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Why the Old Mass?

by the Rev. Robert L. Gannon, S. J.
From the Catholic Family Daily Missal (1959)

There is no more perfect or praiseworthy devotion than that of assisting at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Compared with the other acts of devotion, the Mass is as the sun which surpasses all the other stars by its overpowering brilliance. "All other good works put together," the Cure d’Ars used to say, "are not equal to the Sacrifice of the Mass, because they are the works of men, whereas the Mass is the work of God: the one is the sacrifice of man’s life to God, the other is the sacrifice which God offers of His body and blood for the sake of man." The prayer of him who assists at Mass ceases in some measure to be simply a human prayer. Associated with the prayer of Jesus Christ, it takes on a divine character: it is no longer we alone who pray, it is Jesus Christ who prays in us and for us.

St. Francis de Sales held assistance at the Holy Sacrifice in such high esteem that he preferred it even to that of mental prayer, although all the masters of the spiritual life rank this far above other devotions. When St. Jane Frances de Chantal asked him one day if during the week she might stay away from Mass in order to give herself to prayer, he replied: "It is much more beneficial to assist each day at the Holy Sacrifice than it is for you to stay away under the pretext of devoting yourself to your prayers. St. Alphonsus de Liguori and St. Philip Neri used to give the same advice to those whom they directed.

In every age, moreover, Saints and devout souls have held the daily assistance at Holy Mass to be their most cherished devotion. In fact, love of the Mass is the infallible criterion of the faith of individuals and of peoples. Where devotion to the Holy Mass is held in little honor, faith diminishes; where it develops, there the faith increases, It is because they have not lost their fidelity to the Mass that the Irish have maintained the faith of their forefathers. In Dublin alone it is said that 40,000 persons (one out of every ten Catholics) hear Mass each day. In Protestant countries, especially in Holland, the Catholics resolutely declare their faith by their daily assistance at the Holy Mass.

These have well realized that if the priest cannot perform a more divine act than that of offering the Holy Sacrifice, the faithful cannot do anything more holy than associate themselves with that offering. They look upon the half- hour they have given to the Mass as the most precious in the day. The best way of saving time, Ozanam used to say, is to "lose" half an hour each morning at Mass. How many causes of dissipation are held in check during the remainder of the day by this half-hour deliberately lost! St. Louis heard several Masses each morning. One day he learned that some of his courtiers criticized this practice. "I am astonished at your murmurs", replied the king. "You would not think of reproaching me if I were to spend twice the amount of time in hunting or gaming." St. Augustine affirms that his mother never failed for a single day to assist at the sacrifice of the altar. St. Hedwig, Duchess of Poland, would not allow herself to be prevented from assisting at Mass either by rain, or cold, or snow, or the distance. Thus likewise acted Joan of Arc when at the head of her forces, and similarly nearer to our own times did La Rochejacquelin, O’Connell and General de Sonis. We fully endorse the beautiful words of Cardinal Newman:

"I declare that to my mind there is nothing so consoling or so moving, nothing which so surpasses and overwhelms the imagination, as the Mass celebrated as it is in our churches. I could without fatigue hear Masses for eternity."

"Nothing is so consoling, so piercing, so thrilling, so overcoming, as the Mass, said as it is among us.
I could attend Mass forever, and not be tired.
It is not a mere form of words; it is a great action.
The greatest action that can be on earth. It is
. . . the vocation of the Eternal."

-- John Henry Cardinal Newman