The other day I quoted from the book Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis, by Peter Kwasniewski, to make the point that the Mass is celebrated for God, as an act of worship that is due Him, and that it doesn’t matter how many people attend the Mass.
But, reading on in Kwasniewski’s book, I see that he also makes the point that there is a two-fold purpose to the Mass. He writes:
The liturgy has two purposes: to worship God with all due reverence and love, and to feed, nurture, shape, and perfect the worshiper. God is not changed or moved for the worse by our bad liturgies; it is we, the Christian people, who are deformed by the Novus Ordo Missae as it is celebrated in most of our churches. God does not suffer if we refrain from attending a superficial ceremony that verges on mockery of his Son and does violence to Catholic worship as it has always been known.
This almost sounds as if he is advocating not attending Mass if the choice is one full of liturgical abuses. But I don’t think that’s what he is saying, exactly. He goes on:
It is true that there are times when it is necessary to attend even a most disgracefully celebrated liturgy in order to fulfill one’s obligation to the Lord, and at this time one ought to go with the express purpose of suffering for one’s own sins.
This is the conclusion I have come to, and that is the frame of mind in which I try to attend Mass. I also take along my little Latin Mass missal booklet to pray the prayers that more fully reflect a truly Catholic liturgy. But Kwasniewski makes more good points:
It is true, too, that we can and must seek our consolation in the wondrous presence of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, a presence so much beyond all that we can deserve no matter how beautifully and reverently we sing the songs of Sion. Still, there is far more to the substance of liturgical cultus than merely the provision of a moment’s adoration in the midst of an ocean of banality and noise; the liturgy, both as a whole and in each of its parts, is not itself supposed to be a mortification, a cause of pain, but a consolation, a reservoir of peace and joy for building up the inner man.
In this sense, then, the Mass is for the people, as well as the worthy worship of God. The Mass should form us and teach us how to worship, and why to worship. Alas, it is too often simply a mortification, though, in my experience! Sometimes I see that the priest and the ministers are doing their best to be reverent, but the Novus Ordo Mass simply does not lend itself to that supreme reverence and piety to which we should aspire.
Continuing with the excerpt:
The purpose of the liturgy is to form our souls in the beauty of holiness; and if the human elements of the liturgy are, on the contrary, deforming our souls, then we must not allow it habitually to do so unless, as was just said, we have no choice in a given situation.
He inserts an interesting footnote here, stating that if a family finds itself in a situation where the only available liturgy is so poorly celebrated that it fosters bad religious habits, and if the family has little chance of contributing to a positive change in the situation, then the family should move to a different parish or even diocese where there are better options available. Ah! I agree! But how difficult that can be! And how “bad” does the liturgy have to be before one becomes aware of the bad habits being formed? Once, when my husband and I were in charge of the music at a local parish (very small “mission” church) I had a sudden awareness of the bad habits inculcated by the casual atmosphere of the Novus Ordo; the three of us who were doing the singing found ourselves making a little joke to each other…in the middle of Mass! I suddenly was aware that I was engaged in this, and was appalled at myself.
Finally, Kwasniewski adds this thought:
By attending poor liturgy one implicitly accepts it – that is, one says to it: “Shape me, shape my soul, form my spirit. Make me like yourself.” But this is what one must not allow to occur with experimental, horizontal, anti-sacral liturgy; its habits, as it were, must not become my habits.
There are no easy answers in this. I would love to move to a place where there is an FSSP parish nearby; but this is not really feasible for us, for several reasons. And there is little hope of a traditional Latin Mass becoming available close to our home – though God does have a way of surprising us at times! So I continue to pray the traditional prayers at the Novus Ordo Mass, while ignoring the mundane, watered-down prayers the priest is required to say (and frankly, I find this much easier to do at the Spanish Mass, since I don’t understand Spanish all that well, and so the words don’t interfere with my meditation on the old prayers).
But after reading what Peter Kwasniewski has to say, I now have a better understanding of why I generally do not receive Holy Communion at the Novus Ordo Mass. It has everything to do with what he has said in the excerpts above – the knowledge that something is just not right about the theology of the Novus Ordo, and the feeling that I should resist making myself a part of it by receiving Holy Communion (I am not saying that I think the NO Mass is invalid; just that, as Kwasniewski puts it, I am not willing to have it shape my soul and form my spirit). Thanks be to God I am able to attend the TLM elsewhere while on retreat every couple of months. And I make an effort to make a spiritual communion in the context of the Mass prayers at home on a daily basis. Still…
Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.