[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.]
How “old” is the “Old Use” really?
To continue to speak as though there is some intrinsically aesthetic inequality between the two uses of the Roman Rite is disturbing. It denotes the very false comparison practices that lead to misconceptions about what exactly the Roman Rite is in its most authentic character (we will revisit that soon). The long and the short of it is that we must abjure such comparisons because they are both needless and grievously misleading. Aesthetics are, in many cases, merely in the eye of the beholder. I cherish the EF (I truly do!), but I do not find in it the same grandiose reverence that devotees of it find. Yes, it is beautiful in a general sense but, for me, it is nowhere near as mystically edifying as a well celebrated OF. Of course, I don’t criticize those who find the EF spiritually more nourishing than the OF ... but I also do not brook those who make their personal preferences (anymore than I my own) quasi-equivalent to “proper” liturgy.
I believe that I can demonstrate the errors these false comparisons cause by pointing out another common objection to the OF: one that characterizes some of the older prayers in the usus antiquior as “ancient”. The reality is that only about a handful or so of the rich, layered text of the old use are really ancient (that is, pre-medieval). Many things from the old offertory prayers, to the prayers accompanying liturgical actions, to the very symbolic rituals themselves are incredibly late in their origin. Some do not even out-date Protestantism!
To use unnecessarily caustic language like “trashing”, as is often done, to refer to the removal of these prayers is a characterization that is both uncharitable and false. The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council mandated (not suggested, not speculated about — mandated) that many of the late additions that had crept in to the Roman Rite were to be removed (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium II:50). That was the word of an Ecumenical Council — the highest expression of the Church’s magisterial authority. Ven. Paul VI and his Consilium did exactly as the Ecumenical Council asked of them and removed many of these things, while (as I showed above) keeping some of the more demonstrably valuable practices. Now, one can respectfully disagree with some of what they did to a certain extent, but, in the end, the complaints may(!) have more to do with what Vatican II asked of the Pope rather than what he actually did. One should take note of this; I had to and it was helpful.
Yet another objection is the question as to what justified the changes in the first place. I will give two: one regarding the restoration of ancient uses and culling of medieval additions, and another regarding the accessibility of the Holy Mass to all those involved in it.
Firstly, the idea of restoring the Roman Rite to the “ways of the Fathers” is nothing new; it was attempted during the reign of Pope St. Pius V, but only succeeded in a limited way for lack of documentary information. Many liturgists and members of the Magisterium have sought such a return to the sources, and this is what occurred after Vatican II in a truly marvelous way.
That is one justification (and a quite solid one, I might add) for why many of these texts and actions were culled. But, as I said, there is also another. As beautiful and symbolic as many of these things of the older use were, they had become so semiotically obscured that even some of greatest Western liturgists could not definitively state that which was their purpose (or even where they came from). If even these giants of liturgiology could not adequately express such meaning, how much less the laity!
We must remember that Vatican II also mandated that the rites be simplified so that their meaning could be much more easily grasped by all, not just experts (cf. SC I:III: 34). To paraphrase a priest of my Diocese, the Catholic Church must have room for both the Magi and the shepherds before the altar of God. She is never to be a Church for the intellectual or aesthetic elite; if she became that, she would truly cease to be “catholic”. Here are but two strong justifications for the liturgical changes; which many claim are not even present, much less open to formulation.
The History of the Latin MassSome opponents of the reforms also bring to bear a quote from Cardinal Ratzinger, who later became Pope Benedict XVI. In this quote, Ratzinger appears to criticize the reforms as “banal” or “fabricated”. The context of the quote however suggests that the good cardinal was referring to the abuses and the presentation of the new books to the world by many in the hierarchy. Nevertheless, the continued use of this quote to point out the “banality” of the OF — and the prayers that “replaced” older ones — is still quite common. Ultimately these criticisms betray a lack of understanding of true liturgical development in the Roman tradition and the very organic nature of the liturgy (more on that later). We need a brief history lesson on the development of the Roman Rite to point this out.
The original Roman Rite, which developed in Latin-speaking North Africa and the See of St. Peter, was characterized by Jewish synagogue worship and the classical Roman ethnic temperament. This is one of the things that make the Roman Rite unique from both the Eastern Rites and the non-Roman Western Rites. A good example of this early Roman Rite is that of the Roman Stational Masses by Pope St. Gregory the Great, recorded in ancient ordines and other documents. These primary sources from that age give us an almost exact replica of the “Novus Ordo” (with the glaring exception of the Universal Prayer, which is even more ancient that St. Gregory!).
As this early Roman Rite began to spread throughout Europe, it took on many aspects from non-Roman Western Rites (especially the Gallican Rite). These rites, in turn, were inspired by Eastern liturgies, which are noted for their poetic beauty, aesthetic nature, and prolix prayers. The Roman Rite, through a process of absorption, took on these aspects and literally changed or evolved. The final form of these evolutions was that codified by Pope St. Pius V after the Ecumenical Council of Trent.
As mentioned earlier, one of the mandates of Vatican II was that the Roman Liturgy be restored to the structure it held in the days of the Fathers, which, again as mentioned, was something long desired by Roman liturgical scholars. What this inevitably meant was that many of the Eastern-originated prayers needed to be removed. Thus so-called “banal” versions and prayers (by this it is mistakenly meant more simple and less flowery prayers) are not as novel as many think. As I mentioned above however, the Church, in her wisdom, maintained many things that were gained by the advancing Roman Rite that had true value. I get all of this information, in part, from Fr. Adrian Fortescue (especially his A.D. 1912 study on the Mass). He himself states:
“Whether you like symbolic ritual or not, the Roman rite is essentially not ritualistic. ... The Roman rite has always been exceedingly plain, almost bald. The character of ancient Rome — stern, plain, sensible, rather than poetic — shows in the Roman rite.”
The simple reality is that what many misunderstand (or perhaps reject) in the simplicity, sobriety, and plainness of the OF is, in itself, a demonstration of one of the most visible characteristics of the Roman Rite proper. Even the EF, while having more Gallican elements, still maintains the Roman simplicity to lesser degree than the OF (this, too, is pointed out by Fr. Fortescue). The Church, in her wisdom, wanted to simplify and restore this Roman temperament even more than what we had in the EF, and that simplification is the very OF that was promulgated by Ven. Paul VI in his Papal decree Missale Romanum.