Friday, December 08, 2006

Critical Mass: The Eighth of December

There have been continued reports of an impending "motu proprio" (that is, on his own initiative) to be issued by the Holy Father, allowing for the more generous, if not unlimited, use of the 1962 Missale Romanum, also known as "the Tridentine Mass." Others report that such a decree will be couched into a larger post-synodal document on the Eucharist. The latest big buzz of which this writer is aware came two days ago from a little cell phone.

Fama fert Litteras motu proprio dandas scriptas iam esse et mox promulgandas. Sed mox quid sit nescio. Spes autem non confundit.

According to its recipient, Father John Zuhlsdorf of Minneapolis, it says: "Rumor has it that the Motu Proprio is already written and is to be promulgated soon. What 'soon' means, however, I don’t know. Still, our hope is not leaving us deluded."

The good Father provides some in-depth analysis of what we might anticipate from such a document, which is generally known to have already been prepared, and awaiting the final signature and release. Today, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, has been considered by some Vatican-watchers as a potential target date for that release.

Part of the discussion that has ensued of late, is the provision for having "private" Masses using the old Missal, and just what would constitute "private."* Until now, it has meant precisely that; without a congregation. Anything else, such as allowing a minimum group of, say, thirty or one hundred, smacks of a certain gnostic attitude, which when you think about it, offends the Cathoilc sensibility.

Personally, I believe (and I could be wrong about this) that the allowance of broader use of the "Trid Mass" will be one of several objectives, using more forceful language than has been employed previously, with the approval of the local bishop still being called for, or at least (and more likely) the absence of any objection. This would be a component of the aforementioned post-synodal exhortation, accompanied by the Holy Father's intention to restore the reform of the sacred liturgy to what the Council fathers actually intended. This would be a multi-faceted process, probably a longer and more deliberate one than some would favor. The faithful translation of liturgical texts in the reformed liturgy, a tighter criterion for orthodoxy in parish hymnody, an insistence on Gregorian chant as the normative music of the Roman liturgy, whether classical or reformed -- all this would be part of a holistic package.

There are some practical reasons for this, including a realistic expectation of what can happen at the parish level. The desire for the "Old Mass" is only shared by a small, if steadily growing, constituency. To integrate such a program into the routine of Sunday worship requires a bit more than simply switching from one set of books to another. Even pastors who prefer the older form would express reluctance at suddenly replacing one of their regular Sunday Masses, let alone to accommodate a group mostly from outside the parish (which is exactly what would happen in many cases).

Whether most people want it or not, Catholics have a right to their traditions, and as St Paul reminded the Thessolonians, have a duty to "hold fast" to them. This is less about "wants" at all, as opposed to "needs." Nevertheless, much of this can be accomplished within the confines of a Mass using the reformed texts, said in Latin (with readings in the vernacular) with Gregorian Chant in all the right places, with the priest celebrating at the altar "ad orientem" (that is, "facing East," or in the same direction as the people), and if possible, with Communion received kneeling at the altar rail. (I don't care what some people will say; depending on where you are and who's in charge, it can be difficult for the average pewsitter to tell the difference.)

Where do I get the crazy idea for the multi-faceted approach? From no less than the multi-faceted writings on the liturgy from the man once known as Cardinal Ratzinger. Many writers, especially bloggers, easily forget that His Holiness has shared a variety of opinions on the subject of the liturgy, and they fail to take the broader view into account. As a result, they keep getting disappointed as one "deadline" after another comes and goes.

Meanwhile, the above scenario that I have just depicted is not the counter-reformation that is hoped for in the long run. But it is within reach, with or without another decree.

* This is not a private observation, but is based upon a little-known canonical interpretation from the early 1990s, one that some advocates of the "Trid Mass" are loathe to concede in the midst of their zeal.

[THIS JUST IN: It's bedtime in Rome, and except for rolling up the sidewalks, nothing has happened. The plot thickens...]

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