Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Motu Proprio: If, When, Ever

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Well, over 5/12 of the year 2007 have passed and the long promised Motu Proprio from Pope Benedict "resurrecting" the Tridentine (the name comes from the "Council of Trent") Latin Mass by allowing any Roman Rite priest to say it without requesting permission from his bishop has still not been delivered.

I was raised on the Latin Mass, and being a school child, I always seemed to a have my Marian Missal at hand after about the age of Confirmation. I didn't see any problems with it, but surely those who didn't have missals and who hadn't been altar boys didn't understand what was going on up on the altar. There weren't free monthly missals in those days.

For innumerable reasons headed by sloth, I stopped going to Mass (except when at home with my parents) after high school and so if I was aware that there was a Second Vatican Council, it was on the same level as skirmishes in Madagascar, the Gold Coast and British Honduras; pretty low.

I had gone to Mass a few times in Germany when I was in the Army and I was somewhat inclined to believe that a Latin Mass was good because it was a universal Church and world travel was becoming more common with jet passenger planes and all.

I was vaguely aware that the Mass was now in English, but that didn't attract me. Finally, after a long journey, I did return to the Church in 1981 and began my slow reversion voyage, still in progress. My initial parish was one of those now considered to be among the most dissident. It seemed fine to me. But then they changed pastors and seemed to raise their "dissidentcy" a notch and I started a voyage towards the Tiber, to Rome and orthodoxy.

My faith has slowly become more in line with what the catechism requires (not there yet, believe you me, but working on it) and I began to pay attention to the "Latin Mass Movement", those folks lobbying for the return of the Tridentine Latin Mass. I hadn't missed it and I felt that English was fine.

But the more I learned about the Liturgy of the English language Mass, the more that I learned that all priests didn't celebrate the Mass the same way, according to the "book", the General Instructions of the Roman Missal, or, the G.I.R.M.

After several years of becoming more and more uncomfortable with that, I came to the conclusion that many of those priests whose performance was becoming troublesome for me were not actually celebrating or leading the Mass, but rather "performing" the Mass for the benefit of their "audience" in the pews. And if the audience wanted "gender neutral" language, well then, that's what they would get. If they loved liturgical dancers, bring them on. Masses at different parishes became strikingly different.

And then when I began to "church shop" in an attempt to find a parish where I would be comfortable, I ran into more and more parishes that had been greatly remodeled or built anew since Vatican II. Many of them didn't contain those items that had always signified "church" for me: tabernacle, sanctuary lamp, crucifix, stained glass, Stations of the Cross, pews, kneelers, etc.

I began to reevaluate the Latin Mass. I figured that if the priest said the Mass in Latin, most of the congregation would have no idea what he was saying, so there would be no benefit for him to be innovative in the words he used or omitted. So I went out and purchased an old Tridentine Missal from 1963, the period right at the start of the Second Vatican Council.

And I began to attend Mass on Saturday mornings where the pastor is teaching the congregation to sing the Gregorian Chant Mass responses. We're coming along quite nicely, thank you.

Before I found the Tridentine Missal, I had found a brand new copy of the 1970 edition of the Lectionary For Mass for the Roman Missal (for one dollar at a church book sale) which was the first edition for the Novus Ordo Mass, the English language Mass as we know it today. I don't take it to church for Mass, but I do use it as a prayer book and read the Readings, Psalms and Gospels "most mornings."

This "Lectionary" is the book that your Lector uses at Mass. The priest's book on the altar is called the "Sacramentary." (I just learned that last month). The Sacramentary has all the prayers that the priest says (or is supposed to say) except the Gospels which are in the Lectionary.

A few months ago I was struck by the fact that I had been reading a lot of Old Testament passages in the Lectionary. This week, in fact, the readings from the Book of Tobit, are about Tobias, his wife Sarah, and that mysterious angel who shows up only here, St Raphael.

I then compared the Lectionary with my St Andrew's Bible Missal from 1963 and realized that there was very little from the Old Testament in the old Tridentine Mass. Only Psalms. (There may be more, but I didn't check all the pages). And thinking about it and delving into it a little deeper, one of the arguments made for the Novus Ordo Mass was to bring more Old Testament passages into it.

This Lectionary is in English and was printed in Brussels, Belgium at St Andrew's Abbey. There is a four page introduction to it by Richard Cardinal Cushing of Boston (a shirt-tail relative of mine, by the way) that describes its purpose a bit:

Acknowledging St Pius X and the First Vatican Council, the creator of the first Roman Missal (this Missal was the first approved English language translation of it):

a. Expanding and increasing the psalm verses appropriate to the Mass texts.

b. It is not enough for a popular missal to provide a translation of the respective texts from the Scriptures. Comment and exposition are needed if individuals and families are to be formed and nourished by God's Word.

c. We welcome the provision of simple and appropriate formulas of prayer at the end of the service of God's Word. They help to sum up the Word of God by way of application to particular needs of Church and parish, of family and individual. [What we now call "The Prayers of the Faithful".]

d. The Word of God and the sacred liturgy, to which the missal is the best of guides, must influence the personal, family and social living of us all. Thus the introduction, themes and forceful challenges presented with the various Mass formularies are a notable contribution of the Bible Missal. [Each Mass and feast and celebration is described in detail so that the reader can better appreciate and participate in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass being celebrated on the altar that day.]


There are indeed many good things about the Novus Ordo Mass, the First Reading from the Old Testament being among them, and other items as noted by Cardinal Cushing.

Those that jump quickly into the Tridentine Rite might find themselves throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

I wonder if it would be possible to combine the best of both rites and have English language readings from Old and New Testament in a Tridentine Mass, accompanied by Gregorian Chant (and an organ, if you must), with the priest celebrating ad orientem, to the east, as the Mass had been said since time immemorial?

Anti-Tridentine folk criticize it for the priest "turning his back to the congregation" and thus insulting them. If you were in a war or in a parade or in a football game, would you want your general or drum major or quarterback to face the rear? That is an idiotic criticism. The priest as the celebrant of the Mass leads his congregation in prayer facing the crucifix and the tabernacle and the "east" where Jerusalem is located.

So I don't quite know now what I'll do when the Motu Proprio comes, if, when, ever.
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