The Value of the Mass

The Value of the Mass
Up to our own times, it has been the constant concern of supreme pontiffs to ensure that the Church of Christ offers a worthy ritual to the Divine Majesty, 'to the praise and glory of His name,' and 'to the benefit of all His Holy Church - Pope Benedict XVI, Summorum Pontificum

Sunday, March 18, 2007

A Story of Hope

Recently, I was reading the book The Heresy of Formlessness by Martin Mosebach. In the third chapter of this book is an incredibly inspiring story that, to me, represents the current state of the liturgy in the Church (and to an extent, the Church as a whole) and where we hope she will go in the future. I believe that the picture above is the church written about here (this is a true story) but I'm not 100% sure that this is the church in question.
Here's the story:
First of all I want to take you to a high mountain, a sheer rock perched above the sea, Monte Tiberio on the island of Capri. On its top was the biggest and most beautiful of Emperor Tiberius' villas, the Villa Jovis; from its terraces one could look down on a massive Temple of Minerva that stood on the mainland - and of which not a stone remains. The Villa Jovis has also been plundered right down to its foundations; some beautiful marble floors from the palace have been relocated in the Capri cathedral. The peasants used to burn marble to obtain lime; the marble statues they did not destroy can be seen in the museum. In former centuries Tiberius was regarded as the same kind of a demon as Nero -unjustly, no doubt- but it is a fact that Tiberius was in residence here the same year that his procurator, Pilate, permitted the execution of Jesus. In those years an earthquake destroyed the lighthouse of the Villa Jovis. Tradition says that there are underground lines linking this lighthouse with Golgotha. So it was not surprising that someone had the idea of building a chapel amid the foundations of the ruined palace on the mountaintop, with a little room adjacent that would house a hermit. Nowadays this chapel is open only once a year, on Sept. 8, the Feast of the Nativity of Mary; in Naples this is one of the main ecclesiastical feasts, under the title of Madonna di Piedigrotta, and it is the center of a huge extravagant local festival. On this occasion the little chapel is decorated with festive lights like a fairground stall, its high altar submerged in fresh gladioli, making the oil painting of the Madonna seem even blacker and more soot encrusted. For the rest of the year mice run around the deserted building and gnaw their way into the sacristy drawers.
In a period in my life when I spent a lot of time in Cari, I was visited once a year by an English priest who lived in Genoa. He was one of those priests who can be identified by their garb and who are now a rare sight, even in the south of Italy. The Capri clergy were even less impressed by the man in the soutane when thy heard that he seriously intended on celebrating Holy Mass every day, alone; still, they were prepared to accommodate his religious scruples, offering him the opportunity of concelebrating in the cathedral. The English priest was a very practical man; he was no great theologian but had a very clear grasp of what was absolutely necessary and essential. In the end he was given the key to the little chapel in the Villa Jovis- which was remote and did not constitute a threat. He would not upset anyone anyone there. It was late afternoon when we first ascended to that spot, by a long path that rose gently but constantly to the high ground, giving us a wide view of the gulf. The castle on the top simply did not want to be photographed; since last year it had rusted up in the island's high humidity. We were greeted by an air of decay as we opened the door. The tabernacle's metal door stood open. There were a few dusty flower vases on the altar, and a plastic sheet covered the mildewed altar cloth. The candles had burned right down. Chairs were scattered around haphazardly. The sacristy looked as though it had been left in a great hurry. Empty bottles, a tawdry chalice of some kind of copper alloy, mousetraps, electric cables for the annual illuminations, desiccated flowers, a chair with three legs- this was the 'still life' presented to us. The priest opened the drawers. They revealed a damp amalgam of altar linen and albs and a disintegrating Missal covered in mildew. My parents had just given me an old Missal; I had wanted one from the time of the Holy Roman Empire, and the one they gave me was dated 1805- that is, just within the period- and published in Regensburg. This moldering Missal was the same edition, with the same pale, simple and affecting copper engravings. There was nothing romantic about the desolate chapel. It was not Pompeii but a rubbish dump that had not yet turned to compost. Unpleasant odors hung in the air; it was a dead place.
My priestly friend indulged in no such reflections. He had a purpose in mind, and there was no time to lose. He opened the window, and warm air seeped in. He took a straw besom from some corner and started sweeping out the sacristy. He wiped the altar surface clean. He took the vestments from the drawers, spread them out, and examined them. Aha, one of the albs was clean and in one piece. He carefully cleaned the chalice. He discovered a bent crucifix, kissed it, and placed it on the sacristy chest. He arranged the altar and put the flower vases in a corner of the sacristy. The chairs were now in an orderly row. The altar was covered with a new altar cloth. We found two candles and put them in the tall altar candlesticks. There was a 'people's altar' in imitation wood, with a metal vine decoration stuck on to it. 'That'll make a good credence table', the priest said, and in a trice we had put it against the right-hand wall. He found the bell rope, got on the ladder outside, and fastened the rope to the little bell. Now the band was broken, the crust of sadness scattered. The wind blew through the open church door like the breath that brings an instrument to life. The priest put on a bespattered stole of violet satin, took a mineral water battle he had brought with him, emptied its contents into a pink plastic pot, and began to pray; adding salt to the water, he blessed it and poured it into the little marble shells beside the entrance. I thought I could hear the stone breathe a sigh as it came to life again. At this stage a creased chasuble made of gold lurex thread was lying ready in the sacristy. I was pulling on the bell rope. The bell made a thin, clattering sound in the evening air, dispersed to all directions by the wind. People began to approach from the far distance, drawn by the bell. By the time the priest emerged from the sacristy, dressed in the creased gold chasuble, there were about twenty women and children on the rows of chairs. The priest bowed down before the altar and began to speak: 'Introibo ad altare Dei.'"
-Just Awesome!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Zach, I don't know if you will look back to see if comments were made recently, but i had to thank you for this wonderful story.

God bless you,
an "old" booklady convert