‘Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends’ – John 15:13
Recently, I have be the great honour and privilege of serving Mass with the Extraordinary Form (EF) community in Japan. Housed in the small and quiet chapel of the Society of St Paul in Wakaba, Shinjuku, the thirty person community comprises of two groups that organise the Mass, Una Voce Japan, and Akenohoshibei-Seibono-Tsudoi(明の星聖母の集い主催). However, they share a common pool of servers.
This is was the first time at a sung Mass in Japan that I have seen an all male sanctuary. The next time was at the Urakami Cathedral in Nagasaki. However, I think this is the only place in Tokyo where one will see men raising to the call to serve Christ in Holy Mass. What was even more striking was the age of the men in the sanctuary!
The oldest server in the group is 68 year old Noue-san, who has a limp and some left-sided weakness, yet is more spritely than most men a quarter his age. He made every effort to genuflect, and he knelt whenever was necessary, even for communion! For those who are not familiar with the EF Mass, communion is only received in the preferred and traditional method of the Roman Catholic Church, kneeling and on the tongue. This, I promise you, was surely no mean feat for the aged gentleman.
What is even more amazing is Fr Augustine Ikeda, S.S.P., the celebrant of the EF Mass here is a mind-blowing 86 years old! Even more astonishing is that he wanted people to help him to say the old mass and genuflects as the rubrics command. The actions in older form of the Mass are much more elaborate than the Mass of Paul VI, or the Ordinary Form of the Mass, which most people assist at on Sunday. It involves a great deal of genuflections, and I can tell you from the experience of serving for elderly priest, it can quite exhausting.
This speaks volumes of the love which these men have for Christ, Our Lord. God does not ask of us more than we can handle, thus, it is not required for an elderly person with bad knees to make the genuflections or kneel. However, how often it is that I see the elderly making the effort to kneel and genuflect! This is truly what it means to use one’s body to worship God, to give of oneself. This is the daily martyrdom which God asks of us, for that small self-sacrifice to be given and raised together with His own sacrifice. This is the essence of masculinity, self-sacrifice and discipline.
One of the most manly things in the world is to see a man on his knees, praying before God. I remember when I was at Mass in Lyon, France, seeing a father on his knees in front of the Blessed Virgin after Mass in prayer, with his little boy at his side in imitation. What a powerful image that was. This little boy of about 6, God willing, will in time learn how to follow His father’s footsteps, because that is what little boys long to do, and he will learn to love his Heavenly Queen, to be devoted to the Most Sacred Heart of Her Son. He will learn to be reverent at Mass, to obey the rubrics, kneeling at the right time, standing at the right time. He will learn discipline through the imitation of his father’s fasting, and the time that he spends in prayer. All of this, he will learn long before he begins to understand the complex theology of doctrine and dogma, all of this he will learn through watching his father sacrificing himself on a daily basis.
This desire for self-sacrifice and discipline is why many men take up arduous tasks like competing in contact sports or going camping and hiking or signing up for the army. This is why Christ became a man, and chose men to lead the Church once He had ascended. The job of the priest is to sacrifice himself, his entire life in order to serve God. That is why a priest is celibate, so that he can give himself entirely to His king. The EF is wonderful for bringing out the sacrificial nature of the Mass, which many moderns who fear the difficulty and arduous nature of sacrifice avoid mentioning. It is also wonderful for drawing modern men out of their soft comforts and their hedonistic pleasures and returning them to the path of the straight and narrow.
I am very thankful for the opportunity to see this fine and true example of manliness here in Japan.
PS: Those interested in visiting the Extraordinary Form Community in Japan should check out their website: http://uvj.jp/en/. As of May, Masses in the Old Rite will be held one every 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Sunday of the Month.