Saturday, June 21, 2008

A serious thought--look at this

I think this picture, by Vernon Quaintance at Cardinal Hoyos' Solemn High Mass at Westminster Cathedral, is one of the most remarkable things I've seen. It sums up, in one image, so much of our thinking for the Traditional Latin Mass.

Much of the reason for traditional liturgy, including the Tridentine Mass, is formation of Catholic identity for those who worship with it. Look at that altar boy there. He looks pretty serious. He realizes that this is something serious, sacred, important. How does he know it's important? I will answer with another question: how often in normal life do you hold the end of a big ol' freakin huge red cape which is given to you in an extremely reverential fashion by guys in black robes with cool frilly white things over them? He is going to be filled with a deep respect and reverence for the liturgy, a respect and reverence for the office of a bishop, a sense of the importance of the priesthood, a sense that THIS WHOLE GOD THING IS SOMETHING HE MUST TAKE SERIOUSLY. I mean, seriously, would it shock anyone if this kid becomes a priest? What a privileged moment for that boy!

Now, if he were an altar server at a more mainstream parish during a Novus Ordo Mass that's celebrated in a stupid way, without a clear sense of reverence, where he holds some cruets and spills but people just laugh at him and pat him on the head and say aw, it's ok it's no big deal as the priest farts around in the sacristy and tells jokes at the homily and isn't too exceedingly reverent during the Mass itself...well, guess what? That boy is being formed, and not well. He's being formed not to take this stuff seriously. He's being formed not to view the priest as someone any more important than anyone else--just a little weird because he's not married. This boy in the photo will probably come away from this Mass (celebrated totally in a language he doesn't know) with a far greater sense of the sacred than the boy in our unfortunate parish.

The image is also a great sign of hope for Catholics dedicated to a more reverent worship. First of all, I don't think anyone was exactly shocked (happy, but not shocked) that Cardinal Hoyos would do a Mass like this in Westminster Cathedral. I don't think anybody was shocked that a Solemn High Mass every bit as beautiful as anything seen before Vatican II was offered, that the Cardinal wore a Cappa Magna, or that the cathedral was overflowing. It's back!

But maybe the most significant image of hope is, again, that little boy holding the end of the cappa. He is the future. Kids like him (many in big families) are being formed by this spirituality. This kid will probably grow up either to have a big, holy, Catholic family which will be devoted to the traditional liturgy, or he will himself become a holy priest. They are the saints of tomorrow.

What a great picture.


leo said...

Nice thoughts!
I agree, there is no way this kid didn't realize that the whole "God thing" is something important.

Margaret Mary said...

Dear Mr. Train,
There is certainly a place between these two scenarios. While I agree that the seriousness of the God Thing is more likely to be conveyed in the midst of such beautiful aesthetics, it would be a mistake to assume that is the entire picture. Undeniably, we are sensory creatures and the apologetics of beauty draw us in. There are clear messages being sent about the gravitas of the situation in this photo. Something BIG is going on here-something far greater than anything I can create on my own or probably even imagine. We are more likely to pay attention, to not duck out after Communion, to not show up in jeans and a t-shirt when faced with this visible beauty. Does this translate into a more pleasing offering to God? Not necessarily.

There is a parish in our area that is widely known for the type of liturgy you describe, yet in getting to know some of the parishioners, (at the risk of over-generalizing) I’ve seen a lack of joy, a pride in the “superiority” of what they have, and an uncharitably judgmental attitude. The beauty of what I see and hear during Mass there is compromised by these underlying attitudes. The signals are mixed and I can no longer trust the beauty I perceive.

On the other hand, my parish (it’s the one with the modern architecture, off-the-rack vestments, and alb-like server uniforms) does an excellent job of being living witnesses to the beauty of Christianity. (Again, please forgive the over-generalization.) I am surrounded by many families who love the Faith and live heroic lives of sacrifice and service. Yet again, the signals are mixed. Those who can’t get past the mediocrity of the environment will never see the beauty of the hearts housed within.

I long for the day when our first AND second impressions of a parish are both equally beautiful, when this fuller representation of beauty is the norm, and the integrity of the Catholic witness is complete and trustworthy.

My take on the altar boy is that he’s probably spent the past weeks (or at least days) with a father who is exceedingly proud to have a son chosen for such an honor and a mother who has been coaching him on the seriousness of the day. At least I know that’s what happened to one boy who was chosen to serve when our newly-appointed Archbishop celebrated a Novus Ordo Mass at our parish. Yet, I saw the same look on his face as I see in the photo. He served reverently, with a clear sense of the Lord’s Presence, taking great care with every action. Aware of the honor, yet even more aware of his humble role as a servant and it would not shock anyone if this kid too becomes a priest.

Unknown said...

Here's your fine photographer ... one of a kind, huh?

Hugh said...

The boy is probably keeping a close eye on the photographer wondering how he's going to avoid accepting a "ride home":
Croydon Today. Mickey H