Critical Mass: Thomas Wolfe and Panaceas Revisited
Last month, I made the case that "the more strident advocates of a complete return to the pre-conciliar form of the Roman Rite, have made the official reform (the so-called 'Novus Ordo') into the whipping boy for all manner of devious shenanigans in the last forty years. The reality is that most of it would have happened anyway." I even offered proof.
Still, my colleague and long-time correspondent Jeff Culbreath wrote: "I see your point, and perhaps you're right. But the Novus Ordo is still an appropriate whipping boy. If not the cause, then it is the consummation of all the mischief you described." This would make it the effect, not the cause, therefore NOT "an appropriate whipping boy." John L asked: "What I would really like to know is what were the deficiencies in culture, selection of seminarians, theologians, and bishops, and spiritual formation, that led to this widespread acceptance?" Those "deficiencies" were in the seminaries and theology departments for much of the 20th century, years before anyone so much as imagined the Words of Consecration being translated into the vernacular. Entire books have been written on the subject.
Why is this important now? Because those on both sides of the issue of the traditional form of the Roman liturgy, who either dreaded or looked forward to "turning back the clock" are in for a big, fat surprise: you can't go home again.
In a recent column of The National Catholic Reporter, John Allen wrote: "One outstanding question being raised by some bishops and canon lawyers is whether rulings over the years that apply to post-Vatican II liturgies should apply to the '62 Missal as well. The pope's motu proprio says the '62 Missal was never abrogated, but it doesn't spell out the status of subsequent disciplinary law. For example, can a vigil Mass be celebrated according to the '62 Missal on Saturday evening? Can communion be administered under both species? (In the old rite, only the consecrated Host is distributed, and only on the tongue.) Can altar girls as well as boys serve Mass?"
It may appear that the Missale Romanum of 1962 is frozen in time for now. Such is not the case with the world around it. In a recent column in The Wanderer, Father John Zuhlsdorf raised issues which have been the subject of dinner conversations in rectories for some months now: "The Motu Proprio pertains to a certain set of liturgical books, none of which defined what they didn’t define. For another example, the Holy See now says that conferences of bishops can allow Holy Communion to be distributed in the hand. Most conferences have permitted this and described how it is to be done. Once the permission was given, people have the right to receive Communion in the hand, no matter how inappropriate most of the readers (and the writer) of this column think it is. Nevertheless, the older liturgical books did not describe how Communion was to be received. The law in force today applies to all Masses, not just the Novus Ordo. It would be wrong to deny someone Communion in the hand at a celebration of the older form of Mass on the grounds that it wasn’t done that way in 1962. That’s how it is done now, for good or (more likely) for ill. Naturally, the communicants themselves ought to be sensitive to this as well. We can hope that the rest of the congregation will set such a good example...." (08/17/2007)
Father Z doesn't stop there: "[A]n authentic interpretation of canon 230 § 3 that females can substitute for officially installed acolytes [would mean that], according to law, altar girls would be permitted to serve 'Tridentine' Masses. Clearly, a parish priest who would impose that on people would be either cracked or malicious. But the law would be on that side." (08/17/2007)
Fortunately, I can already tell you how this is going to play out, after speaking with an eminent canonist on the condition of his/her anonymity. The older liturgical usage will not override subsequent universal law, but will have to be applied in light of it. The result will, for the most part, preserve the tradition, but it will not exist in a vacuum. It never has.
Somewhere in Ohio, a new pastor has been approached by his parishioners to offer the Roman liturgy in the classical form. Meanwhile, he is reorganizing the altar servers so that boys and girls will no longer be working together.
John L asked the right question. A set of books is not the culprit; the culture is.
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[NOTE: I prefer not to quote so heavily from a print source such as that of the good Father, but there is no accessible online link of which I am aware. If one is brought to my attention, I am more than happy to make the proper adjustments.]