Recently the UK’s Catholic Herald reported on Cardinal Sarah’s article in the French publication La Nef wherein he describes his desire for a “reform of the reform” with an emphasis on reconciliation between the two liturgical forms of the Latin rite. It came on the heels of the tenth anniversary of Pope Benedict XVI’s moto proprio Summorum Pontificum which liberated the traditional Latin Mass across the globe. The fact Cardinal Sarah is discussing this is great, it’s wonderful to have cardinals discussing the merits of the Extraordinary Form (EF) in positive ways. However, I don’t believe what he proposes would work. Let’s look at what His Eminence said from the article above and then some of the reasons, as laid out by Joseph Shaw also of the Catholic Herald, why it isn’t likely to work.
Quoting from the Herald with my own abridgment and emphasis:
Cardinal Sarah wrote in favour of the “mutual enrichment” of the two forms of the Roman Rite, a phrase of Benedict XVI’s arguing that both forms have riches that would enhance the other if incorporated [in his moto proprio].
…this has been interpreted in EF circles in a mostly unilateral way: the OF ought to adapt the practices of the EF. Cardinal Sarah is certainly in favour of this – he has argued in the past for ad orientem celebration of the OF, greater use of Latin, and more periods of silence, including some of the priestly prayers. In La Nef, he goes further, recommending that Holy Communion be received kneeling and on the tongue; that the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar be restored at the beginning of Mass; and that the priests keep united after the consecration those fingers which have touched the sacred species.
In order to faithfully apply Benedict’s direction of “mutual enrichment” between the two forms, the cardinal suggests the possibility of the following:
Sarah proposes that efforts be made to have a shared calendar and a shared lectionary, so that both the EF and OF would celebrate more feasts together and have the same Scripture readings at Mass.
…EF devotees often speak about the simplified OF calendar as being too banal – “Ordinary Time” instead of Sundays after Pentecost – and consider it a mistake to have abandoned Passiontide and the octave of Pentecost.
For the 10 years since Summorum Pontificum, those who prefer the EF have expected such an attitude from the OF. Cardinal Sarah now suggests that it is required of both clans, united in one Church, around one altar.
When I was considering making the switch from a very good OF parish (which included chant, Latin ordinaries, communion at the altar rail, and even ad orientem) to the EF parish just down the road, one of the biggest hurdles to me, at the time, was the fact the calendar and lectionary were different. I didn’t like that if I went to the EF parish one Sunday and then had to go to the OF parish much closer to my home (not the aforementioned one) the following Sunday, there would be a feeling of discontinuity. I thought the gap in feasts, calendar, and readings erected a wall between Catholics who should be united. I started thinking the two forms should be reconciled somehow without having an opinion on how or being terribly familiar with the EF lectionary or calendar.
After becoming quite familiar, now, with how the EF works, I still do think reconciliation would be in the best interest of the Church. However, I am convinced this can best be done, contrary to what Cardinal Sarah posits, in one direction back to the EF. It has become clear that the cycles and lectionary of the EF are simply superior for a number of reasons. Most of these reasons coincidentally are laid out in the next Catholic Herald article from which I will quote from below (abridged and with my emphasis):
Why Cardinal Sarah’s liturgical ‘reconciliation’ plan won’t work
The new lectionary is sometimes held up as obviously superior to the old, but not everyone committed to the reformed Mass agrees. The Toronto Oratorian Fr Jonathan Robinson wrote (The Mass and Modernity, 2005, p332):
I think the diversity, rather than enriching people, tends to confuse them… This may be because the selections, as has been noted by others, were drawn up more to satisfy the sensibilities of liturgical scholars than on traditional liturgical principles.
…can the lectionaries of the two Forms simply by swapped over?
The short answer is ‘no’. To take the most obvious problem, the 1969 Lectionary has no readings for the season of Septuagesima, because that season does not exist in the 1969 calendar.
Variations on this problem arise throughout the Church’s year. Many of the EF’s proper texts of feast days, and a good many Sundays, refer to the readings. The choice of readings in the Ordinary Form is so different from those in the Extraordinary Form that the discordance would be particularly jarring.
Thus, on Corpus Christi, the ancient Mass gives us a reading from on the danger of the unworthy reception of Holy Communion (1 Corinthians 11:27-9). St Paul’s message was excluded completely from the new Lectionary: it is not found even on a weekday…
…Something else they might like to consider is the very different role of feastdays in the Extraordinary Form. Moving some to the same date as the OF might sound innocuous enough, but a wholesale revision would endanger the distinctive character of this Form, whose weekday celebrations are not distinguished by a daily Scripture-reading cycle, but by large numbers of often very ancient feast days. Many of the saints commemorated are invoked in the liturgy itself, in the Canon or in the Litany of the Saints. Removing them from the calendar, but not from the liturgical texts, would not strengthen the Extraordinary Form, but simply make its message—about the communion of saints, intercession, and continuity—harder to discern.
