Monday, September 26, 2005

Critical Mass: When is an indult not an indult?

Answer: When it is the norm.

Vaticanisti, among others, have reported on the very likely prospect that Pope Benedict will grant a "universal indult" to lift all restrictions on the use of the 1962 Missale Romanum -- otherwise known as the "Old Latin Mass" or the "Tridentine Mass." Some have gone so far to say that a local bishop's permission would not be necessary, that a priest can decide at his own discretion whether to use the classical or reformed Roman Missal.

This writer is definitely in favor of more frequent use of the Old Mass. That being said, there are problems associated with simply issuing a "universal indult."

I've worked in liturgy preparation at Catholic conventions, and have known priests who decide on a whim to do the "Old Mass," leaving those who serve him to scurry about at the last minute, making sure the altar is prepared accordingly, and God forbid that people should sing the Our Father along with the priest (which is allowed in the newer observance, but not the old). It also seems problematic that a bishop might be impeded from performing his proper role as chief liturgist of a local diocese.

I also know of cases where, when the classical observance is allowed, resources devoted to preserving the sacred in the Roman Rite tend to abandon their efforts with the reformed observance. This is to the detriment of the general population of Catholics, 98 percent of whom use the Roman Rite.

Another factor is the nature of an indult itself. As the root of the word implies, it is, quite simply, an indulgence. That it is presumes a norm. A universal indult ceases to be an indulgence. So, as if the history of the Roman Rite were not angst-ridden enough, you have the problem of two Roman Rites. This is an historical and liturgical anomaly, and runs counter to the "organic development" argument currently popular among traditionalists in their critical assessment of liturgical reform.

Still another consideration is the total context of Pope Benedict's comments on the state of the sacred liturgy in the West. The term "reform of the reform," so vilified among some traditionalists, originated not with Adoremus or any other special interest, but from the current Holy Father himself. Further, while supporting in theory the practice of celebrating Mass "facing East" -- that is, with priest and people facing the same direction -- he has acknowledged the difficulty of implementing this practice on a wide scale, given the possible reaction of people to such a change (however recent a return to an older practice it may be). And yet, the current reformed Missal is written in such a way, as to presume the priest is already so oriented. Were the Holy Father to be reticent on that which is already normative (however little-known)... well, you get the idea.

It is entirely possible to make the classical observance of the Roman Rite more generally available, without a universal permission. The Holy See should simply insist that diocesan bishops be held accountable for the complete implementation of the 1988 Indult Ecclesia Dei, making the Old Mass available on a regular basis somewhere in their diocese. Start with the cathedral if you have to. People should not have to beg a lower authority for that which a higher authority allows. Nor should such consideration require a diocese full of loose cannons. (After all, what have loose cannons in the priesthood gotten us so far?)

There is more to write on this subject, and I will do so at a later date. But I want to recommend a book by Father Aidan Nichols entitled Looking at the Liturgy: A Critical View of Its Contemporary Form , published by Ignatius. And for those who can't get enough history on the subject, there is always The Organic Development of the Liturgy: The Principles of Liturgical Reform and Their Relation to the 20th Century Liturgical Movement Prior to the Second Vatican Council, by Dom Alcuin Reid OSB, published by St Augustine Press. Among other things, this book shows that the liturgy in the West has been the object of interventionalism before -- some would call it "non-organic." The same publisher also has a book out compiling various addresses given at a conference on this subject, entitled Looking Again at the Question of the Liturgy With Cardinal Ratzinger: Proceedings of the July 2001 Fontgombault Liturgical Conference, edited by Dom Alcuin, and presided over by the man who today wears the Fisherman's Ring.


Anonymous said...

I fail to see how the Old Mass is adverse to "Organic Developement".

To have two Roman Rites at this point in time could only help the strong to survive. If this should happen, I believe that the Novus Ordo apparatus would be gone in about four decades. The attendees would contracept themselves out of existance as has Western Europe and the seminaries would remain bare. There is no problem with seminaries being filled in the Traditional ones nor is their a problem with contraception withing Traditional familes.

Anonymous said...

Even a universal indult does not in itself create a functional parish that will be a home for a young, traditional family. I began attending an SSPX chapel when it came time for my oldest son's first communion. Even the indult priest wanted to catechize with cartoon books about a "community meal". It takes more than just the Mass to securely transmit the faith from one generation to the next. It takes more than just a Mass to minister to a whole family (and nurish potential vocations, I might add).

A universal indult just makes it clear: the prudential decisions of Rome have been a disaster and they just don't know what they are doing.

David L Alexander said...

"It takes more than just the Mass to securely transmit the faith from one generation to the next. It takes more than just a Mass to minister to a whole family..."

Right. It takes being in communion with Rome. Not some abstract "eternal Rome," but one where the successor to St Peter reigns. "Ubi Petrus, ibi ecclesiam." Joining the SSPX does not facilitate that. You do get a nice Mass, though. But it takes more than that, right?

"[T]he prudential decisions of Rome have been a disaster and they just don't know what they are doing."

Wouldn't be the first time, would it? We have had all manner of heresies, schism, bad popes, exiled popes, you name it -- all while the "Mass of All Time" was in normative use. At least now they're big enough to admit that things have gone awry. You think the Borgia popes took time out from the "Mass of All Time" to do as much?