Franciscan University of Steubenville recently hosted a lecture by Dr. Peter Kwasniewski entitled, “The Old Mass and the New Evangelization: Beyond the Long Winter of Rationalism”. Readers of Liturgy Guy know by now that I am a big fan of Dr. Kwasniewski and consider him to be one of the most interesting writers today focusing on the sacred liturgy. Dr. Kwasniewski has called this lecture “the closest I’ve come to a sort of ‘manifesto’ of the reasons why I believe the traditional Latin Mass — and, indeed, the whole way of life and prayer that goes with it — is the way of the future, the way forward out of our ecclesial crisis.” While the entire talk is worth reading (available at Rorate Caeli), the below excerpt convincingly argues why the new evangelization must be founded upon the recovery of the traditional liturgy.
The Old Mass and the New Evangelization (excerpt)
All this may sound rather speculative, but it has decisive practical consequences for the everyday life and mission of the Church in the modern world. “The way the liturgy is treated determines the fate of the faith and the Church,” said Cardinal Ratzinger. The humanism, rationalism, archaeologism, utilitarianism, modernism, and other -isms on the basis of which the reformers worked in the sixties and seventies have yielded a liturgy inadequate to its own theological essence, unequal to its ascetical-mystical vocation, and estranged from its cultural inheritance. This modern liturgy, in the manner in which it is commonly celebrated and experienced today, reflects and inculcates an anthropocentric view of worship that is spiritually damaging, since it deviates from the evidently theocentric, Christocentric, and hagiocentric worship bequeathed by tradition. This, in turn, will continue to weaken the Church’s internal coherence, mar the external beauty of her face, deplete her doctrinal fidelity, limit the extension and intensity of her holiness, and diminish the efficacy of her missionary efforts…
Conversely, as the traditional liturgical rites and their spirituality are recovered and come to occupy an ever-greater place in the lives of the faithful, to that extent the damage of the past fifty years will be able to be reversed, staunch fortitude can be developed for the coming persecutions, and tremendous energies of evangelization can be nurtured and released.
Bishop Athanasius Schneider has given eloquent expression to the real priorities that face the Church today:
Only on the basis of adoring and glorifying God can the Church adequately proclaim the word of truth, that is, evangelize. … Everything about the liturgy of the Holy Mass must therefore serve to express clearly the reality of Christ’s sacrifice, namely the prayers of adoration, of thanks, of expiation, and of impetration that the eternal High Priest presented to His Father. … How can we call others to convert while, among those doing the calling, no convincing conversion towards God has yet occurred, internally or externally?
Bishop Dominique Rey…puts it well: “I wish to say very clearly that the New Evangelization must be founded on the faithful and fruitful celebration of the sacred liturgy as given to us by the Church in her tradition—Western and Eastern.”
This, brothers and sisters, is good news: God, having loved us first, has given us, in various traditions, optimal ways to make our response to Him in love—a work that we can do, but only through Him, with Him, and in Him. That is the great gift of the sacred liturgy. That is why the rediscovery of the traditional Latin Mass, with all of its special qualities, is vital both for the re-evangelization of Catholics and the sharing of the Gospel with non-believers: it is at the very heart of the good news that we seek to share, it is itself a powerful agent of conversion, and without it, we are in danger of talking about the good news rather than initiating people into it, as a living communion with Christ.
Think of it this way: an atheist, out of curiosity, goes to church. What will he find there? Will he be shattered out of complacency by the “shock of the beautiful”? Or a Protestant wonders what the Catholic Mass is all about, and she decides to attend one Sunday. Will she be overwhelmed by her confrontation with the majesty and mystery of Christ in his holy sanctuary, an existential contact with undiluted sacredness? It is sad to have to say that, if our atheist and our Protestant happen to pick a Catholic church at random, they face a great risk of being turned off by the banality or puzzled as to how such a religion can survive its moribundity. Or let us say that we have shared the word of truth with our neighbor; with God’s help, we have rekindled the spark of faith in a fallen-away Catholic, or started a promising exchange with an unbeliever. What is it, ultimately, that we are inviting them to share? Our faith is far more than belief in a book or a set of propositions, far more than a plan of life or a social network. We want them to come fully alive in Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh; we want them to behold the glory of the only-begotten Son of God, full of grace and truth; we want them to experience “the divine, holy, most pure, immortal, heavenly, life-creating, and awesome mysteries of Christ.” Where and how is that going to happen? Do we have something truly wonderful, truly satisfying, to invite them to? Something that can make their hearts burn within them and their minds rise up to heaven, as it does for us? If our liturgy isn’t as it should be, evangelization has no real end in view.
Photo Credit: Steve Skojec