True Worship of God is the Cure for Insanity

Three earth-shattering events converged in my life recently and radically altered my whole world view. I attended a Byzantine Divine Liturgy, I attended a Latin Mass, and I visited my hair stylist.

To begin with the last: Everyone knows that the most astute social scientists in the world are bartenders, taxi drivers, and hair stylists. So, recently I climbed the mountain, so to speak, to seek the latest wisdom from my personal stylist. In the midst of a cut and style she casually informed me that the most abused drugs are prescription anti-depressants. I later discovered through news articles that the abuse of anti-depressants is indeed a fact. Abusers range from pre-teen kids to every age of adulthood. I can’t even imagine how many children and adults are in therapy. I am completely overwhelmed by the obvious conclusion that so much of the treatment contains some sort of prescription! It is impossible to not ask the question, "Why?" The United States is one of the most affluent nations in history; there are no current wars on our soil, no famine, or great plague sweeping the nation. We have antibiotics, modern dentistry and indoor plumbing; even the economy cannot explain why we are all so depressed.

Next snapshot: Many Catholic families whose faith and lives I greatly admire have started attending Latin or Byzantine liturgies. There are not enough, probably to justify a trend article in the news, but enough in my personal sphere of acquaintance that I took note. Here, I must admit to a kind of impatience with criticism of Vatican II that I have listened to over the years. I had some initial reluctance over attending these “throw back” liturgies with them, but I eventually accepted their invitations. What I experienced at these parishes was truly life changing to me!

After participating in the liturgies I walked away with the same reaction from both. I was filled with a sort of holy awe and struggled to come to grips with what I was feeling. I had just worshipped the Almighty Triune God. I realized that up until participating in those liturgies, I had gone to Mass, but now I had worshipped God. I suddenly felt like I had never worshipped Him before. It isn’t very modern to worship; I was almost uncomfortable saying the word. I experienced a radical shift in my understanding of the sacrifice of the Mass. There are so many “helps” throughout these liturgies that make the average church goer really understand what he is participating in! Here are a couple of elements from both Masses that really struck me as a newcomer to worship.

In the Byzantine Liturgy the priest sings out, “Wisdom, be attentive!” before the readings and Gospel. How effective! I suddenly stop looking at the shoes of the woman in front of me and am attentive to the Word of God. Similarly, before the anaphora, again the lector sings out, “The doors! The doors!” the doors of the iconostas open and we are reminded in a physical manner of a great spiritual truth — that heaven itself has been opened to us and we are allowed (we do not by any means deserve this privilege) to participate in the heavenly banquet of the Lamb. The most powerful aspect of the Eastern liturgy, though, is its overpowering beauty! The prayers and praises sung throughout the celebration are so splendidly beautiful that one is almost convinced that the Holy Spirit dispensed with His usual custom of inspiring man to write, and just took up a pen and wrote everything Himself — so much does the beauty seem to be beyond anything man is able to produce.

In the extraordinary form of the Latin Mass there is an effective use of silence. If there is any single overpowering trait of the modern world, it is a lack of silence. Much of what the priest prays during consecration is prayed quietly. The people are left in silence to reflect upon what is happening, dare I say, to contemplate. In fact there is time for reflection throughout the whole of the extraordinary form of the Latin Mass. Brilliantly, this silence is then contrasted with Gregorian chant of the Psalms. The most powerful attribute of the “old Mass” to me though, is the time spent kneeling at the altar rail, waiting for the priest to bring Our Lord to each communicant. Why in the world did we ever do away with altar rails? I was raised on the Novus Ordo, so it is not like I am going all nostalgic here. I can not tell you how much that time for reflection accompanied by the appropriate body language helped to remind me of the great truth — Jesus Himself, God in the flesh, is allowing me to receive Him and thus become a part of Him! Look at the difference in symbolism and instruction: Waiting in line and putting out my hand is no different from a million different activities that I do daily. I wait in line and put my hand out for movie tickets, to get change, airline tickets, etc. In contrast, there is no time ever that I kneel down, open my mouth and someone “feeds” me. Body instructs spirit. My body is telling me that something is happening here that is like nothing else in my life. The fact I am “fed” reminds me of my true helplessness and the fact that God Himself is stooping down to feed me! The fact that I am kneeling tells me that God and I are not equals, He is greater than I. The fact that I have to wait teaches me that I do not command God; I wait on Him.

