Some have argued that the Tridentine Mass must be retained as a historical heritage, just as the Greek Church has retained its ancient liturgy unchanged. It can flourish alongside the modernized post-conciliar liturgy, thus bringing a healthy pluralism into the Church’s worship. However, I see many problems with this apparently reasonable suggestion.
First, the theology of the Tridentine ritual – the individualism of some prayers (at the Offertory, for example) and the lack of many elements of the liturgy that, by contrast, are well represented in the Greek Church, notably the role of the Holy Spirit – has had its limitations shown up by the theological and liturgical movement culminating in Vatican II – and one cannot go back on true insight once attained.
Second, the Greek, Russian and Coptic churches have not had a Vatican II moment of aggiornamento and many would say that their theology is fossilized. Indeed, the current restorationism in the Roman Church may have the effect in the long term of reducing it, too, to a fossil – something that can survive until the end of time, as a small remnant, spiritually edifying but intellectually dead. The Greek and Russian churches do not have, as far as I know, an alternative vernacular liturgy with more biblical content. That choice is not offered to the people. In our church it has been offered and has been enthusiastically embraced. In
Third, the Roman liturgy has never been at a standstill. The Tridentine mass is the product of a drastic modernizing reform at
Fourth, none of the virtues of the Tridentine mass are lost in the current form of the liturgy. If one celebrates the new mass as a solemn high mass in Latin with Gregorian chant, music by Palestrina, etc., one will have not lost much of what was experienced in the Tridentine high mass. In my memory, even that was normally celebrated as a dull routine, with the Missa de Angelis as the staple music. The ordinary mass had for music a batch of hymns to the Sacred Heart. I doubt if the revivalists are enthused about the dialogue masses that some churches practiced at that time, for these are too much like the new mass in Latin; they would no douby see dialogue masses as an advance warning of Vatican II, a Trojan horse. So the responses would have to be left to altar boys (not girls, who are anathema to traditionalists), who would have to be trained again to memorize the Latin by heart without understanding it. Where are the religious sisters who will undertake the task of training them? A lot of the propaganda for the Tridentine mass points to the ineptitude of our current celebration; but even if the Tridentine mass were set up again despite the above mentioned practical difficulties, this would not at all ensure that Catholic musical culture would suddenly flourish or that sermons would be better – the drastic reduction of the presence of Scripture in the liturgy would probably ensure that they were worse; there is a distaste for Scripture and scriptural preaching in a lot of the Tridentinist propaganda.
Fifth, the celebration of the Tridentine Mass in present circumstances overwhelmingly suggests a rejection of Vatican II, which is why Cardinal Martini has said he will never celebrate it. Yes, the letter accompanying the Motu Proprio dismisses this last fear as absolutely groundless. But this raises questions about what Vatican II itself meant. The phrase “Spirit of the Council” used countless times by Paul VI is now discredited by those who reduced the Council to a set of documents spelling only minor changes in church procedures. The current issue of Cristianesimo nella Storia has articles by four seasoned theologians, none of whom is a flaky liberal – Joseph Komonchak, Christoph Theobald, Peter Hünermann and Giuseppe Ruggieri, arguing against the exaggerated ‘hermeneutic of continuity’ that would render insignificant the event-quality of Vatican II (John XXIII’s ‘New Pentecost’) or that would reduce it to a minor blip on the radar-screen of history. See http://thenewliturgicalmovement.blogspot.com/2007/12/battle-for-hermeneutic-of-vatican-ii.html.
I find some apposite comments by Richard McBrien, Essays in Theology, Dec. 10, 2007, who quotes Nathan Mitchell from the November issue of Worship, ‘Mitchell points out that the recent papal permission for the use of an “extraordinary form” of the Roman Rite, namely, the Latin Mass according to the missal of 1962, is unprecedented in the history of liturgical reform. Previous reforms of the missal always included and superseded its predecessors. But contradicting that principle is not the only unprecedented element in the motu proprio. It allows “a group of the lay faithful” to request the use of the Latin Mass of their pastor, without securing the approval of the local bishop, as Pope John Paul II had required. “Is there any other liturgical situation in the Roman Church that gives such broad power to lay petitioners,” Mitchell asks.’