These are all important points which most people who become familiar with the EF by and large recognize. Typically, anyone who considers the OF lectionary superior only does so because of the sheer amount of scripture contained within the cycle. There are two readings plus a Gospel reading. Of course more scripture is never bad, but the Mass isn’t supposed to be the only place a Catholic encounters sacred scripture. The EF uses scripture as a beautiful frame to the day’s respective liturgy instead of the other way around. The other purpose of scripture is is to instruct the faithful, so what better than the epistles which are essentially teaching documents. That is why in the EF there is an epistle reading and a Gospel reading. The epistle reading is typically concise, impactful, and offers a great springboard for a sermon. Furthermore, the new lectionary comes after the unfortunate removal of many important readings which were deemed to be inconvenient, demanding, or politically incorrect as pointed out by removing any reference to the damnation of receiving Holy Communion in an unworthy state.
The new calendar is problematic too, it’s severely lacking. Not only is Septuagesima replaced with a snippet of “ordinary time”, but the entire concept of ordinary time is odd and lackluster. Much more rich are the traditional seasons of the Nativity, Easter, and Pentecost. Better does the traditional calendar reflect times of penance and feasts too. The feast days are more than just times on the old calendar to celebrate, the entire daily Mass revolves around the nature of the respective saint’s character.
Nonetheless, it it is important to heed the call of Benedict suggesting for a “mutual enrichment”. Perhaps there are some things which the EF could better incorporate which might help a culture so far removed from these rituals to come to appreciate it more. For instance, and these are just off the top of my head, there is no ban on singing with the choir at an EF Mass…something our pastor reminds us of often…whether that be the Asperges Me or Salve Regina. Or perhaps this means holding hands during the Pater Noster. Okay JUST KIDDING ON THAT ONE, just seeing if you’re still reading. It could be enriching to somehow incorporate newer saints into the traditional calendar such as St. Gianna Molla, St. John Paul II, St. Maximilian Kolbe, or St. Mother Teresa.
It would be lovely if something could be done to merge the two forms and I thank God for Cardinal Sarah and his public thoughts on this matter. It’s just that in order to do this, the OF has much more to be “enriched” than the EF before reconciliation happens. ☩
UPDATE: Here is Fr. Z’s take on the two articles referenced above. which reminds me of a point I forgot to make in my original post. Even if the suggestions of tweaking the EF calendar and lectionary have merit, given all the chaos going on in Rome right now, with all the unfaithful, heinous bishops and cardinals who wish to mold the Church into the likeness of prevailing culture, perhaps we should hold off on even considering opening up the EF right now to be tampered with. Cardinal Sarah may caution the faithful not to treat the EF liturgy as a “museum object” but I think it is far more likely the faithful consider it a treasure. ☩☩
If you’re looking for a laugh, check out an article in the National “Catholic” Reporter (not to be confused with faithful Register) remarking on the opinion of Michael DeSanctis, a church building “consultant” and theology teacher. The entire article basically reads like that of a cornered, rabid raccoon. There is a stench of defensiveness because these holdovers haunting the turrets of the failed (and erroneously implemented) “reforms” of the Second Vatican Council are watching their utopia of a beige, frozen-in-the-1960s, kumbaya Catholicism slowly dissolve only 50 years later.
Michael states that a major problem in the Catholic Church today is parishes “re-renovating” churches into making them actually look like Catholic churches again. Many of these dinosaurs–who came of age during the enlightened sexual revolution–cringe at the joyful, passionate, and polite undoing of their “renovations” of the 60’s and 70’s which really was just destruction: the removal of intricate altar rails, the painting over of sacred art, the removal of stained glass depicting saints, the carpeting over of marble or parquet floors, the removal of baptismal fonts, and much more. Read an abbreviated version below with my emphases and comments:
Church architecture has become a frontline of the liturgy wars as Catholic churches undergo re-renovations.
Restoration-minded pastors, most who came of age well after Vatican II, are ordering the changes. Gone are what they sometimes disparage as “Pizza Hut” churches. The goal is to restore tradition. They impose altar rails, the placement of the Blessed Sacrament near the altar, and use expensive marble on the floor to seal off the sanctuary area as a polished and exclusive arena for clerical liturgical action. Sometimes the choir gets relegated to a back loft, providing disembodied sound. In other parishes, circular seating arrangements are abandoned in favor of long rows of pews.
Those misguided pastors, if only they came of age during V2, then they would know the damage they are causing! I like how they are “imposing” the placement tabernacles near the altar. Isn’t Rome require the tabernacle be close to the altar (if not centered under the crucifix where it should be)? Why is this so controversial? I also laugh at him saying the choir gets “relegated” to the back loft. It’s actually called the “choir loft”, you know, where the choir is supposed to be. And the “disembodied” sound should sound disembodied quite literally, it should remind us of angels singing.
“Architecture is how we express our liturgy,” DeSanctis recently told NCR in a phone interview, noting that the generation of post-Vatican II priests routinely came out of the sanctuary to interact with their parishioners during liturgy. They built churches with a focus on circular design, to bring the congregation closer together, as well lowered the altar to bring the priest closer to the congregation.
