's we may be experiencing smallness only temporarily, but becoming small has led to the fresh start Joseph Ratzinger wrote about.   It has given us a fresh appreciation of Mass.  There can be no better beginning. 

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