17 April 2010


by Stephen Petersen, J.D.

. . . In order to obtain a true understanding of the Sacrifice of the Mass itself, we must grasp what is implied by Transcendence. Its root meaning involves “moving up and beyond” something. Whereas the term may be used legitimately in other fields, e.g. psychology and the fine arts, it is most frequently and precisely used in religious studies to denote that characteristic of God which requires that He willingly reveal Himself to man in order that Man might know Him. A transcendent deity is one unknowable and unreachable except insofar as he chooses to be known or reached Such a deity – and such is that God to Whom Our Lord referred to as His Father – exists in a state that cannot be accessed by human senses or reason. His nature goes beyond man’s - It transcends it.

Jesus, by nature God and Man, transcends man. There remain in Christ many mysteries and supernatural realities that are, like God Himself, inaccessible to human powers. Such questions are not of a nature to be answered by progress in science. Science (in the common, modern sense of the term) and Faith treat of distinct realms. Quantity, matter and time are earthly. They do not exist as such in the Triune God, but are, rather, sustained by His loving will for the good of creation.

At Mass, God re-creates the occasion of transcendence by appearing visibly and tangibly under the forms of bread and wine. We must cultivate our readiness to be witnesses to this transcendence. Not only is such readiness the core of that due to God from us because of the created, contingent nature of our being, but it is the foundation of social stability and happiness. As important as Eucharistic interaction with the transcendent is, we are in danger of letting it go by in favor of Esau’s portion of ordinary human comforts. Russell Kirk, paraphrasing T. S. Eliot, has stated that “no cultured person should remain indifferent to erosion of apprehension of the transcendent.” The madness and anaomie of our culture and society today has arisen from just this indifference.

The transcendent includes the human, but goes immeasurably beyond the human. Thus the opposite of the transcendent is that which is only human: our wishes and reasons that do not spring from God’s grace. Human actions are subject to explanation and even prediction by science. Biology explains our bodies, anthropology our culture, and psychology our sinfulness, and each science claims it will eventually fix what’s wrong with them. Science lacks the intention and power to explain the debt of worship owed to our Creator or the grace He has given us to render it. When we begin to minister to ourselves at Mass, we turn from being Catholics to becoming scientists.

Fortunately, the Church is beginning to see that the easy-going camaraderie of the laicized and Protestantized Mass has not led to a new springtime. Most Reverend Michael F. Burbidge, Bishop of Raleigh, for one, has newly issued general norms for the celebration of Mass in the Ordinary Form. A few of these are summarized below. Consider how each of them might encourage the faithful to keep their minds focused on the supernatural and away from the ephemeral and the self:
  •  Sacred silence observed prior to Mass
  •  Faithful encouraged to dress appropriately
  •  Vessels made of noble materials
  •  Sacred vessels purified only by a cleric
  •  Gregorian chant given pride of place
  •  Incense used during Sunday Mass
  •  Bells recommended during Mass
  •  Holding hands as the Our Father is prayed not encouraged.

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