First off, again, I am pretty certain that, according to GIRM (General Instruction of the Roman Missal), priests are not supposed to “interact” with the congregation outside of distributing the Eucharist. What does he want these priests to do exactly? What exactly does he assume the purpose of Mass is?
But that has changed with the emergence of many younger clergy, schooled in seminary with the thought of Pope Benedict, who re-emphasized clerical distinctions. Across the country, DeSanctis has noticed how many pastors are redesigning the suburban churches built in the 1960s and ’70s with a focus on priestly action.
It’s pretty obvious the disdain for young, faithful Catholics, isn’t it? Sorry that nearly all the Millennials who engaged in the Church right now care about beauty, liturgy, and “distinctions” between clergy and laity. One of the biggest problems of the past 50 years has been the erosion of these distinctions. Many priests came to understand their holy vocation as just another day job (contributing to many behaving very badly) which devastated the number of men interested in the priesthood. It’s not about “priestly action”, it’s about offering the Mass for the congregation, something they can’t do.
In his article, DeSanctis offers a defense for the much-maligned modernist suburban church, with its focus on nurturing community. He begins with St. Jude the Apostle Church in Erie, a product of postwar Catholicism. It is a modernist structure with a distinctive summit cross, built to be “a place of worship completely at home in the modern world.” St. Jude’s, he notes, fit into the modern suburban American landscape, and that was its strength…
However, that model has changed. St. Jude’s has undergone a re-renovation in recent years.
Elaborate candles now serve as boundaries to mark off the sanctuary from the pews. The altar area has now been transformed by marble, visually setting itself off. The new architecture, intended to recapture traditional elements, has a “look at me” clerical mindset, writes DeSanctis.
The sanctuary and pews (nave) are indeed very distinct places and it should be obvious. The altar should be noticeable since that is where the sacrifice of the Mass takes place. And “traditional elements” do not exist for their own glory. The goal of soaring ceilings of artwork and masonry is to direct our gaze towards heaven and the glory of God. It is also to help us see beauty in the world, beyond the mundane and temporal imagery of carpeting, abstract stained glass, and solid-green polyester vestments.
He notes that such changes are examples of “fussy territoriality” expressed through physical changes made by “a wave of priests intent on undoing the achievements of their immediate predecessors, a generation or two of men animated by the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council.”
Church architecture needs to bring clergy and laity together, notes DeSanctis
Hmmm, who exactly is acting fussy here? And, again, mentioning those awful young priests. Can’t all priests just be old? Can we stop ordaining new priests all together? Their passion for Catholicism is really just messing everything up! The whole problem with this mindset is they are so concerned by their human achievement rather than serving Mother Church. This is why we have visible musicians performing at Mass, priests packing sermons with laugh lines and clapping after Mass. The whole problem is that our worship has been of ourselves; the priest too often looks at the congregation and praises them while the congregation looks back at the priest and laughs or claps. It’s circular entertainment rather than vertical worship.
Quite a funny article because you can smell the defensiveness which means things are going in the right direction. In 500 years, I expect the years between 1960-2030 to be just an odd historical blip on our 2,000+ year timeline. ☩
There is a wonderful essay on First Things by Martin Mosebach, translated from the original German published last December. It discusses the true meaning of “reformation” as in “returning to form” when it comes to the liturgy of the Roman Rite. It then describes the chaos and upheaval that took place in the wake of the Second Vatican Council paired with Bl. Pope Paul VI’s changes to the Mass. It’s long but worth reading. For those who have trouble reading things online longer than 140 characters, I have attempted to shorten it with a TSP Cliffs Notes™ (emphases mine):
Great forms are characterized by their ability to outlive the age in which they emerge and to pursue their path through all history’s hiatuses and upheavals. The Greek column with its Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian capitals is such a form, as is the Greek tragedy with its invention of dialogue that still lives on in the silliest soap opera…Among the Greeks, tradition stood under collective protection. The violation of tradition was called tyrannis—tyranny is the act of violence that damages a traditional form that has been handed down.
One form that has effortlessly overleaped the constraints of the ages is the Holy Mass of the Roman Church…
…For the rite that came from late antique Mediterranean Christianity was not “relevant” in the European Middle Ages, nor in the Baroque era, nor in missionary lands outside Europe. The South American Indians and West Africans must have found it even stranger, if possible, than any twentieth-century European who complained that it was “no longer relevant”—whereas it was precisely among those people that the Roman Rite enjoyed its greatest missionary successes. When the inhabitants of Gaul, England, and Germany became Catholic, they understood no Latin and were illiterate; the question of the correct understanding of the Mass was entirely independent of a capacity to follow its literal expression. The peasant woman who said the rosary during Mass, knowing that she was in the presence of Christ’s sacrifice, understood the rite better than our contemporaries who comprehend every word but fail to engage with such knowledge because the present form of the Mass, drastically altered, no longer allows for its full expression.
…The [Second Vatican] council had upheld the Roman Rite for the most part and emphasized the role of Latin as the traditional language of worship, as well as the role of Gregorian chant. But then, by order of Paul VI, liturgical experts in their ivory towers created a new missal that was not warranted by the provisions for renewal set forth by the council fathers. This overreaching caused a breach in the dike. In a short time, the Roman Rite was changed beyond recognition.
