10Dec Attempt to resurrect pre-Vatican II Mass leaves Church at crossroads

It was curiosity and a sense of irony that moved me to open the Oct. 1 issue of our diocesan newspaper. On the cover was the headline “Moving Forward in Faith” next to a picture of our former bishop vested as would be a prelate from more than 50 years ago. This was a photo from a liturgy in the “extraordinary form” (pre-Vatican II 1962 Latin Mass), welcoming a group of very traditional Carmelite nuns to the diocese.

Lately, there seems to be an increasing interest in this “extraordinary form” in our diocesan paper and among some of our clergy. In the past my attitude has been “so what.” If people are into antiquarianism, let them. Some people like to spend weekends re-enacting the Civil War. They dress in period costume. They stage mock battles of Union and Confederate soldiers. It’s a harmless hobby. I just figured that the people attached to this “extraordinary form” were the liturgical version of societies for anachronistic re-enactment.

However, I have come to change my opinion. Those attached to the extraordinary form are not like Civil War re-enactment societies. At least those people know they are play-acting about a time that can never return. The people attached to the extraordinary form are seriously trying to enact a particular worldview and understanding of church. And it is an understanding that we left behind at the Second Vatican Council. It is a worldview that is incompatible with the council.

Liturgy is not about taste or aesthetics. It is how the church defines itself. Those who rejected Vatican II and its liturgy were the first to understand the connection between liturgy and our self-understanding as church.

Pope Paul VI also understood this. The rejection of the Vatican II liturgy is a rejection of its ecclesiology and theology. In his newly published book True Reform: Liturgy and Ecclesiology in Sacrosanctum Concilium, Massimo Faggioli narrates Paul’s response when his philosopher friend Jean Guitton asked why not concede the 1962 missal to breakaway Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and his followers. Paul responded: Never. This Mass … becomes the symbol of the condemnation of the council. I will not accept, under any circumstances, the condemnation of the council through a symbol. Should this exception to the liturgy of Vatican II have its way, the entire council would be shaken. And, as a consequence, the apostolic authority of the council would be shaken.

Paul knew that permitting the old form would be not only divisive but would call the whole council into doubt, and that would be a sin against the Holy Spirit. Now we are experiencing the unfortunate fruit of the recent permission to celebrate the extraordinary form.

The definition of who we are as church comes alive in the liturgy. Vatican II described the church as a priestly people called on a mission. This priesthood is rooted in our baptism. Once Pope John Paul II was asked what was the most important day in his life. He replied, “The day I was baptized.”

Baptism is our sharing in Christ’s victory over death. We are incorporated into the paschal mystery of the risen Christ and now share in the life of God. What higher calling can there be than this? Marriage, religious or single life and ordained ministry are but specific ways in which one is called to live out his/her baptismal vocation. This is why St. Augustine would tell his people, “With you I am baptized; for you I am ordained.” The council tells us that baptism calls everyone to holiness.

The council’s vision of a priestly people on mission necessitated a liturgy that could prepare disciples ready to take up their responsibilities. The council looked to the church’s distant past to recover ritual elements that were instrumental in preparing the baptized to take active responsibility for Christ’s priestly, prophetic and royal mission.

In her article “Summorum Pontificum and the Unmaking of the Lay Church” (Worship, July 2012), scholar Georgia Masters Keightley identifies those elements recovered by the council from the ancient church. These express the active exercise of the priestly people of God: the prayer of the faithful, the offertory procession and the kiss of peace. These were visible signs that expressed the church’s priesthood. These signs incarnate for the priesthood of all believers the task to proclaim the Gospel and to make intercession for the world and all people.

Over time, these elements were lost or obscured. By the time we get to the Council of Trent (1545-63), new prayers and rites had replaced the ancient rites. Keightley writes: These made no room for the laity’s intercessions for the world and its people. Gone was any visible sign of the sacrificial offering of self that takes form in those daily efforts to welcome the stranger, care for the poor, and steward the earth’s resources. Neither was there allowance for that sincere expression of the fellowship and communion the Church claims to celebrate and witness. With their disappearance, an important dimension of the liturgy also receded, i.e., the primitive Church’s appreciation of the Eucharist as a sacrificium laudis (sacrifice of praise).

