Thursday, March 19, 2020

Restoring Liturgical Tradition after the Pandemic

Even as Catholics continue to suffer from the difficult situation in which we find ourselves, with an absence of public liturgies and restricted sacramental access, the virtue of supernatural hope already prompts us to see many ways in which God may bring forth great good from this evil — or, to speak more truthfully, may be calling us to collaborate in bringing forth great good by a prudent response to circumstances. In particular, we can envision several ways in which the liturgical life of the Church could be improved by far-seeing pastors.

1. Increase frequency of private TLMs. With a large number of priests now consigned to the private celebration of Mass (which is legitimate and praiseworthy according to the mind of the Church), priests will be free to offer the traditional Latin Mass on a daily basis. For priests relatively new at it, this makes possible the perfecting of the celebration through frequent practice. For priests who have been wanting to learn it, now would be a God-sent opportunity to put in the time and practice necessary. For all priests, it could be viewed as an enforced “retreat” at which they can pray freely and fervently for the needs of the Church and the world.

2. Offer Masses ad orientem. Even priests who are not offering or not planning to offer Mass in its traditional form can begin to offer their Masses ad orientem, as is just and right. After several weeks (potentially) of saying Mass facing geographical or liturgical east, these priests will have a perfect excuse to say to their congregations: “In these weeks of the pandemic, when I have been praying Mass for you and your needs every day, I have grown accustomed to offering it facing east, in accord with the long tradition of the Church. I have discovered how much more prayerful it is, how it enables me to pray more fervently to God and for all the intentions for which the Mass is offered. As a result, I would like to keep doing this now that our public celebrations are permitted again.”

With the chaos of paperwork and re-planning that will be engulfing chanceries everywhere, and the sheer gratitude of the faithful who will have returned to church, there could never be a more opportune moment to introduce ad orientem. A simple explanation will put it in context, and Catholic life will go on — only better than it was before.

3. Enrich or tweak the parish Mass schedule. When the public Mass schedule is re-announced, priests will have an ideal opportunity to add to the parish schedule a TLM if it has not been present before, or shift around times to give the TLM a better time slot, or add more TLMs during the week or month. Again, this expansion of sacramental access will be appreciated on its own terms after a long period of instability and inaccessibility, and the Catholics who come back will be prepared for new terrain.

4. Abolish bad custom and abuse. Dubious liturgical customs and liturgical abuses, which have already de facto come to an end with the coronavirus shutdown, could be stopped indefinitely. This has been proposed by an anonymous priest who noted that, even after bishops had banned the sign of peace, holding hands during the Lord’s Prayer, and Communion from the chalice, the Mass still went on and people still attended. In other words, the faithful — or at least the most faithful of the faithful — are more interested in going to Mass than they are in shaking hands, holding hands, or receiving “the cup.” It is more important to go to Mass, period, than to “get” to be an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion. Now is a truly God-given moment to start afresh with better customs:
Together with “turning over a new leaf,” priests can preach about:
  • the fullness of Christ’s presence under each species — thereby defending the traditional reception of the host alone;
  • the essential difference between the ordained priesthood and the common priesthood of the faithful, and thus, why it is appropriate for only the clergy to distribute Communion;
  • why Communion in the hand was a mistake (not, as some try to argue, the revival of ancient practice) that we have many reasons to regret, and why it is best to follow the tradition of the Church, reaffirmed by Paul VI, of receiving on the tongue while kneeling — a posture not only palpably reverent and hallowed by centuries of Catholic custom, but also more efficient and convenient for the minister who is distributing the hosts.
5. Rework the parish music program. Choirs will have been disbanded for weeks. It would therefore be an opportune moment for reassigning responsibilities. A newly-formed schola that sings Gregorian chant could be assigned to a Mass to provide truly sacred music. Another group might be allowed to remain disbanded because of “new pastoral exigencies and priorities.”

It may seem strange to be thinking ahead when we don’t even know what each new day will bring, but we must follow Our Lord’s advice to be “wise as serpents and simple as doves” (Mt 10:16) as we reconquer lost territory for the Kingdom of God. The Lord is gesturing at rich harvests to be reaped. Let us put our hands to the plough and not look back (cf. Lk 9:62).

All of us are being stretched by Divine Providence, so let’s take advantage of the newfound elasticity!

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