St. Gregory the Great wrote that the altar is the where the flesh of Christ "is distributed for the salvation of the people," where the "quires of angels are present in the mystery of Jesus Christ", and where things "earthly [are] joined with the heavenly". Today I look at parishes, regularly diocesan or "traditional" and see something lacking since Gregory penned his Dialogues.
The Byzantine liturgy helped this writer, and maybe others, understand his native Roman rite, not just textually and historically, but also in the heart, which is where the Christian must live. Starting with a new rite taught me to pray what the prayers said rather than to take them purely as proclamations of intentions or instances of pedagogy. What I discovered was that the liturgy was, in a very person way (in the sense of speaking to a person, not in the sense of privacy), all about God. I knew if factually from the old rite Roman high Mass, but when I first heard the Great Doxology in my own tongue the remaining scales fell from my eyes:
"Glory to You, O Giver of Light! Glory to God in the highest...."I heard this any number of times in the Roman liturgy without this simple connection, that the hymn directly addresses God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Eucharist is offered for the adoration of the Holy Trinity and for the forgiveness of sins. Whatever we ask we ask in our own littleness and out of God's great goodness, not out of expectation for reward of our own righteousness. The Roman Canon begins Te igitur, clementissime Pater.... supplices rogamus, ac petimus, uti accepta habeas, et benedicas, not "You gather your people so that a perfect offering may be made, implicitly by us." Prayer always ascends; the Greek litany before Communion petitions "For the precious gifts here offered and sanctified, let us pray to the Lord.... That Our God, Who loves mankind, having received them on His holy and mystical altar in heaven as a sweet spiritual fragrance, may send down in return His divine grace and the gift of the Holy Spirit, let us ask."
By contrast the prevailing modern notion—traditionalist Romans are no different—is that we attend Mass to meet an obligation and to get something out of it ("the graces"—from gratis, suggesting something freely given). This blog often caterwauls the difficulty of getting the faithful into churches for a service that does not include Communion (something for me rather than something God gives), unless it is Stations of the Cross on Good Friday. If I do XYZ (go to Mass on Sundays, go to Confession, practice certain devotions that guarantee my ticket upstairs) then I am saved. Does it really work that way?
Many of the more successful Reform of the Reform parishes during the Benedictine era taught good theology from the pulpit, did not make a further shambles of the Pauline Mass, and had a Christocentric outlook. In the several parishes of this sort I visited during the Ratzingerian papacy I noticed none of them preached "If you only do this, you will be saved" or that the liturgy was a welfare state amenity: file your paperwork and get a piece of the action. Christ gives Himself in the Eucharist out of His own goodness, not owing to our worthy expectation. His sacrifice makes us worthy to partake.
"Since under the former Testament, according to the testimony of the Apostle Paul, there was no perfection because of the weakness of the Levitical priesthood, there was need, God the Father of mercies so ordaining, that another priest should rise according to the order of Melchisedech, our Lord Jesus Christ, who might perfect and lead to perfection as many as were to be sanctified. He, therefore, our God and Lord, though He was by His death about to offer Himself once upon the altar of the cross to God the Father that He might there accomplish an eternal redemption, nevertheless, that His priesthood might not come to an end with His death, at the last supper, on the night He was betrayed, that He might leave to His beloved spouse the Church a visible sacrifice, such as the nature of man requires, whereby that bloody sacrifice once to be accomplished on the cross might be represented, the memory thereof remain even to the end of the world, and its salutary effects applied to the remission of those sins which we daily commit, declaring Himself constituted a priest forever according to the order of Melchisedech, offered up to God the Father His own body and blood under the form of bread and wine...." Council of Trent, Session 22, Ch.1 (before the stuff everyone usually reads)Geoffrey Hull quotes Aidan Kavanagh's words about the tendency to reduce the liturgy to personal value and rational structure, decrying that "Sacraments diminish as unsettling encounters between presences divine and human in the here and now, to become a rather abstract ritual expression of a pattern set by Christ to give scope to the universal kingdom" (p43).