Wednesday, January 20, 2010



Written by Alan M. Rees

February 2009

The greatness of the Roman rite lies in its antiquity and fidelity to tradition. [Quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus.] Every worshiper taking part in the ancient liturgy can in this manner feel joined to all those who have offered prayer and sacrifice before him, and a unity with those who will be offering the same sacrifice in times to come, long after the last fragment of our mortal remains has crumbled into dust. The core of the traditional Canon from the prayer before the Consecration and including the sacrificial prayer after Consecration was in existence by the end of the 4th century. The Reform of the Mass by St. Gregory the Great (590-604) is substantially the same as today. The Missal of St. Pius V (1566-1572) was compiled and published in obedience to the Fathers of the Council of Trent (hence Tridentine). The fact that the Canon remained unaltered for thirteen centuries except for minor additions speaks eloquently of the veneration with which it has always been regarded. The words pronounced at the altar today are, to a very significant degree, the same words, gestures, and motions as those used by Blessed John XXIII, St. Pius V, St. Dominic, St. Edmund Campion, and by the martyrs of North America. Such is the perpetuity of the Church and the continuity of its teaching.

An alternative form of the present mass is now more widely available to those who prefer it. The Motu Proprio, Summorum Pontificum issued by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007, defines two equal usages of the Roman rite. It is therefore permissible to celebrate the Sacrifice of the Mass either by following the typical edition of the Roman Missal promulgated by Bl. John XXIII in 1962 or by using the liturgy of the Novus Ordo Missae of Pope Paul VI (1969). These two equal and co-existing usages of the Roman Rite are:

· THE ORDINARY FORM, [the Forma Ordinaria,] the Novus Ordo Missae, of Paul VI (1969)

· THE EXTRAORDINARY FORM, [the Forma Extraordinaria,] the Mass of Blessed John XXIII (1962), also known as the usus antiquior, Gregorian Mass, Tridentine Mass, or Traditional Latin Mass.

These two forms celebrate the same sacrifice and are co-equal. Pope Benedict emphasizes:

“The usus antiquior is not a museum piece but a living expression of Catholic worship … what earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred for us too … It is a treasure that belongs to the whole Catholic Church and which should be widely available to all of Christ’s faithful … It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer and to give them their proper place.”

Pope Benedict’s Motus Proprio of 2007 makes the Extraordinary Form more readily available, dispensing with the permission formerly required of the local bishop. [This was not entirely unexpected in that in 2000, Cardinal Ratzinger had deplored that anyone advocating the existence of the older liturgy is “treated like a leper” and had stated that the “proscription against the form of liturgy in valid use up to 1970 should be lifted.”]

It is important to correct a number of misconceptions:

1. The Traditional Latin Mass [i.e. the Extraordinary Form] is a product of the 16th century Council of Trent. Not true: it dates back to the beginnings of Christianity.

2. The Traditional Latin Mass was changed or replaced by Vatican II. Not true: the new mass (Novus Ordo) was crafted after the Council by a liturgical commission and promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1969. Vatican II never abolished the Traditional Mass. The Council stated that the use of Latin should be retained as far as possible and that Gregorian chant should be preserved. It declared that “since the use of the Mother tongue, whether in the Mass, the administration of the sacraments, and other parts of the liturgy, frequently may be of great advantage to the people, the limits of its employment may be extended.” Although this provided for a limited use of the vernacular, no mention was made of the total abolition of Latin and the substitution of a vernacular mass in its place. The Council had no intention of initiating a liturgical revolution and intended only to introduce a “moderate English alongside the Latin” with no thought of eliminating it.

3. The priest facing the people was introduced by Vatican II. Not true: it became the unwritten practice in the Novus Ordo mass without any directives from Vatican II or by the Missal of 1969. The orientation towards the East (ad orientem) is ancient and is shared by the Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church as well as by the Orthodox Church. Cardinal Ratzinger said in The Spirit of the Liturgy that the priest in facing the congregation is tempted “to be an actor.” The mass is not a performance so there is no place for applause. The Mass is a sacrifice and must transcend the personality of the priest.

4. Mass in the vernacular was introduced by Vatican II. Not true: the official language of the Novus Ordo is Latin and the mass may be celebrated either in Latin or in English.

5. The practice of receiving Communion in-the-hand was called for by Vatican II. Not true: this sprang up as an abuse and was subsequently accepted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1977 by a slim majority. This indult can be withdrawn at any time.