…When Pope Benedict had the greatness of soul to issue Summorum Pontificum, he not only reintroduced the Roman Rite into the liturgy of the Church but declared that it had never been forbidden, because it could never be forbidden. No pope and no council possess the authority to invalidate, abolish, or forbid a rite that is so deeply rooted in the history of the Church.
Not only the liberal and Protestant enemies of the Roman Rite but also its defenders, who in a decades-long struggle had begun to give up hope, could barely contain their astonishment. Everyone still had the strict prohibitions of countless bishops echoing in their ears, threats of excommunication and subtle accusations…Benedict XVI did even more: He explained that there was only a single Roman Rite which possesses two forms, one “ordinary” and the other “extraordinary”—the latter term referring to the traditional rite. In this way, the traditional form was made the standard for the newly revised form…
There can be no question that the council fathers regarded the Roman Canon as absolutely binding. The celebration of the liturgy ad orientem, facing eastward to the Lord who is coming again, was also uncontested by the majority of council fathers. Even those who undertook the Pauline reform of the Mass and who swept aside the will of the council fathers didn’t dare touch this ancient and continuous practice. It was the spirit of the 1968 revolution that gained control of the liturgy and removed the worship of God from the center of the Catholic rite, installing in its place a clerical-instructional interaction between the priest and the congregation. The council fathers also desired no change in the tradition of church music. It is with downright incredulity that one reads these and other passages of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, for their plain sense was given exactly the opposite meaning by the enthusiastic defenders of post-conciliar “development.”…
While still a cardinal, [Benedict] let it be known that the demand for celebration of the Eucharist versus populum, facing the congregation, is based in error. He endorsed the scholarly work of the theologian Klaus Gamber, who provided proof that never in her history, aside from a very few exceptions, had the Church celebrated the liturgy facing the congregation…
One of the most important consequences of the Second Vatican Council has been the destruction of the organizational structure of the Church by the introduction of national bishops’ conferences, something entirely alien to classical canon law. This diminishes the direct relationship of each individual bishop to the pope; every Vatican intervention in local abuses shatters when it hits the concrete wall of the respective bishops’ conference. This is what happened recently when the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship called for a return to the celebration of the Eucharist ad orientem.
…the greatest achievement of Pope Benedict, at least in a liturgical sense, will remain Summorum Pontificum. With this instrument he accorded the Roman Rite a secure place in the life of the Church, one protected by canon law.
The places where the Tridentine Mass is celebrated today have multiplied. The traditional Roman Rite can now be celebrated in proper churches, which causes many people to forget the cellars and courtyards where those who loved the ancient rite long maintained a fugitive existence. The number of young priests with a love for the Tridentine Mass has increased considerably, as has the number of older priests who have begun to learn it. More and more bishops are prepared to celebrate confirmation and holy orders according to the old rite.
The time has come to set aside a widespread assumption in the Catholic Church that the liturgy and religious education are in good hands with the clergy. This encourages passivity among the faithful, who believe that they do not have to concern themselves with these matters. This is not so. The great liturgical crisis following the Second Vatican Council, which was part of a larger crisis of faith and authority, put an end to the illusion that the laity need not be involved.
The laity of today differs from the laity of forty years ago. They had precise knowledge of the Roman Rite and took its loss bitterly and contested it. The young people who are turning to the Roman Rite today often did not know it as children. They are not, as Pope Francis erroneously presumes, nostalgically longing for a lost time. On the contrary, they are experiencing the Roman Rite as something new. It opens an entire world to them, the exploration of which promises to be inexhaustibly fascinating.
The Catholic religion with its high number of believers has actually become the most unknown religion in the world, especially to its own adherents. While there are many Catholics who feel repelled and offended by the superficiality of the new rite as it is frequently celebrated today, by the odious music, the puritanical kitsch, the trivialization of dogma, and the profane character of new church buildings, the gap that has opened up in the forty years between the traditional rite and the new Mass is very deep, often unbridgeable.
Summorum Pontificum makes priests and the laity responsible for the Roman Rite’s future—if it means a lot to them. It is up to them to celebrate it in as many places as possible, to win over for it as many people as possible…The odium of disobedience and defiance against the Holy See has been spared them by Pope Benedict’s promulgation, and they are making use of the right granted them by the Church’s highest legislator, but this right only has substance if it is claimed and used. The law is there.
Perhaps it is even good that, despite Summorum Pontificum, the Tridentine Mass is still not promoted by the great majority of bishops. If it is a true treasure without which the Church would not be itself, then it will not be won until it has been fought for. Its loss was a spiritual catastrophe for the Church and had disastrous consequences far beyond the liturgy, and that loss can only be overcome by a widespread spiritual renewal…This is the trial by fire that all reformers worthy of their name had to endure. The Roman Rite will be won back in hundreds of small chapels, in improvised circumstances throughout the whole world, celebrated by young priests with congregations that have many small children, or it will not be won back at all.
