Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Week in Review: Mass and Class

This last Thursday I experienced my first Dominican Rite Mass. “What’s a Dominican Rite Mass?” you ask. A little background may be helpful here.

For much of the Church’s history, there were all sorts of officially approved forms of the Mass, called “rites”: rites for different regions, different religious orders, different languages. In the late sixteenth century, at the Council of Trent, the Church decided to try to standardize the form of the Mass for the entire Latin-speaking part of the Church. (When you hear the “old Latin Mass” or what we now call the “extraordinary form” referred to as the “Tridentine Mass,” it’s because it came out of the Council of Trent. Tridentine, Trent… get it?) But the Church allowed some groups to retain their own rites if they were old enough, and the Dominicans were one of them.

The Dominican Rite is very similar to the Tridentine Mass. Well, I’m sure that people more expert than myself on things liturgical would be able to point out all sorts of little differences, but I think I’m safe in saying that it’s much more similar to the Tridentine Mass than to our current form of Mass (often referred to as the “novus ordo” or “new order” of Mass). But here are some of the basic features that might stand out to someone:

--The priest and the congregation face the same direction for most of the Mass. Some folks will refer to this as “the priest with his back to the people,” but that gives the impression he’s snubbing the congregation. One should think of it as the priest leading the people in prayer, and when you’re leading someone, you’re facing the same direction as them. You might argue “A tour guide faces people when leading them,” but a priest is not a tour guide; he’s a trail guide, leading the people to heaven.

--Most of the Mass is in Latin, and much of it is said quietly by the priest. Some people might respond to that by saying, “Well, what’s the point? I don’t speak Latin, how am I supposed to understand him? And even if he were speaking English, he’s whispering for much of it.” This may sound like a rude response, but I say it to make a point: Why do you need to understand him or hear him? He’s not talking to you. Yes, he’s praying to God for us and on our behalf, so it would be nice to understand what he’s saying, which is why hand missals with the translation of the Mass texts are provided. But Latin is a beautiful-sounding language, and that combined with the soft-spoken tone of the Mass produce a very peaceful effect upon the hearer.

--The Mass ends with the reading of the prologue of the Gospel of St. John. (“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…” or in Latin, In principio erat Verbum, et erat Verbum apud Deum, et Verbum erat Deum.)

An added bonus was that the Mass was celebrated by Fr. Anselm Ramelow, OP, one of the professors at DSPT. Fr. Anselm is from Germany, and let me tell you, if you’ve never heard Latin spoken in a German accent, you’re missing out on a fascinating aural experience.

Anyway, it’s a beautiful way to pray. For those who are interested, you can find a series of YouTube videos detailing and explaining the Dominican Rite Mass beginning here.

Interesting things from classes this last week…

History of Ancient Philosophy: Fr. Eugene stated that Socrates was credited by Aristotle with being the inventor of inductive reasoning. He then gave what I thought was a great explanation of inductive reasoning: Let’s say I have a box on the desk here containing every flea in the world. How many legs does a flea have? How do I find out? Well, I pick up one, let’s see… one, two, three, four, five, six: this one has six… I pick up another… one, two, three, four, five, six: this one has six, too.... Eventually, I find enough fleas with six legs that I can be reasonably certain that it is usually true for all fleas that they have six legs. That’s the inductive method: reasoning from a set of particular instances toward a general conclusion about them. The assumption that sufficiently large sample sizes can give you a high degree of certainty about something is the basis for the scientific method. Be sure to thank Socrates some time for it.

Philosophy of Nature: We’re starting to read about and discuss Aristotle’s theories of change. I think I’m going to hold off for a bit until I have a better grasp on the material before I try to present it here. But it’s fascinating stuff.

Intro to New Testament: There’s a lot that we miss by not knowing the languages in which the biblical texts were originally composed. As one example, in the Book of Genesis it says that Adam and Eve were given clothes made of skins after their fall from grace. It makes you wonder, “What were they clothed in before that?” One answer could be, “Well, nothing, duh,” but another is given by looking at the Hebrew text. If you flip one letter in the Hebrew word for “skin,” you get the Hebrew word for “light.” Adam and Eve were clothed in light: they shone with the glory of God before their fall. Makes you think a little more about the consequences of sin, eh? These sorts of plays on words apparently are quite common in the Bible, if only you know how to look for them.

Aristotelian Logic: Last week we were discussing how words can be used univocally, equivocally, or analogously. To use a word “univocally” in regard to two different things means we mean that word in the same way for both things; so, if I saw of both Nolan Ryan and Greg Maddux “they are pitchers,” I’m using the word “pitcher” univocally. But if I say of both Nolan Ryan and the jug holding water “They are pitchers,” I’m using the word “pitcher” equivocally; the same word is being used to mean different things. There’s a middle way between these two, however. If I refer to both a stone in my garden and St. Peter as a “rock,” I don’t mean it exactly the same way for each, but there is some link between the way I’m using the word in each case; I’m trying to relate some quality in the rock to some quality in St. Peter. This is a case of using a word analogously. If you pay attention, you’ll notice that an awful lot of the problems people have when communicating with each other comes from equivocal or misunderstood analogous usages of words: people using the same word to mean two different things, or someone trying to use a word analogously without the other party grasping it. Keep a look out for these things and see what you find.

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