The modern Mass is of course, valid. Jesus in the Eucharist is still Jesus in the Eucharist. But it is too often celebrated in way that is “bare bones” and minimalistic. What are missing in the “normal” American Mass are the “helps” that some of us ordinary Catholics need. What is missing is our preparation to receive Him properly. He is not changed, we are. To me, it is the difference between pouring water on a sponge and pouring water over concrete. God is all powerful and in His Mercy He comes to us in any valid Mass but our disposition in receiving Him is radically different in the three discussed liturgies. The chants, the silence, beautiful music, bodily postures and poetic descriptions all help us to understand what great act is really taking place at the Mass and prepare us to receive Jesus with love. Should we ever be matter-of-fact or comfortable with the idea that Jesus comes to us in the Holy Eucharist? Shouldn’t we be in perpetual shock? Where is the awestruck gratitude? Where is the worship of the Word made flesh? Or are we so comfortable because we really don’t believe it anymore, or worse, can’t wait to change the subject back to us?

“Wait a moment, average church-going lay woman,” you protest, “didn’t you just say that you were impatient with complaints about Vatican II and handwringing over the Novus Ordo? Is this whole article a subversive way of encouraging rebellion against the new Mass and enlistment in Fraternity of St. Peter or Eastern Rite churches all over the country?” Well, no. Mother Teresa became a Saint by attending the Novus Ordo Mass; the Mass is still holy. What we need to rebel against is the way we have been participating in it. (And perhaps the music — well, one song at least and immediately. I would like to nominate, “Sing a New Church into being” as the first to go!) We need to blow on the glowing ember of our worship of the Holy Trinity and rouse it to bright and hot flame.

Pope St. Pius X, whose name, sadly, has been dragged through the mud by schismatic traditionalists, prophetically stated that the modern heresy would be man worshipping himself. He writes in E Supremi , “[M]an, with infinite temerity, has put himself in the place of God…[and] made of the universe a temple wherein he himself is to be adored.” And so the reason for our depression becomes clear. If man is god, what a pathetic and weak god he is! I mean, we can’t even solve the smallest of our daily problems — traffic for instance. We all are familiar with the pettiness, selfishness, lack of love, and sometimes even cruelty, we experience in ourselves and others. Who wouldn’t be depressed if we, with all these evils, are god?

Which brings me back to my hair stylist…A definition of sanity is when one’s perception of reality matches reality. For instance, if there is a paper in front of me, and I perceive a paper and not an army of flying monkeys, I am sane. On the other hand if mankind, despite all evidence to the contrary, starts to think that man is God, we are collectively insane. No wonder so many people are being prescribed anti-depressant drugs. For many of these people the answer to all this sadness and hopelessness is: Worship! Adoration! Our souls are nourished on truth, beauty and goodness in the same way that our bodies are kept alive with food, water and air. Without worship and adoration our souls become sickened.

Again, it is not practical, nor even a good idea for all of us to run out and join a Church with ancient liturgies. However, just as midwives making an entrance into health care reformed the ways doctors were delivering babies, and the remarkable success of homeschoolers in the educational scene has challenged schools to improve, we need collectively to be inspired by the worship that is occurring at these liturgies and emulate it. We need to quiet our souls and realize that participating in the Holy Mass is THE most important thing we will ever do in our lives. The most immediate and practical response to this challenge of worship would be to fill up the hours of adoration at our parishes, or to start adoration there. We need to cry out with the angels, “Holy! Holy! Holy!” We should fall down in worship before Almighty God, thereby realizing the truth that He is God and we shall not have any false Gods before Him! As with all things connected with Our Good Lord, if we begin by trying to render Him a service — true love and worship, He will turn it to a good for us — in this case, the reclamation of our sanity!

