Flaky Masses ARE Valid
Are you tempted, as I sometimes am, to feel that Novus Ordo Masses celebrated by a Fr McFlake or a Fr O’Fudge can’t possibly be valid because they don’t believe they are offering the Holy Sacrifice but merely presiding over what I once heard one such priest describe as a “family meal” ? Over the past few years I have quite often fretted about this. After all, I have asked myself, if a priest does not intend to change bread and wine into the Body and Blood of our Lord, making truly present the one Sacrifice of Calvary, then how he can he possibly be intending to do what the Church does ? How he celebrate the Mass if he doesn’t even believe in it?
Now, thanks to that very wise priest of the Anglican Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, Fr John Hunwicke, my doubts on this score have been dissipated. In his blog Mutual Enrichment, he dealt with the very problem I have raised here, quoting the great Counter-Reformation theologian St Robert Bellarmine. Fr Hunwicke writes:
This anxiety does deserve an answer. It deserves an answer based not upon modern or trendy theological speculation but upon the settled teaching of the Church, upon which she has for centuries acted when doubts or worries have arisen. And the locus classicus here is St Robert Bellarmine, de Sacramentis in Genere chapter 27 paragraph 8. As you read it, remember that Bellarmine was not writing during a period of cosy and iffy ecumenism, but when the Reformation controversies were raging at their height. [Quotation from Bellarmine follows.]
“There is no need to intend what the Roman Church does; but what the true Church does, whatever that True Church is. Or what Christ instituted. Or what Christians do. Because these all amount to the same thing. You ask: What if someone intends to do what some particular and false church does, which he himself believes to be the true one – for example, the church of Geneva; and intends not to do what the Roman Church does? I answer, even that suffices. Because the man who intends to do what the church of Geneva does, intends to do what the universal Church does. For he intends to do what such-and-such a church does, because he believes it to be a member of the true Universal Church, granted that he is mistaken in recognising the True Church. For the error of the minister about the Church does not take away the efficacy of the Sacrament. Only defect of intention does that.” [End quotation from St Robert Bellarmine].
“Geneva”, of course is a reference to the stamping ground of the great heresiarch John Calvin. Bellarmine means that, provided the celebrant is a validly ordained priest and uses real wheaten bread and real wine, the only thing that invalidates his “Mass” is if he deliberately says to himself “I do not intend to celebrate the Lord’s Supper”. And that is infinitely improbable. Father Daft is much more likely to think that his own totally wonderful understanding is closer to the mind of the Lord in his Supper than are the “views” of those boring “establishment” clergy. The more grossly misguided his opinions are about what the “Supper” really is, the more humanly certain it is that Fr Daft really does intend to celebrate it. And, says Bellarmine, that is a sufficient intention.
Phew! That’s a relief. It does really make sense. After all, even a Moslem or other non-Christian can baptise validly if he uses the right form (the words) and matter (water) when, say, he is asked to do so by a mother whose new-born baby is in danger of death. He knows nothing about baptism except that it is something Christians do. His action is certainly valid, but if it depended on his personal beliefs, it wouldn’t be. And the same goes with Fr Daft and the Blessed Eucharist. Fr Hunwicke concludes:
So if, by misjudgement, you were present at a Mass where (I imagine an improbably extreme case so as to put the point I’m making beyond doubt) the priest wore jeans and made up a lot of the prayers himself and Sister A strummed on a guitar and Sister B stood beside Father and pretended to concelebrate and the altar was a plywood coffee table and some floozies did a belly dance at the Offertory … then, wotta mistaka to maka by going there in the first place, but having done so you should kneel and worship the True Body and the True Blood of Christ, because they are truly present. And do not be anxious about receiving Communion in a church where both forms of the Roman Rite are in use; do not bother about hosts consecrated at a Novus Ordo Mass having been mixed up in the Tabernacle with those consecrated at a Traditional Mass. Because THE BODY OF CHRIST IS THE BODY OF CHRIST. And the Mass is the Mass, whatever the rite, however perverse its celebrant may be.
Readers may be puzzled by “wotta mistaka to maka.” I recognised it because it comes from one of my favourite television programmes Allo Allo , a take-off of war films about the French Resistance. It’s the catchphrase of the Italian Captain Alberto Bertorelli , who always uses it when things go wrong.
Almost every character in the series is a stereotype carried to the nth degree. The two British airmen Carstairs and Fairfax are archetypal upper-class twits, who disguise themselves as onion-sellers and can’t understand why the French curse them when they cycle on the left-hand side of the road; the Gestapo officer Herr Flick wears a black leather overcoat and has an exaggerated limp; Captain Bertorelli is a womaniser who often uses the phrase “Da Beautiful a-Liedy I kiss-a de ‘anda”. All the French female characters are either tarts or aged crones.
The main character Rene Artois is a café owner who just wants a quiet life. Although he’s not in the least good-looking, he’s reluctantly and fearfully deceiving his wife and having affairs with his waitresses who are all in love with him. Much to his embarrassment, the effeminate German army lieutenant Hubert Gruber fancies him as well. The Resistance mistakenly consider him a hero, and the Germans wrongly think he is a useful collaborator.
Fr Hunwicke’s appreciation of Allo Allo is another reason why I approve of him.
I met Fr Hunwicke in July for the first time. He was one of the lecturers at the symposium we attend at Lake Garda, where he displayed a form of dry, wry wit which often reduced the (largely American) attendance to helpless laughter.
In the course of explaining what the Anglican Ordinariate was about, he compared the two shrines of Our Lady at Walsingham in Norfolk. One, he said , was schismatic and their Masses began with “I will go up to the altar of God, to God who giveth joy to my youth.” Or you could attend the shrine of the One True Church, in which case the first, sublime, words you would hear were always : “Good morning, everybody!”