"Inside the Vatican" is a pretty classy magazine that deals well with the subject described in its title. Check it out and subscribe! Their current editorial deals, conveniently enough, with my previous "Pro-Choice, Pro-Motu."
A reflection on the meaning of the Mass, and a comment on the debate over the restoration of the old liturgy
"Throw melted wax into melted wax, and the one interpenetrates the other perfectly. In the same way, when the Body and Blood of Christ are received, the union is such that Christ is in the recipient and he in Christ." - St. Cyril of Jerusalem
"When Mass was over I remained with Jesus in thanksgiving. Oh how sweet was the colloquy with paradise that morning! It was such that, although I want to tell you all about it, I cannot... The heart of Jesus and my own -- allow me to use the expression -- were fused. No longer were two hearts beating, but only one... My joy was so intense and deep that I could bear it no more and tears of happiness poured down my cheeks." - St. Padre Pio (canonized June 16, 2002)
In Rome in mid-June, the release of Pope Benedict’s motu proprio allowing wider celebration of the "old Mass" was reportedly "imminent," expected in any case "during the first days of July, before the Pope goes on his summer vacation," Vatican officials close to the Pope said. (And yet, the document has been delayed before.)
So what do we know already about this matter? Several things: 1) that the Pope has wished to publish the motu proprio for about a year; 2) that he has been advised by many bishops, who evidently fear it will cause divisions in the Church, not to publish it; 3) that he has therefore taken his time, consulting many advisors, and has written a prefatory letter to explain what the motu proprio means.
Why all the attention to this issue? That is the deeper question. Isn’t the essence of Christianity to lead a good life, with all the liturgies of the Church a secondary concern? That is what many seem to believe.
It is difficult to get at the truth of the matter, and the difficulty will not cease even with the release of the motu proprio. In fact, it may only intensify.
Some would see the Holy Father’s interest in the old Mass as a matter of cultural taste. His desire for a wider use of the old rite in Latin is seen as something comparable to his interest in classical music. For these people, the issue is often reduced to a question of practicality: the old rite, in Latin, is "impractical" in the 21st century, and so, these people say, it would be unwise to expand its use.
But this is a serious misunderstanding of Benedict’s motivation. He is not concerned with Latin in itself. His respect for the "old Mass" is not a nostalgic cultural attachment to an ancient language. No, Benedict is concerned about the essence of the Mass itself.
And what is that essence? The right worship of God.
Certainly there is something to be said, in practical terms, for the use in a worldwide Church of a single liturgical language. And certainly, Latin is in some ways a good candidate to be that universal language. It was the language of the Empire under which Jesus lived and died. It has been used for almost 20 centuries. And translations could make the language "accessible" to all even today -- and even in times to come.
But that is not the point. It isn’t about the Latin. (And the Latin Mass is, in any case, not the Latin Mass at all; that is a misnomer; it is, rather, "the Latin, Greek and Aramaic Mass," with "Kyrie eleison" in Greek and "Amen" and "Alleluia" in Aramaic.) And those who think Latin is at the core of this matter do not see fully what is at stake here.
And what is at stake is not a trivial matter. If it were, the Pope wouldn’t have given two years of attention to it, or 25 years as a cardinal to stating repeatedly that there needs to be a "reform of the reform." Rather, it is an important matter. In fact, the most important one. For the Mass is celebrated for a single reason: for the Eucharist. And the Eucharist is one thing only: Christ with us. And Christ with us is the sole reason for the Church’s being.
So in dealing with the Mass, the Pope is not dealing with a marginal, a peripheral matter. The liturgy is not a "side issue." It is a central one; indeed, the central one. It is the little matter (and the Orthodox rightly stress this) of... the divinization of man! A reality which brought Padre Pio to tears.
So it is a very important matter. But what is the problem? It seems that Benedict, like many thoughtful believers, is concerned about the fact that the conciliar reform of the liturgy in the 1960s has in some way apparently failed to achieve its chief goal, which was to bring about an even greater reverence for the Eucharist, an even greater participation by the faithful in the mystery of Christ, an even deeper sacramental life within the Church. (That is what the conciliar fathers hoped to accomplish by approving a liturgical reform.)
And if there are in the "old Mass," as many argue, qualities too hastily discarded in the 1960s -- a sense of tradition which made it a bit easier for some to turn their minds toward the eternal, a sense of solemnity which helped some to turn their hearts toward God -- and if that loss can, even if only in part, be made good, if it can be remedied, by a motu proprio allowing the "old Mass" to be celebrated more widely, then it is a work of great import for the Pope to carry out.
If the "old Mass" is merely a "cultural" matter, the fad of a small elite, it will not flourish in any case, and the motu proprio will be a dead letter. But if it is a matter of renewing the Church, and if the dignity and holiness of the old rite strikes the faithful in such a way as to re-kindle in them a sense of that devotion which prepares them to encounter Christ, then allowing the old Mass to be celebrated more widely will be an act worth preparing for with much toil and care.