Traditionalists claim that this should be welcomed as democracy in action. But the Motu Proprio is very much against popular wishes, favoring the tiny minority of traditionalists to such an extent that even the priests in Novara diocese who refused to provide the ordinary form of the Eucharist any longer were approved by Msgr Camille Perl of the Vatican’s Ecclesia Dei commission as following the mind if not the letter of the Motu Proprio. Moreover, the Curia shows little alacrity in meeting lay demands for inculturated liturgy even when these are back by the bishops. The Motu Proprio allows the minority of traditionalist laity to doubly bypass the authority of the bishops, first by celebrating the Tridentine mass without consulting the bishop, second by appealing over the bishop’s head to the Ecclesia Dei commission if the bishop, in cases of dispute, does not find in their favor.
McBrien continues : ‘“No one would deny,” Mitchell writes, “that the postconciliar liturgy – like the eucharistic liturgy described by Paul in 1 Cor. 11 – has suffered its share of improprieties and indignities. Yet the use of the 1962 missal does nothing, in itself, to immunize either the liturgy or the faithful against such indignities and ‘deformations’. To be sure, that preconciliar missal “shaped and nurtured [the] lifelong love of the Roman Rite” experienced by many Catholics of those pre-Vatican II generations. But Professor Mitchell also recalls its own “deformations.” “I remember pitifully scaled-down sung Masses...with their propers ‘chanted’ in an incomprehensible recto tono because the solo singer didn’t dare ‘delay Father at the altar’.” He also recalled, as this writer does, the “nightmarish” Holy Saturday “celebration,” conducted in the semi-darkness of early morning, with barely 20 or 25 people present…
‘Nathan Mitchell turns his attention next to the underlying ecclesiology that prompts a tiny band of Catholics to express, in quite emphatic ways, a preference for the Latin Mass… Is the Mass a private devotion, designed as a comforting background for one’s private meditations and prayers, or is it a communal celebration that is supposed to involve the whole congregation according to their different roles? Pope Paul VI in 1965 gave an answer in unequivocal terms. The “new way of doing things,” the pope declared, “will have to be different; it will have to prevent and shake up the passivity of the people present at Mass. Before, it was enough to assist; now it is necessary to take part. Before, being there was enough; now attention and activity are required”… If the motu proprio is “taken as a license for active recruitment to the preconciliar liturgy,” Mitchell argues, “it is hard to see how Pope Benedict’s longed-for ‘reconciliation at the heart of the church’ can be achieved.”’
McBrien and Mitchell must know that Paul VI is treated with the greatest contempt by the restorationists. The book by Archbishop Piero Marini, papal liturgist since 1987, A Challenging Reform (The Liturgical Press), to be launched by Cardinal Murphy O’Connor this month, spells out the sinister activities that have been going on in Rome for the last three decades, aimed at burying the work of Paul VI and with it the “Spirit of Vatican II” which he so often invoked. It describes ‘the rise of a decentralized and dynamic reform movement in the 1960s and its “curialization” in the 1970s by Vatican officials afraid of losing control.”
A Challenging Reform (The Liturgical Press), to be launched by Cardinal Murphy O’Connor this month, spells out the sinister activities that have been going on in Rome for the last three decades, aimed at burying the work of Paul VI and with it the “Spirit of Vatican II” which he so often invoked. It describes ‘the rise of a decentralized and dynamic reform movement in the 1960s and its “curialization” in the 1970s by Vatican officials afraid of losing control.”
‘In 1964, Pope Paul VI established the Consilium for the Implementation of the Constitution on the Liturgy, an international body that operated with considerable independence from existing Roman Curia offices. From the beginning... the consilium's efforts met with resistance from traditionalist Curia members, who tried to curb the reform by “opposing real liturgical change and maintaining the status quo.” In 1969, the consilium was transformed into the Congregation for Divine Worship. Just six years later, the worship congregation was disbanded under growing criticism from other Vatican offices. “This was probably one of the first signs of a tendency to return to a preconciliar mindset that has for years now characterized the Curia's approach... As more and more time passes since the Second Vatican Council, an event charged with such hope and desire for renewal, its distinctive contributions seem to be increasingly questioned.”’
‘The Roman Curia's opposition took many forms: official and open disagreement, scathing articles published under pseudonyms, newsletters or pamphlets circulated among the hierarchy, and private meetings. Hostility sometimes was based on hearsay. When the consilium conducted closed-door liturgical experiments in a chapel near the
‘While Archbishop Bugnini was on vacation in 1975... several private meetings sealed his fate. Shortly afterward, the Congregation for Divine Worship was disbanded and Archbishop Bugnini was sent to