Monday, February 06, 2017

The Liturgical Rollercoaster: A Recent Proposal for 14 “Improvements” to the TLM

Just when one thinks that one has stepped off the heaving, rickety train or storm-tossed boat of liturgical change, someone of an impeccably reformist mentality will come along and propose unleashing Sacrosanctum Concilium on the usus antiquior, or returning to 1965, or cobbling together a hybrid OF/EF, or some other such monstrosity. So many of these issues have been thought through, messed with, fought over, and re-thought, that one would think we had safely entered a period of deep skepticism about further tinkering with elements that are almost always better than we think they are. As one gets to be on intimate terms with the TLM, one grows into its structure, prayers, ceremonies, and customs, and finds them to be eminently fitting.

At The Catholic World Report on January 31, Fr. Peter Stravinskas published “How the Ordinary Form of the Mass Can Enrich the Extraordinary Form.” As I went through his 14 suggestions, I couldn’t help but notice that almost all of them have been the subject of articles on NLM, critiquing the very things he’s advocating. Because of the complexity of the issues, and because there is no need to rewrite what has already been written if it will do the job, the present article will mostly take the form of links to articles that argue against Fr. Stravinskas’ ideas. A starting point would be this one: “Could the Traditional Latin Mass Be Improved—And Should It Even Be Attempted?”

Before I go into the 14 items, I will say that I appreciate Fr. Stravinskas’ honesty in admitting that the Novus Ordo has almost nothing to do with what the Council Fathers described in Sacrosanctum Concilium, even though we also know that Bugnini and Co. created enough loopholes in the document to drive a fleet of lorries through it. Without further ado:

1. Adoption of the revised lectionary

It is unclear why an “expanded” lectionary must mean a multi-year lectionary, let alone the revised lectionary we have. Ferial readings already existed in the Western rites and could be recovered, without substantial modification to the existing cursus. As I suggested in Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis, the readings for Saints’ days could have been enriched without difficulty (e.g., St. Anthony of Egypt could fittingly have had a lesson and Gospel perfectly reflective of his life and continued witness in the Church today: St. Paul about our struggle not being with flesh and blood, etc., and the Gospel of "Sell all, give to the poor" of his own conversion).

Beyond this, however, the adoption of the revised multi-year lectionary that has almost nothing in common with historical Roman precedent would be nothing short of a disaster. For arguments against its content and structure, see “A Tale of Two Lectionaries: Qualitative vs. Quantitive Analysis” and the further references given there.

2. Incorporation of additional Mass formularies

The addition of “historic euchological material” to the missal was done in an utterly inorganic manner, as committees of archaeologizing experts met to discuss their favorite textual digs, and all the bones and teeth, jewels and plates they recovered -- many, no doubt, in excellent shape, but not something to be grafted on tout court by executive fiat. In this “enrichment” there was also a huge amount of excision and progressive rewriting, in other words, a distortion of the lex orandi. This has been thoroughly documented by Lauren Pristas. I talk about the inherent problem of the scissors-and-paste method of “making liturgy,” regardless of how good the material is, in my lectures “The Spirit of the Liturgy in the Words and Actions of Our Lady” and “Reverence Is Not Enough: On the Importance of Tradition.” (Editor’s note: see also this article on the process of tearing up ancient texts and stitching the bits back together to create new ones, “A Tradition Both ‘Venerable’ and ‘Defective’”, and this article which gives two examples, “The New Rite Prefaces for Advent.”)

3. Expand possibilities for solemnity

While I agree with Fr. Stravinskas that Sung Mass should be the norm or at least a lot more common, especially on Sundays and Holy Days (see “The Problem of the Dominant Low Mass and the Rare High Mass”), Fr. Kocik raised the question about the potential pitfalls of the new mix-and-match model of progressive solemnity here, Ben Yanke added a dose of realism here, and Fr. David Friel a number of excellent points here.

