Those doily-obsessed gadflies over at The New Liturgical Movement posted this beautifully moving picture several days ago. I found out from reading the comments* that the picture was taken on Easter Day (see the Paschal Candle between the Acolytes and the illustrated page in the Missal?) in a Roman Catholic Cathedral in Germany around 1946. The Cathedral, of course, had been heavily damaged by the Allied bombing.
I’m sure the scene could be repeated in any war-torn country that in spite of anything else that could be going on, the faithful gather to see the same Calvary before them, to taste of the same bread of life and to hear the same Gospel for the umpteenth time. The Church goes on and God’s work continues in the world, though attempts might be made to disrupt it through bombs, through war and through martyrdom. With almost a holy tedium and sanctified boredom in deference to her chaotic surroundings, the Church goes on, quietly and courageously testifying to the coming Kingdom of God.
Nazi Germany fell, the Mass went on. Other empires have came and went, yet the Mass went on. When corruption and greed finally tear the American Empire apart from within, the Mass will go on. As John Ellerton once put it, “So be it, Lord; Thy throne shall never, / Like earth’s proud empires, pass away: / Thy kingdom stands, and grows forever, / Till all Thy creatures own Thy sway.” Amen. Amen.
While looking at this photograph, I was immediately reminded of these famous words of Dom Gregory Dix in The Shape of the Liturgy:
Was ever another command so obeyed? For century after century, spreading slowly to every continent and country and among every race on earth, this action has been done, in every conceivable human circumstance, for every conceivable human need from infancy and before it to extreme old age and after it, from the pinnacle of earthly greatness to the refuge of fugitives in the caves and dens of the earth.
Men have found no better thing than this to do for kings at their crowning
and for criminals going to the scaffold;
for armies in triumph
or for a bride and bridegroom in a little country church;
for the proclamation of a dogma or for a good crop of wheat;
for the wisdom of the Parliament of a mighty nation
or for a sick old woman afraid to die;
for a schoolboy sitting an examination
or for Columbus setting out to discover America;
for the famine of whole provinces
or for the soul of a dead lover;
in thankfulness because my father did not die of pneumonia;
for a village headman much tempted to return to fetish
because the yams had failed;
because the Turk was at the gates of Vienna;
for the repentance of Margaret;
for the settlement of a strike;
for a son for a barrenwoman;
for Captain so-and-so wounded and prisoner of war;
while the lions roared in the nearby amphitheatre;
on the beach at Dunkirk;
while the hiss of scythes in the thick June grass
came faintly through the windows of the church;
tremulously, by an old monk on the fiftieth anniversary of his vows;
furtively, by an exiled bishop who had hewn timber all day
in a prison camp near Murmansk;
gorgeously, for the canonisation of S. Joan of Arc—
one could fill many pages with the reasons why men have done this,
and not tell a hundredth part of them.
And best of all, week by week and month by month, on a hundred thousand successive Sundays, faithfully, unfailingly, across all the parishes of Christendom, the pastors have done this just to make the plebs sancta Dei—the holy common people of God.
Thanks be to God.
*: By the way, I suggest that you never ever read the comments at TNLM. Ever. They’re Ultramontane, niggling neo-conservatives who will destroy your soul (not to be redundant). In fact, you should only follow TNLM to watch the videos, listen to the music and look at the pretty pictures. For example, my favorite comment on this picture was, “I’ve never seen an Altar with that kind of candle configuration”. Really? They’re having a Solemn High Mass in an almost-destroyed Cathedral and all you can think about is why they don’t have six candles on the gradine?! You should only read the articles and comments under the strict supervision of your Confessor — like if he or she is sitting next to you, armed with a bucket o’ Holy Water and has the Aspergillium in hand. You’ve been warned.