Recapturing the fullness of the Church’s liturgy is now a matter for the young…The revolution that was to disfigure the Mass cast a long shadow ahead of itself…In many countries, the liturgical architecture of the rite was obscured or even dismantled. There were silent Masses during which a prayer leader incessantly recited prayers in the vernacular that were not always translations of the Latin prayers, and in a number of places Gregorian chant played a subordinate role. Those who are twenty or thirty today have no bad habits of these sorts. They can experience the rite in its new purity, free of the incrustations of the more recent past.
The great damage caused by the liturgical revolution after Vatican II consists above all in the way in which the Church lost the conviction with which all Catholics—illiterate goatherds, maids and laborers, Descartes and Pascal—naturally took part in the Church’s sacred worship. Up until then, the rite was among the riches of the poor, who, through it, entered into a world that was otherwise closed to them. They experienced in the old Mass the life to come as well as life in the present, an experience of which only artists and mystics are otherwise capable. This loss of shared transcendence available to the most humble cannot be repaired for generations, and this great loss is what makes the ill-considered reform of the Mass so reprehensible. It is a moral outrage that those who gutted the Roman Rite because of their presumption and delusion were permitted to rob a future generation of their full Catholic inheritance.
It has been observed that the Roman Rite has an especially strong effect on converts, indeed, that it has even brought about a considerable number of conversions. Its deep rootedness in history and its alignment with the end of the world create a sacred time antithetical to the present, a present that, with its acquisitive preoccupations, leaves many people unsatisfied…The Catholic religion is, in the words of T. S. Eliot, a “philosophy of disillusionment” that does not suppress hope, but rather teaches us not to direct our hope toward something that the world cannot give. The liturgy of Rome and, naturally, Greek Orthodoxy’s Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom open a window that draws our gaze from time into eternity.
In a new book coming out, Genuflections: Famous Folks Talk About Growing Up Catholic (Eckhartz Press, $15.95.), human rights advocate and rock legend Mick Jagger’s former spouse Bianca Jagger discusses her Catholic faith and discusses her fondness for the Extraordinary Form of the liturgy:
“When Pope Paul the VI and the Second Vatican Council introduced the service in the vernacular in 1964, the Latin Mass was almost eliminated — so we lost a Mass in a common and universal language and a solemn high tradition of the Catholic Church,” Jagger said.
“I disagree with those who think that Latin Mass is elitist. We used to be able to go anywhere in the world, even where we didn’t speak the language, and the Mass would be familiar. So I continue to support the idea that we should revive the Latin Mass all over the world.”
Jagger touched on this subject in a 1983 magazine article in which she and Andy Warhol, the late artist, veered off topic while interviewing the musician Sting about a new film The Police front man was starring in:
He talks about how 19th-century candidates risk not getting canonised because the church is keen to push ahead with the likes of John Paul II and Mother Teresa. “I think they’re just trying to get current and hot,” he smiles.
One new saint he does approve of is Pope John XXIII (who died in 1963). “I’ll buy that one, he’s my guy; an extraordinary joyous Florentine who changed the order. I’m not sure all those changes were right. I tend to disagree with what they call the new mass. I think we lost something by losing the Latin. Now if you go to a Catholic mass even just in Harlem it can be in Spanish, it can be in Ethiopian, it can be in any number of languages. The shape of it, the pictures, are the same but the words aren’t the same.”
Isn’t it good for people to understand it? “I guess,” he says, shaking his head. “But there’s a vibration to those words. If you’ve been in the business long enough you know what they mean anyway. And I really miss the music – the power of it, y’know? Yikes! Sacred music has an affect on your brain.” Instead, he says, we get “folk songs … top 40 stuff … oh, brother….”
It was 9:30 Sunday morning while I was still attending the round suburban parish closest to where I live. I noticed that the musicians who typically ‘perform’ at 11 o’clock were filling the prominent choir area just to the right of the altar. While I was still very green on liturgical matters, I knew enough that I didn’t care for the concert that typically took place at 11 which is why I frequented the 9:30; something about people clapping at Mass just seemed weird to me. As I prepared to recite the Gloria, I heard a drum kit start pulsating while the guitar and piano built up steam. What was going on?
It was a different take on the Gloria, it had become a hot little ditty that featured rollicking piano licks, cymbal crashes, and it’s own thrice-repeated refrain! It sounded ridiculous. Even at that relatively immature stage in my spiritual life, I knew there was a reason I don’t like pop music with my prayer…or rap with my reading or acappella with my arobics.
I encountered that church “band” a few more times at this carpeted parish, each time seeming more shocking than the last. Then one day a help-out Dominican priest was the celebrant. As my wife and I bowed during the incarnation in the Creed, the entire congregation stumbled on their words when the mic’d up friar omitted “men”: “For us _ and for our salvation, He came down from heaven”. I suppose it was some kind of attempt to appear inclusive, an empty gesture I expect in the politically correct arenas of politics and big business, anywhere but the holy Mass.