4. Elimination of duplicate recitations

Fr. Stravinskas objects to the manner in which, at High Mass, the priest is required to repeat a number of texts that are being sung by other ministers. It is true that certain monastic families have omitted these recitations, and for them it seems to have worked well. However, it is far from clear that there is any demand or desire for this among the secular clergy or the faithful. For an argument against the idea: “Is It Fitting for the Priest to Recite All the Texts of the Mass?”

5. Restoration of Offertory Procession and Prayer of the Faithful

The “offertory procession” as it was fashioned by the Consilium bears little resemblance to any historical precedent in the West; it is a fanciful creation loosely based on the custom of people handing in bread and wine before the service began. (See Paul Bradshaw’s article “Gregory Dix and the Offertory Procession.”) Its current form seems to be another method for giving jobs to lay people, like a WPA for the unemployed in the Depression.

As for the Prayer of the Faithful (or the General Intercessions), sed contra: “The Distracting Prayer of the Faithful,” to which Fr. Friel added a further point here. Yes, they could be elevated, but why? Almost all of the things we usually pray for are already prayed for in the Roman Canon and in various other prayers of the Mass.

6. Re-order the dismissal rite

If we understand the Mass as the offering of the Holy Sacrifice, then Ite missa est is most appropriately said when the liturgical offering is complete, namely, after the Postcommunion. The blessing of the people is an afterthought -- and a most welcome one, as is the Last Gospel. After the people respond Deo gratias, the priest turns around to pray a last private prayer, the Placeat tibi, which allows the congregation time to kneel in preparation for the blessing of the priest. (Side-note: I’ve grown to appreciate kneeling for that final blessing, which has habituated me to value a priest's blessing as something special, in the way that the traditional rite of blessing holy water teaches one to appreciate this sacramental more than a hasty pseudo-blessing from the Book of Blessings.) The fact that certain things are “add-ons” doesn’t mean they should be excised, as even Father admits.

7. Move the “fractio” from the Libera nos to the Agnus Dei 

Here once again, the reformers went far beyond the mandate of the Council in disturbing a very ancient custom for no discernible good reason. The Agnus Dei is a later addition to the Order of Mass (and certainly a very worthy one) made by Pope St Sergius I at the end of the 7th century; the Fraction, on the other hand, is as ancient and universal as the Mass itself. The separate consecration of the bread and wine, also an ancient and universal feature of all historical Christian rites, represents the shedding of Christ’s Blood, which is to say, the separation of His Blood from His Body, and hence His Death. The Fraction ritual, at which they are reunited, represents the Resurrection.

In accordance with the Western Church’s ancient tradition, the priest has thus far only addressed God the Father in prayer from the Preface until the end of the Libera nos. (A tiny handful of Secrets are addressed to the Son, all but one of them quite late additions; at most Masses, the priest has spoken to the Father since the beginning of the Offertory, apart from the prayer Suscipe Sancta Trinitas.) Only after the Fraction, the representation of the Resurrection, does he say and the choir sing the Agnus Dei, addressing the Son, the Lamb of God whom St John sees in the heavenly court, acclaimed by the Angels and Saints: “The Lamb that was slain is worthy to receive power, and divinity, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and benediction.” And only once this has been accomplished does the celebrant invite the faithful into the peace of the Risen Christ, after which the rite of the Peace begins. (The addition of “always” to the celebrant’s address to the people, “May the peace of the Lord always be with you,” which occurs only here, emphasizes this vision of Christ in eternity.)

The modern displacement of the Fraction to the Agnus Dei has turned one of the most crucial moments of the Mass into an afterthought, and something which is routinely not even noticed by the congregation, as they are busily shaking each other’s hands.

8. Make clear that the homily is a true part of the Sacred Liturgy

Rather: let us make it clear that the homily is not a part of the liturgy. Please! One can still restrict it to those who have been ordained for the office of preaching, without considering it to have the status of part of the Church’s public worship that is done by Christ the Head in union with His members. See point #3 in this article.

