Western Civilization Exists for the Mass
Many are stunned today at the speed in which western civilization is collapsing. Coinciding with this is the post-conciliar crisis within the Church, the fourth great crisis of Christendom as it has been described by that great defender of orthodoxy, Bishop Athanasius Schneider of Kazakhstan. What may not be as clear too many is the connection between the destruction of the Mass and of the collapse of the Christian west.
One man who understood this connection was Dr. John Senior, professor of English, Literature, and Classics and co-founder of the very successful Integrated Humanities Program at the University of Kansas. Dr. Senior taught for decades at the university level. He was also a convert to the Catholic faith, devoted to the traditional Mass and an attendee of Immaculata Chapel (SSPX) in St. Mary’s, Kansas.
Senior has been credited with inspiring a generation of young men and women who, having studied under him at Kansas, converted to Catholicism. As Michael Matt of the Remnant has noted, “under his tutelage, (his students) had learned to love the old Faith as he did and thus desired to serve the Church as loyally as had their revered teacher.”
Early in his book The Restoration of Christian Culture, John Senior speaks to the inseparable nature of civilization and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass:
Whatever we do in the political or social order, the indispensable foundation is prayer, the heart of which is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the perfect prayer of Christ Himself, Priest and Victim, recreating in an unbloody manner the bloody, selfsame Sacrifice of Calvary. What is Christian culture? It is essentially the Mass. That is not my or anyone’s opinion or theory or wish but the central fact of 2,000 years of history. Christendom, what secularists call Western Civilization, is the Mass and the paraphernalia which protect and facilitate it. All architecture, art, political and social forms, economics, the way people live and feel and think, music, literature ―all these things when they are right are ways of fostering and protecting the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
Understanding this, is it any wonder why a growing number of Catholics today (sometimes derisively dismissed as ‘radical traditionalists’) speak of the need for liturgical restoration? Is it any surprise that we are seeing a cultural collapse in the west considering the anthropocentric and profane Masses offered for much of the last fifty years?
Reading the above quote by Senior recently I was immediately reminded of another occasion when esteemed laity highlighted the inseparable connection between the Mass and civilization.
On the eve of the implementation of Pope Paul’s new Mass in the U.K. back in 1971, a group of learned English signatories wrote the Holy Father a letter, an appeal. Many of the distinguished signers were not even Catholic. They included such artists and thinkers as Agatha Christie, Graham Greene, Robert Graves, Ralph Richardson, Kenneth Clark, Malcolm Muggeridge, and Yehudi Menuhin to name just a few. In total nearly sixty people signed.
Their letter today, and the subsequent response of Rome, are referred to as the Agatha Christie indult, named after its most prominent signer. Put simply, the letter argued for the preservation of the Roman Rite as the jewel of western civilization. They began:
If some senseless decree were to order the total or partial destruction of basilicas or cathedrals, then obviously it would be the educated -whatever their personal beliefs- who would rise up in horror to oppose such a possibility.
Now the fact is that basilicas and cathedrals were built so as to celebrate a rite which, until a few months ago, constituted a living tradition. We are referring to the Roman Catholic Mass. Yet, according to the latest information in Rome, there is a plan to obliterate that Mass by the end of the current year.
Next, the signatories argued (as John Senior did) that the traditional Mass is foundational to, and inseparable from, western civilization:
We are not at this moment considering the religious or spiritual experience of millions of individuals. The rite in question, in its magnificent Latin text, has also inspired a host of priceless achievements in the arts -not only mystical works, but works by poets, philosophers, musicians, architects, painters and sculptors in all countries and epochs. Thus, it belongs to universal culture as well as to churchmen and formal Christians.
The implication is clear. If the “rite in question” has inspired the culture and lifted the human spirit in such a manner “in all countries and epochs”, then what happens when it is distorted and diminished. If western civilization exists for the Mass, then what happens when the Mass is changed? Consistently profaned? Modernized?
