Tuesday, November 20, 2012


Of the Liturgy:

There has been much discussion about our current Roman Catholic Mass and what it has done to the Church, for better or worse, since the heady days of the Second Vatican Council. Two high ranking prelates, Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who seem to be on the opposite ends of the liturgical spectrum, have offered some analysis that may help the Church in its future liturgical development.

In an article titled “Liturgy and Common Ground” in America magazine (1999), Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland critiques the various factions who are concerned about our Holy Mass. He writes, “Something that should be a point of unity in the church, the Eucharist, has now become the most conspicuous point of disagreement and tension.” But he adds reason for hope, “that people—from prelates and scholars to worshiping faithful—are genuinely concerned about the quality of the prayer life of the Church.”

To those who desire the Pre-Vatican II liturgy as a remedy for what they perceive as a loss of dignity and the sacred in the current Mass, Archbishop Weakland wonders if they disagree with the Second Vatican Council altogether? We cannot ignore the Second Vatican Council. Should the bishops cater to retrograde reactionaries whose mission in fact is divisive? Local bishops should rightly be concerned about reactionary groups in any given diocese who wish to undo the Second Vatican Council, not only in Liturgy but also in the inclusion of the laity in areas of ministry and liturgy once forbidden to them. In addition, are these groups opposed to the revised Mass when it is properly celebrated highlighting dignity, solemnity and the sacred? The revised Mass can be as solemn, dignified and sacred if done by the book and with care.

At the opposite extreme, to those who want to continue with the direction of the current reform and go much further, Archbishop Weakland challenges the theology that has caused our Liturgy to drift “into a more horizontal and purely human activity.” He then asks the most startling question of this group: “Has the reform at times led to a diminution of respect for and belief in the real presence in the Eucharist?” He goes on to ask this disturbing question: “In seeking to make the liturgical symbols more true and clear, has the renewal made the symbol more important than what is symbolized?” He notes the use of “real bread” where “ministers” become sloppy about the crumbs and thus diminish belief in the real presence. He asks, “Has the kiss of peace ceased to be a symbolic gesture of reconciliation with one’s neighbor and become a moment for greeting everyone in the church—to the detriment of the symbol and breaking the liturgical moment of preparation for Holy Communion? In the desire to emphasize the nature of the community, has one introduced rites of dubious origin, e.g., holding hands?”

For the more progressive Catholic, Archbishop Weakland’s observations and critiques must be taken seriously for these abuses can in fact force people who desire “sacred and dignified” celebrations of the Mass to reject the current Mass as “flawed in principle” and not just in isolated, illicit, non-rubrical applications of its celebration.

At the other end of the theological debate we have Cardinal Joseph Ratizinger. In an address to “traditionalists” in Rome on October 24, 1998, the Cardinal made some interesting points. A fine reading of his presentation will show that the Cardinal’s remarks are as critical of some “traditionalists” as they are of those whose celebrations of the reformed Mass diminish its sacred character.

One of the more controversial assertions the Cardinal makes is, “The Church has never abolished Orthodox Liturgies.” Within this context Cardinal Ratzinger is sympathetic to those who desire the Tridentine Mass but also acknowledges that many claim that having two “Roman Rites” can harm the unity of the Church. Local bishops definitely need to be concerned about this. He points out, however, in the pre-Vatican II Roman Church, there were many variations of the Liturgy that existed alongside the Roman Rite, e.g. the Ambrosian rite, the Mozarabic rite of Toledo, the rite of Braga, the rite of the Cistercians and of the Carmelites as well as the Dominicans. He states that in that era of diversity, no one was scandalized by the variations but “we were proud of this richness in having many different traditions.”

Then the Cardinal makes his most important theological or doctrinal point. The Second Vatican Council Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy “itself does not say a word about celebrating Mass facing the altar or facing the people. And on the subject of language, it says Latin ought to be preserved while giving greater space to the vernacular...As for the participation of lay people, the Council insists first in general that the Liturgy concerns the entire Body of Christ, head and members, and that for this reason, it belongs to the entire Body of the Church and consequently the liturgy is to be celebrated in community with the active participation of the faithful.” And the text specifies: “In the liturgical celebrations, each person, whether as a minister or as one of the faithful, should perform his role by doing solely and totally what the nature of things and liturgical norms require of him. By way of promoting active participation, the people should be encouraged to take part by means of acclamation, responses, psalmody, antiphons, and songs, as well as by actions, gestures and bodily attitudes. And at the proper time all should observe a reverent silence.”

