Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The Vetus Ordo Missae for a “Church Going Forth”

In late March, Angelico Press will be coming out with a translation of selected speeches by Fr. Roberto Spataro, SDB, a professor at the Pontifical Salesian University and the Secretary of the Pontifical Institute for Higher Latin Studies. The tentative title of the volume is In Praise of the Tridentine Mass and of Latin, the Language of the Church. The volume will include an introduction by Dr. Patrick Owens, a widely respected Latinist, on the history of spoken Latin, and a preface by Cardinal Burke, who recommends the work in these words:

“Dom Roberto Spataro is a Salesian father, who bases his thinking on the sound pastoral praxis of the Church, which is always firmly rooted in study and respect for doctrine, as well as on his own magisterial knowledge of the Latin language. In these brief pages, he offers us words full of pastoral charity, love for souls, and love for the Church, which is the Mystical Body of Christ.

Dom Spataro does not speak about the Usus Antiquior or the Vetus Ordo of the Mass as a historical reality to be recovered, but as a living sacramental vehicle through which Christ encounters us, trains us, and fills us with the grace of the Holy Spirit. All the texts in this collection are filled with a genuine pastoral sensibility. They show us the heart of a faithful Salesian priest, a true son of St. John Bosco, and a scholar inspired by profound love for the living Church, and for the many souls that thirst to know, love and serve Christ, the one Savior of the world.” (Translation by Zachary Thomas.)

The Road to Emmaus, by Fritz von Uhde, 1891
Honored Sir, distinguished gentlemen, dear friends,

I am honored to have received an invitation to this gathering. Our meeting is held in Lecce—one of the capitals of art and culture of southern Italy, the seat of a vivacious coetus Summorum Pontificum, where the national coordinator Dr. Capoccia is based. We owe the splendid pilgrimage days of October 2014—in the presence of the grandi cardinali so esteemed by the great Pope Emeritus—to his initiative. This kind of gathering helps us to reflect on the spiritual riches of the Vetus Ordo Missae (VO Missae), that authentic thesaurus of doctrine and piety that Benedict XVI has restored to the Church intact in order for it to accomplish its mission in history: to give glory to God and to be an instrument of grace for the salvation of souls.

The reflections I intend to share are based on a concern of which, I am sure, none of us is unaware. It is an objection on the part of those who look with little sympathy on the vetus ordo, a challenge we could formulate in this way: the Extraordinary Form of the Roman liturgy is an anachronism, divorced from the Church’s current life and needs as indicated by the pontificate of Francis, who is urging the Church to make a bold pastoral turn toward the peripheries of the world, without hesitation or retreat. The world’s poverty calls for options very different from that of an ancient ritualism that is incomprehensible to modern sensibilities. Some go even further in their evaluation of the Tridentine liturgy, saying that there is an insurmountable distance between the magisterium of the current Pope and the groups who promote the Mass in Latin. In order to sentire cum ecclesia (think with the Church), it is necessary, therefore, to renounce the liturgia antiquior.

I see the matter differently. I maintain, in fact, that the Tridentine Mass offers a resource for realizing the program that the Supreme Pontiff has espoused in the most relevant and authoritative document of his magisterium to date, the apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (EG), summed up in the already well-known expression “a Church that goes forth.”

What he means by “a Church that goes forth” is illustrated in n. 24 of EG: “The Church which “goes forth” is a community of missionary disciples who take the first step, who are involved and supportive, who bear fruit and rejoice.”

We should read this citation alongside another, drawn from the passage immediately preceding. Here Francis explains that the actions of these disciples, which constitute the movement of the Church going forth, is nothing other than what we call evangelization and mission. We have to take the initiative, involve ourselves, accompany, bear fruit, and rejoice because there is a content to transmit the Gospel!

“Evangelization obeys the missionary mandate of Jesus: ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.’ Today in this ‘Go’ of Jesus are present all the scenarios and challenges of the evangelical mission of the Church, and we are all called to this new missionary ‘going forth.’”

A Church that “goes forth” means, therefore, nothing more or less than a missionary Church that evangelizes people and their cultures, a task that must be undertaken in the diverse situations and numerous challenges of the world today.

