WIDESPREAD LITURGICAL REVIVAL LIFTS UP THE FAITHFUL IN DISTRESSING TIMES
If Hell is where the doors of Heaven (and even Purgatory) are closed, what word should be used to describe where the doors of churches have been closed?
“Hell” might be an exaggeration for some, but “Purgatory” is not. American Catholics had been prevented, since mid-March, from participating as fully in the liturgy as they would have liked. The heavenly banquet of the Mass became very sparsely populated due to concern over spreading the most recent of the coronaviruses, COVID-19
Where They Always Stay Six Feet Away
Despite what more people are seeing as an overreaction, many positives have come from the unusual situation— positives that have perhaps helped purify souls for Heaven.
For example, this year Lent went from being “outdated” to mandated. People who in February thought of deliberately toning things down as useless or even ridiculous, were forced to accept such practices. Closings of baseball stadiums, concert halls, and restaurants coincided with shortages of basic goods that had always been there. Even if the motives were not supernatural, the material realities were suddenly the same for everyone. Simplicity ruled the day, and there was more time to ponder the meaning of suffering and the ultimate end of life.
The word “quarantine” was commonly used, and it was said that it comes from the Italian quarantina for “40 days.” That amount of time – the length of Lent – was impressed upon many.
“Social distancing” has also become popular, as citizens have been instructed to stay six feet apart. This has brought cemeteries to mind, where bodies underground always respect the six-foot boundary.
Girms on Your Hands
Concern over stopping the spread of germs got some people to thinking more about spreading the GIRM—that is, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, a document providing guidelines for the celebration of the Mass. While it has gone through official changes over the years, the GIRM has also been through unofficial ones when individuals or communities decide to do things their own way.
For example, shaking hands during the sign of peace has become widespread, despite not being recommended, or even mentioned, in the GIRM. Routine distribution of the Precious Blood by extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion has also become widespread, despite no endorsement of the practice. In fact, there is even explicit rejection of it in documents such as Inaestimabile Donum and On Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-Ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of the Priest.
Dr. Lynne Bissonnette-Pitre has been pondering these types of points for years. The Portland, Oregon-based choir director’s liturgical interest grew into organizing the first Sacred Liturgy Conference in 2012. It started with the purpose of sharing the sublime teachings on the Mass from Pope Benedict XVI and his predecessors, in the context of chanted Traditional Latin Masses. Its first installment hosted 75 people, and it has grown in subsequent years to over 400.
Dr. Pitre has a keen interest not in only in sharing accurate information about the Mass, but in ensuring that the very delivery itself is worthy of God’s temple. She explained it like this: “The highest calling upon our lives is to be holy as He is holy, to abide in His Presence and to live in His perfect will. To this end the Lord and His apostles have given to the Church the Eucharistic liturgy, which contains all that is necessary for us to contemplate God. Through beholding His glory in the Eucharist, we are changed into His likeness.”
The Sacred Liturgy Conference, which moved from various Oregon locations to Spokane, Washington in 2019, has featured speakers such as former Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura (the highest juridical authority in the Church) Cardinal Raymond Burke. This year’s installment was set to feature Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, former Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, but social distancing had the final say. However, there are already plans to hold the event in Spokane June 1-4, 2021, to cap off that diocese’s “Year of the Eucharist.”
There are other liturgically oriented groups who have made the call (or had the call made for them) to continue, postpone, move online, or cancel altogether. The Saint Gregory Institute of Sacred Music’s Master Class in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – featuring the primary organist of St. Peter’s Basilica – took place in virtual this past spring.
The Institute’s founder, Nicholas Will, actually started the 2019- 2020 school year in Italy, but returned home to Pittsburgh in March as COVID-19 became a crisis in that country. While there have been literal casualties and other challenges in these odd times, Will has also seen positives. The Franciscan University of Steubenville professor said that, since Gregorian chant can be done without instrumental accompaniment or congregational participation, it is ideal for televised Masses in which only a few people are physically present.
Of the televised Masses that have become popular recently, Will said: “This may be some Catholics’ first exposure to chant, and it comes at a time when everything we take for granted concerning the sacraments is being challenged. My hope is that after this era of social distancing, many Catholics will find themselves more open to chant [which should be given pride of place in liturgical services, according to Vatican II] and other forms of sacred music, such as Renaissance polyphony.”
Booking Your Place at Mass
While online liturgical services have become very popular for those unable to be physically present in church, so have low-tech options. Missals, Bibles, Catechisms, Gospel commentaries, and other printed books have become more relevant than ever.
Mother of Our Savior and Refuge of Sinners Publishing has seen a sharp increase in sales of such items. General manager Rose Michna said, for example, that “We have a booklet called Holy Mass for the Absent that is doing very well due to church services being canceled.” She also said that ten-packs of holy cards with a Spiritual Communion prayer are selling better than usual, along with [Venerable Martin Von] Cochem’s Explanation of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, an eye-opening book on the perfect offering found in the Catholic liturgy
Genuinely Christocentric liturgy is also a high priority of other publishers, including Ignatius Press (which prints then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s The Spirit of the Liturgy), Roman Catholic Books (which prints Father Robert Hayburn’s Papal Legislation on Sacred Music), and Preserving Christian Publications (which prints Bishop Juan Rodolfo Laise’s updated Holy Communion).
One point addressed in Holy Communion was how some saints made fewer sacramental receptions of Holy Communion but attained an apparently higher sanctity than weekly or even daily communicants display now. This gives hope to those unable to physically receive the Eucharist in their mouths, but always able to do so spiritually in their hearts.
As the faithful are finally able to receive the Eucharist again sacramentally, it is likely being done with much more humility, attentiveness, and appreciation than if things had gone on as planned. Indeed, all things, including this purgatorial experience, work together unto the good for those who love God.
TRENT BEATTIE is a Legatus magazine contributing writer