Wednesday, 3 July 2013

A Reflection on the Timelessness of the Liturgy

As Catholics, we believe that the mass is in its essence a sacrifice. But it is not just any sacrifice; it is the sacrifice which Jesus Himself offered on the cross at Calvary, the very same one. Our finite minds cannot possibly grasp this concept, for it is truly a mystery of our faith. Whenever the holy mass is celebrated, anywhere on earth, at any point in time, the sacrifice of the cross is made really and truly present. And yet, from our human point of view, that sacrifice occurred two thousand years ago at Calvary. How can that same sacrifice be present here and now on an altar, centuries later? And yet it is present, and we must believe this, regardless of how incomprehensible this is to our limited understanding. The sacrifice of the cross, although it occurred all those years ago when Jesus died, is still occurring right now, every time a mass is celebrated. It transcends the limits and boundaries of time, becoming truly present to us now, at a different point in history. It is a timeless thing. 

I think this should affect our understanding of those elements of the mass which are extrinsic to the essence itself, namely the liturgical rites and celebrations, the external parts of the mass. These parts of the mass are built around the essence, the sacrifice and the sacrament; as such, they should reflect the nature of this essence to the highest degree possible. As a traditionalist, I would maintain that even the timelessness and immutability of the essence must manifest itself and be reflected in these outward rites and ceremonies, such that they themselves ought to retain a timeless and immutable character, in their own substance (leaving room for certain legitimate developments). In other words, the rites which surround the essence of the mass ought to remain within the boundaries of tradition. Herein lies one important reason for the superiority of the Tridentine rite of the mass over the new rite: in the substance of the rites and ceremonies of the Tridentine mass, a certain character of timelessness and immutability is preserved, such that the timelessness of the sacrifice of Calvary is manifested in them. 

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