Thursday, December 07, 2006

Thoughts on the "Old" Mass

The Pope (then Card. Ratzinger) celebrating Holy Week in the "Old" Rite.

I can't really imagine a lot of priests wanting to say the "Old" Mass but I do think that priests like me, and the younger generation of priests, who have never celebrated it need the presence of this form of the rite to know from where our tradition comes.
The Pope has said repeatedly that "New" Mass sprang "ex nihil" from a post-Vatican II commission of "experts", see his book “The Spirit of the Liturgy”. Ecumenically, the criticism of the Eastern Churches is that we have dispensed with our tradition. I remember a conversation with an Orthodox priest who when I suggested he should become a Catholic, after over half a bottle of Ouzo had disappeared, asked, “How could any Orthodox come into communion with the Bishop of Rome when he assumes the power to remove 2000 years of tradition from the Church with a stroke of a pen”. Pope Benedict when taking possession of the Cathedral of the Lateran said that the Pope was not there put to forward his own views but to re-present the Church’s Tradition.
What the Pope tried to do (as Cardinal Ratzinger) both in his writings and speeches, as well as his actions was to give the “New” Mass roots. It is after all the “Old” Mass that is the root of the “New”, not a something which springs from the Protestant Tradition, thus even in the introduction to the Missal it is Gregorian Chant and Polyphony that are the norm for music in the liturgy not “Hymns Ancient and Modern” or the latest thing published by Mayhew or McCrimmond, it is certainly not the charismatic “Worship Service”.
The “Old” Mass teaches us that the liturgy is an act of worship and not a didactic exercise; the priest is the one who offers prayer and intercedes on behalf of the people, rather than a mere “worship leader”. I do believe that the “Old” Mass is necessary to remind us of the Churches continuity from the time of Christ through the subsequent two millennia to the present day. In the eighties I remember preaching about the Real Presence, frequent Confession and the importance of Marian devotion and being told by a sister, “that is just so pre-Vatican II”, she is now married and the New Movements use these things as the basis of their life and growth. During that time it was as if the Church had reset the clock to year zero and in the seminaries a theology of rupture and discontinuity was so prevalent. I used to keep my Ratzinger books in brown paper covers!


Edmund said...

Recusants often referred to their faith as the 'old' religion, but it didn't mean it was redundent. If the Tridentine Rite is the Mass of Ages it is very old indeed and in no way derogated by being described as the old Mass. Equally, if the Novus Ordo grew from the old, as it did. it's a pity that it is often called the New Rite when, in reality, it is the Roman Rite. Perhaps that old-fashioned term, the Missa Normativa, is probably best because normal it has become.

Richard said...

I heard a true story about a Jesuit parish in London where an academic member of staff was asked to give some lectures on Cardinal Ratzinger's theology in South Africa. He felt he could not do so as he had not read any of his books. One of his confreres had because he was dubious about the Cardinal's reputation in the media and wanted to see for himself. He was entirely persuaded by them and lent him a selection. The course was duly prepared and given. The lecturer returned from South Africa a changed man and he now preaches Ratzinger's theology loud and clear. It was the Introduction to Christianity that converted him and he said if he had read it when it was first published it would have changed his life. Ratzinger is probably now the most read contemporary theologian in the world and I am sure that part of the reason for his universal popularity is that people now know him as much from his books as from his inherent powers of attraction. I wish, however, that some of his subtlety was more evident in those who claim to be his supporters.

Michael Petek said...

My answer to the Orthodox priest you spoke to is that Tradition is both the uncreated Word of God and the transmission of that Word through the Church in history, by the power of the Holy Spirit in what is a perpetual Pentecost.

That presupposes valid sacraments, and the sacraments in the local Latin Churches are demonstrably valid, for if not they could not remain in communion with the Eastern Catholic Churches, whose liturgies were not touched by the reforms of the Council.

Furthermore, you could have mentioned to him that all but one of the the Eastern Bishops voted at the Council of Florence in 1439 in favour of union with Rome. Emperor John VIII Palaeologos was at the Council and in favour of the union - the civil authorities and the populace in his Empire were opposed.

Fourteen years later Constantinople fell to the Turks, who installed the anti-union Patriarch Gennadios II.