The Millennial Perspective
Stories like this are everywhere unfortunately. And, to be sure, they are not inherent to the 1969 Mass of Pope Bl. Paul VI (Ordinary Form, Novus Ordo). But stories like this seem to be all too common in the last few decades. To my own and many of my peers’ detriment — Millennials in our early 30’s — most of our experiences come from these decades. I have watched the majority of my friends raised as Catholics fall away from the Faith, still not entirely sure of basic Catholic concepts. As children of the 90’s, Mass for many of us appeared quite banal. It was something we attended, without really knowing why despite attending Sunday School and CCD. Part of the problem was (and is) that we were being taught all these complex, cumbersome notions about such topics as the essence of the Trinity, transubstantiation, immaculate birth, and so on, but never really saw anything that reflected these lofty concepts in what was supposed to be the pinnacle, the “source and summit” (CCC 1324), of our spiritual life: the Mass.
We grew up seeing a very ‘horizontal’ liturgy, characteristic of most Ordinary Form Masses. Horizontal in that the prayers, words, music, motions, and aesthetics within the Mass clearly drew from common, everyday customs and behaviors. The common Novus Ordo Missae (new order of the Mass) often reflects so many social functions in our culture, thereby stifling curiosity and wonder in even children.
If the last 20 centuries of counter-cultural, sublime, and often shocking Christian doctine are true, why does the Mass all too often seem to reflect something so painfully familiar looking and sounding? The typical Mass of the last four decades too often displays a priest in ugly polyester drapery whose demeanor is oddly casual; poor music with cheesy lyrics; a priest as a performer; a congregation as an audience; an emphasis on homiletics; downplaying transcendence, sacrifice, or atonement; and general irreverence to the Eucharist. The most important part of the Mass, Communion, is often distributed by an army of horrendously casual laypeople into the hands of the parishioners as if it was– a potato chip–it all unravels from there.
The Intrinsic Weakness of the Ordinary Form
Due to the many opportunities for tweaking within the new rubrics, the priest’s personality tends to form the Novus Ordo rather than the liturgy forming the priest–one of the reasons these Masses are often so different from one another. Or, to put it another way, and to borrow a critique many Eastern Rite Catholics have for the West, we pray what we think rather than think what we pray. Too often the new liturgy is shaped by the prevailing culture rather than culture being shaped by the liturgy.
The point here is that the Ordinary Form of the liturgy, depending on the celebrant, has more trouble conveying the unique mystery of the event before the congregation. And, as I have said many times on this site, why would anyone who is weak in their understanding of the Faith–most Catholics–care to waste an hour on Sunday morning for something that isn’t unique compared to what the rest of the world offers them? Why would a protestant be moved to conversion if there’s little difference of worship in this perceived Sunday “service”? I know I can certainly find better sources of music, inspiration, and good feelings elsewhere! This is part of why Mass attendance numbers among Millennials is so pathetic; why would they waste their time with something that appears so banal, cheesy, and pointless. After all, everyone already knows that we’re supposed to be nice to each other and isn’t that the basic, uncontroversial message every Sunday anyhow?
Human nature is ingrained with a sense of ritual but where has the Christian ritual gone? It certainly exists in the other major world religions. Can you imagine Jews or Muslims watering down their ritual, prayer life, or universal religious language? Think about Jews ignoring the ancient communal tongue of Hebrew or Muslims trying to modernize Islam by sweeping classical Arabic under the rug? The thought is almost comical. It’s important to realize that Bl. Paul VI did not intend for the complete removal of Latin in the liturgy but, with the many opportunities for priests to personalize the Ordinary Form, that is what happened as time went on. How can the typical Novus Ordo Mass be expected move one to conversion when it portrays itself as something so un-serious, so soft, so banal. Of course, no valid Mass, no matter how unfortunately celebrated, can be any of these things since Christ is truly present, but why wouldn’t we seek to move souls to astonishment through beauty? It begs repeating the popular analogy of having a diamond (the Eucharist) with no beautiful gold ring for it to be placed (the liturgy). It’s hard to imagine anything contained within the typical celebration of the Ordinary Form capturing the hearts and minds of people as does the stoic majesty of a solemn high Mass or the profound silence and precision within a low Mass.
One of the arguments for the new Mass including the vernacular language was so it could be more “accessible” to Mass-goers. The opposite happened. People going to Mass in an area that speaks a different language, let alone another country, are the ones who feel truly isolated. There are some parishes by me that will have four Sunday Masses, two in English and two in Spanish; talk about segregating and isolating Catholics from one another. Parishes like this have effectively become two parishes all because of language. A universal language makes sense for THE universal Church spread across the world.
Before moving on, I want to state that there are some parishes which feature a very beautiful and traditionally-minded Novus Ordo liturgy. However, these parishes are unicorns, you’re unlikely to stumble across one. Also, a parish with a wonderful Novus Ordo can change the moment the pastor gets relocated, retires, or passes away. A strong Novus Ordo is simply as strong as its weakest link, the priest.
