by Rev. James Bartoloma
In Nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.
In November of 1922, a very important archeological discovery was made. Howard Carter, an English archeologist, had made great efforts to get benefactors and raise money for a dig in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt. Finally, after the resources were there and a team was assembled, Carter spent seven years searching.
The conditions were hot. Sandy. Uncomfortable. Primitive. And the end result: uncertain. But one day the Egyptian laborers excavated a series of steps leading downward. Down to a sealed door.
Carter and his team were filled with nervous anticipation. Had they finally found it? The tomb of the ancient Pharaoh, Tutankhamen, with all of its treasures? And if they had discovered it, would King Tut’s tomb even contain anything. Grave robbers could have looted it long ago.
Howard Carter described the excavation in a journal entry:
Slowly, desperately slowly it seemed to us as we watched, the remains of passage debris that encumbered the lower part of the doorway were removed, until at last we had the whole door clear before us. The decisive moment had arrived. With trembling hands I made a tiny breach in the upper left hand corner. Darkness and blank space, as far as an iron testing-rod could reach, showed that whatever lay beyond was empty, and not filled like the passage we had just cleared… widening the hole a little, I inserted the candle and peered in, [my companions were] standing anxiously beside me to hear the verdict. At first I could see nothing, the hot air escaping from the chamber causing the candle flame to flicker, but presently, as my eyes grew accustomed to the light, details of the room within emerged slowly from the mist, strange animals, statues, and gold - everywhere the glint of gold. For the moment - an eternity it must have seemed to the others standing by - I was struck dumb with amazement, and when [my companion] unable to stand the suspense any longer, inquired anxiously, 'Can you see anything?' it was all I could do to get out the words, 'Yes, wonderful things.' - Wonderful things.
Dear friends in Christ, when an ancient treasure is discovered, an historical treasure consisting of precious artifacts, it is an important event. Learned scholars study and research each and every artifact, they study them; catalogue them, and eventually what is found ends up in museums where many more people will appreciate them; also learn about the civilization and circumstances that produced them.
The ancient Mass, so precious to us – to the Church – to Saints for whom it was a catalyst to holiness in this life and promise of eternal joy in the next. This form of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, my friends, is far more than a kind of archeological find that lies hidden and then is uncovered. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in its extraordinary form is a treasure that so many of us have discovered and fallen in love with. A “pearl of great price” that many have found and made great sacrifices for.
No doubt there are individuals in the cathedral this evening who are attending their first Traditional Mass, and more likely than not there are individuals who may be attending this Traditional Latin Mass for the first time in many years and are saying to themselves, “I don’t remember it being like this!” We welcome all of you.
For most of us though we are here because, through God’s providence, we have in some way discovered this form of the Mass. Discovered this Mass as a treasure.
Imagine the excitement of a treasure hunter, like Howard Carter searching not just for artifacts but for an entire civilization. And imagine the overwhelming joy one would be filled with when finding the treasure. Excitement! Joyful, grateful excitement.
You would want to explore every nook and cranny of what you had discovered. You want to see every object and know what it is and what it means. You want to know why each item of the treasure looks the way it does. How were these things made? Who made them and why. Everything is so beautiful, “wonderful things” as Howard Carter, overcome with joy, described the treasures that he found. And with the excitement of the discovery there is an exhilarating desire to delve into and explore further and further, the treasure that you were blest to find.
Isn’t that at the heart of why we have such an affection for the Traditional Mass, my friends? We experience its beauty and there is an excitement about delving into its sacredness.
And more than a mere earthly treasure, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass leads us into the mysteries of our holy religion that are the ultimate treasure which “moth and rust cannot destroy and thieves cannot break in and steal." (Mt. 6:20)
Please God, now with Summarum Pontificum, the Motu Proprio of the Holy Father which has in effect freed the Traditional Mass, many more individuals will be able to make the discovery that so many of us have. Find the treasure, and through the Sacred Liturgy encounter Our Divine Savior who remains with His Church until the end of time.