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  • Warren Jewell

    I have missed the old Latin Mass. The Glorias and Credos would just soar to heaven. There was a regular sense of the mysteries that make God God, and me not at all God. Yet, too, kneeling one next to each other at the Communion rail was as if to have a family banquet.

    God in His mercy and wisdom has kept me from becoming so ‘all about me’ as to miss that He is God and I am not. Even when I turned my back on Him at times, I was turning from God, not thinking that He turned from me. Just because I thought to settle for my sins did not cause me to think that I was virtuous. And, as much as I ‘gave up’ on ‘me for God’, God never gave up on ‘God for me’.

    I think those old Masses with their gorgeous tastes of God’s mysteries had elements that caused the Catholic child of God who for all his sins and failures to acknowledge God’s supremacy. For me, at my worst, His Church still ranked above other institutions. And, I just could not get as ‘all about me’ as many others.

    God in His mercy and wisdom – I take no credit. But, the Latin Mass did a better job of helping me see God that way.

  • HomeschoolNfpDad

    Christi Derr is an average… married mother of five.

    Now there’s a throwback. i thought you had no patience with criticisms of Vatican II. Didn’t Vatican II introduce the primacy of conscience as a doctrinal development? Wasn’t its primary purpose to unleash the inner spiritual goodness inherent to us all? No? [grin]

    I would add that the lack of beauty sometimes (and I emphasize sometimes) present in Mass according to the 1970 Missal — sometimes known as the Ordinary Form or the Novus Ordo is our own fault. Sacrosanctum Concilium — aka the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy explicitly states that “[p]articular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites (No. 36.1 c.f. vatican.va: http://tinyurl.com/ay8y). No. 36.2 does permit the use of the vernacular — but that was not a Vatican II development. Sts. Cyril and Methodius fought for the use of the vernacular in the liturgy in the 9th century — and vernacular use in the East was common even before these two great saints (c.f. catholic.org: http://tinyurl.com/d36pjv).

    Thus, Vatican II developes nothing insofar as the use of the vernacular is concerned. It merely proclaimed permission for the use thereof in the Latin Rite. But returning to Latin, Sacrosanctum Concilium does not stop at stating that the use of the vernacular is permitted. It continues: “Nevertheless steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them” (No. 54). Then there is this gem: “The work of revising the psalter, already happily begun, is to be finished as soon as possible, and is to take into account the style of Christian Latin, the liturgical use of psalms, also when sung, and the entire tradition of the Latin Church” (No. 91).

    As to music, Sacrosanctum Concilium is equally clear: “In the Latin Church the pipe organ is to be held in high esteem, for it is the traditional musical instrument which adds a wonderful splendor to the Church’s ceremonies and powerfully lifts up man’s mind to God and to higher things” (No. 120). While “other instruments also may be admitted for use in divine worship” (also no. 120), these are to be admitted on the basis of exception. As to sung music, “[t]he Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services” (No. 116). And while other types of music are explicitly permitted, there is a specific context provided for this exception (which was never intended to become the rule): “But other kinds of sacred music, especially polyphony, are by no means excluded from liturgical celebrations, so long as they accord with the spirit of the liturgical action (also no. 116, emphasis mine). When you see the word, “polyphony,” you should think “Mozart” and the beautiful Mass settings that he and similar masters wrote. You should not be thinking otherwise, certainly not “Sing a New Church into being.”

    Finally, it is worth noting that Pope St. Pius X’s motu proprio, Tra le Sollecitudini (http://www.adoremus.org/MotuProprio.html) remains in force. Pope John Paul II says as much in his Chirograph that marks the centenary of Tra le Sollecitudini (vatican.va: http://tinyurl.com/apxk9). John Paul makes two important points: “Since the Church has always recognized and fostered progress in the arts, it should not come as a surprise that in addition to Gregorian chant and polyphony she admits into celebrations even the most modern music, as long as it respects both the liturgical spirit and the true values of this art form” (No. 10). thus modern music is not excluded. However, all such music must conform to certain requirements in order to be worthy. John Paul minces no words here: “With regard to compositions of liturgical music, I make my own the “general rule” that St Pius X formulated in these words: ‘The more closely a composition for church approaches in its movement, inspiration and savour the Gregorian melodic form, the more sacred and liturgical it becomes; and the more out of harmony it is with that supreme model, the less worthy it is of the temple’” (No. 12).