9. Maintain the integrity of the Sanctus

On the contrary, one of the most beautiful touches in the old rite is when the choir, singing a polyphonic Sanctus, can stop after the first Hosanna, as if crying out to welcome the coming King, kneel in silence, adore the Blessed Sacrament elevated, then resume with the absolutely fitting words: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord,” with a final resounding Hosanna to the Son of David, exalted on high in His glorified flesh and blood, now present upon the holy altar. (Editor’s note: and we can pretty much assume that the entire corpus of works like this will disappear, since no one will want to wait six minutes to start the Canon.)

10. Adopt the rubrics of the OF for the Communion Rite

In the historical Western rites, the celebrant is always the one who chants the Lord’s Prayer, whether at the Divine Office or at Mass, in his capacity as minister of the High Priest and representative of the people. That this is an ancient custom may be seen from the shape of the plainchant, where the tone dips down at “Et ne nos inducas in tentationem” (in line with the distinctively priestly tone used elsewhere with “Per omnia saecula saeculorum”), whereupon the people respond, “Sed libera nos a malo.” It is one of the bones of the rite, so to speak.

As for saying the remainder of the prayers aloud, this only adds verbosity. Everyone knows what the priest is praying for and we can all join ourselves to the intense silence. That short silence after the Lord’s Prayer is much appreciated by the congregation, as we transition from the worship of the Lamb to the partaking of the Lamb in Holy Communion.

11. Face the people when addressing the people; face God when addressing God

I defend (in passing) the custom of reading the readings versus Deum in this article: “In Defense of Preserving Readings in Latin.”

12. Unite the calendars of the OF and EF

Fr. Stravinskas thinks that Christ the King should be the last Sunday of the liturgy year. Traditional Catholics beg to differ. I would certainly agree that some of the more recent saints should be added to the 1962 calendar, but the OF calendar as a whole is a disaster (loss of Pentecost octave, loss of correct days for Epiphany and Ascension, loss of Epiphanytide, loss of Septuagesimatide, and on and on) that it needs to be scrapped, with the EF calendar taken as the norm and regional or recent saints carefully added to it. (Editor’s note: the drastic mutilation of the temporal cycle removed from the Roman Rite almost all of its characteristically Roman features, as I explained in this article, “The Octave of Pentecost: A Proposal for Mutual Enrichment”. This is one of the most notable examples of how the reformers went far beyond the mandate of Vatican II.)

13. Modify the rubrics

Fr. Stravinskas repeats the call for removing “useless repetitions.” There are so many reasons not to reduce or remove repetitions, not the least of which is that they are not useless. See this comparison of the Rosary to the Mass. It is a curious part of our modern mentality that dictates we should cut out anything that’s not immediately and obviously useful. In that case, we should perform tonsillectomies and appendectomies on everyone. Rather, we need to expand our notion of what is useful by thinking of what is noble and fitting.

14. Rename the two principal parts of the Mass

Fr. Stravinskas argues against the ancient division of the Mass, never modified until the revolutionaries of the 1960s got greased up for action. For a refutation, see: Why “Mass of Catechumens” Makes Better Sense Than “Liturgy of the Word.”

In any case, it is odd when an author invokes Pius XII’s denunciation of “antiquarianism” for the retention of the term “Liturgy of the Catechumens” (even though this had never fallen out of usage, so it’s not an antiquarianist recovery), while simultaneously advocating just the kind of antiquarianism Pius XII did warn against by going on about the ancient venerableness of obsolete elements like the Offertory Procession or the Prayer of the Faithful.

*          *          *

Finally, for two articles that present the other side of the argument, namely, what the OF desperately needs to learn from the EF, see:

Imbuing the Ordinary Form with Extraordinary Form Spirituality

How the Traditional Latin Mass Fosters More Active Participation than the Ordinary Form

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