The liturgy that came out of the Middle Ages and Trent placed a different emphasis on the eucharistic liturgy. Focus was not on preparing all the baptized for mission but on the power of the ordained to transform bread and wine. The idea of the “unbloody reenactment of the sacrifice of the cross” pushed “thanksgiving for creation and consecrating the world” to the margins of eucharistic theology. The power of the clergy to make Christ present in Eucharist eclipsed the Eucharist’s power to transform the baptized — equipped to make Christ a real presence in the world through their everyday lives. Keightley again:

This not only introduced a deep divide between creation and redemption; it gave rise to a lay spirituality focused narrowly on the individual’s future salvation to the neglect of one’s priestly ecclesial duties for the here and now renewal of creation.

The 1570 missal (the basis of the 1962 missal) was, and continues to be, a liturgy in which the baptized — once subjects of the liturgy and co-celebrants of the eucharistic sacrifice — were and are reduced to mere spectators. They are there to watch the priest say “his” Mass. The emphasis is hierarchical and legalistic (who has the power and how are they lawfully exercising that power). Rather than the risen Christ working through the whole people of God (lay and ordained), we have a powerful clergy ministering to a passive people. Instead of church as sacrament, we have church as a juridical hierarchy.

The attempt to resurrect and popularize the 1962 pre-Vatican II Mass has serious ramifications. Will we be a church that looks narrowly inward — where God is found only in piety and private devotion, or will we be a church as Vatican II defined it — a Spirit-filled people on fire with an urgent sense of mission? We are at a crossroads. The extraordinary form is incapable of activating us as the priestly people of God — the vision of Vatican II. Which path will we follow?

Sts. Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross were great reformers of the Catholic Counter Reformation. As those at Vatican II, they tried to reform their community by returning to the sources and restoring religious practice (discalced) that had become obscured over time. They also had to struggle with those who fought the reforms they were initiating. We need their intercession to persevere in the aggiornamento (updating) that Pope John XXIII inaugurated by calling the council together.

The feisty, joyful perseverance of St. Teresa of Avila is reflected in one of my favorite quotes of hers: “From sour-faced saints and silly devotions, good Lord, preserve us!”

• Article reproduced from the National Catholic Reporter website: please see original article and comments here

12 Responses

  1. Simmary

    A couple of years ago my parish was given a new pp who is hooked fast on the Latin Mass and all church things traditional. He has polarised this previously united parish while attracting moneyed adherents from around the diocese to his daily Tridentine (EF 1962) Masses.

    We knew before he came that he had a chequered history in his previous appointments, but thought “Hey – we must give the man a chance.” I could write REAMS about the way things have gone – and the way some parishioners have gone. But I would say, if your parish gets one such, ask yourself very carefully whether you’re being given real spiritual nourishment, And whether, despite the brocaded fiddlebacks, the Emperor has no clothes.
    The theology is orthotoxic; see what Pope Paul said above. He knew.

  2. Chris McDonnell

    A living language evolves. Usage and circumstance give rise to change and we adapt to the time we live in. In the new translation we are presented with a translation that runs counter to such natural progression. Whilst we all used Latin prior to 1962 in the celebration of the Eucharist, there was no problem. It was a non-current language whose tone and metre we were familiar with and of course, in many cases, did not understand. It was a holy comfort zone in which we felt secure. If that is where we might return then any expectation of security in that holy comfort zone will be short lived.

    It will be a cul de sac with disastrous consequences. The current challenge to the Council will take us into areas we would rather not visit. Let’s hope and pray we don’t go there.

    That is why the ACP in Ireland and ACTA (A Call To Action) here in England are so important. They are voices that are raised for the principles of that great Council which in conscience we seek to not only defend but implement fully in our time.

