Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Latin Mass and Liturgical Coexistence

By the end of the 20th century,, e-mail listservs and internet discussion forums were already the scenes of fierce intellectual battles between "papal traditionalists" and "hardliners" over the restoration of the sacred to Catholic worship. Priests such as the late Father John Mole, OMI, sought a measure of "liturgical peace" amidst the fray, while acknowledging the excesses of the liturgical movement in the wake of the Second Vatican Council. In his 2000 book Whither the Roman Rite? (Word of God Hour, Ottawa), he called upon those who favored one form of the Roman Mass or the other, as well as those seeking a "reform of the reform," to pursue their respective aims without opposing the right to exist of the others.

But how to facilitate liturgical coexistence in practice? Can one of the aims of Pope Benedict, that both forms of the Roman Rite benefit from the other, be achieved, or at least aspired to? There has been relative success at the parish of Saint John the Beloved in McLean, Virginia. The celebration of the Sacred Triduum, that of the passon, death, and resurrection of Christ, employs the Novus Ordo Missae (the "ordinary form," if you will) with the degree of ceremony and accoutrement associated with its traditional cousin, both in English and Latin, and with the altar oriented to "liturgical east."

Can such peaceful coexistence play a role in the catechesis of the faithful, with a gradual appreciation for, and a restoration of, the essence of Catholic tradition in the official worship of the Church? We here at mwbh are grateful for the following, written to yours truly by “Romulus” -- the chief master of ceremonies at a downtown parish of a major Southern city, one in which both forms of the Roman Rite are celebrated.

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To begin with, if we are going to talk in terms of supply and demand, one's reminded of Say's law, usually reduced to the memorable phrase "supply creates its own demand". While not wishing to over-work the analogy, it must be said that the faithful will never ask for a thing of which they have no awareness or understanding. Christian parents raise their children in the faith without waiting to be asked: similarly, those entrusted with the care of souls have a certain evangelical obligation to promote and provide to the best of their ability, not to reduce the pastoral ministry to a market-driven order-taking responding to consumer demand. Exposure to the EF changes hearts; it happens all the time.

While I understand and have personally dealt with diffident (and over-burdened) monoglot priests resistant to learning the EF, it is not unfair that a priest of the Latin Rite be expected to be competent in the forms for which he's ordained. Especially given the demands of Vatican II and canon law about pride of place for Gregorian chant and Latin in both liturgy and priestly formation. I too have devoted hundreds of hours to training lay men to serve: neither I nor my colleagues are so burdened with spare time that we search for new ways to dispose of it. It is a sacrifice to which we’ve dedicated ourselves, notwithstanding our already heavy business and family commitments. I am sure you can report much the same thing yourself. We know it’s important, so we find the time.

Again, while sensitive to the practicalities of parochial administration (I also have an MBA and serve on my parish's finance council) the option of scheduling an EF Mass requires a certain amount of leadership (and catechesis) on the part of the pastor. It is burdensome and pointless to ask for an additional mass to be scheduled on a Sunday afternoon when it will be little more than a field trip for the curious or a ghetto for the worst kind of carping malcontents. Plan for failure, and failure will be the result. A Sunday morning mass between the hours of 8 and noon enables family participation, and makes merciful accommodation for those making the private choice to observe the traditional Eucharistic fast. This won’t inevitably lead to rebellion, especially if the change is done by degrees and accompanied by intelligent catechesis. Serve some coffee and pastries afterwards and watch a committed parish community blossom and thrive. You’ll have to chase them home just to lock up. I know.

Speaking of practicalities, you are absolutely right that that a parish celebrating in both forms commits itself to work and expenses which must be supported in time, talent, and treasure. Our parish celebrates solemn mass in both EF and OF every Sunday (each clocking in at about 70 minutes), in circumstances of considerable splendor and ceremony. The people love it. It took us about twelve years to get there, but we’re now known, loved, and sought out as a liturgical oasis. Not every parish will have the resources for Solemn Mass, but a simple Missa Cantata without incense can be attempted with much less up-front investment (a good parish should be moving toward ad orientem celebration even if there’s no plan to celebrate the EF). Sung or solemn mass will not please the lowest common denominator that comes merely to have its Sunday ticket punched, but the Catholic Church is founded and operated on the truth that, touched by grace in an encounter with the transcendent, people do change. I have seen this too.

Again, thanks for this intelligent and thoughtful post. I am going back now to read it again.

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Not a bad idea. Click here.

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