Just when you thought that the more mainstream Catholic publications were losing their taste for the trivial amid the crisis of faith we are living through, along comes The Priest magazine with a cover story about why the St. Michael the Archangel Prayer is inappropriate to say after Mass.
The glossy magazine has on its cover a classic painting of St. Michael, victorious in the final battle with Satan, and a headline that can only be called a tease: “St. Michael the Archangel, pray for us: Evaluating where the prayer fits best in the context of the Mass.”
It is a tease because the conclusion of the priest who wrote the article is that there is no place for the St. Michael the Archangel prayer, even after Mass. Who knew that this was a burning controversy across the country?
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What are the rubricist’s objections to the prayer? I say rubricist because it indicates a type of person who would like to be called a “liturgist,” but liturgy is public worship and much broader than the narrow and picayune issues about which the rubricists love to criticize and debate. The ship is going down and they want to discuss whether the life preservers should be tied from the right or the left.
One objection is that the Second Vatican Council suggested that certain liturgical usages could be classified as “accretions.” The St. Michael prayer was included in 1886 to what the rubricist, with stylistic delicacy, calls Leonine Prayers, “a suite of devotional prayers” to be said after the Mass. These prayers were not “part of the preconciliar missal’s Order of the Mass…However, visually, aurally, and experientially, they seemed part of the same service” (emphasis added).
I am sure the priest did very well at whatever department of liturgy he studied. The Leonine prayers are called so “eponymously,” he tells us. Those he doesn’t send to the dictionary with the word are in two groups: one group would say that obviously Pope Leo added the prayers and thus Leonine, so there is a redundancy to the clarification; the other group no doubt thinks the rubricist must know his stuff, throwing words around like “suite” and “eponymously.”
There are two problems with what he is saying. That the prayers “seemed” a part of the Mass is according to the rubrical aestheticism that seems current among those who work in “liturgy” offices. The rubricist says that if the priest is still dressed in the chasuble while saying the Hail Mary or the St. Michael Prayer, the poor innocent people in the pews will think that it is part of the Eucharist, which should end with the deacon’s dismissal.
(The rubricist has evidently sweated out the fact there is usually a recessional hymn, which is not really correct, he tells us, because the dismissal should send us off to service and not distract us. However, the bishops have, for reasons unknown to the rubricist, suggested such a final sung praise, and he accepts the possibility. He notes, with evident relief, that the bishops have not suggested either the St. Michael Prayer, the Hail Mary, or the prayer for the fundraising activity of the parish.)
At my parish, I lead a Hail Mary after I say the final prayer of the Mass; and, after the blessing, I lead the St. Michael Prayer. I am sure that would give the Taliban rubricists indigestion. But I justify the Hail Mary because it commemorates the moment of the Incarnation and the St. Michael Prayer because I think it appropriate for the community to recognize that we are in a time that tries men’s souls and to pray together for protection from the forces of destruction that surround us.
I also do not duck into the sacristy after Mass, which I understand upsets some people, because my time on the steps or at the door is an opportunity to give pastoral care and build fellowship with my parishioners. I am still wearing the chasuble, and I hope people don’t confuse my greeting and schmoozing with the sacred rite.
The purism that seems to imply that after a Mass we have no need to invoke the intercession of the archangel or the Mother of God has a whiff of Puritanism for me. I wonder if the rubricist upset about priests (and even some bishops—oh my!) saying or recommending the St. Michael Prayer after the liturgy is also one of those people who are in favor of hiding the tabernacle and stripping the churches of statues. The purism that seems to imply that after a Mass we have no need to invoke the intercession of the archangel or the Mother of God has a whiff of Puritanism for me.Tweet This
This might seem irrelevant, but his suggesting that St. Michael himself “would surely have the faithful go forth immediately from the Mass to face the conflicts of the world armed with the greatest force for spiritual and temporal good: the body and blood of Christ,” seems to be a mistaken forcing of an either/or option for the community. Does invocation of the saints and angels injure our understanding of Christ’s centrality. Is it really “only” Jesus and He alone when His Body is gathered together? Couldn’t there be a broader approach that says a community fortified and united in Christ can also recall the saints and angels, and be comfortable about it. Catholicism is a deep-dish kind of pizza and not everyone wants the thin crust approach.
The idea that families immediately rush to meet the conflicts of the world would meet an objection from my great nieces and nephews. What about on donut Sunday? I am being flippant, but we are an Incarnational religion. Jesus is presented to us in the Gospels with a constellation of people around Him, including His mother.
I think someone with such difficulty about the St. Michael Prayer after the Mass might not even think it is valuable to pray. If it is incorrect to say together when the community is there to witness to each other, why say it at all? The corollary would be why the Scriptures, both New and Old Testament, give the archangel such play. I’m afraid that some rubricists would beat Marcion editing out parts of the Bible “unnecessary.”
I also have another objection to the rubricist’s apologia against the St. Michael Prayer. It is his historical perspective. He says that Pope Leo XIII was in a struggle with the Italian government and for that reason recommended the prayer at the end of the sacrifice. It was much more than the Italian government that the pope was worried about. The story is that he had a mystical experience that included the terrifying thought of Satan working against the Church worldwide. I think the rubricist had Blessed Pius IX in mind, but that is rather a superficial way of arguing against the prayer. In not so many words, he is suggesting that Pope Leo’s concerns are not ours right now.
A second discomfort I feel about the rubricist’s perspective is his constant referring to “the” Council. The Novus Ordo came after the Council, and even St. Paul VI apparently had some trepidation about it. Great popes have been concerned about some misinterpretations and false corollaries to the work of “the” most recent of Church councils, and that included liturgical abuses. We have been busy tidying up some of the translation issues almost even as we speak.
I would say the St. Michael Prayer is not nearly as divisive an issue as the discarding and what looks like the first step in the prohibiting of the Vetus Ordo? What would the rubricist say about people who prefer the old rite and are still in union with Rome? What about the many Catholics in the world who use ancient Eucharistic prayers, like the Byzantine Rite and others? If “uniformity of practice” is a supreme rule, doesn’t it seem inconsistent that Catholics can celebrate the liturgy in a variety of rites?
My message to The Priest would be what my brother says when he encounters what he considers illogical behavior: “Really? Are you serious?”