FROM time to time this column is used in order specially to recommend a book. Too often these books
are expensive. This week we arc going out of our way to recommend a small book which in a paper binding costs only five shillings. We are furthermore glad to do this because it is the season of Advent when it is desirable that our thoughts should leave for a moment the news and troubles of the world, however serious, and dwell on spiritual matters. The book to which we refer is " The Sacrifice of the Church: The Meaning of the Mass," by Fr. J. A. Jungmann, Si. (Challoner Publications).
In the adjoining columns, which will be very widely read. reference is made to the letters we receive and of which we publish a selection. One fact in connection with this correspondence we may suitably reveal in relation to the book we are recommending to our readers.
It is this. By far the most popular subject of letters received by us refers directly or indirectly to readers desire for what can only be described in general terms as the chance of living a fuller and richer liturgical life — and within this broad subject-matter the wish to participate more actively in the Sunday Mass recurs most frequently.
Many of these letters are never published or are published in a shortened form. Why ? Because they often contain criticisms which, whether justified or not. do not seem to us suitable for general publication. But one we must mention in general terms because it recurs so frequently. It is the wish that the celebrant at Mass should be sufficiently audible to enable the faithful to follow the Mass and feel something of a sense of community in the offering of the Holy Sacrifice. How widespread this desire is may not he generally known. But we can vouch for it on the basis of the recurrence year in and year out of this appeal.
NOW all this is directly relevant to Fr. Jungmann's book. Let it be said at Once that this book contains nothing controversial, such as a change of language in parts of the Mass or the reform of ceremonies and practices. It would more rightly be called a history — so long as the term is not allowed to put off readers,
ft briefly and in popular language describes the history of the Mass through the different periods of the Church's history — Fr. Jungmann, it may be said, is a pre-eminent authority on the subject — and it shows the whys and wherefores of these changes. Essentially they reflected the varying conditions of the life and the changing interests of the Church in different times against the unchanging background of the faith and the worship of the people of God.
In the early days, there was only a non-obligatory Sunday Mass. It was the gathering to gether of all for the weekly celebration of the Easter triumph in thanksgiving, sacrifice and communion. This gathering evoked a sense of " community," as we use the word today in a word like "community-centre ". There was the visible life of the Christian people: community, instruction and worship. In those days this weekly community Mass sufficed to keep Catholics fervent and instructed.
Various factors in course of time altered this. The growth and enrichment of the Church led to more and grander churches, and the specialised singing choir with greater and greater elaboration tended to make the Mass something apart from and for the people rather than of the people. The number of Masses multiplied with the growth of private and low M asses.
The influence of Arianism as a grave danger to the Faith led to the loss of the sense of Christ as the living Head of the Church and of the Church as Christ's Mystical Body. The Real Presence became an object of veneration and awe rather than Our Lord's own spiritual food for His children. People rarely went to Communion.
The sanctuary and its mysteries were physically separated from the people. Liturgical worship was something to do with the clergy. And then at the time of the Reformation, the inrush of heresy caused the strong underlining of the essential difference between priest and people and of the sacrificial aspect of the Mass in comparison with its other aspects.
To what then does all this
lead 7 It leads, in Fr. Jungmann's pages, to the decisive Holy Communion reform of St. Pius X, a reform that responded to the great change that had come over the Church in modern days of advancing secularism.
" The Christian was no longer carried along by his milieu as he had been in former days: in many cases he had to assert himself against pagan surroundings. A situation like that of the early centuries of the Church, when Christians formed a minority, was taking shape once more, at least for the practising Catholic."
The wheel was coming full circle. And this, we feel, explains those letters to which we referred above.
There is a keen sense, especially among younger and more ardent Catholics, not especially for this or that sudden change ,which the Church may or may not approve, but for the spiritual benefit of participation, action, help, fellowship in that one solemn hour of the week when the people of God, at bottom exiled in the postChristian world, come together in every town and village to worship, to give thanks, to sacrifice, to testify, to learn, to feel mutual support in common action.
In other words, the least controversive of liturgical development is also the most valuable.