Monday, May 28, 2007

Tradition as a source of unity and continuity

I've spoken with a number of people who report that attitudes toward our liturgical heritage are starting to loosen up, and dramatically. Five years ago, talk of the 1962 Missal within the mainstream of American Catholicism was seen as shocking and dangerous, perhaps subversive. Today, with the impending Motu Proprio, things are really changing and continue to do so.

Now to a local specific that I find very encouraging. A parishioner requested that an FSSP priest come to town to say a public old rite Mass on Memorial Day. The request was granted without fuss. The pastor thought it would be fine and the Bishop said sure. Thank you! And so I write one hour after the conclusion of the first Tridentine Rite to be publicly celebrated in East Alabama in 40 years.

The Church in which the Mass was celebrated was constructed in 1965, so the altar, which has not be changed at all, is intended to be used ad orientem. The visiting priest did very little at all to it to convert it to 1962 use. It is a church in the round, and architecturally dated but there was still something magnificent about seeing it used in precisely the way it was built to be used.

It was a low Mass, but members of our schola still sang the communion chant, which today is "Factus Est Repente"

"Suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a mighty wind coming, whence they were sitting: and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they began to speak the wonderful works of God."

This is the same communio we sang yesterday in the new Roman Rite, but it took on special meaning in the context in which is appears today. The two communities--our local parish and the parish community of the FSSP in Atlanta--came together to celebrate not only the Mass but also their unity in faith. We spoke of the wonderful works of God with one voice. The Pope speaks of need more continuity from old to new, and it struck me that that music is one area that can provide it.

To people who had never attended the classical rite, the first visit at a low Mass can be very confusing indeed. It looks and feels completely different. In fact, the two rites are more similar in structure than they first appear, and many of the most overt differences--orientation, language, sotto voce prayers, vestments--are in fact options in the new rite, so there is no necessary reason to persist in these great divides between old and new. As for music, it is essentially the same Gregorian musical language, so, in a way, music holds out the promise to unify modern Catholics with their history. And there is such a crying need for this today.

Parishioner reaction was striking. I saw people there who I didn't think had any attachment to the old Mass, and they were touched by what took place. One person said that she broke out in tears during Mass for reasons should couldn't explain. An older lady told me that she had a whole lifetime of memories flash over her, and she had a look as if she had seen an apparition. There can be no doubt that this experience was very good for the parish; indeed, it seems quite overblown that anyone should regard tradition as somehow a threat to Catholic life. On the contrary. What leads people to love the faith is good for all aspects of Church life.

Does this mean that parishioners are going to start a sudden clamor to have the classical rite? No, I don't think so; nor was that the intent. But experiencing it does open the mind and heart to the broadest possible appreciation of our heritage of beauty and solemnity. So having a public liturgy like this certainly encourages everyone to be liberally minded toward making it a normal part of Catholic liturgical life again, and learning from the classical rite as a standard.

It was a joyous and emotionally uplifting experience for everyone, and I was personally touched to see these two groups mingling like old friends.

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