First Wound

The Wound in the left hand of holy Church: the division between people and clergy at public worship

“All the faithful, clergy and people, represent and form in the Church the marvellous unity indicated by Christ when He said, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, in agreement about everything they ask, there am I in their midst”.

Rosmini had a very lofty view of the dignity of the laity. The “faithful”, for Rosmini, are the clergy and the laity together, representing and forming in the Church the marvellous unity indicated by Christ when He said, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, in agreement about everything they ask, there I am in their midst”. Christ demands unity of minds and hearts, the clergy and the people acting together “as one man” as Scripture says of the ancient Israelites.

Rosmini writes about the dignity of the laity: “There are always holy, prudent men and women with the sense of Christ among them. The people are a part of the mystical Body of Christ; together with their pastors and incorporated with the Head, they form a single Body. In Baptism and Confirmation they have received the impression of an indelible, priestly character… The ordinary Christian possesses a mystical, private priesthood giving him/her special dignity and power, and a feeling for spiritual things. The clergy has its rights, but so have the Christian people. For example, the Christian people can and must oppose a bishop openly teaching heresy. Their sense of the supernatural teaches them to do this, and gives them the right to do it. The Fathers of the Church taught that the people’s part in the choice of their Pastors derived from the divine law…”. Rosmini wrote this in 1832, unique among all Christian writers of the time in stressing the universal participation of all baptised in the mission of Christ, being with Him Priests, Prophets, and Kings.

The early Christians, the Apostles and the believers, were “one in hearts and mind”, they acted as one Body. Why? They believed the same truths, they took part fully, body and soul, in their liturgies, the Eucharist and the Sacraments. Everyone understood what was being said and done.

JESUS came to save the whole person, body and spirit. The Gospel had to appeal to both elements of the human nature, to the mind and to the heart. The Apostles were indeed sent out to “preach”, to instruct people. But they did not found a school of philosophy, nor did they perform miracles simply to prove the truth of what they were saying, nor gave examples of great virtues to persuade their listeners. If they had presented Christianity simply as wisdom, as truths to be believed, they would not have achieved much. Their appeal would have been greatly reduced.

What did the Apostles do to save the whole person, intellect and feeling, mind and heart, and to submit the whole world to a cross?

JESUS’ command was, “Go out into the whole world and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”. His command was to “speak” to the intellect by the way of preaching, and to regenerate the will, to touch the heart, to speak to feeling by “baptising”, by the Sacraments, by the acts of worship of the New Testament. The Sacraments were the mysterious rites and powerful works with which the Apostles reformed the whole world. “The Sacraments were words and signs of God, creating a new soul, creating new life, new heavens and a new earth. The Apostles added to their preaching Catholic worship, which consists principally in the Sacrifice of Mass, the Sacraments, and the prayers in which these are expressed”.

The Apostles added prayers, ceremonies, noble rites, but they introduced nothing devoid of meaning. Worship was not a spectacle, people were not to be present to look but the people were in God’s temple to be an important element in worship.
The sublime worship of holy Church is thus a single action of clergy and people together.

“The people – writes Rosmini- should be actors as well as hearers, while in fact they are mostly present at Mass like the columns and statues of the building”. They should have a profound understanding of the mysteries, prayers, symbols, rites, that make up Catholic worship. “The separation of the laity from the Church at worship through lack of comprehension is the first of those gaping wounds dripping with blood in the mystical Body of Jesus Christ”.

Rosmini is keen to reassure those who, through no fault of theirs, simply cannot make sense of what goes on in Church, for the Spirit “helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought; but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words”. The voice of simple, uneducated people, if prompted by the Spirit, penetrates heaven itself. But worship is a common act of clergy and people, and it is together that we approach the throne of grace, it is with as much understanding on our part as it is possible that fervour, appreciation, reverence, and devotion increase. Love grows between clergy and people and amongst the people.

What are the reasons for such painful and unhappy division in the Church?

  1. The first cause of the wall of division is the lack of full, living instruction amongst Christians. Christ said to “preach” first: the people should receive the truths of the Gospels, being educated in their faith, in the Scriptures, in the traditions, in morality. Then He said, “baptise” them, worship through the Sacraments that are simply powerful realities of what has been taught. The teaching should be completed and made life giving by the participation to Catholic worship. Rosmini approves of Catechisms so long as they are more than simply repetition of formulas, abstract summaries. Faith is a living thing, and the communication of the truth must be coupled with the experience of supernatural power through worship. There cannot be full participation to the Liturgy without solid knowledge of the truths of the faith. This profound insight, which Rosmini drew from the early Church, had been lost for many centuries; the present RCIA courses and all modern approaches to the Catechumenate stress the intimate link between catechesis and worship.
  2. The second reason for the division is that Latin, used in worship, has ceased to be the language of the people. The understanding of words is essential to grasp the power of the Sacraments, people and clergy cannot pray with one heart and one mind if the words used in prayers are not understood. The demise of Latin as a living language was caused by the invasion of barbarians and other factors, but it is a fact.

Rosmini was asked expressly by the Pope to repudiate the view assigned to him that he was in favour of introducing the vernacular into the liturgy. Rosmini presents various reason why Latin should be kept and the vernacular should not be introduced:

Advantages of keeping the Latin language in worship:

  • Latin reflects the immutability of the faith.
  • Latin unites many different Christian peoples in a single rite.
  • Latin signifies the unity and greatness of the Church and common brotherhood.
  • Latin produces an over-worldly, super-human atmosphere.
  • Latin gives the joy to know that people and saints of the past prayed with the same words and expressions as we do.


Disadvantages of the vernacular:

  • Too many modern languages, bringing divisions in the Church.
  • Modern languages are variable and unstable, bringing constant changes in the words of the liturgy and upsetting the people at worship.
  • Modern languages lack the precise terms for lofty theological concepts.

Rosmini thought that priests should make a greater effort to make people understand the liturgy and the words used. He is not for the use of the vernacular, although he would not perhaps have objected to its introduction. He calls for a profound education of priests, so that they, who are meant to be the salt and light of the Christian community, are enabled to foster tirelessly the greatest participation of the laity in the Mass and Sacraments. Unfortunately, Rosmini adds, the insufficient education of the clergy is the second wound of the Church.

It is clear that Rosmini is far from approving the kind of liturgical innovations that have become unfortunately too common in some of our parishes. He believed that little change was needed, he appreciated greatly the liturgy of the Mass that we call “Tridentine”. The Wound was not the liturgy as it was, but the fact that both priests and people did not understand what was being done and what was being said. He wanted a “living” liturgy, a liturgy performed by the faithful, clergy and people, with “one mind, one heart”.

Rosmini had been ordained a priest in 1821. He wrote in his diary, “From this hour I must be a new man, live in heaven with heart and mind, converse always with Christ, despise and flee from the things of earth. I must return from the altar a saint, an apostle, a man of God”. St. John Bosco, who was helped by Rosmini on many occasions, said of him, “I have never seen a priest say Mass with more devotion than Fr. Rosmini”.

From the Constitution on Sacred Liturgy of Vatican II:

“Day by day the liturgy builds up those within the Church into the Lord’s holy Temple”.
“Those who received the word were baptised. They continued steadfastly in the teaching of the Apostles and in the communion of the breaking of the bread”
“Such participation by the Christian people as a “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation” is their right and duty by reason of their baptism”
“It would be futile to hope for active participation unless the priests themselves become thoroughly penetrated with the spirit and power of the liturgy”
“Priests are to be helped to understand ever more deeply what it is that they do when they perform sacred rites; they are to be aided to live the liturgical life and to share it with the faithful”.

Copyright © Rosmini Centre,
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