Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Options, Footnotes and altogether too much talking

I suppose regular readers of this Blog would have formed the view that Michael Sternbeck is "Old Mass".  Quite true.  Over many years, I have read widely on the history of the Sacred Liturgy, with a critical eye for the difference between propaganda and scholarship.  I continue to try to do this.  The findings of scholarly research can sometimes prove very challenging to accepted theories about the nature of the Liturgy in the Early Church.  Take, for example, the more recent debunking of claims made in the 1960's and 1970's about the antiquity of Mass versus populum.  Or, the disputed authenticity of the so-called Canon of Hippolytus, now partly used as the Second Eucharist Prayer in the New Order of Mass.

By most measures, the New Mass has not been the success that propagandists have tried to persuade us of.  Liturgical scholars and others, including Josef Ratzinger, put this down to its being the construct of a committee of scholars and liturgists, rather than an organic development from the Church's Tradition.    You've read all this type of thing before, so I need not reiterate it here.

There is too much talking in the New Mass, with not enough space for quiet prayer.  Too many options, leading priests to believe that they can create their own options.  Despite the propaganda put about from the 1970's onward that the Old Mass was centred on the Priest (to the exclusion of the "Assembly"), it is the New Mass which places the priest in the position of celebrant-entertainer or emcee to a captive audience.  Did Voltaire have this phenomenon in mind when he wrote: "God is a comedian playing to an audience which is afraid to laugh"?  All sorts of frightfulness can and has resulted from this change in ritualistic emphasis.  Most celebrants, however, don't seek to be entertainers.  Then there are some who know no better and have been taught to offer Mass in this manner, for all sorts of reasons.  It's not all bad, of course. 

Many Ecclesiastical careers have been based on the New Mass being an unrivalled success-story.  The truth of the matter is otherwise.  My generation and the generation older than me (who implemented the Changes) will all have to die out before a substantial renewal of the Liturgy can take place.  What we now name the New Order of Mass or Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite will, I would say, be gradually changed so it resembles more and more the so-called Interim Rite of 1965, partly Latin, partly vernacular and whose rituals still largely resembled those of the Extraordinary Form.  This is the actual form of the Mass which the Council Fathers envisaged, the Mass of Vatican II.

One thing, however, is clear: the Extraordinary Form (the Old Mass, the Missal of 1962), should be left untouched.  This Rite is not perfect.  I don't buy into the argument that it was codified by the Holy Spirit himself, or other extreme claims put around about it.  Its rituals should be left just as they are, as a counterpoint to the New Order.  Perhaps this is why Pope Benedict has asked that the Old Mass be readily available, preferably in every Parish (Summorum Pontificum).  Perhaps he wishes us to recognise that not everyone prays in the same way and alternatives should be available. Liberality please.

This opinion-piece, inspired by the writings of Father Hunwicke, has been prepared in response to an article I received from a well-meaning priest who, somewhat sadly, believes that the Extraordinary Form can be improved by incorporating more elements of the New Order of Mass into it.  This grotesque concept fits perfectly the scriptural maxim, warning of the dangers of pouring New wine into Old wineskins.