Bishop Athanasius Schneider’s book “The Catholic Mass” is an incredible testament to the beauty and symbolism of the Catholic Mass. While some might argue that Bishop Schneider is longing for a past that has passed, I believe that he does a wonderful job of showing how the Catholic Mass has always been intended as the sacred union of the human and divine, the temporal and the eternal, the physical and the spiritual. Though he definitely has a strong preference for the Traditional Latin Mass over the Novus Ordo, many of his assertions can be applied to the new rite just as easily as they can be applied to the old.
Bishop Schneider advocates for the importance of beauty. The Catholic Mass is meant to be beautiful. Beauty, as one of the transcendentals, has the power to draw man to Truth and Goodness. It is intimately linked with man’s desire for truth, and his desire to be good. Since we live in a world that seems to be pride itself in its ability to create ugliness, it should come as no surprise that we also live in a world that embraces relativism in matters pertaining to both truth and goodness. The world tries to convince us that what is true for you might not be true for me, and what is good for you might not be good for me. The Catholic Mass should remind us that we as human persons are naturally drawn to the true, good, and beautiful. To do that, the Mass must be beautiful itself. But as long as we keep choosing ugly architecture, ugly vestments, and ugly music, man’s search for God will be hindered. And the Catholic Mass should never be a hindrance in man’s search for God.
Bishop Schneider advocates for the importance of history. One of my favorite things about this book was that Bishop Schneider backed up all of his assertions with history. Curious when Catholics began receiving Holy Communion on the hand? This book will tell you when and why the change was made (and why it shouldn’t have been made). I wasn’t convinced of every assertion he made, but I certainly can’t claim that Bishop Schneider doesn’t know his history. The Catholic Mass should be a seamless representation of the Church’s existence, both past and present. When we celebrate the Mass, we should be able to see where we’ve come from, and Mass should not be filled with innovations that make it difficult to recognize as the same Mass that was celebrated by the apostles and early martyrs, as well as the later mystics and theologians. The Catholic Mass should draw us into a Communion of Saints that spans millennia.
Bishop Schneider advocates for the importance of symbolism. Catholicism is so rich in symbolism, and the Mass is just as rich in its sacramentality. Everything is meant to communicate more than just itself to us. Water has the power to forgive sins. Bread and wine can become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Chapel veils remind us of the sacredness of the Church, the Bride of Christ. Facing East reminds us of the promise that came with the sunrise on that first Easter morning. Bishop Schneider does an incredible job of reminding us how symbolic the Mass can be, if done well. The Catholic Mass, in any form, is meant to draw man to God, and its rich symbolism has so much power to do that for us.
Finally, Bishop Schneider advocates for the importance of reverence for the sacred. Man satisfies the deepest pull of his nature when he worships God. Man was created for worship. The Catholic Mass is a sacred liturgy, the joining of heaven and earth, the gathering of the entire Church- the Church militant, the Church suffering, and the Church triumphant- for the purpose of worshipping God. Yes, the Mass is where we are filled with God’s life. Yes, we do “get something” when we go to Mass, but that’s not the whole point. We are also meant to give. We are meant to give God praise and worship, to love and adore Him. God does not need anything from us, but we need to worship Him to the best of our ability. It’s what we were made to do, and as Bishop Athanasius Schneider so beautifully demonstrates, the Mass was given to us to help us do just that. So if you’re looking to read something to remind you of your God-given call to worship, this is the book for you.