Continued from last week
There is a great deal of talk about the Tridentine Mass and the ordinary form, but the Mass envisioned by the Council is not what is being offered in most churches today. The Mass of the liturgical movement, or perhaps we should call it the Mass of Rembert Weakland, is said everywhere and people think it is the Mass of the Council.
Liturgical dancers wearing little more than loin cloths and feathers were never envisioned by the Council Fathers. The theatrical presentation that passes for the Holy Sacrifice more resembles something envisioned by Calvin and Luther. It tends to be a show, not a sacrifice. It is directed at the people, it is improvised not according to local custom, but according to the whim of the celebrant, or of the parish liturgy committee whom he dare not contradict.
Herein lies the heart of the problem. When the liturgists presented their new Mass to Paul VI, he refused to approve it because they had removed the word “sacrifice” from the Mass. Paul insisted that the Mass was, is and always will be a sacrifice. It is not an entertainment or even a classroom presentation. It is not an improvisation. It is a sacrifice in which we are joined to the one sacrifice of Christ on Calvary. It is a liturgical abuse to use the Mass to express an opinion, to make a political or theological point, or to express the aesthetic tastes of the celebrant or the congregation. If I am correct in this, then the Church is rife with liturgical abuse — this includes everything from the most punctilious version of the extraordinary form to the gyrations of the most diaphanously festooned liturgical dancers. When Mass is a show, it is wrong, no matter the nature of the show. Mass is meant to be a sacrifice.
My suspicion, and it is only that, is that Bishop Olson limited the use of the Mass of St. Pius V, the so-called Tridentine Mass, because it was being used to make a point, the point being the old Mass is somehow superior to the Mass offered elsewhere. It is my contention that the Mass of Paul VI and the Mass of St. Pius V are equally pleasing to God. Even the Mass of Rembert Weakland, if offered sincerely, is pleasing to God. (I must admit that the Weakland Mass seems designed to be an entertainment. Its designer was quite a performer. If you visit the cathedral he redesigned, the altar has been replaced with a huge organ. Rembert was, after all, an organist.) Still, even a Mass like the Mass of Rembert Weakland, designed to display the talents of performers, can be pleasing to God if one has a sincere desire to give his life to Christ.
All this to explain why I offer the Mass of St. Pius V only once a month? I offer it not because I like it, nor because it is better, but because I believe every priest should be required to say the Mass of St. Pius occasionally to remind himself that the liturgy is not his property. The Mass of Pius V allows no improvisation because improvisation is the enemy of liturgy. Adaptation to local custom is fine, but individualistic improvisation is the exact opposite of liturgy. Liturgy is a Greek word (of course) that means “the work of the people.” When I was a lad in seminary that definition was the pretext for using coffee and bagels at the Mass instead of bread and wine. After all, Americans had coffee and bagels for breakfast, so if the Mass was the work of the people, why not coffee and bagels?
The liturgy is most definitely the work of the people. The question is, “What people?” The liturgy is the work of the people of God in every county and every age. The liturgy ties us to all those who ever loved the Lord, not just to the people around us with whom we happen to agree. The Mass should be identifiable to all those who belong to the Lord.
A first century Christian, or a 12th century Christian, or a 19th century Christian, or a Christian from Kathmandu should be able to walk into a church in the twenty-first century and be able to say “Oh, this is Mass!” That’s why we use Aramaic, Greek, Hebrew and even some Latin in the Mass. These words taken from foreign languages tie us to our history and recognize the communion of saints in all places and all times. Amen, Kyrie, Hosanna, Alleluia, Sanctus are all borrowed from our history and the history of the Temple in Jerusalem and even from the wandering of Israel in the desert. The Mass of Rembert Weakland is such a radical departure from the tradition that even twentieth century people don’t recognize its variations.
When I was pastor of a parish that did not allow me to say the main Mass because I was too traditional(and they had their own priest anyway) a fellow who wanted to return to the Lord, started attending. He stumbled into one of the other Masses by accident, one that I was saying, and was shocked to realize that he was in a Catholic church. He had been coming to the “progressive” Mass for over a month and had no idea that he was in a Catholic church. Could a Christian from another time enter a service where fat men in tight white pants and giant paper maché puppet heads were dancing around and say, “Oh, this is Mass?” The celebration of the Old Mass, so-called, is a reminder to us, the clergy, that Mass is not about the celebrant. This is a message that all deacons, priests and bishops need to hear regularly, especially the writer of this article. I offer the old Mass once a month to remind me and my congregation the beauty and dignity of the Sacrifice of the Mass.
