Monday, April 13, 2015

Imbuing the Ordinary Form with Extraordinary Form Spirituality

It has been widely recognized that the Mass of the modern Roman Rite suffers in many respects from a sharp discontinuity with the preceding liturgical tradition, and that its many simplifications, innovations, and options have, to an alarming extent, deprived it of the intensely devotional atmosphere so characteristic of the traditional Roman Rite.

Recognizing this fact more clearly than most, Pope Benedict XVI expressed his desire for a “mutual enrichment,” with the result that people would be able to find in the new Mass the “sacrality” that they love in the old Mass.[1] Nevertheless, as we know, such a rediscovery and recovery of sacrality in the Novus Ordo will not occur automatically; it will require the taking of definite steps, within the confines of existing liturgical law. We rightly rejoice in the ecclesial benefits of a mutual coexistence of forms, but “seeking reconciliation” also needs to find an internal expression, for otherwise the gap between the celebration of the two forms (assuming the typical parish celebration of the OF compared with a rubrically-correct celebration of the EF) will remain too vast.[2]

Accordingly, there are certain voluntary steps celebrants can take to maximize the continuity between the classical form of the Roman Mass and its modern derivative, so that the latter may be rendered more spiritually fruitful for priest and people alike. The process of enrichment may be guided by the following three principles.

1. The Continuity Principle

The “continuity principle” is as follows: whenever given a choice by the rubrics, one should always do that which is most in continuity with the preceding tradition.[3] Along the same lines, since “the greatness of the liturgy depends . . . on its unspontaneity” (Ratzinger), one should, as a matter of principle, avoid variety amid the plethora of options.[4] As C. S. Lewis aptly said, such variety spoils the pleasure proper to ritual action. Some examples of how to apply the continuity principle:
  1. Read or chant the Entrance and Communion antiphons (unless they are already being read or sung by a schola or by the people).
  2. Use the greeting “The Lord be with you,” and, in general, lower one's gaze when greeting the people, rather than attempting to make eye contact, which has an attention-getting effect that can bring the liturgy down to a purely horizontal (or perhaps ‘man-centered’) level.
  3. Use Penitential Rite A, namely, the Confiteor and Kyrie.
  4. Omit the General Intercessions on weekdays, and, when the Intercessions are to be used, borrow or craft them from the most traditional models.
  5. Do the Preparation of the Gifts silently rather than aloud.
  6. Say “Pray, brethren” rather than “Pray, brothers and sisters”[5].
  7. Use the Roman Canon, mentioning all of the saints and using the “Through Christ our Lord” conclusions.
  8. Bend noticeably over the host and chalice and recite the words of consecration slowly and deliberately, giving them their due metaphysical weight.
  9. Hold one’s thumb and forefinger together from consecration until the ablutions.
  10. Omit the sign of peace, which, as the rubrics clearly indicate, is optional.
  11. Do the ablutions thoroughly with wine, water, and wine, holding the fingers over the chalice.
  12. Use the dismissal: “Go forth, the Mass is ended” (or even better, “Ite, missa est”).
  13. As indicated in the rubrics but seldom followed, bow the head at the mention of the three Divine Persons, the Name of Jesus, the Name of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and of the Saint in whose honor Mass is being celebrated.
Included in this category, too, are all the practices that are explicitly permitted but all too rarely seen: celebration of the sacrifice ad orientem (presumed in the very rubrics of the OF missal); the chanting of liturgical texts that are traditionally sung by the priest; a welcoming of silence, especially after Holy Communion; the copious use of incense; the use of beautiful vestments and vessels; the distribution of Holy Communion to faithful who are kneeling. Most of the examples given above depend exclusively on the celebrant and can be implemented immediately.

2. The Augmentation Principle

Second, there is what we might call the “augmentation principle,” namely, finding suitable ways in which elements of the old rite could (unobtrusively, of course) find a home in the new rite, for the enhancement of the celebrant’s own piety and devotion — which, as St. Thomas reminds us, does affect the efficacy of that particular Mass in obtaining the graces prayed for. Some examples of how to apply this principle:
  1. Wear the maniple and biretta, and the cope for processions or the Asperges/Vidi aquam.
  2. While processing to the altar — or in the sacristy before Mass, if the distance to the altar is too short — recite Psalm 42 silently or sotto voce.
  3. While ascending the steps to the altar and preparatory to kissing it, silently pray the “Aufer a nobis” and the “Oramus te, Domine.”
  4. If the size of the sanctuary or the length of the alleluia allows, add the fuller version of “Munda cor meum” from the usus antiquior after saying the one-line “Cleanse my heart.”
  5. Alongside the recitation of the prayers at the Preparation of the Gifts, add some or all of the old Offertory prayers as a private devotion — a practice that would be no different, in principle, from silently exclaiming “my Lord and my God” at the elevation of the host.[6]
  6. Say the Roman Canon in a more subdued tone of voice, to invite the faithful to a time of intensely meditative prayer; as noted above, say the words of consecration with special gravity.[7] It is a curious fact, and one that I have often noticed, how profound is a congregation's silence and concentration when the priest himself speaks softly!
  7. Before communion, say both prayers of preparation — one as stipulated, the other as a private devotion.
  8. When cleansing the vessels, in addition to praying the stipulated “What has passed out lips,” add the “Corpus tuum” from the old missal as a private devotion.
  9. After the final blessing, recite the “Placeat tibi” while moving towards the altar, kissing it, and departing from it.
  10. Recite the Prologue to John’s Gospel while going back to the sacristy or when already in the sacristy, prior to blessing the server(s).
  11. Alternatively, say the “Placeat tibi” and the Prologue of John's Gospel aloud after Mass as a community devotion. After all, everyone nowadays feels free to add whatever prayers they like at the middle or at the end of Mass, and there’s plenty of reason to add these, hallowed by so many centuries of use.
In such ways, a priest who is not able, in a given situation, to celebrate the usus antiquior can still come into contact with elements of its profound priestly and Eucharistic piety. He can breathe its devotional atmosphere, and thus begin — at least within his own soul — to overcome the experiential rupture between the forms.