The letter concludes with both an appeal, and a filial warning, to the Holy Father:
The signatories of this appeal, which is entirely ecumenical and nonpolitical, have been drawn from every branch of modern culture in Europe and elsewhere. They wish to call to the attention of the Holy See, the appalling responsibility it would incur in the history of the human spirit were it to refuse to allow the Traditional Mass to survive…
Cardinal Heenan delivered the letter to Pope Paul VI, resulting in the granting of the Latin Mass indult for England and Wales in November 1971.
What is sad today, nearly fifty years after the “reform” of the Roman Rite, is that many within the Church still do not see what John Senior and the signatories of the Agatha Christie letter so clearly recognized. History has proven them to be truly prophetic. We can view these last fifty years as our Babylonian exile. Our captivity, merited through pride and disobedience.
Surveying the ecclesial and cultural landscape near the end of his life, Senior held nothing back in his assessment:
The crisis is over; we have lost. This is no longer just a prediction, it is a simple observation: Rome has been desecrated. We are in the age of darkness. Triumphalist reactions are in vain. The modern world and the Church deserve the punishment that God is raining down on us.
Despite this current punishment we cannot despair. In the end, we know Who is victorious. We do not, however, participate in this victory if we fail to reassert the fundamental connection between the Mass and western civilization.
The Mass must first be the foundation of the family before it can be the foundation of the culture. All of life must flow from Our Eucharistic Lord, present in our churches, on the altars, in the hands of our priests. The Social Kingship of Christ must once again be proclaimed as well.
We must also reject the nonsensical notion of the Mass as an ecumenical experiment. As a laboratory for innovation. As an expression of the secular instead of an encounter with the eternal. This must all be rejected. It is offensive and it is not Catholic.
Western civilization, or more accurately Christendom, exists for the Mass. We have seen the fruits of secularism, of rejecting this fundamental truth. We have seen both the culture and the Church teeter (and in some places fall) due to the loss of understanding of this foundational truth. Even where the culture fails to grasp this notion, it is still true never the less.
In the end this is why so many fight for the liturgy, despite the scorn of some and the indifference of many. This truth compels us. Father John Zuhlsdorf (Fr. Z) likes to say, “Save the Liturgy, save the World.” Indeed.
Photo credit: Gonzague Bridault
Posted on November 7, 2017, in liturgy and tagged Agatha Christie indult, bishop athanasius schneider, Christendom, John Senior, latin mass, Pope Paul VI, roman rite, traditional mass, Western Civilization. Bookmark the permalink. 22 Comments.
There is an interesting absence of the mass in all of the epistles in the New Testament except for 1Corinthians. Why is that?
Historical roots: Mt 26, 26-29; Mk 14, 22-25; Lk 22, 15,20. (Jn 6,51-59). The theology and its presentational form would be created by later generations.
I believe that the epistles emphasize receiving the Spirit of Christ by faith and trust as a prerequisite for receiving the Eucharist. Christ’s Spirit is what brings us sanctifying grace prior to the Eucharist. It is the Spirit that sanctifies us and saves us (Ephesians 1:12-14).
Hebrews 13:10: “We have an altar, whereof they have no power to eat who serve the tabernacle.”
Saint Paul, writing to the Hebrew Christians, asserts:
We (Christians) have an altar (and therefore a sacrifice, as that is what altars are for) where they have no power to eat (eating is done from this altar) who serve the tabernacle (those who don’t believe, in this instance, Jews who rejected Christ, are forbidden to partake of the sacrifice).
Clear reference to the New Testament sacrifice.
Acts 13:2. And as they were ministering to the Lord, and fasting, the Holy Ghost said to them: “Separate me Saul and Barnabas for the work whereunto I have taken them.”
The Greek term used in that section for “ministering to the Lord” is the word “liturgy” (as we would say in English). Thus, we have a reference to the apostles fasting while offering the liturgy.
Every time the word “liturgy” appears in the Greek of the Old Testament Septuagint, which the early Church used as its OT Scriptures, the term refers to the offering of sacrifice.
“Liturgy” refers to “sacrifice,” which is what is being referenced in the Acts of the Apostles. In other words, the Mass.
The Greek word “leitourgeo” is used three times in the New Testament.
In Acts 15:27, the word “minister” has nothing to do with the mass. There it is used in the context of bringing a contribution to the poor in Jerusalem.
