Monday, July 14, 2014

“The Mass of All Time”: Part I

[For the next four days, I will be reprinting in its full length a Facebook post from a Dominican novice, Anthony J. J. Mathison. I’ve done some minor detail work — replacing straight quotation marks with “smart quotes”, justification of the margins, inclusion of links, etc. — broken it into four subtitled sections because of the length (over 5,300 words), and broken long paragraphs into two or three for easier reading. In all other respects, the essay is just as it appeared in Facebook. I’ll reserve my own comments until Friday; I’ll also turn the combox off until the final post.]

Part I


One of the greatest and most salutary aspects of the liturgical reforms carried out by Ven. Pope Paul VI at the behest of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council was the restoration of numerous elements of the ancient Roman liturgical rite and character that were lost over the centuries. The unique genius of the Roman Rite was recaptured and accentuated, while non-Roman elements (e.g. Gallican, Celtic, Sarum, etc.) were reduced greatly. The Holy Mass that we have today is almost a complete recovery of that used by Pope St. Gregory the Great in the seventh century A.D. It would be an error however to think that the restorations of the ancient Roman Rite consisted of a complete rejection of all post-Gallican Rite and medieval influences. Such a thing would be the very false archealogism condemned by Ven. Pope Pius XII in his encyclical, Mediator Dei (cf. no. 61-63).  

While the reformed Roman Rite of today does marvelously make visible the pure Latin liturgical character of the Western Fathers, it also maintains many of the salutary and beautiful practices gained from non-Roman Western rites, and, especially, medieval piety. For example: In the Holy Mass alone we have the “Orate Fratres” prayer;[1] the Offertory secret; the practice of genuflection; the opening sign of the Cross; the Penitential Rite; the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed; the post-consecration elevation of the Host and Chalice; the swinging of the thurible; the blessings of various objects; the priest’s private pre-communion prayers; and many more elements of the Roman Eucharist can be shown to have, often quite late, medieval or renaissance origins. Thus, not only did the Roman Rite of Ven. Pope Paul VI restore the pre-medieval character of the Roman Liturgy, it also continued the medieval piety that so richly adorned our ancestors; as well as the Gallican elements that make our liturgical heritage rightly “Romano-Frankish” (much as how the modern Byzantine Rite is “Greco-Slavic” in character).

Put more simply, the so-called “new” Roman Rite is not really “new” at all. In fact, it restores ancient, Patristic practices lost from the Western liturgy by accidents of history, but it also continues the Gallican and medieval elements that made the Roman Rite so beautiful and rich. Celebrants who utilize the modern Roman Rite alongside the pre-conciliar Roman Rite and other older liturgical uses (e.g. the Dominican Rite) will be able to see this quite clearly; hence the immense wisdom of Pope Benedict XVI in his now famous motu proprio, Summorum Pontificum.

There are those however who, no doubt inspired by reactionary propaganda, reject these facts and continue to assert the very “hermeneutic of rupture and discontinuity” that was condemned by the aforementioned Pope Emeritus. In doing this, they not only fail to distinguish between numerous important issues, but they also cause the possibility of quite needless scandal for otherwise devout Catholics who have yet the receive the opportunity to study or actually learn the deep wisdom behind what the Magisterium did in the liturgical reforms, as well as why they did it in the first place. Since many of these objections repeat themselves rather consistently, I will endeavor here to provide a concise but thorough series of answers to some of these complaints.

Nevertheless, I do sympathize with my brethren who labor under these misconceptions and concerns. About four years ago I too suffered from the same doubts; so much so that I was even considering abandoning the ancient Roman Rite of my Hispanic forefathers to embrace the Byzantine Rite of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church (an admittedly acceptable and venerable path for those called to it). I was blessed however to have a spiritual director — a Roman deacon, no less — who helped moderate my vicissitudes. I came to realize that, despite my immense internal angst and confusion (not to mention dissatisfaction with what I misunderstood as liturgical mediocrity in the new books), I needed to follow the advice of Sacred Scripture (Ps. 27:14) and wait on the Lord.

