Wednesday, August 22, 2007

On Saying the Tridentine Mass

~excerpted from an article by Fr. James Schall, SJ in Ignatius Insight (hat tip to Fr. Z)
On September 14, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, Benedict's Motu Proprio takes effect. Any priest can then, if he wishes or is requested, celebrate Mass in Latin according to the latest Tridentine Latin form. This permission is not to be seen as somehow taking away something from those who still prefer the vernacular, as no doubt many will prefer. While there are not a few who look upon this decree as "conservative," or "back-going," I fail to see why giving me the permission to say Mass in another language is somehow a "narrowing" of my freedom. If I say you can say Mass in any language but French, that does not expand but it narrows my liberty. The pope is not saying that anyone "must" say or attend a Tridentine Mass, bur rather that if someone wants to say or attend Mass in that form, well and good. If I can go to Mass any Sunday in Spanish, as I can, why cannot I go in Latin, which is the remote source of Spanish?

As it is, on any given Sunday or weekday, any priest, as far as I can tell, can say Mass in French, German, or Spanish if he wants to. I used to say Mass in Italian in my Roman days. In the earlier American church during periods of immigration, Mass was said in German, Polish, Spanish, or Italian. Parishes were organized to make this possible. Such churches have largely disappeared, only to be replaced by today's situation in which Masses are now said routinely in a veritable Tower of Babel number of languages. Many think they have a "right" to hear Mass in their own tongue. Some even excuse themselves from going to Mass if they are in a place where they do not know the language of the local Mass, something that is rather frequent in our tourist-oriented world...

...We are rather close to breaking down into merely national churches without this injection of a more obvious unifying form of liturgical unity. One cannot argue, in principle, that a vernacular language cannot be used. It certainly has good arguments for it. But any living language turns out to be very much more unstable than we might suspect. One only has to recall the controversies about the feminization of the language to see the ambiguous effect this movement had on our reading and hearing of the liturgy....

...In this short document, the Holy Father was mainly concerned with continuity. The reaffirmation of the Tridentine Mass in its last revision under John XXIII is an indirect way of saying that this earlier form did not somehow become "heretical" or contain anything "wrong." There is nothing wrong with preferring a Novus Ordo vernacular Mass. But that is no reason to say that the older Mass is somehow suspect. The pope even went out of his way to admonish those who do regularly choose to celebrate the older rite not to do so as if there were anything wrong with the Novus Ordo. One might say that the Tridentine form had too few readings, while the Novus Ordo has far too many ever to remember.

The replacement of the sermon for the homily on scripture has yet to prove its superiority. The faithful are in dire need of systematic teaching on doctrine. The neglect of doctrine has left generations bereft of familiarity with orthodox teaching in the Church, this all in the name of Scripture. It is not that one cannot find "doctrine" in Scripture--that is its origin--but the discipline of clear teaching is not merely or fully satisfied by scriptural commentary or reading. Catholicism includes the direct addressing of reason.

One of the things that comes up with the two ways to celebrate the same rite is the "mood" of each. Clearly, they have different "feels." The Tridentine Mass was surrounded by silence. The Blessed Sacrament was a focus within the actual church. The primary relation was between the person and the Godhead through the celebration of the one Mass, the sacrifice, death, and resurrection of Christ. Kneeling was a sign of reverence. The central feature was awe, transcendence. Everyone, especially the priest, was focused not on the community but to the East, to the source of faith, symbolized by the Sun, light, the Word, the Father. The priest's back was not "against" the people behind him. All--priest and people--were facing the same direction, to God; all were going in the same direction, none concentrating on themselves.

The understanding of community in the Tridentine Mass was that every person was actively worshipping God. He was content that his neighbor was doing the same. He was not "ignoring" the others present. All were directed to the same Godhead and realized they were. That is what formed their "community." There was time enough for fellowship later. The two are not opposed, but they are not exactly the same.

The Novus Ordo Mass focused on the priest, now called a presider or celebrant. He faced a community facing him around what usually looked like a table, not an altar. The "meal" aspect increased; the sacrifice aspect decreased. There was a familiarity. Silence was not emphasized. People shook hands, hugged, smiled, and whispered. The guitar replaced the organ. The priest was tempted to add various greetings and comments. Some even changed the wording of important parts of the Mass as if it were under their authority to do so. It is not that the Novus Ordo had to be filled with dubious exceptions. It could be done as the Church asked, and is in many places.
Read the whole thing.

1 comment:

Carmel said...

I have yet to experience a mass in latin!