NEW YORK – Bishop Athanasius Schneider, widely seen as a critic of the Francis papacy, sees a period of liturgical exile in the modern church, creating a Eucharistic crisis that permeates from a “distorted understanding of what is really the Holy Mass.”

Schneider argues that many people today put themselves, not God, at the center of the Mass. And in his recent book, The Catholic Mass: Steps to Restore the Centrality of God to the Liturgy, he takes a deep dive into the significance of the Mass as a reminder of why it is forever central to the faith.

“In the past decades one could observe a deep and general Eucharistic crisis with the church,” Schneider, an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Astana, Kazakhstan, told Crux via email. “It manifests itself in a deficient and sometimes distorted understanding of what is really the Holy Mass according to the perennial teaching of the church. From the deficient understanding of the essence of the Holy Mass derives necessarily from a deficient manner of celebration.”

Each chapter of the book serves as a reminder of something the church is. The first chapter is “The Mass Is Prayer.” The second is “The Mass is Adoration,” and he closes the book with a chapter on “The Mass is the Wedding Feast.”

As for why Schneider chose to write the book now, he invoked a quote from Pope John Paul II’s 2003 encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia: “There can be no danger of excess in our care for this ministry, for in this sacrament is recapitulated the whole mystery of our salvation.”

The bishop hopes the book gives readers a deeper understanding of what Mass really is.

“We must show the faithful the inestimable gift of God, which is precisely the Holy Mass with its theological, spiritual, and ritual richness,” Schneider said. “Our Lord said to the Samaritan woman: ‘If you knew the gift of God’ (John 4:10).”

What follows is more from an email exchange Crux had with Schneider about his new book.

Crux: What has led to, as you say, this period of liturgical exile?

Schneider: The deepest reason, in my opinion, for the current liturgical crisis is anthropocentrism since secularism started with anthropocentrism, which for its part is subjectivism. In the religious sphere, man declared himself the center, and this is subjectivism.

Since Vatican II we observed within the life of the Church a shift to an ecclesiastic anthropocentrism, where the horizontal, organizational, bureaucratic realities, and human action gained primacy over prayer and contemplation and the supernatural, strictly divine realities. This tendency manifests itself first in the liturgy. The loss of the supernatural is a turning of man toward himself, a focus on self and this is reflected very visibly in the manner of celebrating Mass facing the people after the council. We can see here the primary disease of the life of the church in our day, the disease of anthropocentrism.

I call this situation liturgical exile because Christ, who is the very center of the liturgy, finds himself in our day during the liturgical man-centered celebrations, as it were, in exile.

How can this liturgical exile be reversed?

To heal the exile we must restore the following indispensable things which will stress Christocentrism, the atmosphere of the mystery, of contemplation and humility, since they are the indispensable conditions to rightly approach God and to fruitfully worship him.

To achieve this aim there should be reintroduced the following concrete elements which were present in the Roman Rite, at least during a millennium: 1) turning also visibly to the Lord during the celebration of the Holy Mass, i.e., the entire assembly, priest, and faithful looking prayerfully in the same direction to the Crucifix. 2) receiving Holy Communion … kneeling and on the tongue, in the gesture of a child and of the humble centurion who said ‘Lord I am not worthy.’ 3) the obligatory use of Latin in some parts of the Mass and the silent recitation of the Canon of the Mass.

With the world opening up from the COVID-19 pandemic does the church have a unique opportunity to get people back in the pews? If so, how important is it for the church to capitalize on that opportunity and what kind of liturgical reform needs to happen?

During the [COVID-19] restrictions many Catholics adopted a behavior of a practical indifference to what is the heart and very center of a Catholic life, i.e., the Holy Mass. This was an indicator of a deficient knowledge of what truly Holy Mass is since if they veritably knew what Holy Mass is they couldn’t stop participating in it or participating only virtually. In times of persecution or in regions with a great shortage of priests, Catholics made and still are making great sacrifices to participate really at the Holy Mass: Long travels, long and tiring foot marches.

The church has now, after the [COVID-19] restrictions, not only the opportunity, but the grave duty to preach again about the unspeakable divine gift of the Holy Mass, explaining its theological, spiritual and ritual richness. With my book I tried to offer a contribution for this work of a Eucharistic catechization.

If people place God back at the center of the Mass, as opposed to self, what will that do for both the church and society?

Through an intense concentration on God and eternity through a Christocentric and sacred shape of the liturgy, and through a clear and courageous preaching of the Gospel, the life of the church, in her priests and lay faithful, will gain again a real supernatural spiritual strength, which will have a great efficacy and spiritual fecundity.

The church of our day, immersed in her concrete pastoral and liturgical life in naturalism and anthropocentrism should again recall these words of her divine founder: ‘The one who remains in Me, and I in him, will bear much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.’

The churchmen in our day must devote themselves to a reverent, prayerful, Christocentric liturgy and to the preaching of the unchangeable truths revealed by God for the salvation of the world. Only then the society will slowly be changed and more penetrated with the true spirit of Christ in his social kingship since without Christ human society will not have peace and authentic prosperity, ‘for no one can lay a foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ’ (1 Cor. 3:11).

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