The great Catholic Anglican theologian, Dr Eric Mascall, writing at the time when Concelebration was the new sexy -ation among trendy Western liturgists, put in a spirited defence of the practice of the Private Mass. I particularly commend to you its Catholic understanding of "Corporate", so very much more Pauline than the naively infantile understanding of the term which we find in the Roman draft Working Paper we have been considering. Mascall, in truth, is simply unfolding the teaching of Pius XII in Mediator Dei " ... this Sacrifice , always and everywhere, necessarily and of its very nature, has a public and social character. For he who offers it acts in the name both of Christ and of the faithful, of whom the divine Redeemer is the Head ...".
If, Mascall wrote, you want to make "anybody understand wherein the corporateness of the mass really consists" the best thing you can do is to take him into a church with lots of simultaneous private masses going on, and tell him that "the different priests saying their different masses at their different altars are doing not different things but the same thing, that they are all taking part in the one eternal Liturgy whose celebrant is Christ and that their priesthood is only a participation in his ... the multiplication of masses emphasises the real unity of the mass and the true nature of the Church's corporate character as nothing else can ... what makes the mass one and corporate is not the fact that a lot of people are together at the same service, but the fact that it is the act of Christ in his body (corpus) the Church ... 'Look at those men at their various altars all around the church, each of them apparently muttering away on his own and having nothing to do with the others. In fact, they are all of them doing the same thing - the same essentially, the same numerically - not just a lot of different things of the same kind, but the very same identical thing; each of them is taking his part as a priest in the one redemptive act which Christ, who died for our sins and rose again for our justification, perpetuates in the Church which is his Body through the sacrament of his body and blood'".
Professor Mascall's description fits the Church of S Mary Magdalene in Oxford, then a busy Anglican Catholic centre but now sadly lapsed. It was there that, except when he was on the rota to celebrate in Christ Church Cathedral, he said his daily Mass, old style, Introibo ad Altare Dei through to Et Verbum caro factum est. Not infrequently, every altar in that church was occupied by a priest offering that same eternal sacrifice. One thinks also of the Anglican Shrine Church at Walsingham, its twenty or so altars all abuzz with Sacrifice at the height of the pilgrimage season. Come to think of it, that's probably why the lower basilica at Lourdes has an altar to each of the fifteen mysteries of the Holy Rosary. One can imagine palmy days when priests were queuing up on rotas to say their masses and (if there were a shortage of trained servers) making, each of them, the then customary arrangement with the priest just before him or the one just after, to serve his Mass in return for him serving yours. This was the time of my adolescence before the Council when churches which are now empty or even closed or demolished were full of busi-ness; alive and electric with sacramental and devotional life.
And, after the contempt into which the Private Mass fell in the decades after Vatican II, we should welcome with unconfined joy its increasing return to the main-stream repertoire of every-day Western Catholicism. When there are laypeople needing a Mass, it is obviously the first duty of a priest to serve that need (and a desire to say an additional Mass solo would not be a sufficient reason for binating). But we should remember that Vatican II did preserve inviolate the right of every priest to celebrate a Private Mass, with a couple of caveats (not during a concelebration within the same church; not on Maundy Thursday). And subsequent magisterial documents, including the Code of Canon Law, have repeated this right. And successive editions even of the Novus Ordo Missal have provided (and, most recently, substantially revised) the rite for celebrating the 'New Mass' privately.
According to one prominent Vaticanologist, the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for Clergy, from which emerged the draft Working Paper we have been considering, is the current pope's closest friend in the Curia. It seems strange that such an important and well-connected man, apparently, knows (or wishes to know) so little about the teaching and praxis of the Catholic Church.
God will, in Pope Benedict's words, win in the end, even if the boat, full of water, seems about to capsise!