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Star Wars, Pageantry, and the Mass

In the summer of 1977 I was a boy of eleven looking for things to do with my friends. So, when a sci-fi samurai western fantasy movie, panned by critics and expected to fail big, came to an old single-screen theater without any air conditioning in my hometown, I and a friend just had to check it out. I loved the movie so much I saw it six times that week, and twelve times that year. Of course the movie was Star Wars.

To say the film was immensely popular is an understatement. Why it was such a hit and spawned perhaps the greatest movie franchise in history seems obvious now. The film had great characters, sets, costumes, action sequences, soundtrack, and it followed the classic hero’s journey, which meant the story had deep and broad timeless appeal. But I would also argue that its pageantry played a big role in the film’s success. In particular, the final scene before the credits, in which the principal characters get their recognition and rewards, is a scene of formal, royal, and solemn pageantry. It ties up the story in a perfect bow.

In case you need to be reminded:

I want to posit the need for this scene to exist in order for Star Wars to have succeeded. You see, human beings are designed in such a manner that proper pageantry feeds our souls, clarifies the world, and focuses our passions towards nobility — and our souls are designed to love nobility. Think of an Olympic Games medal ceremony. Is it needed? Absolutely. Does it determine who won? No. But it is the most proper action for the sport at that moment, in that setting — it is about the glory of sport. In Star Wars this final ceremony casts the rest of the story in the right light. Theses characters are not merely winners, they are glorious. And the audience is ennobled as they carry some of that nobility, now in their hearts, beyond the closing credits and into their daily lives. In short, that final scene is what the movie is all about.

I want to argue that something like that final scene in Star Wars, something like that kind of pageantry, is both proper and necessary to the Mass.

A Mass can be very simple and humble. Even the hood of a jeep on the battlefield can serve as a makeshift altar.

Robert Capa 937

Using the hood of a jeep as an altar, a Roman Catholic chaplain saying mass at the inauguration of an American cemetery, Omaha Beach, Normandy. Photo by Robert Capa, 1944.

A Mass can also have all the royal pageantry of a coronation. Think of the coronation of a Medieval king. There is pageantry, awe, solemnity, beauty, and reverence. There is also appropriate action: kneeling, proclamations, prayers, and a crowning — which requires the physical object of a crown.


The coronation of Charlemagne, Christmas day, 800 A.D. Painting by Friedrich Kaulbach, 1861

And with a coronation there is also a change in ontology. In others words, a man actually becomes a king. The pageantry is not merely symbolic. In some very real way a man has actually changed — a man made king, king made flesh. This sort of understanding is something that was lost on the way to modernity. This is something we moderns do not understand well in an overt sense.

But we still act sometimes as though it is, in fact, true. In other words we believe it, though we might want to admit it for what it is. Our actions give us away. Watching the Olympics I am struck by how many times it’s mentioned that once an athlete has become a medal winner they will always be one, and that cannot be take away from them. They have changed from a non-Olympic medalist to an Olympic medalist. They are set apart. They are now an Olympian. They walk the earth as a different creature.


1980 Winter Olympics Hockey Medal Ceremony

There is another activity we do that speaks volumes to this reality, and that is with our liturgical action in the Mass. Catholics believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. We believe in transubstantiation, that the bread and wine truly become the body and blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Knowing what we know, the Mass becomes a pageant of Christ the King. We celebrate His death and resurrection with kneeling, proclamations, prayers, and a sacrifice. It has all the solemnity and reverence of temple worship, of a wedding, and of a coronation.


A Traditional Latin Mass properly celebrated

Catholics are always faced with the questions of 1) do you truly believe in the Real Presence and, if so, 2) how should behave when in the presence of your king and savior and your God? Treating the Mass for what it is obligates Catholics to certain behaviors. We may not want to be overly prescriptive and proscriptive, but it’s fair to say that we all can figure out basic ideas of of action, dress, and other factors based on our culture, history, and humanness.

God does not need our worship. We don’t go to Mass because God needs us to go. Rather, God gave us the Mass so that we might draw closer to Him, and that we might be fortified against the pressures of the world. The Mass is a gift, and worship is like a healthy diet and exercise. The closer our worship is to what is most proper, the better it is for us.