As regards this second category of principle and practice, one might object that the above suggestions run contrary to the rubrics or to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal. However, this is simply not the case, because the practices listed above are either matters of internal personal devotion or external addenda permitted by the rubrics themselves. It is true that there are passages in the journal Notitiae, especially from the 1970s, that fly in the face of these suggestions, but Notititae seems to play an advisory or commentarial role, and it is difficult to see how its content can be thought to enjoy magisterial authority. Just to reiterate one example, there is no prohibition of wearing either the maniple or the biretta, in spite of their rarity in the OF world at this time.[8]

Back in Austria, I knew a priest (incidentally, one of the best preachers I’ve ever heard) who celebrated both forms of the Roman Rite and, when using the Missal of Paul VI, did almost all of the things mentioned in this article. He did them discreetly and efficiently so that there was no confusion or delay. He told me that he found it much easier to offer the Novus Ordo reverently when it was thus enriched with elements of the traditional Roman Rite. Of particular value, in his opinion, were the traditional Offertory prayers.[9]

Giotto, Stigmatization of St. Francis

3. The Mnemonic Principle

Finally, there is what might be called the “mnemonic principle.” This consists in reminding people, gently and opportunely, of things connected with the usus antiquior that are sadly no longer found in the realm of the Ordinary Form but are certainly not incompatible with it.

The foremost example would be the saints no longer celebrated in the new calendar. Thus, on February 14, a priest could preach a little about St. Valentine as well as SS. Cyril and Methodius, or on March 10, the Forty Holy Martyrs; on September 17, the priest could mention that today is the traditional feast of the imprinting of the stigmata on St. Francis, and then proceed to relate that to the readings (or starting with the readings, bring in St. Francis as an example). He could preach about Epiphany and Ascension on the correct days as well as the transferred days. He might quote a traditional collect, secret, or postcommunion as part of his reflection on the feast or the season. He can reintroduce special blessings on feastdays, using the prayers in the Rituale Romanum. By means of such allusions and devotions, the faithful are gently put back in touch with their own tradition, which slowly becomes a part of their Catholic mindset, as it should be. Frequent reference back to the usus antiquior therefore serves as a catechesis preparatory to the restoration of tradition.

Since the usus antiquior preserves in a specially intense way the theology and piety of many centuries of faith, a judicious emulation or adoption from it of elements of holiness and “good form” will make a real difference in the devotion of the celebrant and the ensuing fruitfulness of the Mass.[10]


[1] See Pope Benedict XVI's "Letter to the Bishops on the Occasion of the Publication of the Apostolic Letter Summorum Pontificum," in the paragraph starting "It is true that there have been exaggerations."

[2] There are a very few places (e.g., the Brompton Oratory) where the experiential gap is not very big at all, and more than one person has come away from Brompton's Sunday OF High Mass confused about which "form" they were using. There are also, sadly, places where the EF is celebrated in a manner that is lazy, incompetent, or just plain weird, as when bishops celebrate a Missa Cantata without assistant priest, deacon, and subdeacon, a practice which is, in fact, illicit.

[3] This might also be called “the Fr. Fessio principle,” since he has propounded it tirelessly. Read his two-part article here and here, and see the popular Ignatius booklet "The Mass of Vatican II."

[4] See my article "Indeterminacy and Optionitis."

[5] Note that “Pray, sisters and brothers” is not even an option in the Missal, in spite of its nearly universal adoption.

[6] Given that the liturgical reformers explicitly stated their intention of abolishing an offertory, strictly speaking, and their replacement of it with a “workerist” preparation of the gifts that has almost nothing in common with the offertory as traditionally understood, it would seem especially important to imbue the exiguous Preparation with the richly sacrificial intentionality of the classical Offertory.

[7] I’m reminded here of a funny story I head about a certain OF Mass in which the priest celebrated ad orientem and spoke the Roman Canon sotto voce. An earnest young man approached him afterwards and said: “I really loved how you celebrated Mass, but you know, I couldn’t hear you during the Eucharistic Prayer.” To which the priest replied without missing a beat: “But I wasn’t talking to you.”

[8] On the question of the maniple in particular, see this and this.

[9] See Bishop Schneider's address, "The Five Wounds of the Liturgical Mystical Body of Christ."

[10] See my article, "Two Different Treasure Chests," on how the form of the Mass, far from being a matter of indifference or mere preference, is at the crux of our spiritual maturation and development in grace.

Photos courtesy of Corpus Christi Watershed; used with permission.

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