Last night at the Church of the Holy Innocents in Manhattan, there was a significant and beautiful Solemn High Mass in the Extraordinary Form. The occasion was to celebrate the Solemnity of the Annunciation. It was significant because of the message it conveyed, and it was beautiful because… well, every Mass is beautiful in its own way, but this one was extra special.
The Mass was celebrated in what is known as “the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite”, which is to say according to the Missal used by the entire Church prior to the Second Vatican Council. Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict, has promoted the renewed and wider use of this form of the Mass in his letter Summorum Pontificum.
The principal celebrant was Fr. James Miara, assisted by a number of other priests, as well as a full complement of servers. The devotion and solemn dignity with which the Mass was celebrated was a powerful focus of prayer for all those present. There was a spectacularly beautiful choir and schola who offered the majesty of Gregorian chant and other ancient music, to help us raise our hearts and minds to the worship of our Lord. (If you’re interested in seeing pictures of the Mass, check here.)
In many ways the high point of the Mass was that it was presided over by Edward Cardinal Egan, who also preached. In his homily, His Eminence communicated a powerful message, stressing the Christian virtue of humble obedience to the will of God. He explained this in terms of the feast day itself, in the humility of Mary’s “yes” to God. He also noted that it was the fifteenth anniversary of Pope John Paul’s great encyclical Evangelium Vitae, the Gospel of Life, which calls us to obey the truths of nature and reason in support of “the incomparable worth of the human person”, made in the image of God Himself. And he emphasized our duty of humble obedience to the Church in accepting the celebration of the traditional Mass.
To me, the Cardinal’s presence at a pro-life Mass in the Extraordinary Form was significant in two other ways. It served as a reminder to us all that the Church’s teaching on the dignity of human life is held and professed from the most humble levels of the Church to the highest. This is not a teaching only for popes or bishops, or for activists. To be Catholic is, by definition, to be pro-life. Having a “prince of the Church” at the Mass, together with all of us ordinary Catholics, spoke that truth very clearly.
Also, it was reminder that this Extraordinary Form is an ancient liturgy of the Church, that traces its lineage back to St. Pius V in the sixteenth century, to St. Gregory the Great in the sixth century, and beyond him even to the apostolic age. To have a successor of the apostles, an elector of a pope, preside at such an ancient expression of the rite of our faith, emphasized that the Church’s defense of human life extends back to the earliest days, to the apostles and to Our Lord Himself.
The Mass was sponsored by my Knights of Columbus council, Agnus Dei Council (#12361), the special mission of which is to promote devotion to Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and to the traditional forms of worship, particularly the traditional Latin Mass. This particular Mass is intended to be an annual event, an expression of a project of the Knights of Columbus to promote the Solemnity of the Annunciation as a day of prayer for the unborn.
We wished particularly to offer the Mass as a commemoration of the Incarnation of Jesus, and thus to recall the time when Our Lord resided in humility and secret in the womb of his mother, Mary. We hope that all Catholics will come to see this Solemnity as a profound pro-life feast day.
By adoring Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, and by receiving Him, body, blood, soul and divinity at Mass, we Knights, and we Catholics, join with all the saints in glory and in history, to proclaim, as we do in the Creed, “et incarnatus est” — the Word of God has become man!