A cautionary tale of sorts.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Edmund, I never quite know how to designate what was previously called "the Roman Rite of Mass" or what we call it if we use the term Novus Ordo, then it is only fair to call it Vetus Ordo. To call the present rite, or should we say usage, the Missa Normativa the the old should be Abnormativa. "The Mass of Ages" to me suggests rupture - it's difficult.

Richard, Ratzinger is just so readable and so full of insight every Catholic should receive one of books for Christmas.

Michael, my point was that I think that the present Pope would simply see changing the Liturgy in the way Paul VI did as being, let us say, at the edge of his powers, certainly as not being of great pastoral service to the Church, he is more about evolution than revolution.

Ttony said...

"I can't really imagine a lot of priests wanting to say the "Old" Mass but I do think that priests like me, and the younger generation of priests, who have never celebrated it need the presence of this form of the rite to know from where our tradition comes."

The Old Rite doesn't bite: it isn't something to be frightened of. It wasn't around for 1500 years because of some moderniser's fad

Most of the people who "don't like Dickens" have never tried to read Dickens, to submerge themselves into a totality of experience which is utterly different from the reading of a modern author who deliberately keeps the reader as well as the narrator outside the action. (This is not a precise analogy, obviously.)

A genuine question: why haven't you celebrated it?

Fr Ray Blake said...

"Why haven't you celebrated it?"

My Latin isn't that good, fine for celebrating the office privately. I happily celebrated Latin Novus Ordo when told to by my superior and we use a Latin for the Eucharistic Prayer from time to time here.
I am not the most rubrically minded person.
Although we have a monthly Old Rite Mass here celebrated by a SSP priest there isn't a strong demand for it from my parishioners.
I do think that the spirit of this form of the Sacred Liturgy demands a certain precision, rather than merely being the fruit of a few practice sessions.
The other reason is that I think High Mass is splendid, beautiful, prayerful but Low Mass for the people ..., well I am glad we have microphones, vernacular readings.

Sacred silence, priests facing the same direction as the people, the sense of the sacred are needed in the New Rite, we need to learn to turn again to the Lord in the Liturgy.

Henry said...

Priest and people facing the same way is good, so is silence for the Canon of the Mass, but the layout of the sanctuary needs to be suitable.

Also it needs to be properly prepared as things are liable to be on the wrong side of the sanctuary if we keep changing.

Andrew said...

Msgr. Peter Elliot suggests the neutral term Classical Roman Rite for the Pian Rite and Modern Roman Rite for the Pauline Rite, named for the Popes who promulgated the missals in their essential forms.

Pope Benedict's sympathies on matters liturgical is well known.
But somehow, as supreme pontiff, he does not to act on them. Simple things like wearing nice vestments go along way in helping lay people convince their local parish priest to do the same thing. But His Holiness seems to be wearing a lot of minimalist modernist things like the fire chasuble of Pentecost this year.

After the visual splendour of the Greek Orthodox Divine Liturgy at the Phanar and the Armenian Cathedral, we were treated to EPII and really bland vestments in the Holy Spirit Cathedral in Istanbul. What must the Orthodox think of our doxia if our praxis is minimalist and banal and so far removed from apostolic tradition?

Veronica said...

I am impressed by Fr Ray's honesty in saying why he does not say the Mass of the Tridentine Rite. The rite, like all eucharistic rites, needs to be internalised. There are so many secret prayers which need to be learnt by heart that regular familiarity with the text is essential if it is to be prayed rather than read. The rubrics, too, need to be mastered so that it becomes as familiar as breathing. A priest trained to say it once told me that over thirty mortal sins can be committed if the rubrics are not properly followed. In the past this led to terrible scrupulosity in some priests and undermined their confidence at the altar. At least the FSSP priests are trained to use no other rite and can celebrate it properly. I am not surprised that there is so little damand for it in his parish. Outside London it is getting as hard to find congregations to attend it as it is to find priests who can celebrate it. Effectively, if or when the indult comes it is not going to make much difference beyond silencing the vocal minority who demand it. I am led to believe that it might have limiting conditions. If so, it will be interesting to see if the claque turns out to be protestant in their disappointment that it might not be free for all. One thing will never be recaptured and that is the silence in which you could hear a pin drop that was the norm in churches before the rite was abandoned. Many have either forgotten or don't know about it but I am afraid you no longer find it in the London churches where the Tridentine Mass is used. The congregations are as restless as any other.

Ttony said...

Thank you for the answer.

Henry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Henry said...

We need to learn the music if we are going to have Latin in any rite.


Henry said...