In our Gospel today, people ask Jesus a seemingly simple question, “Rabbi, when did you
get here? (John 6:25).” This points to something much more mysterious. John had just
mentioned that, on the other side of the lake, there was only one boat, and Jesus did not get
in with the apostles. When other boats came, they got in and crossed, and were surprised to
find Jesus there. That lead them to wonder how He got there. We, of course, know because
we have read the Gospel and understand that Jesus walked on the water. He doesn’t tell
them, and so they are left to wonder. This should prime them to be open to mystery, to be
sensitive to the idea that there is more going on than they can see. This should have made
them more open to the Bread of Life discourse which is to follow (unfortunately, they will
still not be open enough).
Jesus prayed that His Church would be one (John 17:20-23) and so that people would
believe the Father sent Him. Unity is an essential part of our work as Church, and I suggest
that we have room to grow in that area. Recent events got me thinking.
You may have heard about Pope Francis putting out a document, Traditionis Custodes,
which severely restricts the celebration of the extraordinary form of the Mass (that is, the
way it was celebrated just before Vatican II, using the Missal of 1962). Some people are
angry and hurt, while some people are saying “good riddance.” Many, of course, don’t see
what the big deal is. It will not directly affect most of us. I’ve attended two such liturgies
as a priest, and I don’t remember when I attended it as a child.
The Pope’s stated goal is unity, moving us toward common worship, and I think that is a
good goal. The question is what is needed to accomplish it. Looking at the divide can shine
some light on essential issues with our worship.
Whatever else is needed, unity requires understanding both sides’ concerns, and that is what
is often not happening.
Pope Benedict says in The Spirit of the Liturgy, “In the liturgy the curtain between heaven
and earth is torn open, and we are taken up into a liturgy that spans the whole
cosmos.” Now I ask you, how well does the way we celebrate liturgy convey that that is
happening? People will point to the extraordinary form and say that it better led them to
mystery. The Latin language conveyed that this was different from usual conversation. The
priest facing the same way as the congregation (called celebrating ad orientum, literally, to
the east) showed that he was representing the people to God, not just chatting with the
people. They find the modern liturgy friendly, but fails to point to mystery beyond what we
On the other hand, many have had bad experiences of the Pre-Vatican II liturgy. I’m told
many have had bad catechesis and had very little understanding of what was going on.
Some would pray the rosary. Someone said it was like a magic show. They were not able
to learn Latin well enough to experience what was happening, and often the priest mumbled
anyway. The revised liturgy enabled them to connect like never before, and they thought it
was wonderful. Many of them have a really hard time with the thought of going back.
So, how do we get the best of both worlds? The way many just stop going to Mass tells us
that what we are doing now is not connecting (this is not just our little community, but
nationwide). How do we connect with people and at the same time draw people to the
infinite mystery? I suggest that to answer this well will take serious brain effort.