30 January 2020

Private Masses and Side Altars

I have just seen this sentence quoted in New Liturgical Movement: "I'm not sure if there's something online that defends not only private Masses for priests but also the  archetectural [sic] phenomenon of side altars and why it is okay for different Masses to be happening simultaneously in one church".

The writer of this has a big problem. It is that he clearly does not read my blog.

Below is a piece*** by Eric Mascall which I have several times printed on my blog explaining exactly all that. The most recent showing I gave it was last March 10. Here it is again: --

Chiron's biography of Bugnini, which I reviewd recently and is necessary reading for those who desire to be on-the-ball with regard to scholarly discussion of the post-Concilar 'reforms', reminds us that S Paul VI, as disorder spread like wild fire in the Latin Church, wrote in 1965 an encyclical Mysterium Fidei. Among the Pontiff's "concerns and anxieties", he condemns the idea that a "Community Mass" has greater value than mere private Masses, with these words:

"Every Mass, even though a priest may offer it in private, is not a private matter; it is an act of Christ and of the Church".

This truth was unpacked very neatly by the great Anglican Thomist and dogmatic theologian, the Reverend Professor Canon Doctor Eric Mascall, OGS MA: (Very Germanic of me to pile up all the titles, yes?)

***"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 the one Christ in his Body (corpus) the Church. And I can think of no better way of making anyone understand wherein the unity and corporateness of the mass really consists than to take him into a church in which a number of priests are simultaneously celebrating private masses and to say: "Look at those men at their various altars all round 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 things of the same kind, but the very same identical thing; each of them is taking 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."

Mascall used to say his own mass before breakfast every morning, usually privately in the Oxford church where I went for daily mass as an undergraduate, at the altar under the picture of blessed Charles* the Martyr. How wonderful it would be if the scene he describes came back to the life of our churches ... just imagine the Rosary Basilica at Lourdes every morning with a constant coming and going of priest pilgrims to the altars of the Fifteen Mysteries, altars so sadly unused and neglected when I was there with Archbishop Rowan.

Given a return of the culture of Private Masses, even the marbled refrigeration of Westminster Cathedral ... so much like a really classy but slightly chilly seraglio ... might wake up to warm and vibrant new life!


Ben of the Bayou said...


How shall we integrate this insight of Dr. Mascall with the teaching of the Council of Trent that each Mass is in se the offering of a real and unique, numerically distinct sacrifice?

Nicolas Bellord said...

And further to give more opportunities to lay people, especially young people, to serve Mass.
Which will produce more vocations to the priesthood and if not to a holier life as a layman.

Amont said...

Father,a visit to Westminster Cathederal during a trip to the UK last year all too sadly evidenced the lack of use of the magnificent side Chapels-as compared to the Brompton Oratory.I understand the Cathederal clergy concelebrate a community Mass each day.

Richard said...

And maybe one day the nine altars of Durham Cathedral will once again be simultaneously occupied by nine Catholic priests saying their nine Masses.

1569 Rising said...

Mr Ashton,

It would be especially memorable if your dream could be brought to fruition on November 30, this year. The great day when the packed Cathedral was reconciled to Rome by Fr Plumtree and his colleagues in 1569. The Rising of the North, so full of promise only to be crushed by the forces of the Earl of Essex under instruction from Eliabeth 1.

I also wonder what happened to the 200 + statues which once decorated the Neville Screen, only to be wrecked by the iconoclasts.

Also, while we are on the subject - where is St Cuthbert buried? Not in the tomb behind the High Altar.

Finally, were the numerous Masses celebrated throughout the Bishopric during the time of the Rising done in the Sarum Rite?

Terry Middleton

Matthew said...

Or, Richard Ashton, even nine Anglican priests.

Thomas said...

@Ben of The Bayou

I cannot see where the Council of Trent says exactly that "each Mass is in the offering of a real and unique, numerically distinct sacrifice?" It does teach that every Mass is a true and visible propitiatory sacrifice. And this is because in every instance it is the Body and Blood of the only Holy Lamb of God that is offered on our altars. So each time Mass is offered it is undoubtedly a numerically distinct sacrificial action, but there are not numerous distinct Christs offered in Sacrifice to the Father in different times and places.

I found the following helpful:

"The Cross and the Mass are not two sacrifices but one and the same reality. They are different events in time. Indeed each and every Mass is a new event in time. But the death of the Lord on the Cross is not the sacrifice of salvation ... independently of the Mass. It is universally salvific precisely because the Lord had given himself into the hands of his Church to be offered as a sacrifice throughout time and space ... The specific events of the crucifixion are once and once only ... (but) the victim who so offered himself ... had instituted the means by which he ... could be offered as propitiation for sinners as yet unborn. So the effects of the Cross are applied to the lives of succeeding generations precisely through the prior institution of the Eucharist. It is a single sacrificial reality/offering encompassed within multiple events."

(From a comment by Fr. Hugh MacKenzie on an article by Fr. Thomas Crean O.P.: "The Mass as an Actual Sacrifice in Catholic Tradition", in Faith Magazine, 01.09.09
Both the article and the comment are worth reading in full)

the Savage said...

