The Latin Mass is celebrated in Rome on Sept. 7, 2017. (Dreamstime/Ensens)
William Shakespeare's exquisite Sonnet 23, about the difficulty of expressing profound love, begins, "As an unperfect actor on the stage ..." One of the lines in this brilliantly complex poem seems to sum up everything that is most powerful about the traditional Latin Mass: "the perfect ceremony of love's rite."
What does that line conjure up for you? For me, there's a hushed sense of participation in something important, something mysterious, profound and beautiful. There's the swish of silk and the stiffness of brocade, the glow of candlelight, the warmth of hardwood, perhaps the sheen of marble columns — unusual and decorative externals prepared, like a beautiful banquet hall, to honor some event of great magnitude. The attendants, intent and concentrated, clothed in ceremonial dress, have forgotten themselves in the careful accomplishment of grave and formal movements, each one an actor with a particular role in the intense drama unfolding.
An actor, you say? Is the traditional Mass like a play, amusing perhaps for those who like dressing up and processing around, but only make-believe in the end? Or an empty and pompous façade?
On the contrary. At its heart is the most real, the most powerful and the most magnificent thing this earth has ever witnessed: the sacrifice of Christ, the perfect Victim, offering himself for us to his Father, re-enacted in an unbloody manner. Its glorious aesthetics "brighten minds, so that they may travel through the lights to the True Light, where Christ is the true door."