6. The Motus Proprio of Pope Benedict making the Traditional Mass more available is intended as a favor to an √©lite group of nostalgic and pedantic traditionalists enchanted by a dead language. Not true: rather it may be viewed as a “reform of the reform,” a renewal of the Church catalyzed by liturgical renewal.

Certainly, the vast majority of the several thousand bishops at the Council neither wished for, nor mandated, a radical reform of the liturgy. It was never the intention to abandon the use of Latin, Gregorian chant, or requiring the celebrant to face the people. Nothing had been said about standing to receive Communion in the hand, or the use of altar girls. No mention had been made about the use of multiple Canons – in the Roman rite there had always been one Eucharistic prayer. The many changes in the liturgy were for the most part made after Vatican II. Interpretation of the Council’s intent was motivated by what became known as the Spirit of Vatican II.

A Concilium was established by Paul VI charged with task of reorganizing the liturgy. This was controlled by Archbishop Annibale Bugnini. The Concilium document Inter Oecumenici in 1964 was a triumph for the reformers. The rapid changes which followed included the abolition of kneeling to receive Communion, receiving under both forms, the almost exclusive use of the vernacular, the priest facing the congregation, deletion of many prayers in the Mass, no longer requiring kneeling at the Incarnatus Est in the Creed, omission of the Last Gospel, a shortening of the traditional prayer of the priest when placing the Host on the communicant’s tongue. These changes in the late 1960s bore a striking resemblance to Archbishop Cranmer’s reform of the Roman Liturgy in 1549 and 1552 at the time of the English Reformation. Cranmer also abolished Latin, allowed Communion in the hand, and under both species. The sacrificial nature of the Mass was downplayed – remember that Luther spoke of the sacrifice as “the greatest and most appalling horror” and a “damnable impiety.” It has been suggested that Bugnini’s reform following Vatican II introduced more radical change than that made by Luther.

Forty years after Vatican II, Alcuin Reid, a leading liturgist, considered that “the present state of the Roman rite is not all that it should be or what was intended by the liturgical movement or even by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council.” The tendency to creative modification resulted in “deformations” in the liturgy. In the place of liturgy as the fruit of development came fabricated liturgy. In the words of Cardinal Ratzinger, “We abandoned the organic living process of growth over centuries, and replaced it, as in a manufacturing process, with a fabrication, a banal on-the-spot product.” Far from modernizing and rendering the liturgy more understandable with increased participation, there occurred a disintegration of belief.

The most grievous change following Vatican II was the loss of reverence. Consciousness of the Real Presence has diminished. The Gregorian chant, the smoke of the incense, kneeling to receive Communion, receiving the Host on the tongue from the priest, had created a sense of otherworldliness, a glimpse into eternity. Innovation replaced holy intimacy with Christ with an unbecoming familiarity, diminished reverence in the face of mystery, precluded awe, and all but extinguished a sense of sacredness. Allowing us to pop a wafer into our own mouths, tends to eradicate any consciousness that something truly miraculous has happened. When Pope Paul VI spoke of “the smoke of Satan entering the Catholic Church,” he was referring to those who wished to turn the Holy Mass into “dross in the name of creativity.”

Pope Paul VI promulgated the revised rite of Mass in April 1969. The new use of the vernacular, he said, is “intended to draw the faithful out of their customary personal devotions or their usual torpor ….. The divine Latin language, has kept us apart from the world of labor and affairs as if it were a dark screen, and not a clear window.” This substitution, he conceded, “will certainly be a great sacrifice for those who know the beauty, the power and the expressive sacrality of Latin.” He asked rhetorically, “What can we put in the place of that language of the angels? We are giving up something of priceless worth.” His answer may seem banal: “the understanding of prayer is worth more than the silken garments in which it is royally dressed.” im and not us.Hi

It is not just a question of talking to God in Latin. The Novus Ordo can also be offered in Latin. There is a difference in mood – the TLM is contemplative and is surrounded by silence. The words of prayer impregnate the silence and give birth to meditation and closeness to God. There is an overwhelming emphasis on the Mass as an actual sacrifice, a bloodless re-enactment of Christ’s sacrifice on Mt. Calvary. The priest begins at the foot of the altar, with prayers that he might be worthy to ascend unto thy “holy mount and into thy tabernacles.” These are the words of the psalms from the Hebrew Bible, and they go with an extraordinary insistence on using the language of the ancient Jewish Temple sacrifice – “A holy victim, a pure and unblemished sacrifice.” The priest mounts the steps, reads the epistle and gospel, and comes to the Canon of the Mass. The climax comes in the Consecration. Every gesture by the priest, the signs of the cross, the genuflections, are strictly controlled by the rubrics. There is nothing spontaneous: “The greatness of the liturgy depends on its unspontaneity.” (Ratzinger). The elaborate ritual is a manifestation of sacred time, of timelessness, of time outside of time.