In other words, what the Second Vatican Council teaches applies to those who wish the Pre-Vatican II Mass as well as those who maintain the revised Liturgy. The Cardinal has some scathing remarks for those who corrupt the revised Liturgy according to the very same critiques as Archbishop Weakland. But Cardinal Ratzinger also criticizes those who desire an aberrant form of the Pre-Vatican II Mass which slipped too much into the domain of the individual and the private, and that the communion between priests and faithful was insufficient. Cardinal Ratizinger insists that if the Old Latin Mass is celebrated, it should be with the full, conscious and active participation of the people, a development that was occurring already in the late 1950’s prior to the council. This came to be known at the “Dialog Mass.” Even then, the “Dialog Mass” foresaw the use of lay lectors and commentators as an application of the principle of the laity performing “what the nature of things and liturgical norms require of him.”

The difference of attitudes between Archbishop Weakland and Cardinal Ratzinger are not that dramatic. In one sense Cardinal Ratzinger is actually more liberal. He believes that the Tridentine Mass and the Revised Mass can coexist side by side if the principles of the Second Vatican Council regarding active participation are observed in both. He sees the allowance of the Tridentine Mass as a way to preserve the sacred character of the revised Mass, since it is there that the two should converge and show continuity between the old and the new.

It would seem that if the Old Latin Mass is allowed in any diocese or parish, then the local bishop has a grave responsibility to make sure that the principles of active participation of the faithful should be guaranteed, as the Second Vatican Council makes clear! It should not be too much for local bishops to request from Rome or mandate by their own legitimate authority that lay-lectors be used for the reading of Scripture, the use of Extra-ordinary Ministers of Holy Communion as needed, and leaders of song to encourage active participation. The question of the use of the full array of Scriptures from the current three-year cycle lectionary as a point of convergence between the two liturgies should rightly be explored. And obviously the Scriptures and sermon should be allowed in the vernacular as they were in the late 1950’s.

Celebrating the Post-Vatican II liturgy as it is prescribed and not allowing it to be diminished through banalities or super-creativity imposed upon it by priests, liturgy committees or congregations could enhance the Revised Liturgy as well. Doing it by the book and making sure the principles of active participation are observed would show the unity and continuity between the two masses. If the pre-Vatican II liturgy needs to recapture its human horizontal dimensions, so too the revised Mass must recapture its vertical, sacred dimensions as well!

When those who desire the pre-Vatican II Latin Mass are denied this permission while others who celebrate charismatic Masses, inculturated Masses and a whole variety of approved and disapproved expressions of the current Mass go unchallenged, it is no wonder they become reactionary and obstinate.

Finally, many would argue that the two liturgies could co-exist side by side and creating respect and unity among the advocates of both. At the heart of both is the real presence of the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ and His One Sacrifice that brings salvation to the world. And at the heart of both is “The Body of Christ” the Church who celebrates and journeys toward the heavenly Liturgy of which the earthly liturgy is but a foretaste!


John Nolan said...

The dialogue Mass (where the congegation made the responses with the server) was not always a practical proposition. In large churches the high altar could be a hundred feet from the front row, and what happened if Mass was being said at more than one altar? As an altar boy I remember my frustration with the congregation behind me stumbling through the Latin of the Confiteor (all those inflexions!) at a snail's pace. As for the practice of having a lay commentator, which apparently happened in Germany and elsewhere, I would have found it both condescending and distracting, young as I was.

I agree that the NO can be solemn, dignified and sacred. However, it very rarely is, and many devotees of the Usus Antiquior would ask what is the point in trying to make it resemble the classic Roman Rite when you can have the real thing.

Anonymous said...

I've always believed that it is REVERENCE, NOT THE LANGUAGE or rite that counts for most laity.... The priest could be speaking Greek or Hebrew for all we care so long as the entire liturgy is conducted with decorum and the seriousness that the sacred demands of us.... couple this attitude of respect for the things of God with good homilies and we've a winning combination for the edification and sanctification of the laity.

rcg said...

I can see why you didn't like birettas: they would have mashed your tin foil hat! (j/k)

Seriously, this sounds very balanced, not far from where you are now. My only objection to the Rodney King approach to coexistence of the NO and EF is that while, as you say, the NO can be done in a dignified manner, but it apparently does not have to be. That is the problem when I attend a NO mass. I am never sure, as Forest Gump would say, what I am going to get. Seriously, there are times I feel like I am the foot of the Cross watching Our Lord being mocked during His Sacrifice.

It is interesting to see how far you have come, as have I, in your understanding of participation.