    The problem with the Ordinary Form of the Mass has nothing to do with the vision offered by the Church for implementation of this form. It has nothing to do with the introduction of the vernacular; such introduction was not a break with tradition but a continuation of an ancient tradition within the Universal Church. However, the Ordinary Form does degenerate into less than the Church’s vision. But again, we are responsible for this degeneration. We have chosen ignorance and disobedience above beauty.

    What a shame.

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  • http://www.gonzagawitness.com/ NovusOrdoSeclorum

    There are some significant differences between the OF and the EF and I don’t think it is fair to say that the current problems with the OF are only in the way it is popularly implemented. The OF was designed by a team of liturgists _after_ Vatican II. The OF was not a product of the council, it came after the council. Yes we have all those documents about chant and Latin, but there is still the fact that prayers were removed from the Mass and rituals were changed.

    While the OF is valid, I don’t think there is any problem with judging the two forms of Mass and deciding which is better for one’s spiritual life. The two forms are not the same, and an OF Mass done with Latin and chant is still not the same as an EF Mass.

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  • steve p

    HomeschoolNfpDad you are right on the money. It is how the Mass is done that makes the difference. I grew up with and served as an altar boy at the Tridentine Mass.I was in high school during Vatican II. The High Masses of the Tridentine were things of beauty and majesty and reverential worship. But there was a version of the daily Low Mass, often remebered as the “speed Mass,” that the priest could whip through in Latin at a pace approaching the speed of sound, since few understood the Latin, followed with the English missal or said the Rosary.

    Believe me, it was no more edifying than some of the vernacular Masses encountered today. Reverence in – Reverence out. Irreverence in – Irreverence out.

  • jmtfh

    “God is all powerful and in His Mercy He comes to us in any valid Mass but OUR (emphasis added) disposition in receiving Him is radically different in the three discussed liturgies.”

    Speak for yourself please, Christi!

    I have experience all these forms of liturgy and more. If you want to experience amazingly intense worship, participate in a Melkite liturgy–it is somewhat like the Byzantine liturgy but much, much more. I highly recommend participating in the Holy Triduum with them. Everything in the whole liturgy, Fri. through Sunday, is sung! (Side note: a man cannot even apply to be a deacon in this rite unless he has a wonderful voice)

    On Good Friday you will participate in kissing a relic of the true cross, while incensing pours up to heaven throughout the whole liturgy. Then you will process around the neighborhood–yes, outdoors–singing and worshipping while the celebrant and deacons hold this oversized cross high for all to see.

    The Easter vigil liturgy is incredible. Once the gospel has been sung, the chanting seems to continue endlessly with the celebrant and deacons chanting “Christ is risen from the dead!” and the congregation responding, “He is risen indeed!” over and over and over (in Greek).

    Plan on 3-4 hour liturgy followed by a big feast of meats, cheeses, and pastries. The feasting and worshipping goes on till dawn–and throughout it all the chant of “He is risen,” continues.

    But, I WORSHIP GOD AS MUCH AT DAILY MASS (ORDINARY FORM, NO MUSIC) AS I DID AT THE MELKITE LITURGY! Worshipping God is not about my “feeling” but about my disposition. Believe me; it can be even easier for many of us to “space off” in the Latin liturgy where we can be distracted by the beauty and may not know what all the words mean, than at daily Mass. If I bring to the Lord a commitment to worship Him at ANY Mass–even if it does “feel” like I have…he judges me accordingly.

    There is a danger of being “entertained” even at a Latin liturgy…

  • Mary Kochan

    We are not really capable of worshiping God as He ought to be worshiped. That is why we assist at Mass — it is the perfect worship of the Son for the Father. To us it proclaims truth and ministers grace. We may be, according to our own personal preparation, in a better or worse condition to receive those truths and graces. An atmosphere of reverence can certainly help people to be prepared.