  3. Pól Ó Duibhir

    A very insightful piece which underlines the connection between language and identity.
    It also surely raises questions about the interpretation of the “real presence” which emphasises hierarchy rather than “communio” and gives rise to real divisions within christendom.
    I’m tickled by his final quote.

  4. Diffal

    While I have no burning love of nor fixation on the older form of Mass, is the author of this piece seriously suggesting that Pope Paul VI committed the ultimate sin and sinned against the Holy Spirit by permitting the old Mass? Regardless of people’s views of the old mass, such a view brings the author rather close to the nuttiness that is sedevacantism, as espoused by the uber trads, rather than anything in the mainstream.

  5. Mary Wood

    A frightening scenario.
    Are they all ‘right’ and I am ‘wrong’? Or am I ‘right’ and they are ‘wrong’?
    Neither way is cause for cheer, and the differences preclude middle ground.

  6. Mary O Vallely

    Vatican II called for us to be a “Spirit- filled people on fire with an urgent sense of mission.” We mustn’t succumb to despair or cynicism though I too share Simmary’s (@1) and Mary Wood’s (@5) concerns. I’ve been reading these words from the prophet Habakkuk (courtesy of October’s REALITY magazine) which cry out to be shared. They encouraged the great Fr Bernard Haring at a low moment of almost-despair and so we must stay focused on these words:
    “For even though the fig does not blossom,
    Nor fruit grow on the vine,
    Even though the olive crop fail,
    And fields produce no harvest,
    Even though flocks vanish from the folds
    And stalls stand empty of cattle,
    Yet I will rejoice in the Lord
    And exult in God my Saviour.
    The Lord my God is my strength.” (3:17-19)

  7. Mark

    Pope Paul, JPII, and Benedict XVI must all have sinned against the Holy Spirit, since they all gave permission and approval to the use of the Traditional Latin Mass over the last several decades.

  8. Joe O'Leary

    Diffal, Mark, Paul VI did not permit going back to the old mass. Read what the article says:

    “when his philosopher friend Jean Guitton asked why not concede the 1962 missal to breakaway Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and his followers. Paul responded: ‘Never. This Mass … becomes the symbol of the condemnation of the council. I will not accept, under any circumstances, the condemnation of the council through a symbol. Should this exception to the liturgy of Vatican II have its way, the entire council would be shaken. And, as a consequence, the apostolic authority of the council would be shaken.'”

  9. Veritas

    In defence of the Latin Mass. I am a frequent traveller to Spain, Italy & Germany ( business & pleasure ). I have a cursory knowledge of each language, but find I cannot participate fully in the Mass in each country, becasuse I can’t understand/respond. If the Latin Mass was universal, we would all get used to/understand it & regardless of what country we were in, participate more profoundly.

  10. Paul Byrne

    I think it would be terrible if any points of contention on rites, old or new, would be a cause of polarisation and could possibly be something that would weaken the Church and cause any kind of division or ill will. We should all be united in faith and love. The world should know us by our love. We can all be Spirit-filled people “on fire with an urgent sense of mission.” This article seems to equate a particular rite with insular, in-looking Catholics who are more concerned with meaningless devotions and pious shows. Surely, the grace we receive during Mass will give us the strength to venture forth as brave apostles who are far from sour-faced and eager to fulfill our mission as followers of Christ united as brothers and sisters, all members of one body… no matter which rite we have participated in.

  11. Mary Wood

    Veritas #9. If the Latin language were universal, you would have much richer encounters on your travels in non-English-speaking Europe – and beyond. But it isn’t. And it couldn’t be in the foreseeable future.
    Furthermore, when a priest, (faithfully following the old ways, at the far end of the church facing away from the congregation) says a Latin Mass, at speed, in a mutter only audible to the server (if there is one) the congregation is not expected to “participate” in the performance. You can know as much Latin as the Pope, but your profound participation will not be connected with your proficiency in the Latin of the Church.

  12. John Healey

    There is some relevant food for thought in the latest issue of The Economist:

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