A truly solemn Novus Ordo Mass can provide this fairly well, but nothing compares to the beautiful and appropriate action of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, a.k.a. the Traditional Latin Mass. Here is an example* from a parish in Paris:

Notice how this Mass has a kind of similarity to the pageantry of the Star Wars scene above, especially once the organ begins (okay, I know it’s no John Williams score) and the procession enters the nave and sanctuary. People only do these kinds of things in the presence of royalty. A Mass like this is one of the most human activities any of us can experience. It is strangely foreign to our daily experience, but then again it is Heaven on Earth, and thus not quotidien. Still, we are made for this. God created us to need this kind of liturgy (the work of the people) and to be fed by such appropriate pageantry.

To not see this truth is to be broken in some substantial way. Modernity breaks people. The Devil breaks people. Sin does too, but modernity, as a tool of the Devil, has a special desire to rid humanity of right praise towards God. Evangelical Protestant attempts at worship recognize the need at some level, but fail because of some fundamental theological flaws, namely the disbelief in the Real Presence in the Eucharist. This disbelief has many consequences, including the development of a non-sacramental view of creation and our faith, and this leads to a false anthropology to such a degree that true Christian pageantry is lost and even disdained. Without the Real Presence there is no King in the building and thus no worship except, perhaps, our own vanity. Poor theology breaks people too.

*This example is of a SSPX Mass. I’m not including it to promote the SSPX, but they do know how to celebrate a Traditional Latin Mass, and I truly love the inclusion of the very human life that infuses the Mass — people arriving, families, sounds and textures, etc.

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Archbishop Sample: Pontifical Mass Homily (2015) — A House Divided…

Do not let the Traditional Latin Mass become a source of division — and this goes both ways.

From the YouTube description: “Archbishop Sample’s homily during the 2015 Gregorian Chant conference at the Brigittine Monastery in Amity, Oregon on March 7th.”

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Archbishop Sample: Pontifical Mass Homily (2014) — Love Must Rule

“If we do not have love then it’s just a show.”

Some great words from Archbishop Sample. He gives perspective on the Traditional Latin Mass in the Church today. He addresses Summorum Pontificum and it’s importance today. He does not call into question the Ordinary Form of the Mass, but challenges the Church to actually take it seriously and to see the Ordinary Form as inherently connected and informed by the Extraordinary Form. He also sees the TLM as a form that all priests and bishops should know.

From the YouTube description: “On March 1, 2014 Archbishop Alexander Sample of the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon celebrated a Pontifical High Mass in the Extraordinary Form at the Brigittine Monastery “Our Lady of Consolation” in Amity, Oregon. The Mass was the crowning celebration of a 3-day conference on Gregorian Chant and the role of sacred music in the liturgy.”

The beautiful chant at the end comes via Schola Cantus Angelorum.

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Archbishop Sample’s Bold Remarks on Classical Roman Liturgy


Pope Francis facing ad orientem

Whenever speaking of priests and bishops I don’t really want to say, “He’s one of the good ones,” but I feel that way about my archbishop, Alexander K. Sample. I find him level-headed and wise.

Here’s a talk he recently gave on discovering the Traditional Latin Mass, or Tridentine Mass or, as it’s officially known, the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite.

I too have a desire for the Traditional Latin Mass, somewhat out of curiosity, somewhat because I’m sorta studying Latin, but mostly because I want to be holy and I am weak.

That might sound strange, but my thoughts are simple. We are called to be holy. God has given us many gifts and various means to help us become holy. These include prayer and scripture, fellowship and peaching, etc. The Mass is a gift to us. God does not need it, but we do. The Mass was made for us and we are made for Mass. It seems to me, in terms appropriate to reverence before our Lord and Savior, that the more traditional Mass is a better fit with our natures and fundamental human needs than the Novus Ordo Mass, or Ordinary Form. In other words, the more traditional Mass encourages holiness more than the more modern Mass, and I need all the help I can get.

Many will beg to differ.

Those who say they are Christians but not religious are gravely wrong. All humans are religious. Religion, and religious activities, are given to us as gifts. And the religious impulse is part of our DNA, out there by God. Our nature calls out for religion, and for rites, and for reverence. These things really matter. In fact, I think in today’s crazy world reverence is more important than ever. The Traditional Latin Mass seems to have a great deal more inherent reverence than the alternative.

For more of the Archbishop’s thoughts on liturgical reform, here is a two-part discussion he recently did on Mater Dei Radio:
Liturgical Reform Part 1 July 20, 2016
Liturgical Reform Part 2 August 16, 2016

However, the Traditional Latin Mass is not a requirement for the Christian life. It is not a requirement for holiness. And many find the Novus Ordo Mass very encouraging. In fact I do too — I am still in the presence of the Lord, still kneeling, still praying, still receiving His body and blood. But I believe the traditional Mass is a gift that coincides and fits human nature best. I would like to have the regular opportunity to receive such a gift in my area.

