Thursday, July 18, 2019

The Case for Liturgical Restoration: Book Review by Charles Coulombe

Our thanks to writer Charles Coulombe for sharing with NLM his review of The Case for Liturgical Restoration: Una Voce Studies on the Traditional Latin Mass; edited by Joseph Shaw, preface by Raymond Cardinal Burke. (Brooklyn: Angelico Press, 2019. 428 pp. Paper $19.95; cloth $30.00. See Angelico’s website to order. Table of contents given below.)

These are hard times for the Catholic Church, to be sure. Scandals of all sorts are daily reported, often rising up to the highest levels. In return, the leadership often seem arbitrary and tone-deaf – unsure of the Faith, but exacting in demands for blind obedience. This phenomenon repeats itself on many fronts – moral, liturgical, and doctrinal. The great temptation is to respond with exasperation and hysteria.

In the midst of that atmosphere appears this book. It is a collection of papers on various aspects of the so-called “Extraordinary Form” of the Roman Rite, which (save for calendar details) had remained essentially unchanged for centuries. Over a decade and half, commencing in 1955, it was subjected to various piecemeal changes and the abandonment of Latin, culminating in the promulgation of the so-called “Ordinary Form” of the Mass. In the interests of full disclosure, my own early life was lived against the background of the chaos unleashed by those changes, and like countless Catholics world-wide, I was marked by it.

But those looking for violent polemics against the New Mass would be well advised to look elsewhere. What we have instead are a series of anonymous position papers on different aspects of the usus antiquior. The tone is measured and scholarly, but the motivation both clear and something rarely considered by anyone in to-day’s Church: the salvation of souls. The very first sentence of the Preface is indicative of the approach taken by the whole: “God the Son Incarnate, Our Lord Jesus Christ, is ever alive and at work in the Church for the glory of God and the salvation of men.” A simple statement on the one hand; but in a day such as ours, so filled with darkness and confusion, a clarion call to contemplate the Truth.

The papers never argue – they rather explain the rationale behind every aspect of the Mass that might cause questions in the modern Catholic mind. The first major part (pp. 1–168) attempts to explain “Why the Ancient Mass Is as It Is.” This focuses primarily on areas wherein the rite differs from that of 1969 – in other words, what would immediately hit the practicing Catholic who had never experienced such a Mass before. The priest facing ad orientem, the head coverings on the ladies, communion in one kind, the periods of silence, lack of altar girls, and much else besides are examined in detail. But all this is done very much on its own terms; in other words, the point of the book is not to say expressly that these things are better than what is done in the Novus Ordo, but simply why they are done in this manner in the usus antiquior.

Had the authors gone no further, they would still have performed a signal service. But the second major part of the book (pp. 169–297) is a truly powerful and extraordinarily important contribution to liturgical literature: “The Ancient Mass and Evangelization.” The first portion of that section deals with what might be called “internal evangelization” – how things like the Eucharistic fast and Holy Days of Obligation reinforce the Faith among the faithful in a world that constantly denies it. The second is devoted to the utility of the “old Mass” as a means of external evangelization – or to be clear, drawing souls to Christ. This is handled both in a general way, against the backdrop of modern culture, and as regards bringing the Gospel to specific groups: children and youths, New Agers, Chinese, Africans, Jews, Muslims, etc. – all of whom have immortal souls that Christ died to redeem and bring to Himself for eternity. Again – simple home truths that we are often too sophisticated to remember.

One of the features I found particularly enlightening is the examination of the new (1955) rites of Holy Week. Having for many years followed along during that period with my old pre-1955 Missal, I was very much aware of the differences – and since St. Vitus in Los Angeles is one of the FSSP parishes that are now using the older version ad experimentum, I have at long last experienced it. The book makes use of Evelyn Waugh’s critique of the new version, which was fascinating. It was amusing to think my first experience of the rite Waugh preferred was in the city where he set one of his darkest satires, The Loved One!

In any case, the book is a refreshing antidote, and a reminder that – pace certain elderly persons – attachment to the traditional Mass is not about guarding ashes of the past. Nor is it about aesthetics or personal preferences. It is about using the best means we have available for the glorification of God and the salvation of souls. That, and that alone. In that sense, this book has something in common with Mary Queen of Scots’ motto and a line from Eliot: in its end is very truly its beginning.

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