Today, it’s the announcement that the very beautiful Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception (largest church in the Western Hemisphere, that is) will celebrate Mass in the “extraordinary form” (or Traditional Latin) at the High Altar, for the first time in over 40 years.
Pope Benedict noted that the Latin liturgy of the Church in each century of the Christian era “has been a spur to the spiritual life of many saints and reinforced many peoples in the virtue of religion and [facilitated] their piety,” adding, “What earlier generations held as sacred remains sacred for us too.”
Some call it “a step backward.”
Some call it “a needed reclamation.”
Some call it “beautiful.”
Some call it “a show.”
And through it all, the battle rages between those who would scrap all beauty in service to the poor, and those who say “you will always have the poor with you.”
It is, as St. Benedict always cautioned in his Holy Rule, a question of balance. We must balance our worship with our service. To strip all color, all raiment, from the liturgies is not the answer. Those horrific felt banners we have had to endure these forty years have left the heart hungering after beauty. On the other hand, anything can be taken to excess.
Mark Shea has a thoughtful piece on the place of beauty, and even gilding, in worship.
UPDATE: Err, that would be Msgr Charles Pope, who writes:
The Social Gospel is essential. It cannot be merely set aside. But the Social Gospel cannot eclipse the Full Gospel. A part, even if essential, cannot demand full resources and full obedience, not at the expense of the whole or the more important!
Money and resources to serve the poor are essential, but they are still money and it remains stunningly true that we cannot serve both God and money. In the end, even serving the poor can become a kind of idol to which God has to yield. It is the strangest idol of all for it comes in very soft sheep’s clothing, the finest wool! But if God and his reveled truth have to yield to it, it is an idol, the strangest idol of all.
You’d think it would be easy to find a picture of that high altar, wouldn’t you?
You’d be wrong.