The Motu Proprio answers some persistent questions regarding the sacred liutrgy. Roma locuta est, causa finita est. (Rome has spoken, the case is closed.)
It would behoove all of us to thoroughly familiarize ourselves with this important document.
What Rite of Mass is being offered? The Roman Rite. The Roman Rite in its extraordinary form (forma extraordinaria).
Who should be able to attend and worship the Triune God at this form of the Sacred Liturgy? Anyone. Now potentiality and actuality are too different things. But with what the Holy Father has accomplished: the de-restriction of the ancient liturgy, we should have confidence that much has been set in motion for a greater accessibility.
Was this Mass ever abrogated? No. The Vicar of Christ makes a major clarification when he states that the Missal promulgated by Blessed John XXIII was never abrogated. In fact, this is even more than a clarification, it is a vindication for so many good and devoted people who defended the Mass and made great sacrifices for “the most beautiful thing this side of heaven.”
Pope Benedict XVI has and always has had great compassion for Catholics attached to the Traditional Mass and sympathized with those who have endured the scandal of shamefully irreverent celebrations of Mass that Catholics should never have to be subjected to. In his accompanying letter to the world’s Bishops, he states:
… in many places celebrations were not faithful to the prescriptions of the new
Missal, but the latter actually was understood as authorizing or even requiring
creativity, which frequently led to deformations of the liturgy which were hard
to bear. I am speaking from experience, since I too lived through that period
with all its hopes and confusions. And I have seen how arbitrary deformations of
the liturgy caused deep pain to individuals totally rooted in the faith of the
Friends, dare I say that when we saw our newly elected Holy Father emerge onto the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica two years ago, the freeing of the Traditional Mass is what we immediately began to anticipate and pray even more ardently for? In fact the Motu Proprio is tremendous evidence of the power of prayer!
How many of us prayed for so long. Prayed so hard. Made great sacrifices. So many Catholic clerics, religious and faithful have fought the good fight for years simply to have the Sacred Mysteries celebrated worthily, and for access to a form of Mass that for centuries had sanctified, taught, and inspired.
Yet, in a Church atmosphere in which “justice”, “tolerance”, “inclusivity”, and “diversity” have become insipid buzz words, real justice and understanding has been woefully lacking for those attached - to the treasure.
And not only has there been, in the past, a shameful lack of true justice, but those who loved this form of the Mass, this treasure, were treated very poorly. And that’s putting it mildly! In an interview before his election to the Papacy, during the Jubilee Year 2000, Cardinal Ratzinger summed it up even more strongly when he said:
For fostering a true consciousness in liturgical matters, it is also important that the proscription against the form of liturgy in valid use up to 1970 should be lifted. Anyone who nowadays advocates the continuing existence of this liturgy or takes part in it is treated like a leper; all tolerance ends here. (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, God and the World, A Conversation with Peter Seewald. Ignatius Press, 2000. Pg. 416)
My brothers and sisters in Christ, we do not want to be like the nine ungrateful lepers in the Gospel who failed to return and thank Our Lord when he healed them. Each of us should commit to do something in thanksgiving for the Motu Proprio, whether it be making a novena, having a Mass said, or giving a special offering.
Each of us should continue to pray very hard for our beloved Holy Father. May he be another Leo! In de-restricting the Traditional Mass, and clearly stating the reasons why this was a good and necessary thing to do, Pope Benedict is interjecting something into Catholic Life that may very well bring about not only stabilization within the Sacred Liturgy, but a spiritual renaissance that will be the death blow to the rationalism and modernism with which the Church has been tinged for far too long now.
Will things improve instantly? Automatically? No. The Church is a Mystical Body and bodies, when they are wounded have to heal in incremental steps. But, consider this, my friends, if so many fruits have come from the Extraordinary Form of the Mass being available only in a limited way, how great is the potential now - after Summarum Pontificum, which gives a lavish access - to the treasure. And the stigma, now to a large degree, removed by the Vicar of Christ himself.
