This post is excerpted from the Epilogue of my new book, Zeal For Thy House: Suffering Through Mass, available on Amazon.
I am not a Bible scholar by any means, but it seems to me that we who suffer through Mass may find a source of solace and hope in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, where the story is told of the rebuilding of the temple at Jerusalem. In a sense, those who are struggling against “bad liturgy” and fighting to reinstate the extraordinary form of the Mass are attempting to rebuild the “temple” that is our Faith. The Eucharist is, after all, the source and summit of our faith, and when the celebration of Mass is deficient, it can only lead to a deficient faith. Many writers and speakers have noted the truth of this statement: the increase in abuses of the liturgy, especially in the Novus Ordo, certainly seems to correlate with a decline in the markers of a robust faith, such as vocations to the priesthood and religious life, attendance at Mass by the lay faithful, and fidelity to the teachings of the Church by bishops, priests, and laity.
In the book of Ezra, we see the beginning of the account of the rebuilding of the temple at Jerusalem. The reigning non-Jewish monarch, King Cyrus, actually commanded it, and the Israelites began the work in good faith. Soon, however, naysayers undermined the project; first, they offered to join in and help, saying “for we seek your God just as you do” (Ezra 4:2). They were only seeking to undermine the project from within, though; and when the Israelites declined their help, the Samaritans then “set out to intimidate and dishearten the people of Judah so as to keep them from building. They also suborned counselors to work against them and thwart their plans” (Ezra 4:5). Finally, the enemies of the Jews succeeded in persuading a later king to put a halt to the rebuilding.
Years went by with no work being done, but the Israelites did not give up hope; they finally began to build again when some bold Israelites listened to the words of their prophets. When questioned by the local authorities, they insisted on their right to rebuild, and noted that a previous king had given permission; after a review of the past documents, the reigning monarch allowed them to proceed. Then, in the book of Nehemiah, we are told of the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls. Still the naysayers were fighting against the completion of the work; Nehemiah himself cries out, “Take note, O our God, how we were mocked! Turn back their derision on their own heads and let them be carried away to a land of captivity! Hide not their crime and let not their sin be blotted out in your sight, for they insulted the builders to their face!” (Nehemiah 3:36-37)
The opposition grew to the point of physical attacks on the workers, at which point Nehemiah tells us, “From that time on, however, only half my able men took a hand in the work, while the other half, armed with spears, bucklers, bows, and breastplates, stood guard behind the whole house of Judah as they rebuilt the wall” (Nehemiah 4:10). There were plots against Nehemiah’s life as well.
If you have been one of the faithful who is trying to “rebuild the temple” of our faith through fidelity to the liturgical rubrics, I’m sure you see the similarities between your own battle and the battle fought by the Jews as they rebuilt the temple at Jerusalem! Not only are we rebuilding the temple, but we are rebuilding the wall – the wall that separates our faith from the secular influences that lead away from the truths of the Faith and down the slippery slope of moral relativism, which a number of popes have warned against. Indeed, the physical rebuilding of the temple was not the only “rebuilding” that took place. Chapter 8 of Nehemiah describes how Ezra was called upon by the people to “bring forth the book of the law of Moses which the Lord prescribed for Israel” (Nehemiah 8:1). And far from complaining about a long service, the people stood and listened as Ezra read “from daybreak till midday”!
The book of Ezra also recounts that the people had not been faithful to the laws of the faith: “…they have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and their sons, and thus they have desecrated the holy race with the peoples of the land. Furthermore, the leaders and rulers have taken a leading part in this apostasy!\” (Ezra 9:2). I think we can see parallels here with our own culture – not necessarily with regard to the specific issue of Catholics marrying outside the Church, but with the “marriage” of our Faith to the errors of our secular society. Our Catholic Faith has been desecrated by this, and indeed, even some of our shepherds have taken a part in the watering down of Catholic precepts.
The battle for the rebuilding of Jerusalem was long and hard, and fraught with peril, but the people did not lose hope. Nor should we! The Israelites persevered in their mission and task, and so should we. It can be daunting to face the criticisms and sometimes even calumny of one’s fellow parishioners, but it is important that each one of us continue to respectfully request correction of liturgical abuse. We have documents to support our endeavor, just as the Jewish people had the document of a former monarch to justify their rebuilding of the temple at Jerusalem – for instance, there is the instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum (On certain matters to be observed or to be avoided regarding the Most Holy Eucharist). And we must also insist on the proper implementation of the changes mandated by Vatican II – and point out the changes that have occurred that were not mandated and have perhaps been harmful to the Church.
We may not witness the changes we’d like to see in our own life times, but we should find hope in noting that progress is being made. For instance, though many “traditionalist” types feared that Pope Francis would turn his back on the EF Mass, the fear seems unfounded at this point. In a recent report, the Holy Father declined to heed the advice of a group of bishops who wanted to squelch the traditional Latin Mass. One translation says:
Then it was the turn of the bishop of Conversano and Monopoli, Domenico Padovano, who recounted to the clergy of his diocese how the priority of the bishops of the region of Tavoliere had been that of explaining to the Pope that the Mass in the old rite was creating great divisions within the Church. The underlying message: Summorum Pontificum should be cancelled, or at least strongly limited. But Francis said no.
We have the favor of the Holy Father, and so must press on with the rebuilding. There is reason for hope!
In addition, there are good and holy shepherds out there… perhaps not as many as we would hope to find, and perhaps the good ones always seem to be “somewhere else” rather than in our own backyard. Still, it should give us joy to see advances being made in any diocese or parish regarding the restoration of a reverent liturgy – whether in the old form or the new. We’ve been promised that the gates of Hell will not prevail against our Church, and that is the hope we must cling to!
In the meantime, whenever you go to a deficient Mass, imagine what Our Lord suffers as He endures the same thing, and pray this prayer:
O Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
I offer to You the most Precious Body and Blood,
Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ,
present in all the tabernacles of the world,
in reparation for the sacrileges, outrages, and indifference
by which He Himself is offended.
And through the infinite merits of His most Sacred Heart
and the Immaculate Heart of Mary,
I beg of you the conversion of poor sinners.
© 2013. Jay Boyd, PhD. All Rights Reserved.