In Acts 13:2, the word “ministered” may also have a wider application than the mass.
In Hebrews 10:11, it is used for the Old Testament priestly offerings of the animal sacrifices which could not take away sins.
The reference to “liturgy” above was to Acts 13:2 alone.
The other instance in Acts, 15:27, is not relevant to the discussion, as in 13:2 the “ministering” was “to the Lord,” and that “ministering to the Lord” was done during a time of fasting.
It contains no “wider application.” It’s a direct reference to the Mass.
The other references cited were OT references in the Septuagint, which, in every applicable case, refer to the offering of sacrifice where the “ministering” is done “to the Lord.”
The quote from Hebrews proves the point: “liturgy,” when directed to the Lord (“ministering to the Lord”) refers to the offering of sacrifice.
The Mass is the sacrifice (liturgy) of the New Testament. Malachi 1:11.
My mistake. It should be Romans 15:27 instead of Acts 15:27 where “leitourgeo” is used in the context of bringing a contribution to the poor in Jerusalem. It is relevant because the word has a wider usage than the mass.
“It is relevant because the word has a wider usage than the mass.”
But not in the context of Acts 13:2, where the liturgy (ministering) is “to the Lord.”
The Church has always held that that is a reference to the Mass, just as the word liturgy in the Septuagint referenced the Old Testament sacrifices.
The other instances you referenced are not directed “to the Lord” and are therefore irrelevant to the discussion.
The Catholic Jerusalem Bible translates “leitourgeo” in Acts 13:2 as “offering worship to the Lord”. Is the mass the only way to offer worship to the Lord? Were the Gentile Christians offering worship to the poor Christians in Jerusalem when they sent them a “leitourgeo” offering in Romans 15:27.
Absence of something in the written Word does not mean that it never existed.
“Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.” (2 Thes. 2:15 KJV)
Paul instructed us to hold firm to … what? … to traditions!
And what traditions does he first qualify? Those of the “spoken word”.
He then mentions traditions of “our epistle”.
So, these traditions of the spoken work, but not written down (i.e., not in an Epistle), what are they? And how can we come to know them, since according to Paul’s instruction, we are to “hold” to them?
Well, one of these traditions is the Sacred Liturgy (the Holy Mass), passed down to us from the original bishops of Jesus Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.
Vatican II, in Dei Verbum 21 says: “Therefore, like the Christian religion itself, all the preaching of the Church must be nourished and regulated by Sacred Scripture.” The Church wouldn’t be saying this if Scripture was lacking or incomplete in any important way (see also 2Timothy 3:16-17).
The New Testament epistles emphasize receiving Christ within us by His Spirit because this is what gives us life (John 6:63; 1Corinthians 15:45; 1John 3:24; Ephesians 1:12-14; 3:16). Peace and strength are fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).
“HOC EST ENIM CORPUS MEUM. HIC EST ENIM CALIX SANGUINIS MEI, NOVI ET AETERNI TESTAMENTI: MYSTERIUM FIDEI;QUI PRO VOBIS ET PRO MULTIS EFFUNDETUR IN REMISSIONEM PECCATORUM.” Gives the reason for the Holy Sacrifice: Pro Vobiis et Pro Multis. The world is not for the Holy Sacrifice; it’s the other way ’round.
Yes, many try to say that the 1960’s brought in sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll. Many see an erosion of the society and then correlate that to the steep declining numbers receiving the sacraments, vocations to the religious life/priesthood, and those sitting in the pews. For quite a few years now I’ve been convinced it is the other way around. We changed the Once and Future Mass and society now reaps the consequences of that erroneous rupture. The Catholic Church is of God’s founding. The Mass is a window into eternity. To “update” the Mass is like trying to re-invent the un-inventable.
And that Father, ‘To “update” the Mass is like trying to re-invent the un-inventable’, is the crux of the matter. PERFECTLY stated.
This is a terrific piece. Thank you for this.
Thank you Jeff!
Agreed! What a wonderful article! Thank you Brian Williams. You have a knack for finding the best.
This was greeat to read
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