Friday, March 21, 2014

What do you have to say about Bishop Olson?

Dear Reverend Know-it-all,

I was wondering what you thought about the smack-down administered to Fisher-More College in Dallas by the new Bishop Olson who has forbidden them to have the Latin Mass? Hasn’t He read Summorum Pontificum which gave us the right to have the Latin mass?

Ivanna K. Vetch

Dear Ivanna,

Odd you should ask me about Bishop Olson and the Latin Mass. I was his Latin teacher.  I know Bishop Olson fairly well and love him very much. He is a very smart and a very strong man. When I think of Bishop Olson, I hear laughter, full-throated, joyful laughter. I can’t remember a time that we saw each other and did not start laughing immediately. When I think of Bishop Olson, I think first of joy, but there is another word that better describes Bishop Olson. He is pious.

Piety is one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. The pious man has a profound respect for God and His Church. It is Bishop Olson’s signal gift, beyond even his joy, his wisdom and his fortitude. In our times, piety is a much neglected virtue. These days, to say someone is pious can be an insult. It implies a dour and reclusive character in the modern mind. The modern mind is crazy, so who cares what it thinks? Bishop Olson was brave enough to be pious when progressive and tolerant sorts wanted to throw him out of the seminary because he prayed too much. Those were terrible times in the seminary when a young man who went to Mass every day or, heaven forefend, said the Rosary was suspected of excessive and morbid piety. Mike Olson was brave enough to keep saying the Rosary and going to daily Mass. Now he is a bishop. He loves the Lord, the Church, the Blessed Mother, and by the way it was Michael Olson who taught me to love St. Theresa, the Little Flower. Boy, did his devotion to her get him grief! That’s what I have to say about Bishop Michael Olson.

Now a little about me, I taught Latin and classical Greek for 25 years. I say the Latin Mass, not every Sunday, but monthly. It is beautiful. We have a men’s schola, no organ music, just Gregorian chant. I love the Old Mass. I grew up with it. The dignity, the ceremony and the mysticism of it touch me deeply. Why don’t I say it every Sunday? That is complicated.

First of all let’s look at the current state of the liturgy. You can learn my opinions from my other fulminations. Just look up my diatribe “A Brief History of the Hootenanny Massand Other Absurdities.” Here I prefer to take a more sober look at the modern liturgy.

In the Catholic Church, there are currently 13 rites: the Coptic, Ethiopic, Maronite, Syrian, Syro-Malankara, Armenian, Chaldean, Syro-Malabar, Byzantine, Latin, Ambrosian (Milan), Braga (Portugal), Mozarabic, (Spain) and the Anglican Use for former Anglican priests. It is not a rite, but may eventually become one. Within these rites of the Church there are different ways to say Mass. For instance the Chaldean and Byzantine rites have three anaphoras or Eucharistic prayers. In the Syrian rite there are 12 different Eucharistic prayers! They have such colorful names as the Liturgy (Mass) of St. John Chrysostom or the Mass of Theodore of Mopsuestia.

I would venture that we now have a few liturgies in the Latin (Roman) Rite of the Catholic Church. We have the Mass of St. Pius V (Tridentine), the Mass of the Venerable Paul VI, and the Mass of the liturgical movement. After the Council of Trent, Pope St. Pius V authorized the Missal that codified the earlier and sometimes variant practices of the western Church. After the end of the second Vatican Council Pope Paul VI authorized the current Missal. The Mass of the liturgical movement is always thought to be the Mass of Paul VI, but it is really the product of the liturgical movement that got its start in the enlightenment. In Austria, around 1750, there was a political and religious movement called “Josephine” from the name of Emperor Joseph II. The Austrian government tried to take control of the Church to “demystify” the Mass in the spirit of the enlightenment. Contemplative orders were dissolved and their assets taken by the state. Priests became civil servants. This drive to demystify the Church resurfaced around 1850. Even before the Second Vatican Council, the earlier “Josephine” spirit in Austria influenced the new liturgical movement. There was a great scholarly effort to “restore” the Mass to its assumed earlier simplicity. I remember the excitement in the air before the Second Vatican Council.

One of my earliest memories is of attending the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday morning. It was thought of more as the blessing of the Easter Water than the first Mass of Easter. It had been gradually moved forward on Holy Saturday beginning around 700AD so that it eventually became a Holy Saturday morning Mass. It was restored to the ancient use only in 1956. During the whole nineteenth and twentieth century there were reforms and changes that tried to return the liturgy to a more ancient use, among these was the renewal of Gregorian chant. We like to think that Gregorian chant is an unbroken heritage from the earliest Church. It isn’t. Go to you tube and listen to some Old Roman Chant. Gregorian chant was itself a reform of what had gone before. Liturgical adaptation, reform and renewal are continuous in the history of the Church. The change and development of liturgy has been gradual and organic. The Mass of Paul VI was the fruit of this desire for liturgical renewal and simplification.

What happened in the twentieth century turned out to be anything but simple, gradual and organic. It was abrupt. The incorporation of secular popular music into the liturgy had no precedent except for the orchestral, operatic Masses of the enlightenment such as those of Mozart and Haydn. There is a true saying that things aren’t like they used to be, but then again they never were. The unchanging Mass of the Latin Rite has never stopped changing. The Mass of Paul VI, Mass of the Council, was a simplification of the old Roman rite. As it was planned, it was major change but still not an abrupt departure from the Mass that had developed slowly over 2,000 years. When said by the book, it still resembles the Mass of St. Pius V. It still expects that Latin will be used at Mass along with chanted Mass parts, psalms and prayers. Almost no one realizes that the missal of Paul VI expects that the priest face AWAY the congregation for some parts of the Mass. The prayers at the foot of the Altar and the offertory prayers are the biggest changes in the Mass of Paul VI. The Mass said in most churches now little resemble the Mass as said for two thousand years, or even what Paul VI intended. The Mass of Paul VI is said almost nowhere outside St. Peter’s Basilica, and of course my church here in Frostbite Falls, but we do only one Paul VI Mass here, the 8AM. The rest of our Masses are the usual liturgical movement Mass with its hymns, facing the congregation and offered in English.

To be continued

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