The Latin Mass is certainly part of this ecclesiology of “going forth,” and this for three reasons:

1) Above all for a doctrinal reason. Before testifying, before accompanying, before celebrating, the community of disciples who “go forth” and reach the existential peripheries do not arrive empty-handed. They pass on their most precious treasure to the men and women they encounter, their own reason for existence: their faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. The Supreme Pontiff has reminded us of this, citing the words of the missionary mandate that is valid for all times: Teach and observe all that I have commanded you.

My dear friends, my claim is that the VO Missae is a summarium (summary) of the teachings and commandments of our Lord.

The First Mass celebrated in Brazil, by Victor Meirelles, 1860
“What are the two principal mysteries of the faith?” asked the timeless catechism of St. Pius X. “The unity and trinity of God, the Incarnation, Passion, and death of Jesus Christ.

Using a ritual language composed of gestures and speech, the VO Missae is a dialogue going out from the Holy Trinity and returning to the Most Holy Trinity. Take one example. In the priestly prayers, the priest twice addresses himself directly to the Holy Trinity: first, at the conclusion of the Offertory when he implores the three Divine Persons to gather the offering presented in memory of the Passion and glorification of Jesus Christ and in honor of His Mother and the saints: Suscipe, Sancta Trinitas, hanc oblationem . . . At the end of Mass, the priest begs the Holy Trinity to accept the offering that the Son has renewed. And how could the Three Divine Persons refuse the propitiatory gift of Jesus Christ: Placeat tibi, Sancta Trinitas, hoc obsequium servitutis meae . . . ? Unfortunately, these two prayers have disappeared in the Novus Ordo (NO), and what’s more, in the Ordinary of the Mass the Most Holy Trinity is never mentioned once. This is rather curious, to say the least.

The second principal mystery of the Faith, the Incarnation, is constantly recalled in the celebration of the Extraordinary Form. What do the faithful who assist at this Mass see? Physically, they see a crucifix depicting the second Person of the Holy Trinity, the one who became Incarnate and suffered for our salvation. In this way, the lex credendi penetrates with luminous simplicity into the lex orandi. The vetus ordo Missae presents, in all their integrity and essential nature, the divine teachings that together form the content of the evangelical mission of the Church “going forth.”

The Mass of St John of Matha, by Juan Carreño de Miranda, 1666
We could multiply examples to show how the Tridentine Mass, in se et per se, is a sort of catechism for everyone, suited for evangelizing both believers and non-believers alike. We see, for instance, that the framework of salvation history—creation, sin, incarnation, redemption, grace, glory, and eternal life—is assumed into the prayers in words that recall the teaching, not of a post-conciliar liturgical expert (however great), but of the Fathers of the Church, of great teachers like St. Leo the Great. For example, there are the words the priest pronounces at the moment of the infusion of the water into the chalice: Deus qui humanae substantiae dignitatem mirabiliter condidisti [creation] et mirabilius reformasti [redemption], da nobis per huius aquae et vini mysterium eius divinitatis esse consortes [divinization or the life of grace] qui humanitatis nostrae fieri dignatus est particeps [incarnation].
Again, is not the drama of sin physically embodied and existentially invoked in the gestures of the Confiteor--when we kneel, beat our chests, and repeat the words and hearken to the absolution of the priest? This ceremony was unfortunately abolished by the NO: Indulgentiam, absolutionem, et remissionem peccatorum vestrorum tribuat vobis omnipotens et misericors Dominus. This prayer seems like it could be an echo of the words of the Holy Father, who has repeatedly told us that God is good, indulgent, merciful!