The Strength of the Extraordinary Form
Okay, enough complaining. Luckily the Church has a solution to all this (doesn’t she always?). Paradoxically, the Church’s future lies in her past. More and more people (especially Millennials), yearning for authentic Roman Catholicism and hungry for an intimate encounter with the liturgy have turned to parishes that offer the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. Thanks to Pope Benedict XVI’s 2007 apostolic letter Summorum Pontificum, the Mass which was good enough for nearly all our favorite saints has become more accessible for the first time since the liturgical revision in 1969, thanks be to God. Its popularity is exploding worldwide and bishops are taking note.
The first time at a Latin Mass can be jolting. It strikes one as unlike any other Mass they have ever heard. One of the most glaring features is the intense focus on the Sacrifice of Jesus. All eyes in the church are facing the Liturgical East–awaiting Christ–being led by their priest who is clearly about very serious business, “about [their] Father’s business” (Lk 2:49). The priest is not there to put on a show, to make people laugh, or to make people feel good. The priest is there to intercede on our behalf with God, the Father, by renewing the eternal Sacrifice of the Son on Calvary. This indeed is seriousbusiness…quite the opposite of what the typical priest celebrating the new liturgy conveys. These priests (along with any deacons or servers) are bound to firm rubrics on how to say Mass. There is no room for personalizing the liturgy. Touching back on the point before about priests forming the Mass to their personality rather than the other way around, think of how often you remember a Mass for who the priest was. “Who was the priest?” people will ask. “Oh, I didn’t like when Father said this” or “I love when so-and-so does that…”. At the Latin Mass, the priest is not the focus. Most of the Mass you don’t even see the priest’s face. While he is prominently about his business on the very visible high altar in beautiful vestments, he has a paradoxical aura of anonymity as his precise movements grace the sanctuary.
The Extraordinary liturgy is foreign to any other form of Christian worship that exists. Far too many Catholic churches have a liturgy that, when witnessed by a non-Catholic or lukewarm Catholic, doesn’t press one to form an opinion. It’s almost impossible not to have a reaction to the Traditional Mass. The ancient ritual of it is unlike anything else in the western hemisphere. As Peter Kwasniewski says in his book Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis, the Latin Mass “throws down the gauntlet”, so to say. It stirs curiosity in people, it induces awe, it moves a soul to conversion. The setting of our Eucharistic “diamond” should not have a typical atmosphere, appeal to worldly senses, or be laced with familiar language because the Eucharist is not typical, worldly, or familiar.
Another point mentioned in Mr. Kwasniewski’s publication touches upon the different liturgical calendar. The readings for Mass are not only different, but scripture is used in an entirely different fashion. In the Novus Ordo calendar, while admirably offering nearly the entire Bible within a three-year cycle, it further shifts the emphasis away from the sacrificial nature of the Mass. With the “wordiness” already inherent of the revised Mass, having such an emphasis on the ‘Liturgy of the Word’ draws attention away from the mystery before us. While the Word of God is obviously important, the Mass shouldn’t be the only place one encounters scripture. The “first reading” (Epistle) and Gospel are typically much shorter in the old calendar and, along with the other propers (changeable parts of Mass), uses the scripture to to help beautifully frame the respective Mass. These propers form a linear theme relative to the Sunday or Feast on the calendar. Using sections of the Second Sunday after Easter (Good Shepherd Sunday) as an example:
Introit – Psalm 32: 5,6
The earth is full of the mercy of the Lord, alleluia: by the word of the Lord were the heavens made, alleluia, alleluia…
Epistle – 1 Peter 2: 21-25
Christ suffered for us,
leaving you an example, that you should
follow His steps…when He suffered,
He threatened not, but delivered
Himself to him that judged Him unjustly:
who His own self bore our sins in His
body upon the tree: that we, being dead to
sins, should live to justice: by whose
stripes you were healed. For you were as
sheep going astray, but you are now con-
verted to the shepherd and bishop of your
Gradual – Luke 24:35
Alleluia, alleluia. The disciples knew the
Lord Jesus in the breaking of bread.
Gospel – John 10:11-16
Jesus said to the Pharisees: I am the good
shepherd. The good shepherd
giveth his life for his sheep…I lay down My life
for My sheep. And other sheep I have that
are not of this fold: them also I must
bring, and they shall hear My voice, and
there shall be one fold and one shepherd.
Offertory – Psalm 62: 2,5
O God, my God, to Thee do I watch at
break of day: and in Thy name I will lift up
my hands, alleluia.
Communion – John 10:14
I am the good shepherd: and I
know My sheep, and Mine know Me. Alle-
So, while much less scripture is read, the passages of scripture that are used tend to fit together perfectly to convey a single theme or message.
One of the aspects of the classical form I adore is that it doesn’t contain that perpetual “wordiness” mentioned above. Sometimes in the new Mass, it’s almost as if the priest is trying to hold a conversation with the congregation, making people feel awkward when there isn’t someone talking or singing to them. Silence thus becomes an enemy when it shouldn’t be. The Latin Mass doesn’t concern itself with incessant chatter. Many of the Traditional Form’s periods silence are pregnant with meaning and offer the best times for one to really pray, helping unite one’s own concerns, desires, thanksgivings, and sacrifices to that of Christ’s on the altar. The Latin Mass, therefore, is less distracting. There’s not always a hymnal to open, a response to repeat, or a hand to shake. The Extraordinary Form allows Catholics to use the time as they see best to assist in the Mass.
