Peter Kwasniewski

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If the Catholic faith is to grow, these conditions must be met in the Mass

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Peter Kwasniewski By Peter Kwasniewski

February 4, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — Holy Mass is the sacrifice of Christ made present in our midst. He who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from Heaven and became man, enters once again into our lives as “the Lamb that was slain,” who is “worthy to receive power, and divinity, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing” (Rev. 5:12). In Holy Communion, He shares with us that power, divinity, wisdom, strength, honor, glory, and blessing.

This is why St. Augustine says that before receiving, we must adore: we would sin if we did not adore (Enarr. in Ps. 98:9, CCSL 39:1385). To adore is to acknowledge God’s reality, His authority, His kingship, His fatherhood, His absolute sovereignty over us. It is to say to Him: “You are first and last, the beginning and the end. I am yours, I belong to you, I submit myself to you, I desire to do your will. Make use of me as you wish.”

Traditional Catholic practices help to foster this fundamental attitude before God, while certain modern practices dampen or destroy it. If we put a tomato plant outdoors in the winter, it will quickly die. If we put it in a well regulated greenhouse, it will flourish and bear delicious fruit. Human beings are obviously more complicated than tomato plants, but we are living things, too, rational animals, that deserve and benefit from the right growing conditions.

Examples of the right conditions include sacred music that lifts our spirits to divine things rather than stirring up our emotions and scattering them back towards the world; encountering the “sonic iconostasis” built up from the ancient Latin language, Gregorian chant, and silence; the offering of the Holy Sacrifice by a priest facing eastward, ad orientem, rather than versus populum or toward the people; watching a devout priest adore God in the consecrated host and chalice, before which he genuflects, and to which he gazes in a drawn out elevation; kneeling for Holy Communion, and receiving on the tongue.

These and similar practices are crucial, since they train us in all the virtues associated with the virtue of religion, especially the virtue of adoration.

The Roman Canon — that mighty prayer at the heart of the Mass, which defines it as the Roman Rite, the most ancient of all Christian liturgies in the world — singles out two conditions for the fruitful reception of Holy Communion: faith and devotion. “Meménto, Dómine, famulórum famularúmque tuarum N. et N.: et ómnium circumstántium, quorum tibi fides cógnita est et nota devótio, pro quibus tibi offérimus: vel qui tibi ófferunt hoc sacrifícium laudis…” “Be mindful, O Lord, of Thy servants, N. and N., and of all here present, whose faith and devotion are known to Thee, for whom we offer, or who offer up to Thee, this sacrifice of praise…”

One of the worst things about the liturgical reform is how it stripped the Mass of an abundance of little signs of faith, devotion, and adoration: all sorts of gestures, ceremonies, and prayers, vestments and ornaments, that acted as “prompts” reminding us and encouraging us to make an appropriate spiritual response to the great mysterium fidei, the mystery of faith unfolding before us in “the sacrifice of praise.”

If the Mass were supposed to be a schoolroom lesson and/or an SDS (Sacramental Delivery System), then of course it should be as simple and short and to the point as possible, streamlined for optimal data transfer and receipt of goods, a sort of “Amazon Prime” of the spiritual life.

But this premise is totally false. The Mass is our earthly participation in the eternal liturgy of Heaven, where the angels and saints in communion with the Eternal High Priest are praising the Almighty in song and adoring Him face to face. When this heavenly worship pierces through the veil that separates us from eternity, the result is the sacred liturgy. If a certain form of Mass does not bear within itself the spirit of this ultimate reality and show it forth, visibly and audibly, so as to draw us ever more deeply into it, this form has failed utterly as liturgy.

How do we know what form is the right one to use, to trust, to rely upon? The measure must be Catholic tradition — endorsed by Church authority, yes, but neither manufactured by it nor subject to its whims. It is not something that can be voted on by bishops, created by committee, or reconfigured by enthusiasts. Tradition, by definition, is a reality that goes before us, remains above us, and endures beyond us.


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Peter Kwasniewski

Peter Kwasniewski holds a B.A. in Liberal Arts from Thomas Aquinas College and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Philosophy from The Catholic University of America. After teaching at the International Theological Institute in Austria and for the Franciscan University of Steubenville’s Austrian Program, he joined the founding team of Wyoming Catholic College in Lander, Wyoming, where he taught theology, philosophy, music, and art history, and directed the choir and schola. He is now a full-time author, speaker, editor, publisher, and composer.

Dr. Kwasniewski has published seven books, including Sacred Choral Works (Corpus Christi Watershed, 2014); Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis (Angelico, 2014); Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness (Angelico, 2017); A Reader in Catholic Social Teaching (Cluny, 2017); and Tradition and Sanity (Angelico, 2018). Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis has been published in Czech, Polish, German, and Portuguese, and will soon appear in Spanish and Belarusian.

Kwasniewski is a scholar of The Aquinas Institute in Green Bay, which is publishing the Opera Omnia of the Angelic Doctor, a Fellow of the Albertus Magnus Center for Scholastic Studies, and a Senior Fellow of the St. Paul Center. He has published over 750 articles on Thomistic thought, sacramental and liturgical theology, the history and aesthetics of music, and the social doctrine of the Church. 

For news, information, article links, sacred music, and the home of Os Justi Press, please visit his personal website, www.peterkwasniewski.com.