Further, in the Roman Canon, the priest asks the Father that we and those whom we meet in our journeys “going forth” may arrive after such a long way at the end of the road, and all go forth from this world to pass the final judgment, the only judgment about which we need to concern ourselves, even though we do it serenely because the Madonna, whose intercession is often recalled in the old Mass, prays for us: ab aeterna damnatione nos eripi et in electorum tuorum iubeas grege numerari. “Go out, brethren,” the pope asks us, “evangelize,” “teach” what the Divine Teacher has communicated to us. And while, in filial attachment and obedience to the Holy Father, we close the doors of our churches to go out and hurry toward the nations, the peoples, the cultures we have to evangelize, we will carry with us the Missal, the one the faithful page through in bi-lingual and pocket editions when assisting at the Holy Mass, and which, therefore, they know almost by memory: it is our preferred Catechism.

I’d like briefly to add another consideration. Even as the NO has introduced the sacrosanct principle that the rite should be adapted to the pastoral needs of the community, it has involuntarily left itself open to a blow that has landed with a series of unfortunate consequences: it has permitted the priest and others with liturgical roles—heedless of the distinction between what should never be modified and that which can be—to introduce elements entirely extraneous to the lex credendi. In the name of liturgical creativity--not the same as adaptation--doctrinal errors can be taught inadvertently, even very grave ones. The Extraordinary Form, for its part, guards the purity of Christian doctrine in an indestructible chest of sacrality. How can we deprive men and women who have the right to receive the authentic Christian faith of the riches of the treasures of knowledge and divine wisdom? In this way, do we not betray the missionary mandate, when in the place of the faith of the Church, we recklessly proclaim our own personal opinions?

2) The second reason is of a spiritual nature and applies those who carry out evangelization, those who--to remain faithful to the image employed by Pope Francis--”go forth.” He himself has spoken about “situations” and “challenges” that oppose the Gospel. Sometimes he has called them by name, and with just severity. Let’s recall them here, even with rapid brush strokes. (Pictured right: St Miguel Pro.)

On one hand, there is anthropological and moral relativism that does not admit any objective truth. It tends to manifest itself in that sort of right to free thinking denounced by Pope Benedict in the memorable Missa pro eligendo pontifice of 2005. [3] The faithful who go forth and encounter this situation, so prevalent in the weary and desperate western world, encounter indifference, marginalization, and derision. The nihilism that grips contemporary networks of communication and the decision centers of the world of finance and politics, often imposes a sort of white martyrdom. This is what we are all exposed to. On the peripheries, or the eastern part of the world, especially where the majority radical form of Islam holds sway, the believers “going forth,” and even those who prudently remain at home, undergo a bloody or semi-bloody martyrdom caused by vexations of various kinds. According to trustworthy statistics, the numbers are horrifying: every five minutes a Christian is killed. As of this year, a new word has been added to the dictionary, one with a sinister sense: Christianophobia. The Church “going forth” of the twenty-first century is a Church of martyrdom. It is unfortunate that shepherds with grave responsibilities and Catholic intellectuals who have wide audiences, even those who style themselves the curators of what they call, in a rather dubious expression, the “Church of Francis,” forget this drama that ought to have an absolute priority in the teaching and action of the Church “going forth.” It is true that the VO Missae is not the “happening” party to which, often, we painfully see the Sacrifice of Christ on the altar reduced. It is the Mass in which we all climb mystically to the mount of Calvary, and not just for a pleasant morning stroll. We are immersed in a story of persecution, that of the Holy Innocent par excellence: His blood is poured out, His passion is renewed, the Martyr at the head of all the martyrs is immolated on the Altar. Here the believer is escorted, admonished, prepared to confront his martyrdom, whether it is white or bloody.

The Missa VO is a school of evangelization. It is so not because it offers courses in theology for the laity, taught (if only!) by serious professors in clerical suits ready to present the theologoumena of some exponent of theology à la page. It is a school of evangelization because it disposes missionaries “going forth” to confront and measure themselves against the world, which, ever since the time of the Prologue of St. John, proclaimed with good reason in every Tridentine Mass, refuses the light, remains in the shadows of error and violence, and fights the Gospel, not metaphorically but with bloody seriousness. The Church “going forth” is a militant Church, as it was once called, and even if it is not called that anymore, it always will be so, as our brethren persecuted for the faith know only too well.

