Sunday, November 17, 2013

Terrible Is This Place

Bernini's baldocchino at St. Peter's Basilica.
Photo by Ricardo Andre Frantz.
Last Sunday, before Mass, I happened to open my 1962 Missal up to the Common of Saints, and my eye fell on these lines: 

Terribilis est locus iste: hic domus Dei est et porta coeli: et vocabitur aula Dei.

Terrible is this place: it is the House of God, and the gate of Heaven; and it shall be called the Court of God.

That is the antiphon from the Introit of the Mass for the Dedication of a Church in the Extraordinary Form.  "Terrible" here is used in its older sense of "awe-inspiring."  I looked around the cathedral and thought of those words ringing inside that space at its dedication 92 Easter Sundays ago.  I must confess that it increased my anger and sorrow at the thought of the mutilation of that beautiful cathedral in 1979, and indeed the similar desecration of many other old churches, brutally inflicted against the will of the laity who built them, and in accordance with notions falsely attributed to the Second Vatican Council.

The Collect of this Mass:

Deus, qui invisibiliter omnia contines, et tamen pro salute generis humani signa tuae potentiae visibiliter ostendis: templum hoc potentia tuae inhabitationis illustra, et concede; ut omnes, qui huc deprecaturi conveniunt, ex quacumque tribulatione ad te clamaverint, consolationis tuae beneficia consequantur.  

O God, Who, though unseen, upholdest all things, and yet for the salvation of mankind dost visibly show signs of Thy power: give glory to this temple by the might of Thy indwelling, and grant that all who in their deep distress shall come and call upon Thee here, may receive Thy goodly comfort.

Imagine a bishop chanting this stirring prayer in a tiny church in a poor, humble town -- a tiny church that is no less the House of God and Gate of Heaven than a cathedral.  Indeed, how much more the Mighty Indwelling must uphold it in its littleness.  The Gradual:

Locus iste a Deo factus est, inaestimabile sacramentum, irreprehensibilis est.  Deus, cui adstat Angelorum chorus, exaudi preces servorum tuorum.

This place was made by God, a priceless mystery, it is without reproof.  O God, before Whom stands the choir of angels, give ear to the prayers of Thy servants.

The Lesson of the Mass for the Dedication of a Church is from Chapter 21 of the Apocalypse, the vision of the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven; and the Gospel is the story of Zacheus from the Gospel of Luke, where Jesus declares that "this day is salvation come to this house."

I don't know how the dedication of a church goes according to the Mass of Paul VI, but I can see here one of the many reasons Pope Benedict XVI took the Traditional Mass out of mothballs.  We have gotten so casual and careless anymore about where we are when we are in church: we talk, we laugh, we dress like slobs, we let kids roughhouse in front of the tabernacle.  Priests and deacons behave in church as though they are merely at work and not inside a sacred space.  Of course, it doesn't help that many new churches are sterile and ugly, and do not appear to be in any way connected with religion.

Every new Latin Rite church should be dedicated according to the Extraordinary Form, and every Catholic should meditate on these propers, so that we can be reminded of just where we really are every Sunday, and how we ought to act there.

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