Bishop Athanasius Schneider. The Catholic Mass: Steps to Restore the Centrality of God in the Liturgy. Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 2022. Hardcover $21.95. Ebook $9.99. Available from Amazon.com or directly from publisher.
Having had the privilege of reading the manuscript prior to publication, I eagerly awaited the release of The Catholic Mass, the latest book by the indefatigable defender of Catholic orthodoxy and the Most Holy Eucharist, Bishop Athanasius Schneider. As Bishop Schneider explains, we are going through a period of “liturgical exile” and need to “repair” our life of worship. This essential new work guides readers to appreciate the meaning of the Mass at a time when faith in the Holy Eucharist and attendance at church are dwindling.
The book originated in Italian composer Aurelio Porfiri’s conversations with Bishop Schneider. These conversations were subsequently transcribed and edited for publication. It is not an interview, however, but a fully written-out treatment of a series of topics (reminiscent of Romano Guardini’s Sacred Signs and Spirit of the Liturgy). Thus, we have twelve chapters, each entitled “The Mass Is…” His Excellency discusses how the Mass is: (1) Prayer; (2) Adoration; (3) Rite, i.e., characterized by rituality; (4) Sacrifice; (5) Splendor of Beauty; (6) Sacred Action; (7) Thanksgiving; (8) Listening; (9) The Church’s Life; (10) Salvation’s Source; (11) Sacred Service; (12) the Wedding Feast.
A fundamental theme running through the book is that moderns have fallen into the error of anthropocentrism, placing man at the center of the universe, and that this error invades and infects all areas of life—including life in the Church and in our worship. We need to acknowledge the centrality of God in our minds and hearts, and then take decisive steps to ensure that this axial truth is reflect in how we adore, praise, and supplicate the Lord. Mass, for example, ought to be celebrated ad orientem to direct our focus to God. The explanation of ad orientem in these pages would be enough to melt a heart of stone.
As readers would expect from his other works, Bishop Schneider unflinchingly exposes modern liturgical abuses for what they are—forms of narcissicism and carriers of false theology—and articulates the sacred duties of clergy and laity at Mass. “In public prayer, all must be ordered and harmonious, so that from it springs an objective beauty,” he writes. When the Mass is devoutly offered, as seen in the lives of St. Padre Pio and St. John Vianney, the faithful enter into a “profound spiritual experience.” Rubrics protect the authenticity of the liturgy, so that it may be stable and independent of the vagaries of personalities and temperaments. Architecture, sacred art, music, incense, vestments—all these forms of symbolic language are meant to draw our attention heavenwards and fill our souls with the awareness of divine presence.
Bishop Schneider explains how genuflecting, kneeling, and prostrating oneself are all outward signs of reverence that demonstrate the inward orientation to God. Our duty, he declares, is to render “perpetual thanksgiving” to our Creator and Lord. “The Mass is the greatest and most important work of the Church.” Having said this, the author also encourages the revival of the Divine Office and Eucharistic Adoration, and explains why they are needed.
Already provoking discussion, The Catholic Mass is sure to become a handbook for the faithful in their ongoing aspiration for worthy worship, to which indeed they have a right. It provides a compendium of awe-inspiring, meditative passages from the writings of the saints, dating back to the Church Fathers and including popes and theologians of all centuries, and bringing to the attention of readers many forgotten sources of mystical insight into aspects of the Mass.
Bishop Schneider has words of encouragement and comfort for adherents of the Traditional Latin Mass, which he unabashedly praises and puts forward as the Western Church’s “gold standard” for divine worship (he has similar words of praise for the Eastern rites). Latin is the universal language of the Western Church, he elucidates, and it is capable of uniting the faithful worldwide in sentiment and piety like nothing else can do. Catholics find an oasis in the traditional Mass, which staunchly preserves the sacredness of the mysteries. Its representation of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross is unambiguous, calling us to interior conversion. It is no secret that devout Catholics are attracted to this ancient and beautiful rite; and this is a sign of the working of the Holy Spirit, against which men fight in vain. In fact, the Traditional Latin Mass has experienced dramatic and impassioned growth, including among younger generations—very likely the real reason for the envy and hatred directed towards it from the ambitious and the worldly.
Although the main text of the book was written prior to the motu proprio Traditionis Custodes, it actually reads very much as if it were intended to be a response to that act of liturgical violence and violation of consciences. In a time of widespread apostasy that has also been marked by a fitful rediscovery of the sacred (thanks largely to Summorum Pontificum), the suppression of the Church’s traditional form of worship left faithful Catholics bewildered and outraged. Yet Bishop Schneider urges Catholics to be loyal to the traditions of the Church and to allow nothing and no one to hide them away, trample on them, or deny their essential rightness. Those who are in power have nothing but power going for them. The defenders of tradition, like Bishop Schneider, have the truth on their side, and this truth will ultimately prevail.
Other readers have expressed their enthusiasm for The Catholic Mass. Cardinal Robert Sarah writes: “If we can imbibe even a little of the faith and love out which this book has emerged, we will not only understand why restoring the centrality of God to the liturgy is essential, we shall ourselves take up this necessary work without further delay.”
Cardinal Joseph Zen further comments: “This book is a great resource to rediscover the beauty of the Mass and to warn us of the many abuses that the liturgy of the Church has to suffer in too many churches around the world. It is a book that makes us think about what we may have, and also what we may have lost.”
Dr. Scott Hahn, a regular attendee of the Latin Mass, affirms: “This book proclaims a message that all of us need to hear. And it’s this: To live with our lives centered on God is the only safe way to live. We do this most fully when we pray the Mass with deep reverence, whose every detail proclaims God’s greatness and mercy. Bishop Athanasius Schneider draws abundantly from Sacred Scripture, the saints, and Doctors of the Church. Reading and pondering this book will be transformative and unitive.”
This book contains illimitable spiritual riches and nourishment for the faithful—whether clergy or laity—and is indispensable for catechesis and meditation on the great Mysterium Fidei. I heartily recommend it for every bishop, priest, deacon, seminarian, religious brother or sister, layman or laywoman.