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How the Traditional Mass Helps to Foster Marian Spirituality


An authentic Marian spirituality will always lead us to Christ. It helps to foster those virtues best exemplified by Our Lady: obedience and humility. These virtues in turn lead to a spirit of docility within us. Personal piety and conformity to Christ increases with a deepening of the interior life.

What may be less obvious to some is the important role the liturgy plays in assisting with this formation. This of course requires a Christocentric worship, one that avoids the pitfalls of modern, anthropocentric, liturgical innovations. To this end, the traditional Latin Mass actually helps to foster an authentic Marian spirituality.

Before continuing, it is important to define our terms. To understand what is meant by an authentic Marian spirituality, we turn to the definition provided by University of Regensburg theologian Wolfgang Beinert. Writing over forty years ago on the subject, Beinert noted that, “the essence of Marian spirituality is truly found not in the fact that a person prays to Mary, but rather that a person prays like Mary.”

This connection between Our Lady’s spirituality and the ancient Roman Rite has been brilliantly argued by Professor Peter Kwasniewski in his latest book, Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness: Why the Modern Age Needs the Mass of Ages (Angelico Press, 2017). From the Annunciation, to the Wedding at Cana, to the foot of the Cross, Kwasniewski devotes an entire chapter of his book to exploring this relationship between Mary and the Mass. 

Just how does the Traditional liturgy foster Marian spirituality? Through the Rites structural emphasis on obedience and humility. The ancient Rite demands our obedience. It properly orientates us. The rubrics forms us rather than being formed by us. Our response must be one of obedience or we will be lost. We are humbled before that which is greater than us, that which is immemorial and immutable.

In contrast, the New Mass, with its various options and permissible innovations, can stifle a Marian spirituality. As Professor Kwasniewski observes:

Hence, for the liturgy to be Marian, for it to change us into her image, it must not—I repeat, must not—be subject to the will of the celebrant. It cannot be full of options, variations, adaptations, extemporaneous utterances, improvisations. As Joseph Ratzinger has rightly said: “The greatness of the liturgy depends . . . on its unspontaneity.”

He continues (emphasis mine):

The novelty of having options to choose from in the missal, as if one were partaking of a devotional buffet, the novelty of allowing celebrants to build from modules and to improvise at various points of the Mass…changes the fundamental character of worship in a radical way. Instead of expressing the Marian stance, “be it done unto me according to Thy word,” it expresses a distinctively modern stance of creativity, autonomy, and voluntarism: “I will do it according to my mind, my choice, and my words.” 

This is a rather revelatory statement, and it’s spot on. The idea that the modern Mass, in its various manifestations and multiple options and preferences, is a “devotional buffet” brings to mind the concept of the “cafeteria Catholic” when speaking of those who dissent in matters of faith and morals. Obviously we are not speaking here of dissent, or even liturgical abuses. Nevertheless, it is indeed contra-Marian. To elaborate upon this notion, Kwasniewski continues:

Returning now to the scene of the Annunciation, we see Our Lady giving her Fiat, on which the entire salvation of the world hinges. “Behold the handmaid of the Lord: be it done unto me according to Thy word” (Lk 1:38). Note the double passivity of this statement. She does not say “I will do thus-and-such.” She says: “Be it done unto me.” Moreover, she does not say: “Be it done unto me according to my words” or “Be it done unto me as I understand it,” as if she were entering into a contract between equals in which both parties have worked out a mutual formula of agreement. No, she says “according to Thy word.” She does not grasp everything that this word contains or demands or portends. In fact, she knows that she is consenting to that which is absolutely beyond her understanding and surrenders to it.

Here we realize just how much the traditional Rite fosters these twin virtues of obedience and humility. The rubrics bind us, both celebrant and faithful alike, and it is in that very rigidity of form that we realize authentic freedom. As we conform ourselves to the liturgy, fostered within us is a conformity to Christ and His Church.

Another aspect to consider is how the traditional Mass helps to form our interior life, something integral to an authentic Marian spirituality.

Sacred scripture tells us that Mary, when repeatedly presented with supernatural truth, “kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.” Contemplation and recollection was her response. In assessing the contemporary liturgical landscape, Kwasniewski notes:

Instead of looking to Mary our Mother and imitating her tenacious “keeping,” we have looked too much to modernity, the spirit of which is not merely in tension with but contrary to Mary’s virtues and her contemplation as the Seat of Wisdom.

We can contrast this again with the traditional Mass. A great deal of discussion has recently focused on the need for silence to return to the liturgy. On this topic Cardinal Robert Sarah’s recent book comes to mind. What we find at the traditional Rite is both silence and, just as importantly, stillness. Father Chad Ripperger touched upon this very matter in the Fall 2001 issue of Latin Mass Magazine:

The ancient ritual, on the other hand, actually fosters a prayer life. The silence during the Mass actually teaches people that they must pray. Either one will get lost in distraction during the ancient ritual or one will pray. The silence and encouragement to pray during the Mass teach people to pray on their own…

We can see then why the traditional Latin Mass can be justifiably called a Marian Mass. The form and ritual of the ancient Rite lends itself to the formation of the soul. The virtues of obedience and humility, central to authentic Marian spirituality, are fostered amidst the silence and structure of the old Mass. The interior life is thereby fed by this liturgical disposition, which itself is supported and reinforced by the liturgical form.

Recognizing this connection, which Professor Kwasniewski so ably identifies in his new book, may more of the faithful seek out the traditional Mass and make it part of their ongoing formation.

Photo credit: Patrick Craig. 

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