The Latin Missae’s strict rubrics do not allow for priests to remove or interject parts as they wish: Latin will be used, Communion will be kneeling and on the tongue, music will be in chant or polyphony, altar servers will be male, and much more. This standardization makes the celebration of Mass truly catholic (universal) in the literal sense of the word. These rubrics also codify the notable characteristics of a ‘vertical’ style of worship. Everything about it casts our gaze upwards above ourselves, the sights, sounds, language, smells, and prayers. It encourages us to look towards the heavens as we come into contact with God. (Rev 21:1-5)
The Classical Role of a Parish to Families
From both my experience and the testimony of many others, churches dedicated to the Extraordinary Form have a thriving parish life. Family life tends to be flourishing with large, lively, joyful, and beautiful families. As it has become in all-too-many typical American parishes, children are not seen as a nuisance. Parishioners tend to be welcoming and very kind–they enjoy fostering vibrant community life outside of just sharing glances during an hour Sunday morning. Parishioners are committed to making friendships, helping each other out, and having fun together.
Also, after decades of seeing just about any clothing pass as acceptable for attending the marriage supper of the Lamb, where God is present, it’s refreshing to see people dressing for the occasion. It’s not likely you’ll see someone in sandals, shorts, a tank top, or a football jersey. Equally refreshing is it to see priests dress like priests too, helping make a clear line between clergy and laity–often with nice white shirts and cuff-links under their cassocks, black leather shoes, well-groomed, etc. After all, why wouldn’t someone entrusted to caring for souls not dress like the professional that he is? This is the image young men must see if we wish for more quality men to join the priesthood. Obviously the idea here is not vanity but rather a proper reflection of their priestly office in the secular community–something that was indeed revered by most people not too long ago. Further, outside of Mass, a good priest takes his pastoral role with great care (regardless of liturgical form). They are often engaged with all aspects of parish life and see to it to welcome in new parishioners and help make the community strong. Priests like this seem to be common in parishes dedicated to the classical liturgy.
For those raising a family, a parish with a traditional understanding of its role in the community can be very important. This obviously doesn’t need to be a Latin Mass parish, per se; there are many good parishes in this respect (and growing due to more and more serious and faithful priests coming out of the seminary to help cultivate this parish culture). The reason it is important for a family to have a parish practicing authentic and bold Catholicism is because there needs to be a place where families can recharge from the world. The world presents a fierce battlefield of ideologies and temptations. Many of us take seriously protecting our family from physical threats, but what about spiritual threats? After all, the wounds of an injured soul will manifest in emotional, mental, or even physical despair at some point.
Unchecked, the world wants to devourpeople, especially children. The prevailing culture wants to drive a wedge between children and their parents, and wants to cheapen the true definition of happiness into desires simply being satisfied rather than the joys associated with selfless love. To the modernist culture, children represent an opportunity to grow the destructive notion of moral relativism, suggesting to them that there are no eternal truths that exist, that reality is whatever an individual wants it to be.
The world, along with the Adversary, wants your marriage to fracture and your household broken up. Just notice every popular message around you and ponder if it fosters a stronger marriage/family or the opposite. As the oft-repeated phrase goes, Catholics are called to be “in this world, not of it” because we were created for heaven. And, since the road to heaven for most of the laity is best conquered through family life, that is why it is important for a church to so support the virtuous family life of its members. The parish should operate as an oasis, where the souls of the community and the spirit of family life can be renewed, enjoyed, and encouraged by one another.
Another point of optimism as it pertains to parish life is that it’s not only those warming the pews who are growing in number, it’s the seminarians dedicated to the Extraordinary Form. Many of their seminaries are literally overflowing–needing to find alternative places to house these men. While many dioceses are consolidating or spreading the responsibilities of one priest between multiple churches, many parishes dedicated to the Latin Mass have the opposite happening. Not only do these parishes often have their own live-in priest but they have multiple priests available to administer the sacraments.
On a more shallow note, the Extraordinary Form is cool. There’s a lot of reasons to fall in love with the Church and once you do, it’s hard not to fall in love with something so authentic as the classical form of the liturgy–there’s a reason Pope Benedict XVI decided to call it Extraordinary rather than anything else. The old liturgy is serious, reverent, masculine, and beautiful. This liturgy is part of what has helped us stand out so prominently in the world.
Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair
I, for one, have grown tired of vapid, banal, childish, and ugly liturgy. If you agree, know that you are most definitely not alone. That is why there is a resurgence of the Latin Mass worldwide. Who knows, maybe one day people will look back on this era of the “reformed” Mass as an awkward 50-year blip on the enormous timeline of Catholicism. What is certain is this: we are in the middle of a modern-day Catholic renaissance that will surely lead to the next 2,000 years of Christianity and I sure as hell am looking forward to being part of it.