NOTE: This is an edited version of an earlier post.
For some time now I've been wanting to blog about Pope Benedict's recent motu proprio Summorum pontificum authorizing a wider use of the Latin form of the Mass as promulgated by Blessed Pope John XXIII in 1962 (Variously referred to as "the Traditional Latin Mass," the Tridentine Rite, and now by Pope Benedict, the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite). Several blogs I keep an eye on, including Patrick Archbold's Summorum pontificum blog and Father Z.'s What Does The Prayer Really Say? have been tracking the reactions of various priests and bishops around the world (which range from "Sounds like a great idea!" to "Hell no! Not in my parish/diocese!")I'd been having trouble putting my own thoughts into words, however until I ran across this post from the estimable Rich Leonardi, in which he reacts to a Missouri pastor's concerted effort to badmouth the Traditional Latin Mass.
The pastor writes:
I think that Pope Benedict’s decree reviving the old Latin Mass was a step backwards in the implementation of the decrees of the Second Vatican Council, which were approved and promoted by Pope Paul VI. The Council never intended there to be two forms of the Roman rite simultaneously. Latin at Mass, yes, but the old rite stemming back to the 16th century, clearly no. To keep a group of objectors in the Church, Pope John Paul gave permission to have the old Mass on a very limited scale in 1984, despite the nearly unanimous opposition of the bishops throughout the world. Now, Pope Benedict has given permission to go over the heads of the bishops as long as a “stably existing” community requests the old Mass an the pastors can prevent a disruption in their communities. The Council clearly wanted to give such power to the bishops, but in this too the Council’s teaching is being reversed.
The thing is, I don't pine for the extraordinary form. While I welcome Pope Benedict's call for its expanded use, my preference is for a reverently-celebrated ordinary form that is faithful to the G.I.R.M., Sacrosanctum Concilium, and various papal instructions, rare as that species of Mass is. But nasty, dishonest, and disrespectful "reflections" from would-be popes are making me curious about what I'm missing. In other words, if people like this hate the extraordinary form so much, it must have something going for it. And I'll wager I'm not the only one thinking this way.
Well said, Rich! It seems to me that if Catholics are serious about the Second Vatican Council's declaration that "the eucharistic sacrifice is the source and the summit of the whole of the Church's worship and of the Christian life," we ought to celebrate that eucharistic sacrifice with as much beauty and dignity and reverence as we can muster. My mother once complained that a church we used to attend reminded her of "a K-Mart with pews." As Catholics, we believe (or we ought to believe) that in the Mass Jesus Christ himself comes among us and offers us his very Body and Blood! Shouldn't that moment be just a little more special than a trip to K-Mart? Shouldn't that moment be sacred? Shouldn't that moment be holy? If the use of Latin, ad orientem worship, Gregorian chant, and polyphony help us to make the Mass more sacred and more holy, then I say BRING THEM ON!
I was born in 1963, smack dab in the middle of Vatican II, so I have no memory of of the Traditional Latin Mass or how things used to be "back in the good old days." This is not a nostalgia trip for me, and it shouldn't be for the rest of the Church either. Simply saying, "Gee, remember the old Latin Mass, wasn't it swell?" will not do. If advocates for the wider celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass are to have any success, they must convince Catholics my age and younger that the this form of the Mass still has something good and beautiful and worthwhile to give to the Church (and I firmly believe it does). I think perhaps one of the best ways to persuade people of the beauty and value of the extraordinary form is to let people hear the great music the Traditional Latin Mass inspired. I, for example, am gaining an appreciation of the Traditional Latin Mass, "through the back door" so to speak, because I've discovered polyphony and the musical form that preceded it, Gregorian chant. If music this good was inspired by and created for the Traditional Latin Mass, then, as Rich says, the extraordinary form must have something going for it. Hearing Tallis and Byrd and Palestrina and Victoria has made me realize just how shallow and cheesy much of the ersatz '60s and '70s "folk music" I grew up on really is. Younger Catholics are being cheated out of their precious musical and liturgical heritage by not even having the opportunity to hear and appreciate this glorious music.
As for me, away with the cardboard and the bubblegum! Give me a liturgy that is truly reverent and dignified and beautiful, one with uncompromising proclamation of the Word of God, sound preaching, and inspiring music that lifts my mind and heart to God and is truly "a promise and foretaste of the paschal feast of heaven" as one of the eucharistic prayers says.
Picture Credit: Traditional Latin Mass being celebrated at St. John Neumann parish, Diocese of Knoxville, Tennessee.