I attended my 2nd Novus Ordo Mass in Latin Saturday evening. I was able to follow along in the guide provided by picking out strategically repeated phrases like “Oremus” (Let us pray) or “Dominus vobiscum” (the Lord be with you), to which the we reply “Amen” or “Et cum spiritu tuo” (and with your spirit). I tried my hand at pronouncing most responses in time with everyone else (the Mass is sung), but I'm fairly certain I butchered the hades out of 'em. Try keeping up with the old timers during the Creed: “Et in Spiritum Sanctum, Dominum et vivificantem: qui ex Patre Filioque procedit.” (I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of life, Who proceeds from the Father & the Son). I finally gave up at the Our Father "Panem nostrum cotidianum da nobis hodie, et dimitte nobis debita nostra..." (Give us this day our daily bread & forgive us our trespasses) & decided to sit back & listen to the choir flood the sancturary with song.
I really want to start experiencing Latin more because its part of my history. My forefathers in the faith experienced Latin at every Mass. Though some things have changed since Vatican II in the 1970's, the heart of the Mass is still the same. Those who have gone before me were exposed to much of the same ritual & prayers. The same incense filled their sanctuaries & they partook of the same Body & Blood. I tried to imagine my own patron saint, Francis De Sales, taking part in the Mass 500 years ago as they recited the Creed together or prayed the Our Father.
As I drank in the "smells & bells" of the service, I found myself gazing ahead to Station 12, where Jesus dies. His skin was stretched so thinly over His ribs, I almost expected Him to gasp for breath & burst. While newer churches have small, 2 dimensional depictions made of metal or wood, its always particularly striking to enter an older church & see the Stations of the Cross come to life in sculpture. Statues of saints were also prominently displayed. This something I admire about Catholic churches- new & old- the Gospel is everywhere. The Stations of the Cross, in some form, are posted around the sanctuary. The saints aren't so prevalent in the newer parishes, but they're still noticeable in many of the older ones. There's usually a crucifix or a depiction of Jesus that greets your eye as you walk in, much like how a photo of a deceased loved one is prominently displayed at a funeral. But this is no funeral. This is a celebration of the grace & privilege of getting to partake in the death & resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. “Take up your cross & follow Me”, He says. Follow Him where? Where do you think? To the cross & to the grave, so we can be raised up to new life? Nonsense. He went to the cross for us, He died for us & was raised for us so we don't have to go through all that. We're gonna follow Him straight to heaven!
But when does He or any of the New Testament writers ever say that? The Church confronts each one of us who steps foot into a Catholic sanctuary with this sobering statement: This is Christ & this is His path. It begins with suffering & ends with death. I've always been peeved that the Stations end with Christ's burial. Obviously we know He rose from the dead & lives today. But its almost as if the Stations ask us to take this on faith because we are called to follow Him only this far- unto death. Its only when we die to ourselves, like the marriage vow (“til death do us part”), that we are free to be espoused to our Lord & Savior in Spirit & in Truth. Only then can we know & live the life He has for us.