Friday, June 15, 2018

A Good Article on the TLM in Commonweal

The website of Commonweal published a very nice piece on the traditional Mass a few days ago; as a friend observed on Facebook, this may be a sign that “the end is near”, so go to Confession. (This is always good advice.) I don’t know if the author, Mr Michael Wright, chose the title “Silent Grace” himself, but it sums up his theme very well.

“I watched these strange ways of doing familiar things. The priest faced away from us. We knelt to take communion on the tongue. All the altar servers were male. I bowed at the priest during the recessional, incense still in my nostrils. Then I did something I’d never done after Mass. I sat in a pew, and I felt it: peace. Since then, much in my life has tried to upset this peace. ... But when I go to Mass at St Mary’s (the cathedral of Austin, Texas) with my daughter, I leave with a sense of peace. ”

I know that this fits well with the experience of many people who, like the author, did not grow up with the TLM, myself included. If I had to identify a theme that sums up what younger people say to me about the Latin Mass, it would precisely this, that it is peaceful, and instills peace within them. The quiet and regularity of the traditional rite, the fruit of centuries of pastoral experience, gives us all necessary room to pray the Mass peacefully, and live our life of faith peacefully.


Likewise, he makes a good observation that “(t)he English Mass is too easy; the unfamiliarity of the Latin Mass requires me to quiet my mind, to focus, to attend to my faith in a way that Mass in English does not.” Twenty-five years ago, when the one Latin Novus Ordo in my hometown was switched over to the traditional rite, a much larger portion of the congregation remembered the old Mass from their youth than is now the case. I was present for the very first such Mass, and remember two ladies talking about it afterwards, with one saying to the other, “But the young people don’t understand it!”; I remember thinking, “That is precisely why we will like it and keep coming back.” The Hebrew word for “holy” (qadosh) is derived from a verbal root that means “to separate, set apart”; that which is set apart from ordinary life captures and holds our interest, that which no different from ordinary life is easily ignored. This is why the default position of all religions is to worship God in a manner that is separate from ordinary life, in ritual, language and music.

Mr Wright briefly quotes a piece published on the same site back in February, one much more in keeping with the usual tenor of Commonweal, called “Extraordinary Divisions”, by Prof. Massimo Faggioli of Villanova University, to the effect that “disputes (over liturgy) have wounded the sense of communion between Catholics”, and then says “He may have a point.” I make bold to assure and reassure Mr Wright that he does not.

In the cited article, Prof. Faggioli refers several times to the “bi-ritualism” which he says is now a “fait accompli” in the Roman Rite, and which, he worries, fragments the Church and leads to further polarization among the different groups within it. “There can be no reconciliation between Catholics that does not involve some kind of liturgical reconciliation, given the liturgy’s primary position in the life of the (C)hurch.” By all means. However, no such reconciliation can possibly take place if we cannot even admit to ourselves that the liturgical reform went far beyond both the letter and spirit of what Vatican II asked for, something which its own creators admitted repeatedly and unapologetically. No such reconciliation can take place if we cannot admit to ourselves that, granting for the sake of argument that all the changes were made for the better, they have nevertheless failed catastrophically to evangelize the modern world for whose benefit they were made.

The Roman Rite was not made “biritual” by Summorum Pontificum; it was made kilo-ritual by Missale Romanum, the Apostolic Constitution which promulgated the Novus Ordo Missae. It was the post-Conciliar liturgical reform, and not the old rite, that gave the celebrant of each individual Mass (and his chosen collaborators) a broader degree of liberty than had ever previously existed to decide what shall be said or sung, how it shall be said or sung, whether it shall be said or sung, with what rituals accompanying, and in which language. The people who created the liturgical reform were convinced that this liberty (which extends to the whole of it, not just the Mass) was a feature, not a bug. If Summorum Pontificum were to be withdrawn tomorrow, there would still be within the Roman Rite a vast number of licit liturgical options, from which countless fractures would continue to arise from one parish to the next, and even from one Mass to the next within the same parish.

Not very long before the TLM which I mentioned above was instituted, a young cleric on pastoral assignment in my other church went up to the pulpit before Mass on the first Sunday of Advent, to explain to the congregation that we were going to be doing something new for Advent that year. Before he could say a word of what it was, the elderly woman in the pew behind me said, with evident disgust, “Oh, not another g****mn new thing!” (The result of this particular innovation was, by the way, actually quite nice, but something which I have never seen or heard of since.) It was not Pope Benedict’s action in the liturgical field that wounded that woman’s communion with the earnest young cleric and her fellow-parishioners, but that of Pope Paul VI.

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