Today's first reading from Exodus 3 shows God as a liberator, concerned for social justice, in his very first appearance to Moses. He does not name himself only as 'He Who Is' but also as 'the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob' who has heard his people's cry. This reading suggested to me that one of the basic reasons people want the Tridentine Mass back is to banish all those Old Testament texts about God as Liberator, texts suggesting that prophetic concern with justice and peace as at the heart of the Covenant and the Gospel.
Tridentinists oppose concern with the world to adoration of a transcendent God. They create a Manichean dichotomy, which the entire Bible contradicts. The God of Scripture is a God with a singular profile, a Covenant-God who comes to the aid of his people in their concrete circumstances. It is sheer Marcionitism to suggest that the Prophets' vision of justice and peace is a Judaic this-worldliness that has been surpassed by the Gospel, or retained only as an exercise of charity.
Tridentinists say that God saves us from sin, not from worldly woes. But Scripture does not support this dichotomy either. In Scripture sin is never a merely individual thing; it has social consequences. The ills of society, such as war, servitude, poverty, are our sin writ large, or what is called social sin. A Mass that cannot connect with this is not fully biblical.
If you go back to the old lectionary and give the priest no place to add personal contemporizing inflections to the ritual except in the Sunday sermon slot, then you can suppress the integral biblical vision of Vatican II and of the revived liturgy it enables. You can have a cosy, aesthetic, escapist 'Me and God' liturgy. That is not what the Eucharist is meant to be. Jesus's meals were revolutionary actions -- embracing social change. Tridentinists will quickly leap up with the accusation: you are making Jesus a Marxist! Well, of course Marx was inspired by the Prophets. But the social revolution of the Eucharist, though it includes feeding the hungry and building peace goes beyond that in creating a spiritual community united to God.
Benedict XVI speaks of the collapse of the liturgy. But perhaps where he sees collapse, others could see growing pains. There is no problem with the vernacular liturgy as such, as the immensely meaningful liturgies celebrated by Anglicans can show us. The problem is that our biblical culture is still too undeveloped. Now, all those good priests who swotted the Jerome Biblical Commentary are being told: 'Forget it. The Old Testament is out, as is most of the New Testament; Latin and rubrics are in.'
One priest has written a book expressing his objection in conscience to the Tridentine restoration as a betrayal of Vatican II: Paulo Farninella, Ritorno all's antica Messa, Il Segno dei Gabrielli Editori; [email protected]). Cardinal Martini has also made his view clear:
The cardinal, a widely respected biblical scholar, said the first reason he would not use the old Mass is because "with the Second Vatican Council there was a real step forward in understanding the liturgy and its ability to nourish us with the word of God, offered in a much more abundant way than before."
The old Mass has a one-year cycle of Scripture readings, while the new Mass uses a three-year cycle of different readings for Sundays and a two-year cycle for weekdays.
Cardinal Martini said his second reason for not going back to the old Mass was that it would be symptomatic of "that sense of closure that emanated from the entire kind of Christian life that people lived then."
The cardinal wrote, "I am very grateful to the Second Vatican Council because it opened doors and windows for a Christian life that was happier and more humanly livable."
Obviously, he said, it was possible to live a holy and happy Christian life before the council, but "Christian existence lacked that little grain of mustard that gives added flavor to daily life."
Cardinal Martini's third reason was the need for unity in prayer within each diocese and a practical concern for bishops already struggling to find and assign priests in a way that makes the Eucharist available to as many people as possible.
"Here I trust in the traditional good sense of our people, who will understand how the bishop already struggles to provide the Eucharist to everyone and that it would not be easy to multiply the celebrations or pull out of thin air ordained ministers capable of meeting all the needs of individuals," he said. (http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/0704344.htm)
The role of the Spirit in the revived liturgy is powerfully expressed; whereas there is no reference to the Spirit, and no Epiclesis, in the Roman Canon. The Spirit is another pesky Vatican II innovation that Tridentinists want to put back in its closet. While the pneumatological deficiencies of the Tridentine rite were blameless when we knew no better, consciously to revive them is to quench the Spirit and become a Pneumatomach.
Hence the inopportune restoration of Tridentine rites is a move in the direction of three ancient heresies: Marcionism, Manicheanism and Pneumatomachism. This could be a fatal error for the Catholic Church. In fact it is a concession above all to the theological ignorance, confusion and lack of perspective that so many vocal Catholics are suffering from, as seen for example in this: http://www.catholictradition.org/motu-proprio3.htm. You do not solve such intellectual pathologies by descending to their level and speaking their language. The panic of such people, who have injected the ideology of papal infallibility the wrong way, will greet your overtures as food for their confused anger, and their choice targets of rage are not only Paul VI and Vatican II but, as the link shows, even more so Benedict XVI. What does one do faced with unteachable paranoia? One can only stick all the more to the highest and calmest standards of reason -- in the present case those set by Vatican II. To fall into the paranoid discourse of the Fellays is a misguided strategy that will only multiply confusion.
The restoration of the Tridentine Rite uses an argument of this kind: "What was once true and beautiful remains so eternally. To restore past orthodoxy cannot be to stray from truth." This kind of reasoning stems from a hermeneutical naivety that has been sustained by turning a deaf ear to the entire 19th and 20th century developments in the philosophy of hermeneutics, from Schleiermacher to Ricoeur, Foucault and Derrida, and by absurdly glorifying instead the practices of medieval allegorism as exhumed by Henri de Lubac. History does not award stasis and paralysis, but moves according to the laws of development and change, including changes in the basic regimes of truth presiding over disparate cultural horizons. To step back to a past whose limits you have seen, is to close off the horizon of truth that has since opened up. The rite that was an opening up to truth when celebrated in Tridentine times would now be enacted as a closing to truth.
As to beauty, nothing impedes the use of the most glorious church music for the parts of the Mass traditionally set to music. Nothing impedes either the use of the Roman Canon and some beautiful collects, secrets prefaces, and postcommunions from the old missal in the context of the Novus Ordo celebrated in Latin. But beauty, too, dies; styles changes; new forms emerge; and beauty is reborn from re-engagement with the conditions of a new time. Here, again, the choice is not between a drab present and glorious past, but between a living present and a dead past, or more simply put, a choice between life and death.