Critical Mass: The View From Arlington
(Warning: The following, although part of a continuing occasional series, nonetheless employs various ecclesiastical references of an arcane and highly specialized nature, so as to cause an eventual glazing over of the eyes by the average reader. Discretion is advised.)
Today, for the first time since 1970, the form of the Roman Mass identified as "Tridentine"* was licitly and publicly celebrated in the Diocese of Arlington, at Saint Lawrence Parish in Franconia.
It was a full house. The schola "Canticum Novum" was on hand to lead the singing, and the faithful joined in the hymns and chants with fervor. The celebrant, Father Paul de Ladurantaye, gave a moving homily on the gospel parable of the Good Shepherd. He concluded by reminding us that, in the reformed calendar, today was the feast of Pope St Pius V, who codified the Roman Missal for normative use in the Western church in 1570.
But the real tip of the Black Hat goes to the unsung hero of this notable event for traditional Catholics in Northern Virginia. Ed Snider has been dilligently leading one petition drive after another, meeting personally with two bishops of Arlington, over the course of nearly twenty years. Finally, on this auspicious occasion, all that banging of his head against the wall has finally paid off!
There were a few surprises. A seminarian from the Fraternity of St Peter was on hand as master of ceremonies, as well as serving as the tonsured lector for chanting the Epistle. People accustomed to singing the Pater Noster in both English and Latin, were unaware that in the 1962 Missal, only the priest chants it. They still have yet to learn, despite a discreet attempt by one of the acolytes on the side to quell them. I've seen situations, though, where certain practices discontinued by the 1962 Missal, such as the Confetior before Communion, persist without challenge. That didn't happen here. In any case, and in light of such latitude in practice, singing the Lord's Prayer by the assembly doesn't appear to be the worst thing that could happen.
BUT... what surprised me in particular, was avoiding the use of the fixed free-standing altar, in favor of the edifice with the reredos and tabernacle situated behind it, that which would have been the main altar in a previous era. I've seen this practice adopted before, and so I'm sure there's a very creative explanation somewhere. I'd love to hear it.
But here's the thing. One of the conditions of the Indult is, that those for whom it is extended accept the validity of the reformed Roman Missal, also known as the Missal of Paul VI, or by that obnoxious pejorative term, "the Novus Ordo." Assuming it cannot be moved out of the way, the only reason not to use that which is officially the main altar in the sanctuary, in favor of something that would have served that purpose in another era, is that the former is unsuitable for offering sacrifice.
Since a free-standing altar can be used "ad orientem" (facing East, or by the misnomer "with the priest's back to the people"), its suitability cannot be questioned -- except by those who would disparage it as "the Cranmer table," a reference that would bely its sacrificial usage. But if you're going to take that position (and this happens in numerous other situations, so I figure this is nothing new), then it's a very short walk to questioning whether that which takes place upon it is indeed a Sacrifice -- and calling into question the granting of the Indult in the first place. If we're going to placate the legitimate sensibilities of people who are attached to the traditional usage, is this honestly where we wish to make it?
In his book The History and the Future of the Roman Liturgy (original French edition 2001, English edition by Ignatius Press 2005), Denis Crouan writes:
Contrary to what is sometimes supposed, liturgical tradition has always required that the altar be separate from the wall of the church so that it can be in a position of prominence [mis en valeur]. It was not until the medieval period that the custom began of providing the altar wit h a backing or "reredos," thereby making it impossible to walk around it. Then gradually, in parish churches on a smaller scale, the altar was moved twoard the back of the apse and, from the fifteenth century on, a tabernacle was added for the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament.If the excerpt from Crouan isn't enough to convince anyone, surely what is in effect "the elephant in the sanctuary" looks damned ridiculous!
+ + +
* The Missal codified by Pope Pius V following the end of the Council of Trent (hence the name "Tridentine"), merely standardized practices already in use in Rome and the surrounding dioceses for at least two centuries, much of which developed gradually from earlier forms dating to the time of Pope Gregory the Great in the fifth century -- a lineage which gives rise to a lesser-known but more accurate term, "Gregorian."