3) The third reason is a pastoral one. According to EG, the Church “going forth” works for a pastoral conversion. Like all the pithy expressions of Pope Francis, this one merits further explanation. I think we can give an authentic interpretation to the thought and intentions of the Holy Father if by “pastoral” conversion we mean the assumption of a perspective of ecclesial action that departs from and measures itself constantly according to the psychological, moral, and spiritual needs of the people, buffeted as they are by the sorrows of life, of contemporary life in particular. This is nothing more than the solicitude of the Good Shepherd, who moved among the crowd because the people were like “sheep without a shepherd.” To keep within the ambit of the gospel image, it is interesting to note what Christ the Good Shepherd decides to do, with regard to the smell of those sheep abandoned and stricken. The Evangelist relates that “he began to teach them many things.” That is, he offers them healthy and nourishing food; not emotions or experiences, but good doctrine, because the Good Shepherd is the Good Teacher and the Good Teacher is the Good Shepherd, the same one who teaches the indissolubility of marriage. Those who oppose doctrine and pastoral practice in their pastoral and disciplinary choice do not act according to the method of the Good Shepherd.

Christ Walking on the Sea, by Amédée Varint, 19th century (Public domain image from Wikimedia.)
Fine then: what does this all have to do with the old Mass? So much! Pastors today, in order to encounter the exigencies of the suffering flock, what can they offer their flocks? Their sympathy, their piety, their patient attention, their solidarity? Certainly this, but this is very little! Pastors can and must offer divine grace! What a marvelous reality! The Gospel speaks about it for the first time in the sweetest scene it has transmitted to us: the Annunciation to Holy Mary, full of grace. Wherever there is grace, at Nazareth or in any other place in history where human liberty opens itself to God, behold! the divine Word operates in the power of the Holy Spirit, with the cooperation of the Mother of God, and life, light, consolation, peace, purity, sanctity, gifts and perfections, virtues and fruits inundate the human soul. Divine grace is offered to us principally and ordinarily through the sacramental economy, of which the Holy Mass is the source and summit, fulcrum and motor, because there the Eucharistic Heart of Our Lord continues to pour out His treasures, “blood and water,” as John the Evangelist observes.

Of course I don’t intend to affirm that the VO Missae has an exclusive claim on grace and that the Ordinary Form is not an abundant dispenser of it. Absolutely not! However, the Tridentine Mass generates, so to speak, a liturgical-spiritual culture that exalts the action of grace. Indeed, while the Mass in the Ordinary Form gives emphasis to the exterior participation of the faithful and the minister, it interprets actuosa participatio in terms of a plurality of gestures, and thus expresses in its ritual a certain human agency. In the old Mass, each word and each silence, each gesture and each rite is broadened and elevated to create a truly supernatural tension that can create a human space, enlarging the soul and its faculties—like the most pure bosom of the Virgin Mary and her Immaculate Heart—to gather grace. God is the protagonist and the only actor, and grace is poured out copiously in order to be humbly received, gathered, guarded, fructified. “Bear fruit”: the very term used by Pope Francis to describe the Church “going forth.” Grace cleanses, grace heals, grace renews: this is the medicine administered in the field hospital.

Dear friends, the current pontificate seems to stir up so such enthusiasm in a large part of the faithful. Are our pastors at various levels, besides citing the expressions that Francis uses (and which undoubtedly have a notable communicative efficacy), really and seriously translating this invitation to evangelization and to mission into concrete actions, so that—as EG 24 reminds us—men and women of our time, in their various circumstances of history and geography, receive the teachings and commandments of Our Lord? I am certainly not in a place to respond to this question. However, especially where resources are very scarce, I would venture to ask our pastors to investigate the doctrinal, spiritual, and pastoral riches of the VO Missae and that forma fidei et caritatis which tradition—of which the Tridentine Mass is the most precious jewel—offers the Church “going forth” today and yesterday, ever since the divine Word was sent from Heaven to live in the immaculate womb of Mary and the Holy Spirit blew into the hearts of the Apostles at his Pentecost—so that she may be a sign and instrument of salvation. This Mass was the Mass of the zealous missionaries, intrepid confessors, venerable pastors, courageous martyrs, in short of a Church authentically “going forth.”

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