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In the past 24 hours, a lot of people from across the spectrum have weighed in on what Pope Francis did or did not say, should have or should have said, about the “Traditional Latin Mass”. Of course, the official term is the “Extraordinary form” of the Eucharist.  

Personal background

Some personal background… I was ordained before the close of Vatican II in 1965. The only form of the Mass I knew was in Latin with a priest having his back to the people and bells rung at the consecration. If you were there for that it counted as Mass even if earlier you did not ask forgiveness or hear the Gospel.

I learned later that the bells were a left-over from many centuries ago. It was “traditional” at a time when Mass-goers were on one side of a huge screen and priest on the other. The priest was privileged to celebrate “his” Mass in this “Holy of Holies”. An altar server rang the bell to let the faithful know that the priest was up to the special moment of consecration.  Eventually, that screen came down. It was reduced to what my generation knew called an “altar rail”.

I must admit I was surprised to learn that the first Mass was not in Latin but in Aramaic. It remained that way for about two centuries. Then it quickly went through being celebrated in Greek and eventually in Latin… because that was the language people understood.

For the first few years after ordination, I “said” Mass in Latin.

The Last Supper as “the” traditional Mass

For me, the Last Supper is the true ”traditional” Mass. At the end of that supper, Jesus sensed his disciples did not understand. He outright asked them “Do you understand what I have done?” If I, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, then wash one another’s feet in memory of what I have done for you!

I have been celebrating Eucharist for more than 50 years. In recent years I hear Jesus asking me that question, “Do you understand …” I often try to imagine myself as the disciples who thought they knew what he meant but did not. Now, I can no longer say, “do this memory of me” without hearing that question in my head. “Do you understand”, becomes an instant examination of the reality of my belief in the real presence of Christ today.

I hear echoes of, “whatever you do to even the least of my brothers and sisters, you do to me.” To me that says today Jesus is primarily present in them. Jesus” real presence under the appearances of bread and wine is a reminder to “wash the feet” of Jesus in his many different disguises.

The challenge in the Eucharist

Eucharist challenges my “me and Jesus” tendencies.

It is far easier to see the body of Christ in a wafer of bread than it is to see each and every one of my brothers and sisters … the good and the bad, those who look like me and those who do not, those who are bruised and bleeding, those who persecute me and those with whom I feel closeness.

Two thousand years ago the memory of the Exodus event was celebrated with great attention to detail. Ritual laws unconsciously became the focus of Jewishness. No wonder Jesus threw out the money changers in the temple.

My fear today is that, across the spectrum, too many words are focusing on the issues of language. We have a long way to go to recognize Christ in our midst.

Do you understand what I have done?

Click below for an audio version of this Vincentian Mindwalk.

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