  • HomeschoolNfpDad

    Banality is older than Vatican II. Just pick up a copy of Why Catholics Can’t Sing, by Thomas Day (ISBN: 0824511530). His tale of woeful worship includes lots of music-centered banality that preceded Vatican II.

    And no one here is making the argument that the Ordinary Form, with Latin and chant, is somehow identical to the Extraordinary Form. Steve P’s comment is on the money: I too have heard the stories of the speed Masses, even on Sundays, and much of it pre-Vatican-II. Thirty minutes of fast-as-you-can-go recitation wasn’t uncommon. I’ve heard that fifteen minutes wasn’t necessarily uncommon. Those who point to the Extraordinary Form today are correct in noting the awesome sense of reverence. But that is because those privileged enough to have an Extraordinary Form Latin Rite near to their homes already know how much they had to suffer in order to receive such a blessing. In earlier times, the Extraordinary Form was quite ordinary (in the popular, not liturgical, sense), and those to whom the Mass was a burden tended towards banality. This isn’t wishful thinking. It is documented fact.

    The only problem I see with the Ordinary Form today is that it too often incorporates banality, thus replacing beauty. One way to overcome the banality is to choose the readily available beautiful forms of prayer that are licit, valid, and officially encouraged for this form of the Latin Rite. Paul VI even released the Jubilate Deo chants for general use after promulgating the 1970 missal. It is clear at least that he had beauty in mind when he published that missal.

    That few were listening is a sign of disobedience.

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  • MICHAEL

    When I read the article and comments, I could not help but think of Joel 2:1, “rend your hearts, and not your garments”. I was young when the new Mass came into existance. I have vaugue memories of the Latin Mass as an altar server (mostly being afarid not to make a mistake and remember my Latin responses!). I guess I don’t see this issue as an issue or an argument. If the Latin Mass or Eastern rite Mass puts you in a better frame to partcipate in worshipping God then that is good and the same is true for the vernacular Mass. I don’t believe God is interested or cares that the worship is in Latin, English, Spanish, etc., but as Joel refernces He is interested in the state of your heart and soul. Are you prepared to Worship him no matter the language? Are you prepared to recive Him in Holy Communion? Unless you have rendered you heart are you truly prepared to Worship Him?

    I further believe that no matter the form of the Mass, the “battle” so to speak goes to religious formationand education. I teach 7th grade CCD in my parish and sadly more than 1/2 of the class has no clue what the Mass is all about. We try our best, but it goes back to the parent who themselves probably don’t know what is happening at Mass. Whole generations appear ‘lost” to some extent. Rather than focusing on a Latin or vernacular Mass, I wish we would spend time on what I call at home (in the parish) re-evangelization. The flock needs to be taught what the Mass is all about or they will never be able to worship whether it’s a Latin or English Mass.

  • ptyarbrough

    The praise for this article is well deserved, but with all respect, the commentators have missed the central theme. Her main point deserves a great deal of atteniton. Selfishness leads to mental illness. If we truly turned to God in worship, not just in attendance, would we really need all those happy pills we are giving ourselves and our children? Aren’t we depressed because we have made gods of ourselves? The traditional, ancient liturgies refocus our attention on God in a profound way that is desperately needed in our world. Not just for the sake of taste or style, but in order to save our lives. Bravo Christi.

  • Mary Kochan

    Ok, this was the one point that gave me pause about running this — as much value as I thought it had. There are good and faithful Catholics who suffer from mental illness. It is just as real as physical illness and just as you would not tell people that if they just worshiped God correctly their diabetes or their cancer or their multiple sclerosis would go away — I don’t think we want to be saying that to the mentally ill. However, there is a kind of willful insanity that is different from actual mental illness — the turning away from the truth (TRUTH) — that causes the intellect to be darkened. That is what I think the article was addressing.

  • Doria2

    I realize I shouldn’t feel this way but I do. I attend the Latin Mass exclusiveley. The few times I had to attend the N.O. for death anniversaries and other functions I couldn’t avoid feeling as though I missed Mass.

    Iknow, I know. The NO is valid but if not for the Holy Consecration I just can’t stand being there. It feels like I’m attending a Protestant hootenanny. AndyP/Doria2 Yonkers, NY

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