|Our Lady of Sorrows, appearing to gesticulate in horror at the sculpture deposited in her chapel.|
Whatever one thinks about this object as a sculpture, a striking fact about its current London home, where it has now been blessed by the Nuncio, is that it makes it impossible for Mass to be celebrated in this chapel. It suggests that the Jesuits of Farm Street have no idea what to do with their side chapels. They are not alone. If they are not simply neglected, one finds them in many churches cluttered with information displays or used for storage. Almost nowhere are they used for Mass.
Why, one might ask, were they built in the first place? To make possible the celebration of private Masses simultaneously by different priests. This would naturally happen in a church served by several priests, when two or more of them did not have a public Mass to say on a given day. They will, obviously, wish to celebrate Mass, and may well wish to do so at the same time, say before breakfast. That would be natural, wouldn’t it?
That was the old way, but priests’ attitudes to the celebration of Mass underwent a revolution after the Second Vatican Council. Since 1967, to be exact, priests living together have been encouraged to ‘concelebrate’: say Mass together. The practice of priests of ten centuries, during the time that private, ‘low’, Masses have existed, of celebrating their own Mass each day, was in this way set aside for something entirely new: of priests, not with their bishop but amongst themselves, acting as simultaneous celebrants of one celebration. This is an example, and sadly not the worst, of the liturgical rupture which followed the Second Vatican Council.
When several priests concelebrate Mass, only one Mass is celebrated; when we are told that this is officially preferable to three or more Masses being celebrated, it is not surprising that many priests have inferred that in the absence of pastoral need there is little to be lost by not celebrating Mass at all.
Pope Benedict XVI found it necessary, therefore, in his 2007 Post-Synodal Exhortation (80), to remind priests that daily celebration of Mass (to which they are not bound by the Church’s law), is a good idea, even in the absence of the Faithful, since “it fosters the priest’s configuration to Christ and strengthens him in his vocation”. This would be the case with concelebration as well as with private Masses, but other points indicate the advantage of a priest celebrating on his own, notably ‘the objectively infinite value of every celebration’, and ‘the Mass’s unique spiritual fruitfulness’.
Mass is celebrated for the living and the dead, in union with the whole Church: it is not something of significance only for those who happen to be present. Two Masses for an intention are better than one, just as two Rosaries, said with equal fervor, are better than one. It is not just a matter of a Mass’s infinite intrinsic value as the re-presentation of the Sacrifice of Calvary, but of its finite extrinsic value: the value contributed by the appropriateness of the prayers, the holiness of the priest, and so on.
Although these considerations apply to Masses celebrated without the Faithful, the traditional practice in reality had pastoral advantages as well, in creating a supply of short early morning Masses for those wishing to attend before the day’s work, and in creating a demand for altar servers which led to many vocations.
I have had the privilege of seeing multiple Masses in progress at side altars, at the Priest Training Conferences organized by the Latin Mass Society in England. It is a truly edifying sight, a glimpse of the reality of the ceaseless prayer rising up from Masses being celebrated all over the globe. Where priests live together, in larger parishes, in seminaries, clergy residences, and other institutions, it is time that the clutter was removed from side chapels for them to function once more as their builders intended, for the good of the priests, and for the living and the dead.
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