13 November 2006

How would the Old Mass help?

Taken from Fr Tim Finigan's Blog
Part 1, 2, 3

Personal experience
In response to my post on the Halloween Mass, Puella Paschalis asked how greater use of the Classical Rite would help to prevent or decrease liturgical abuses. We might also ask whether it is better to push for greater freedom of the Classical Rite or simply to further the more reverent celebration of the Novus Ordo.

Until December 2001, my own position was that in the vast majority of parishes in the Church, the Novus Ordo was well established and that, practically speaking, it was not worth expending much energy on the Classical Rite. I have many friends who only celebrate the Novus Ordo, who do so with great dignity and reverence, and whose parishes are beacons of good practice. Some of them were a little dismayed by my conversion to being a Classical Rite enthusiast: I am sure some of them discounted it as Tim Finigan being a bit inclined to seek a lost cause and a last ditch.

What brought about my conversion was something quite simple. I was asked to celebrate a funeral Mass for a parishioner who happened to be the aunt of a long-standing friend from Oxford days. My friend’s family were all devotees of the old rite and asked me to celebrate the funeral accordingly. I agreed without hesitation: whatever my views on the old rite, I always felt that it was foolish and unfair to persecute those who wanted it. When I got home, I realised that my snap decision left me less than two weeks to learn how to celebrate the rite. Fortunately, I had studied Latin in Rome with Fr Foster and was able to read through the Ritus Servandus and work things out more or less. My friend and near neighbour, Fr Charles Briggs gave me a run-through and I managed without any major gaffes.

From the day of that funeral, I became a passionate supporter of the rehabilitation of the Classical Rite. Frs Basden and Southwell helped me by recommending various books to read, and Michael Davies kindly gave me the instruction booklet, video and a set of altar cards. I progressively devoured Klaus Gamber’s “The Modern Roman Rite”, Alcuin Reid’s “The Organic Development of the Liturgy”, and Cardinal Ratzinger’s “The Spirit of the Liturgy”.

It is hard to pinpoint exactly what brought about such a complete volte face. I think I could summarise it by saying that the celebration of Mass in the Classical Rite brought into sharper focus than I had ever known before the priest’s personal devotion during the Mass; and crucially, the importance of this devotion for the genuine participation of the faithful.

Two things in particular brought about this “sharpening of focus”. The first was the old rite’s constant devotional reminders given by the private prayers of the priest. Psalm 42, the Aufer a nobis, the Oramus te, the longer preparation for the Gospel, the offertory prayers, the prayers before and after communion, and the Placeat tibi all emphasise the priest as a sinner in need of redemption, purification and, above all, humility before the majesty of the action which he is simultaneously participating in as a sinner and making present in persona Christi.

I say “sharpening of focus” because none of these themes of devotion is necessarily absent in a reverent celebration of the Novus Ordo and they can be absent in a hurried and mechanical celebration of the Classical Rite. However, the experience of celebrating the Classical Rite helped to strip away the consciousness of being a “presider” and outline starkly the reality of being an abjectly unworthy minister of such an awesome mystery.

Inextricably tied in with this sense of unworthiness is a very different emphasis on assisting the faithful to participate genuinely in the actio Dei. The priest has little choice in the use of texts. He may choose to add particular collects but this does not have the same impact as the vast range of choices presented by the Novus Ordo in the ordinary prayers of the Mass. In the Classical Rite, the priest is stripped of his power to impose his personality on the Mass. All that he can do to aid the genuine participation of the faithful is to celebrate Mass reverently and devoutly, knowing that his own state of soul is the only important factor in anything that depends on him.

Followers of this blog may contrast this with the huge impact of the priest’s personality in something as aberrant as the “Halloween Mass” or in something as mildly personal as a slightly humorous remark in the introduction to the Mass permitted in the Novus Ordo. To celebrate the Classical Rite can remind any priest of his true place in the Liturgy.

I realise that part I of this essay does not entirely address the question asked by Puella Paschalis – How will the use of the Classical Rite stop abuses? At one level, of course, it will do nothing. Those who are implacably opposed to the old rite will carry on as before, perhaps deriding those parishes that make the old rite available, and finding any excuse to show how unpastoral it all is.

