Mass IX is my favorite ordinary.
Perhaps this stems from my Anglican days, for we sang this setting in English fairly often, dividing the parts between the men's choir and the women's, or, when available, between the men and the boys...and is there anything lovelier in English choral music than the sight and sound of boys in their choir robes?
It was a sad realization for me, when I first became a Catholic, to say goodbye to that pomp and beauty in the liturgy. Even though we were being received in a "traditional" parish, there were no choir robes, no grand processions. Antiphonal meant that the choir sang and a few brave souls in the pews below responded. The organist provided lovely preludes and postludes, but there seemed to be few occasions for the truly glorious sounds that this instrument can produce...those tones both dulcet and dissonant that proclaim the presence of something greater than what the world can offer.
That was ten years ago. A decade, as we know from our Rosary, is a powerful thing. Each year brought changes to our world and to our liturgies. Yes, there are individuals who refuse to acknowledge that the Church is only in the world and not of it, who have sought, whether with good intention or evil design, to change Her, to force Her sacred shape into a secular garment into which She cannot ever fit.
Tuesday of this week ushered in the next decade for Her. For the first time in over forty years, the Diocese of Charlotte held a Solemn High Mass, attended by the bishop, bringing back to the Church that sense of ritual that I once thought lost to me, only now made greater for being in the One True Church, in the presence of the Real Presence, as it were.
Here was a canopy prepared for the bishop, heralded in by an organ fanfare of deafening magnitude and emotional depth, the sound indicating that this was an heir to the apostles of the Church, here to bestow his sanction and blessing upon this occasion. Here the priests processed, draped in beautiful vestments, the acolytes approached the altar with militaristic precision, their movements as sharp as the creases in their cassocks. Here the people sat in quiet anticipation, witnessing the pageantry and beauty of the Mass as it should be, reverent and beautiful, an occasion of unity, not just with those gathered here, but with all those who have come before us, and all those who will follow. It was not a static moment, clinging to one place and time, but a consistent and eternal flow, guiding the Church toward her Lord, the anticipation of eternal bliss bound in this ritual, these rites.
It is a common but appropriate image that appeals to me, that of the Church as a Bride...beautiful, reverent, ideal, divine, eternal. It is an image that inspires anticipation, yearning, and fidelity. It is a moment in which every aspect of Her countenance should be at its best, from the coverings of Her head to the shoes on Her feet. Her body, like those of many women, may not be perfect, but She should adorn it well for the occasion of offering it to the Bridegroom, her brocades, her silks and satins, the gold, silver and jewels of Her ancestors draped from Her ears and about Her hands, the glass slippers that fit only Her feet upon them, or perhaps those of ruby that can always take Her home. She is pure, She is chaste, She is prepared, and She is strong.
She sings to Her Lord as She approaches, Her introit of Latin keeping pace with Her feet. She greets His steward with a cry of Ecce Sacerdos as he goes to the high altar. She begs the mercy of the Bridegroom's Father as His servants prepare the table, She sings the glories of Her Faith in Gloria and Credo, She chants psalms as She kneels to receive Her Lord, each time a marvel and miracle of grace, a moment that is bittersweet, for it is a foretaste only of Her eternity with Christ, and is all too fleeting here.
This is the moment when She is most set apart from the world, in Her worship. It is the Mass, a liturgy rich in tradition, firm in promise, divine and holy in its descent from the hands of Christ Himself, His gift to His Bride, His Chosen, His Beloved.
Her Mass is always one of preparation for the moment that She is united with the Bridegroom, when the jeweled cup is held aloft by His servants, when the bread upon which She is to dine is exposed before Heaven, to become the Body and Blood of her King and Lord, and then to be offered to Her, a courtly gift of love that has no equal. He not only said He would die for Her, He did die for Her, and makes the offering again and again in the rituals that are best suited to so great an occasion.
She is the focus of the pageantry as She travels the aisle toward the altar, but there the attention shifts to what she is accepting, to the Truth that awaits Her there, to the Sacramental graces that descend upon Her and make Her, no longer simply beautiful, but perfect.
Here there is perfect union, never with the world, but only with Her Lord, and She kneels before Him as the echoes die away, the Mass is ended, and She goes forth in peace.