I do not offer it more than once a month because I don’t want to create a second parish of “real Catholics.” Allow me to be frank. I have met a few aficionados of the Old Mass who are mean as junk yard dogs. I recall a Tridentine Mass during which a parishioner who had never been to the Old Mass wanted to see what it was like. She was following along on her smart phone. Across the main aisle from her was a true believer who started to yell at her during my sermon. You don’t sneeze loudly at the Old Mass. No one talks except the priest and the servers and then only in Latin. No one! This true believer was yelling across the aisle in a roar that she believed was a whisper. I actually had to come down from the altar to quiet her. This is NEVER done at the Old Mass. You never leave the altar except for a prescribed gesture. By communion time the true believer was roaring again. After Mass I apologized to the victim of the tirade and tried to explain to the true believer that the object of her sanctified rage was only following the Missal on her smart phone. The true believer started yelling again, “I don’t care! It’s a sin! It’s electronic!” So much for pleasing God.
I usually avoid Masses that are associated with big events. I detest the way that Mass is abused by liturgists, charismatics and some musicians. And remember, I am one of the founders of the Charismatic Renewal. They all start with good intentions but generally end up with a bout of narcissism. I remember a grand liturgy at which there were not one, but two, yes two choirs, one in the choir loft and one on the ground floor! A veritable battle of the bands! After the show — I mean the Mass — the breathless choir director ran up to me and asked, “How did you like the music?” I said, “It was really great. I hope God enjoyed it as much as I did.”
Now to skewer the other end of the spectrum. I love Mozart. Few things lift the soul to God like the Ave Verum, but I’ve seen Mozart used as the tool of liturgical abuse. I remember a grand Tridentine Mass with a full orchestra that performed, and I do mean performed, Mozart’s Requiem on All Souls Day at a church not far from my own. All the Mozart aficionados left after the Sanctus, because apparently Mozart never completed the Mass and they will not stoop to listen to the parts not written by him. They were there for the show. Another big Mozart Tridentine Mass ended with a presentation of a big novelty check to the pastor by the organization that had footed the bill. There he stood in the sanctuary dressed like the Infant of Prague, biretta et al., smiling for the cameras.
So we have three variations of the Mass in the Latin rite currently. My contention is that they are all three quite valid and quite licit, provided the Mass of the liturgical movement doesn’t depart from things permitted in the Missal of Paul VI. Prayer is the lifting of the heart and mind to God. If Gregorian chant lifts your heart and mind to God, good. If Gospel music does it, fine. If Latin is a better way for you to pray, excellent. Myself, despite having taught Latin for 25 years, after having studied it for twelve, I still prefer to pray in English which is my first language.
Tolerance and empathy are very rare things in our time. Most people who would call themselves liberal are as rigid as the traditionalists to whom they would deny the Old Mass. The Traditionalists are centered on their own opinion and their own liturgical tastes as the liberals whom they detest. Some of us prefer roses to daisies. If daisies are my favorite flower and I offer them to my beloved, they’re the gift of my heart, and my beloved knows that. If you however prefer roses, then offer roses to your believed, but don’t disdain my daisies. Roses are not better nor are they worse than daisies; nor are daisies better than roses, if they are an offering of the heart. Just remember that the flowers are to be given for the enjoyment of the Beloved, not kept for our own selfish pleasures.
And Bishop Olson, if these thoughts come to your attention, hang in there. You are in my prayers. Don’t let them keep you from laughing. The devil hates good honest laughter. Isn’t it curious how little the very progressive and the very traditional laugh?
Your Old Latin Teacher,
The Rev. Know-it-all
P.S. A careful reading of Article 5 §1 of Summorum Pontificum says that the Tridentine mass should be offered, “In parishes where there is a stable group of faithful who adhere to the earlier liturgical tradition... (and the practice) of these faithful harmonizes with the ordinary pastoral care of the parish, under the guidance of the bishop in accordance with canon 392, avoiding discord and favoring the unity of the whole Church.” The Old Mass should be offered. It also says that any priest may say this Mass without special permission. Fisher-Moore College is not a parish, and one suspects that they aren’t much worried about harmony.
P.P.S. If the Traditionalist crowd, of whom I am pretty much a card carrying member, wants the old Mass to make a comeback, they should request permission to use more English in the Extraordinary form so that anyone can follow it. A lot of young people are looking for dignity and beauty in the age of Miley Cyrus. They will never fall in love with a liturgy that needs a graduate degree to understand. “Latin is a language as dead as it can be. First it killed the Romans and now it’s killing me.” And this from an aging classicist!
P.P.P.S. Let’s dump this Ordinary/Extraordinary nonsense. The Mass said for five hundred years is not un-ordinary and a Mass with people in giant paper mache heads or loin clothes, feathers and clown costumes is ordinary only in a mental asylum.