The problems and challenges of the Church go beyond Liturgical matters; we know that very well. However, if the greatest thing that we can do as Catholics is be joined to Christ the Lord in His saving Sacrifice, made present upon the altar, and receive the same Lord in Holy Communion, would it not follow then that if an authentic Liturgical renewal, a “reform of the reform” could be accomplished, that this would be the most important step? That things might just begin to fall into place?
Aren’t Catholics supposed to be renewed and receive spiritual nourishment at Holy Mass, and then, go back into their lives and be “ambassadors for Christ” as St. Paul says? (2 Cor. 5:20) The stakes are extremely high, and with the proper direction, a proper “orientation” given, we should begin to feel a confidence that Christ the Lord will always triumph, and that the gates of hell will never prevail against His bride, the Church.
At the end of the letter to Bishops which accompanied the Motu Proprio, Benedict XVI stated, “I entrust these norms to the powerful intercession of Mary, Mother of the Church.” (to Maria, Mater Ecclesiae)
Far from being just a kind customary ending for a Papal document, this should touch every one of us. The Vicar of Christ entrusts such an important apostolic letter to the Mother of Christ. - Peter asks for the prayers of Mary.
Not only is the Motu Proprio a testimony to the power of prayer, it also is a testimony to the powerful intercession of the Mother of God. - Proof that we must continue to go to her; to approach her with filial affection and confidence.
Although the Motu Proprio was released on the seventh day of the seventh month in the year 2007, and although this just happens to be our seventh annual Solemn High Mass of the Assumption, we know that it has nothing to do with luck.
It is God’s providential will and intercession of His Mother.
When Our Divine Savior ascended into heaven, He took with Him, what he had received from the Blessed Virgin Mary: Our human nature. Where he has gone, we are meant to follow.
The first to follow, after Jesus, is His Mother. Her Assumption echoes the meaning of the Lord’s Ascension. A pattern: mankind is meant to dwell body and soul with God forever in heaven. Heaven where St. Paul teaches us that our true “citizenship” lies. (Philippians 3:20)
As she is assumed into Heaven, Our Lady takes something with her. She takes all of us with her. Not in the way that the Lord brought our human nature with Him into heaven at His Ascension. And not in the way that God will raise us up at the end of time. - But in her heart; in her Immaculate Heart. The Mother of God, our Mother, knows each and every one of us and she brings us, as only a Mother can, lovingly to Her Son and asks Him to bless us.
Blessed Pope John XXIII, the pope who issued the Missal which we are gratefully using this evening, once recalled his earliest childhood memory. He was a four-year old boy and his family had gone to the Church of Santa Maria in Brusicco for the Feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin. When they arrived, the church was overflowing with the faithful, and he was unable to see the ceremonies or venerate the image of the Madonna.
Seventy-seven years later when he was, Pope John XXIII recalled:
My only chance of seeing the venerated image of the Madonna was through one of
the two lateral windows of the main entrance, which were rather high and covered
with an iron grating. Then my mother raised me up in her arms and said, “Look,
Angelo, look how lovely the Madonna is – I consecrate you entirely to her!”
(Benigni and Zanchi, John XXIII, the Official Biography. Paulest Press. Pg. 11)
With her Glorious Assumption into Heaven, the Virgin Mary, our Spiritual Mother lifts us up. She lifts us up and lifts our cares and concerns up to her Divine Son. She lifts us up in her Immaculate Heart to glimpse, the pledge of our future glory.
At the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the divine treasure which is heaven begun on earth, what better or more fitting setting could there ever be to contemplate these mysteries of our faith.
In Nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.
Homily given at the annual Mater Ecclesiae Solemn High Mass in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Camden, NJ on August 15, 2007.
Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary by Pope John Paul II
Homily delivered by Pope John Paul II on Wednesday, 15 August 2001,
Homily During the Mass on the Solemnity of the Assumption by HH Pope Benedict XVI
Delivered at the Parish Church of Castel Gandolfo on 15 August 2005.
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