However, the principal effect of liberalising the Classical Rite would be to pass the initiative back to those who are loyal to the Church. At the present time, we have a veritable bibliography of official documents from the Vatican condemning abuses and ordering their cessation. Yet still we have the “Halloween Mass” and any number of lesser abuses perpetuated on a daily basis in parishes throughout the Western Church. In order to counteract these abuses, the faithful must write to the Bishop, or the Nuncio, or to the Congregation for Divine Worship, wait for replies, excuses, and diplomatic manoeuvres, and, in many cases, return unsatisfied.

Were the Classical Rite to be liberalised, the clergy, especially those young and full of zeal for tradition, would be free to take the initiative, without being slurred as disobedient or out of tune with “the mind of the Church”. The very existence of the Classical Rite as one of the family of Western rites, approved and allowed by the Church, would help to dispel some of the scruples and excessive rubricism that afflicts some modern liturgists. You say that good liturgy involves the priest “engaging with the people”? – well here is a liturgy in which the priest does not even raise his eyes above the altar rail when greeting them liturgically: and it is approved by the Holy See. You say that good liturgy involves a committee to choose the texts to ensure active participation? – well here is a liturgy in which the texts are set down, given, received: and it is approved by the Holy See.

General permission for the old rite would have the effect of wiping out many of the “given” principles of liturgical celebration that have plagued the Novus Ordo and hampered the efforts of many good priests in promoting a worthy and dignified celebration of the Mass. Their solemnity, their formality in the rites, their self-effacing attitude to “presiding”, their insistence on observing the rubrics: all of these things would overnight become part and parcel of the whole Western Church’s liturgical patrimony once more. Freedom to celebrate the old rite would have a very encouraging effect on those priests who celebrate the new rite with care.

Then there is the question of the “mixing of rites” which I consider to be a positive thing – but in one direction only.

Mixing of Rites
One common comment that I hear, especially from priests, regarding the old rite, is “I don’t agree with the mixing of rites.” I beg to differ. I do agree with the mixing of rites: but only in one direction.

I do not think it is a sensible thing to attempt to enforce upon the SSPX or the FSSP or the ICSP any of the liturgical reforms that have taken place in the wake of Vatican II. The principle is now firmly established that the Classical Roman Rite was not abolished, and it would be difficult to persuade any devotees of the old rite to accept even minor changes introduced during the 60s. There is a live debate in scholarly circles about the wisdom of some of the reforms introduced even before Vatican II, notably in the Breviary and in Holy Week. It makes sense to leave well alone as far as the old Mass is concerned.

However the Novus Ordo does not have any such privileged position. I was interested to read recently that Cardinal Estevez wished to modify the 3rd edition of the Pauline Missale Romanum to allow the use of the old Offertory Prayers. He was thwarted in this but it remains a sensible suggestion. In fact, I know of several priests who use the old prayers when saying the Offertory silently. Some people might wish to say that this is an abuse. I would argue that since these prayers have a venerable antiquity, it would be better simply to allow them officially and to absolve these good and faithful priests of any scruples.

Similarly, Cardinal Ratzinger himself advocated allowing the use of both priestly prayers before Communion, and the recitation of the Canon in silence. Mixing of rites? I would not be worried about this kind of mixing. Would it be such a terrible thing if priests were allowed to genuflect more during the Mass, to make more ceremonial gestures of blessing, to say the Leonine Prayers after Mass, or to recite the Last Gospel? Some of these things could be introduced without officially breaking the rubrics of the Novus Ordo (there is nothing to say that a priest cannot silently recite the Aufer a nobis as he goes up to the altar, and there is nothing to prevent a priest saying some prayers with the people after Mass.) However, official encouragement would again give the initiative to priests who are fully loyal to the Holy See and enable them to provide more devotional food for the faithful.

The Novus Ordo was produced in a hurry less than 40 years ago. It should not be considered immune from “contamination” with elements of the old rite. A “mixed rite” with vernacular readings but many ceremonial elements from the Roman tradition would be welcomed by many faithful priests. That sort of mixing – the introduction of traditional elements into the new rite – would be a great help, especially if it were officially sanctioned, removing any scruples from orthodox clergy who only celebrate the new rite.

However, this will probably only come about if the old rite (without changes) is liberalised and celebrated more freely. Such freedom will immensely help the reverent celebration of the new rite and will reinforce those who have remained resolutely loyal to the Church during difficult times.

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