Page 5, 15th April 1988

15th April 1988
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Page 5, 15th April 1988 — Terence Sheehy discusses with Deryck Hanshell SJ different approaches to the Mass
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Terence Sheehy discusses with Deryck Hanshell SJ different approaches to the Mass

DO WE need to defend the Roman Canon? Sometimes I wonder if every now and then should we not ask ourselves this question, and then see just how far we can go in procuring a satisfactory answer. In recent talks with Fr Deryck Hanshell SJ, whose articles in the Catholic Herald have been appreciated over the years, our discussion was summed up in the following form:

The sacramental core of Mass irreducibly consists in the blessing or consecration of bread and wine and the giving and receiving of these in communion.

But Mass is not just a communion service in the Protestant sense. In the Mass the mystery of Christ crucified and risen — the paschal mystery — is made sacramentally present.

So something happens in the Mass. It is an action. And it is not least through action, symbolic ceremony, that the basic action of the Mass needs to be conveyed.

We have had much of the "word" of late, and no little wordiness. The experts too have concentrated on texts as if that were the whole of the matter.

As powerful however as what enters (in due measure) through the ear is what enters through the eye.

To prescind from music and silence: as well as words we need colour, design, and not least elsewhere). The ideal is for the maximum number of people to be allowed to vote in all important decisions.

The umbrella organisation which spear-headed the 1981 changes to Labour's constitution was the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy. With a name like that, who could possibly be in opposition? It was only after the campaign was well on the road that the real objectives became apparent.

Idealogical purity was the aim. In choosing a Labour Party leader, power was to be taken from MPs and entrusted to local Labour Party activists, and to trade union caucuses. Similarly, ideologically "unsound" MPs movement.

Along with vestments and incense, we need the place of sacrifice and the place of preaching to be distinct and set apart and yet significantly related.

We need movement between and around these places, and gesture and bowing and genuflection.

The people too need to express themselves in movement and posture: to genuflect as they always used to do in the creed, to kneel for the consecration and communion as well as to stand for the gospel and so on.

When we have recovered more of these basics we can

would risk being deselected by the core of activists in hk., '',,her constituency.

Why the hard-core of activists limited the role to themselves was immediately apparent in the 1981 deputy leadership contest. Some local parties immediately sought to involve their entire membership before deciding for whom the constituency party would vote.

An analysis of the results showed that the more members who were involved in voting, the greater was the chance of the local Labour party voting for Denis Healey rather than Tony Benn. A similar trend, favouring the more moderate candidate, was again apparent in the 1983 leadership fight.

Already, Neil Kinnock has called for the entire membership

to be involved in this year's

contest. This has been taken as a message directed at local Labour parties. I believe it should similarly be addressed to trade unions.

At this stage of the campaign, the crucial question is how the trade unions are going to exercise their 40 per cent share in the electoral college. Will the entire trade union membership be consulted? Will it be left to the unions' Executive Committees? Or will it be decided by the trade union delegates at the Labour Party Conference itself?

All the candidates should make it plain that it is now unacceptable for a few trade union leaders in non-smoke filled rooms (passive smoking prevails) to control 40 per cent of the entire college's vote. Indeed, Labour's NEC should request those unions who fail to offer one person one vote not to begin perhaps to think of liturgical dance, that is, when we have recovered the sense of the Mass itself as "a slow dance". And that could be sufficient.

In the new eucharistic prayers — apart from what the consecration and the doxology require — the priest for the most part merely stands at the altar and verbalizes.

Only the Roman Canon (No 1) answers to the full liturgical requirements on the part of the priest, and therefore on the part of the congregation on whom no movement or gesture of his should be lost.

The Roman essentially is the truly classicCanon.It should be cast the union's vote in this coming election. A similar request ought to be made by the NEC to each constituency party. Those not consulting all their members should be asked to withdraw from the election.

During the 1981 contest, a small ginger group was established to encourage Labour parties to extend the franchise to all members. The group is being re-established. This time, we aim to build a network amongst trade unionists and Labour Party members. The aim is to collect information on the method by which the vote is decided.

We will need information on whether Labour parties restrict the vote to the core of activists on the party's management board. Of those who extend the franchise more widely, are those who are unable to attend meetings — the old, the sick, those responsible for children included?

As well as knowing how the voting procedure is organised, the campaign will need to know the results. We aim to publish these, showing which candidates win if all votes are excluded other than those where the entire membership was invited to decide. If the results are different from the officially declared result — it may well be so for the deputy leadership — then the pressure for reforming the college on fully democratic lines will, or at least should, become irresistable. Labour could of course ignore the ensuing outcry, but only at the cost of already writing off the next election.

Those wishing to help can write to me here at the Commons. the one commonly used.

Personally I like the idea of the Mass as "a slow dance". I think it was Jacques Maritain who first used the phrase. Arnold Haskell, a Catholic, and a leading British Balletomane, once described the Mass as "the perfect ballet". This description is even more apt when you consider the balletic movements of hands and arms of the priest while offering up the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and his ritual bowing, kissing of the altar, the symbolic washing of hands, leisurely movement from side to side of the altar, and solemn entrance and exit, and so on. The Royal Ballet is surely at its most magnificent at the elevation. When His Eminence Cardinal Basil Hume OSB, Archbishop of Westminster, began his celebration of the Centenary Mass for the Catholic Herald, he first asked us to consider "with awe" what was about to unfold.

The celebration of the Mass by His Eminence the Cardinal is always, in my experience, an example of a celebration of irreducible standards of excellence, as his whole bearing, gestures, and attitude, reflect a background of over a thousand years of Benedictine primary occupation with liturgical prayer.

And the fact is that a congregation, particularly a congregation of the young, (such as at Ampleforth Abbey and Brompton Oratory), senses when Mass is being celebrated with due standards of excellence, and they respond accordingly.

We, all of us, have some special memory of particularly moving Masses, and their celebrants. As a schoolboy I had the privilege of serving a wide and diverse variety of Jesuit celebrants each early morning. One stands out in my memory in particular, my Latin master.

After his concise enunciation of the words of consecration, and the perfection of the elevation, he paused, as if in total awe, and I felt that awe passed on to me as his server. At this moment I could hear the sound of silver trumpets calling, the rustle of the wings of countless legions of angels as they bowed in adoration, and I could see the gleaming arcs of hundreds of ceremonial swords.

He was a very holy man indeed, and we schoolboys knew that his influence would be with us every day, for the rest of our lives.

And now, alas, as we continue to ponder on this greatest mystery of all, we see to what a bare minimum the official rubrics have been reduced in our present rite of the Holy Mass. Is this an entirely good thing? We could do perhaps with an open and informed discussion of the matter. Judging by his published opinions — see The Feast of Faith, Ignatius Press, San Francisco — such would appear to be Cardinal Ratzinger's view.




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