Seeing the priests of the Benedictine Abbey of Fontgombault offering their private masses on the many side altars of their beautiful church at 6:30 am, allowing one to witness ten or more masses simultaneously, is truly one of the most spectacular sights I have seen in my life.

William Tighe said...

"only to be crushed by the forces of the Earl of Essex under instruction from Eliabeth 1"

It was the Earl of Sussex, Robert Ratcliffe, a man of no known religious views (although generally "conservative") who, as Lord Deputy of Ireland, oversaw both the repeal of the Henrician and Edwardian religious legislation at the 1557 meeting of the Irish Parliament and the restoration of Catholicism, and the passage of the Elizabethan Supremacy and Uniformity legislation at the 1560 meeting of that parliamant, and the reinstatement of Protestantism.

Matthew said...

St Cuthbert's tomb: I know this is off the point, but the story I heard in the 1960s was that in the interval between Henry VIII's workmen disinterring the Saint's miraculously preserved relics and replacing the cover on his tomb a switch took place, a recently-deceased monk of Durham being exhumed, clothed in Cuthbert's vestments and placed in his coffin (I think the two halves of the operation took place on two consecutive days, so the switchers had the benefit of both time and darkness). Meanwhile the real Cuthbert was removed to a secret location somewhere in or near the cathedral, the whereabouts of which are known at any one time to two monks of Ampleforth. This explains why when the tomb was reopened in the early 19th century the body was found no longer to be in a state of preservation -- and perhaps why when as a cocky 20-something I challenged one of the residentiary canons with this story his reaction was suspiciously defensive.

Oliver Nicholson said...

I should be most extraordinarily interested to have the evidence which substantiates the bold statement by Professor 1569 Rising that the relics of S. Cuthbert are "not in the tomb behind the High Altar" at Durham Cathedral.

PM said...

I agree with the point Father is making, but an acquaintance pointed out to me recently that the sight could be less than edifying in pre-Conciliar practice. He attended a boarding school run by a congregation of priests in the late 1950s. Boys being boys, the servers compared notes on the priests whose Masses they served, and there were several who were so slapdash that they could get through the Mass, Leonine prayers and all, in thirteen minutes. They were, my friend noted wryly, much sought after by the servers on a freezing winter morning.

Scribe said...

On the matter of St Cuthbert's relics, perhaps one of us should swallow his pride, and ask the Dean of Durham? I expect he'll know.

Eleanor M said...

1569 Rising/Terry Middleton asks "Finally, were the numerous Masses celebrated throughout the [Durham] Bishopric during the time of the Rising done in the Sarum Rite?"

Durham Cathedral had its own use (sadly not written about as much as those of Sarum or York, but https://archive.org/details/ritesofdurhambei00cathrich/page/172/mode/2up may be an interesting read, though the extracts of the Missal itself are not translated; there is a decent summary on its wikipedia page). It appears relatively similar to the Use of York, rather more than Sarum, though of course there were similarities between the two.

I at least would hypothesise that the masses celebrated (especially in the cathedral itself) during the Rising would have followed one of these two more local traditions. (After all, as anyone in Yorkshire or Durham will happily testify even today, there's no reason to follow practices of those further south unless you really have to!).

I would also completely echo Nicholas Bellord's comment about serving at Mass.

Ben of the Bayou said...

@Thomas 10 March, 2019

My! I overlooked your kind reply and must now apologise for the delay in mine.

Yes, what you have offered in that quote from Father H MacKenzie is precisely the distinction I was aiming for. Yes, only ONE Sacrifice of our Saviour, but numerically distinct (real) offerings.

Many thanks for your interest and engagement.

Fr John Hunwicke said...

Dear Maureen Lash

I have deleted your comment because I do not like being called a liar; especially on my own blog. Or did you just mean that I am a feeble-minded fantasist?

I'm afraid your comments are from now onwards unwelcome.

John F. Kennedy said...

All here know of the infinite vale of the Mass. Here's one quote. It would be a simple matter to add many more.

St. Alphonsus Liguori (From “Dignity and Duties of a Priest”) -
“Thus, by the celebration of a single Mass, in which he offers Jesus Christ in sacrifice, a priest gives greater honor to the Lord, than if all men by dying for God offered to Him the sacrifice of their lives. By a single Mass, he gives greater honor to God than all the Angels and Saints, along with the Blessed Virgin Mary, have given or shall give to Him; for their worship cannot be of infinite value, like that which the priest celebrating on the altar offers to God.

I have NEVER understood the purpose of a single concelebration Mass when many Masses could be offered and at one time mandated. The only good reason for concelebration, that I can think of, is when an elderly or infirm priest is unable to offer the Mass on his own, such as the last days of JPII. The other justification would be to purposefully limit the graces gained from many private or public Masses.

Nicolas Bellord said...

When I was at school in the fifties each monk said Mass separately and this gave plenty of opportunity for us schoolboys to serve Mass which I appreciated. I never witnessed the scene described above by PM of boys competing to serve the fastest priest. I saw it as a blessed interlude in the horrors of boarding school. Perhaps the rot had set in by the sixties.

vetusta ecclesia said...

Many of the side altars in Westminster Cathedral are endowed with foundation Masses now sadly, even fraudulently, left uncelebrated

Nicolas Bellord said...

Cardinal Hume used to refer to concelebration as consenting adults. Somewhat ironic?