Yesterday September 14, 2007 the Universal Church experienced a sort of déjà vu in its liturgical life and worship. The directives of Benedict XVI were implemented and the Mass that was celebrated prior to the reforms of the Second Vatican Council was celebrated publically and without restrictions for the first time in over 40 years. It appears that the most obvious celebration of this “traditional” Catholic liturgy was showcased on Mother Angelica’s Eternal Word Television Network. A Solemn High Mass of the Extraordinary Rite of the Eucharist was the venue for most of the day’s programming. This author had the opportunity to watch the Sacred Liturgy with millions of others throughout Christendom to herald the solemnity and majesty of the celebration of the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross.

I don’t think there was any mistake in using September 14 as the date in which the restoration of this never abrogated form was intended. The liturgical celebration of this date, even according to the Novus Ordo of Paul VI is a liturgical observation that is filled with solemnity and history as the Church remembers Saint Helena’s recovery of the True Cross  during her archeological wanderings of the Holy Land. While I watched the liturgical solemnity unfold on EWTN the true scale of differences in both the Tridentine Liturgy and the Ordo of Paul VI were really revealed. Over the past 40 years or so, Catholics have become so used to attending the liturgy that is directed towards the assembly of the faithful in the Church. The now called, Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite in its actions, language and orientation is very obviously directed towards a transcendent worship of the Most Holy Trinity. Please understand that this author believes fully in the need to implement the directives of the Holy Father in this regard, however, it just seems that on September 14, 2007 we were transported in both time and space through the celebration of the former Tridentine Liturgy without any real expectation or experiences to compare with the event. When Blessed John XXIII was as they used to say “gloriously reigning” this author was two years old. The “Old Mass” was something which I really only had vague and distant memories of the celebration, and for all practical purposes, I was the theological and liturgical result of the Vatican II generation Catholics. Yesterday’s celebration on EWTN distinctly and acutely showed me how much our Catholic rites and rituals have been diluted over the past 40 years with seemingly modern innovations such as the use of the vernacular, altar servers (as opposed to altar boys), Ministers of the Eucharist, Gothic style vestments and a priest and ministers sans liturgical biretta!

As faithful worshipping Catholics, it has been along time since there was a midnight fasting requirement and kneeling along the altar rail for the reception of communion. It has also been quite a while since priest and ministers have thrice recited the “Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa during the Confiteor of the Mass. It has even been quite some time since the Eucharistic species was distributed only in one form in most of the Masses I have attended in my life. While the rubric perfection, sacred inspiration and liturgically laced priest, deacon and sub-deacon (which really doesn’t exist any more) looked quite the part in this ,Going My Way revival…We as Catholics need to place this liturgical journey down the historically rosy way into the correct perspective.

We cannot go back in time in the Church, and it is clearly not the goal of the Holy Father to send us back into a version of a liturgical Lost in Space. However, it is obviously clear that in some cases the Roman Church has suffered some indignities in the celebration of its most sacred sacraments over the past 40 years or so. The ability to celebrate both liturgical rites with liturgical dignity and appropriate solemnity is truly the magnificent depth of Benedict XVI’s pastoral insight. Now rather than nostalgically wane for a rite that was the former norm is back, without undue restrictions and as an acceptable form of the Church’s constant development and journey towards eternal truth both ends of the liturgical spectrum are able to be satisfied. Perhaps the greatest aspect of this 1962 Renaissance is the fact that our liturgical plurality is the great catalyst for an appreciation of Catholic unity as we celebrate two quite diverse aspects of our sacred liturgical celebrations.

While yesterday’s celebration of a Solemn High Mass via EWTN was something this author never thought he would see…ever…it uniquely shows that in the plan of salvation history…never quite never means…never.

My former liturgy professor, JM, used to use the phrase, “Yes, in the sense of No!” quite often when he taught us the finer points of the Roman liturgy according to the Novus Ordo. He also used the phrase frequently when he also wore the dual biretta as, Dean of Men, in charge of the comings and goings of dozens of mid-20’s seminarians! I always thought the phrase was quite exceptional in its usage…in a similar manner with the Italian, “non me piace!” Namely the burden of responsibility is placed on the other party or object. In the same manner the restoration of the Tridentine liturgy is a ,”Yes in the sense of No!” situation. Yes the form might be used and celebrated but happily No we as a Catholic Church have not taken a drastic step backwards in time. Our liturgical life and our liturgical expressions of the sacred life of God always has a dualism of Yes and No, Sacred and Mundane, Earthly and Heavenly as well as Sacrifice and Commemoration , Calvary and the Last Supper. However both aspects are always uniquely joined in our universal celebration and experience of Jesus’ Paschal Mystery, regardless of the language, the ritual or the use of the ordinary or the extraordinary form. The only thing that really matters is this:

 Christ yesterday and today,
the Beginning and the End,
the Alpha and Omega.
His are the times and ages:
To Him be glory and dominion
Through all ages of eternity. Amen

 

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