By His grace, I did so, and as I continued my studies He revealed through His servants (Popes, Bishops, priests, theologians, liturgists, etc.) the truth about the reforms. In that glorious light of Veritas, I not only came to accept the Ordinary Form, but actually — and what unmerited grace from God this was! — I came to love it deeply, even to the point of preferring it to both the Extraordinary Form (for which I have great respect) and the Byzantine Rite. Obviously, I cannot provide such graces to the reader, but I hope — in my feeble and unprofitable ability — to give some of the same knowledge that I received, as well as provide doorways to those same wonderful servants of God who helped me.

To that end, I will begin this essay by listing a series of authors whose works have, in some way or form, deepened my understanding of this topic. These include, but are not necessary limited to: Fr. John F. Baldovin SJ; Fr. Paul Geiger; Dave Armstrong; Shawn McElhinney; Professor Enrico Mazza; Mike Aquilina; Msgr. Nicola Bux; James Likoudis; Dr. Kenneth D. Whitehead; Fr. Louis Bouyer; Dom Gregory Dix; Cardinal Arinze; Msgr. Peter Elliott; Fr. Thomas Pott O.S.B.; Bishop Marc Aillet; Fr. Denis Crouan S.T.D.; Abbé François Amiot; Fr. Josef Jungmann; Fr. Adrian Fortescue; Dom Bernard Botte; Fr. Cipriano Vagaggini; Cardinal Ratzinger; Fr. Max Thurian; all recent Popes; numerous Bishops, and so on. All of these in some way, shape, or form have helped me form my opinions (the Magisterium most of all). I hope to continue studying them and others. I encourage the readers of my essay to read or purchase the books on the Sacred Liturgy written by these scholarly luminaries, as they have far more credentials than I.

Differences in Appearances

I begin with the first and most common objection: why does the older use (the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite; henceforth denoted by “EF”) appear so different from the newer use (the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite; henceforth denoted by “OF”)? Well, to begin with, the difference in appearance in not as great as one might think. The OF represents a reform and simplification of the EF, and so the core of the Roman Liturgy remains substantially the same. Another reason why there may appear to be a divergent “look” to the two uses is that many parishes, unfortunately, do not celebrate the OF in accord with the traditional ethos; but this is not the fault of the new liturgical books.

I have also noticed that when such comparisons are made, it is often on quite unfair terms: that is, we compare a solemn high Mass in the EF with a weekday or ferial Lord’s Day Mass in the OF. Anyone in such a circumstance can be led to see some kind of “superiority” in the old use. Of course, such false comparisons happen in a different direction too: a solemn Lord’s Day Mass in the OF with incense, chanting, and bells against a low Mass in the EF. The reality is that such comparisons are illusory. But beyond that, what many see as the beauty, reverence, and otherwise aesthetically pleasing aspects of the older use are simply due to the rubrical norms of that form. I agree that such things are beautiful, but we must remember that such beauty does not necessarily convey true devotion. Much of the EF’s beauty is written into the rubrics in such a way that a non-Catholic Christian could follow the rituals of the EF and have it come across as a reasonable facsimile of aesthetic beauty. Indeed, so called “high church” Anglicans do this all the time, though they lack a true Eucharist (insofar as Pope Leo XIII’s Apostolicae Curae still applies).

In any case, the reality is that much (indeed, almost all) of the reverence that people find attractive in the older use is both possible and right for the newer books. Pope Benedict XVI himself stated this in the accompanying letter with Summorum Pontificum:

“The celebration of the Mass according to the Missal of Paul VI will be able to demonstrate, more powerfully than has been the case hitherto, the sacrality which attracts many people to the former usage. The most sure guarantee that the Missal of Paul VI can unite parish communities and be loved by them consists in its being celebrated with great reverence in harmony with the liturgical directives. This will bring out the spiritual richness and the theological depth of this Missal.”


Part II
Part III
Part IV

[1] “Pray, brothers and sisters, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.”—ASL

© 2014 Anthony J. J. Mathison. Reprinted by permission.