On the positive side, many of the major changes flowing from Vatican II have been highly beneficial. These desirable reforms include extended Biblical readings and delivery of homilies deriving their content mainly from Scripture; Saturday evening masses to satisfy the Sunday obligation; an extended role for the laity in the form of altar servers, lectors, and extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion; Extreme Unction renamed Anointing of the Sick administered to those seriously ill and no longer restricted to those at the point of death; a new emphasis on praying the Liturgy of the Hours (Divine Office) by lay people; a revival of the office of permanent deacon; revision of the calendar of the liturgical year; a new Lectionary providing a 3-year cycle of Sunday readings and a 2-year cycle of weekly readings.

On the negative side, we have placed an on overemphasis on “doing things” -- an activism that impedes our understanding of the Mass as essentially a liturgical setting of an historic and present action of divine mercy and sacrifice. Excessive participation produces commotion, movement, and noise, often at the cost of contemplation. Too much attention is focused on our contribution as participants in the Mass at the expense of attention paid to the transcendence of the sacramental offering of the High Priest.

The Holy Father has emphasized that through the Motu Proprio he wishes to enrich the liturgy of the whole of the Church and not merely to protect the right of those who prefer the ancient form. George Weigel recently commented that “Pope Benedict’s point in making this more widely available is neither nostalgic nor retrograde. Rather, by encouraging the more widespread celebration of this classic form of the always-evolving Roman rite, he intends to create a kind of liturgical magnet, drawing ‘the reform of the reform’ in the direction of greater solemnity and reverence in the Catholic Church’s worship.”

I do not mean to suggest that there is anything wrong with preferring the Novus Ordo Mass. Likewise, there is no reason to regard the TLM as somewhat suspect or lesser. As Bishop Bruskowitz said, “The older rite need not be disdained in order to appreciate the new, nor must the newer rite be disparaged in order to love the old.” Those who favor the Novus Ordo and those who prefer the Extraordinary Form can agree to differ and still remain faithful.

The differences between the two forms can be overemphasized. Reverence is not a unique property of the Traditional Mass. The average Catholic without special liturgical formation would find it difficult to distinguish between a mass sung in Latin according to the old Missal and a sung mass according to the new Missal. However, the differences between a liturgy celebrated faithfully according to the Missal of Paul VI and the reality of a vernacular liturgy celebrated with all the freedom and creativity that are possible are enormous. This stems from the fact that many have accepted a great deal of creativity in celebrating the Novus Ordo while others have held that the old form, in Latin with the priest facing the altar, must be celebrated strictly and precisely according to the rubrics, with no modification.
My basic message tonight is expressed cogently and concisely by Pope Benedict:

“There is certainly a difference of emphasis, but a single fundamental identity that excludes any contradiction or antagonism between a renewed liturgy and the preceding liturgy.”
(Pope Benedict XVI. September 12, 2008)


Anonymous said...

So it seems from this article that many things are occurring that are not in Vatcan II documents. which leaves a lay person to wonder...'How in the world did this happen?'

How did it come to be that altar girls and femal lectors and all of these other things came and so many reverend things disappeared?

If it wasn't actually in Vatican II, then who gave the OK?


Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

Dear Perplexed,
I think the distinction between what Vatican II called for and what was implemented are two separate issues. Everything that was implemented in terms of the order of the new Mass was approved by Pope Paul VI some years after Vatican II.Because Pope Paul authorized it and had the authority to do so, we must accept that authority as he is the Vicar of Christ. But Vatican II did ask that the Liturgy and sacraments be modified, but gave no specifics other than "noble simplicity" and the permission of limited use of the vernacular and more "active participation" which means joining in the altar server responses and truly praying the Mass rather than doing other devotions like the rosary during Mass which was quite commonplace.
As far as altar girls, communion in the hand and some other "trends" these were first done as a grassroots movement and condemned by bishops but because these customs spread so fast the bishops eventually approved them--not a good practice in my humble opinion. At any rate it is hard to distinguish sometimes between what is legitimately Vatican II and what evolved into the the "spirit" of Vatican II. Usually the "spirit" of Vatican II implies "rupture" with the past and doing your own thing (both of which were very trendy in the 1960's in secular matters too.)Pope Benedict is calling the Church to an authentic interpretation of Vatican II which is in continuity with what preceded that Council--this is very wise and true to the documents of Vatican II--Fr. McDonald