I hope the Archbishop’s views continue to get propagated and accepted throughout the archdiocese. But I know he is wise and will not force anything. It is really up to us to discover it and ask for it. Fortunately for me and my family, our parish, which does not do the Tridentine Mass (yet), is generally very reverent and solemn, frequently includes Latin, and the music is often quite beautiful, and the homilies are good. Still, I would love the option.

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The Sign of Peace


I like the Sign of Peace portion of the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Here is how it is described in the Order of the Mass:

Priest: Lord Jesus Christ, you said to your apostles: I leave you peace, my peace I give you. Look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church, and grant us the peace and unity of your kingdom where you live for ever and ever.
All: Amen.

Priest: The Peace of the Lord be with you always.
All: And also with you.

Deacon or Priest: Let us offer each other a sign of peace.
[The ministers and all the people exchange an embrace, handshake, or other appropriate gesture of peace with those near them, according to local custom.]

Coming from Protestantland, and a non-sacramental, wary-of-formal-liturgy, heavy-on-teaching kind of church, I find this a wonderful moment in the liturgy. Like everything else in the liturgy, the Sign of Peace has great depth of meaning and is worth meditating on, and it might be interesting to ask what would an appropriate state of heart be at this moment in the Mass. Anyway, like many things we do at Mass, the Sign of Peace can become just another “one of those things” we do, but it shouldn’t. I also like having a moment to acknowledge with both eye and physical contact my brothers and sisters in Christ around me. It reminds that we are all in this together.

I also get the the recent request from the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments stating that the Sign of Peace should be done in a respectful and solemn manner (my words) and not be used as a time for glad-handing, roaming the church, or for the priest to come down from the altar and work the crowd. In other words, some parishes needs to “tone it down” a bit.

I don’t see a lot of this in my church, but one thing has always bothered me from the first time I attended Mass there and was a curious, no-longer-protesting, Protestant seeking the true Church, and wanting to really know what Catholics did at Mass. First, let me back up a bit. I have increasingly become convinced of the importance (radical importance) of seeing all believers as brothers and sisters in Christ, that I should not ignore (or shun) any, and that no matter who they are, no matter what social class or education level or economic strata or ethnicity, no matter how “other” they may seem to me, I should always be willing and ready to reach out to them because they are my brothers and sisters. I fail at this all the time. It’s a significant black spot in my life, but I still believe it is the right way to behave. Thus, though I believe it is good to see friends at church, and to great them affectionately, etc., I also believe the Mass should not be about seeing one’s friends.

Now, at the Sign of Peace, I always see several folks in my parish wander the sanctuary, making beelines for their friends (who just may be on the other side of the church) and giving them big hugs. As they do this, which is somewhat disruptive, they also pass by everyone else to get to their friends and then again back to their seats. This is not a particularly big issue for me, and I really do like seeing the affection for each other, but it seems that a more appropriate behavior for the Mass (and for what the Mass is about) is that one would greet whomever God has brought within close range. Give the Sign of Peace to your brothers and sisters who you may not know, but whom God has brought near. If you are to walk away from your seat to give the Sign of Peace, then seek out the person who is still sitting because they are elderly or cannot get up easily.

Of course, the recent and gentle “corrective” that’s getting more press than it deserves is, at least for us in the U.S., nothing new. Here is what our bishops say in “The General Instruction of the Roman Missal” (pp. 35-36):

The Rite of Peace
82. There follows the Rite of Peace, by which the Church entreats peace and unity for herself and for the whole human family, and the faithful express to each other their ecclesial communion and mutual charity before communicating in the Sacrament.

As for the actual sign of peace to be given, the manner is to be established by the Conference of Bishops in accordance with the culture and customs of the peoples. However, it is appropriate that each person, in a sober manner, offer the sigh of peace only to those who are nearest.

So… stay put. Give the Sign of Peace to those who are nearest to you. Then, after Mass, visit with you friends, and even give them big, affectionate hugs.

Anyway, we shouldn’t make a big deal out of it. We should just recognize the true nature of the Sign of Peace, not take it for granted, nor treat it lightly, have propriety in our actions, and love each other as authentically and with as much empathy and compassion as possible.

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