The Catholic Herald in Great Britain is reporting that a mandate from the Holy See is soon to be issued regarding the proper instruction of all seminarians in the extraordinary form of the celebration of the Eucharist, commonly called the Tridentine Rite. The publication of such instruction clearly indicates how strongly the Holy Father wants the directives of his restoration of the form to be carried out. The proper instruction of all priests and seminarians in the correct celebration of this form should be encouraged and even celebrated as a sign of universal Church reunion in our liturgical expressions.
While the Holy Father has clearly indicated that the Mass of Blessed John XXIII is a legitimate option for parochial celebration, there is no excuse for the celebration to transpire in a careless or contrived manner. The fact that Archdiocese and diocese throughout the world are making plans and requirements for its clergy to become, “proficient” in the ritual before its celebration is a strong barometer of the liturgical quality instilled by the Holy See. A restoration of a celebration of the Sacred Mass that contains so many ritual nuances and complexities deserves the highest attention to educational and practical details as is humanly possible. After all, it has been over 40 years since the Mass of Blessed John XXIII was celebrated on a common and universal basis. Catholics need to see the restoration of this form not as a moment on antagonism, directed towards the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. Rather the significant event should be considered as perhaps an evolved theological and liturgical appreciation for the rites of the Council of Trent, and an indication of ritual continuity and integrity developing during this pontificate.
Proper education of clergy and seminarians in the celebration of the rite will enhance the sacred celebration of the liturgy for all Catholics. At the same time this monumental milestone in the progression of the Church’s appreciation for its old axiom, Lex orandi, Lex credendi illustrates a desire for artistic, liturgical and theological continuity on the part of the Holy See. Perhaps the best thing to evolve from this entire event is the better appreciation of the Sacred liturgy as a reflection of the living and developing Church as constituted by the People of God. Realistically, the ritual celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice is a metaphysical and ontological uniting of the Church past, present and future through the mysteries of Jesus Pascal Mysteries. Ritual consistency is not really a bad thing; it indicates a point that has been clearly missing in our Catholic identity for four decades…namely ritual identity. Perhaps the difficulty with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council is that it was really quite revolutionary for its time. The promulgations and directives of Paul VI and the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council might have been planted in the 1960’s, however the germination period clearly has taken over 40 years. Successive pontificates to Paul VI have guided the faithful people and generations of segregationists through the periods of Modernism, Liberalism, Conservatism and many other isms…now we are called to Catholicism. Namely, a new era that incorporates all of the mystical aspects of our Catholic faith, with a renewed appreciation for global identification through our sacramental expressions.
Since the Second Vatican Council there have been sources cited that claim the Catholic attendance at Mass has declined as much as 75% since the inception of the Novus Ordo of Paul VI. As rational Catholics, we need to acknowledge and accept the fact that the demise of the Latin usage in our Catholic faith was not the precipitating factor for this steep drop in faithful worshipers. The global society since the 1960’s has changed dramatically in social and political climates. Cartographers have difficulty keeping up with changing borders and names of developing countries. Hard line Communism is gone. The Cold war is over. Eastern Europe is free. We are actively watching the rebirth of Catholicism in Cuba and Central and South America. While there are, only seven men in the United States left that actually attended Vatican II as bishops, their observations and teachings still prove prophetically true. The Council Fathers proclaimed the emergence of a Catholic Church in the 20th century that needed modernization and adaptation. Since the conclusion of the Council, we have tried all sorts of modernizations and adaptations, some have been successful in their implementation, and others have not been as successful. What however is most successful is the true pursuit of modernization in the Catholic Church while remaining true to the apostolic teachings that clearly identify us as One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. While out ritual manifestations of prayer, celebration and liturgy have changed or modified throughout the world, the Eucharistic Jesus is still present in our Catholic Church and its liturgical celebrations. The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council were exceptionally astute in the perspective that they did not “over-regulate” the directions of the Catholic liturgy, but in a similar reflection of the Founding Fathers of the United States permitted the experiment to evolve and develop its own expression of its theological identity.
In speaking to the world, the Second Vatican Council was indeed prophetic. Gaudium et Spes spoke on the developing role of the Church in the global community. Dei Verbum proclaimed the transcendence of the divine Word of God and its significance for all peoples. Lumen Gentium defined and provided structure to the embryonic post-Vatican II Church and laid out the foundational development. Sacrosanctum Concilium defined and structured the organic developments of the Sacred liturgy for the new millennium.
Without the insights and divinely inspired teaching of these constitutions of the role and responsibility of the Church in the Modern World our religious institution might have indeed been absorbed by secular humanism, modernism or any other theistic calamity as manifested in the turbulent era of the 1960’s through the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The Fathers of the Council also boldly addressed the Catholic relationship with other religions, Nostra Aetate boldly identified and addressed our theological heritage with non-Christian religions, such as Judaism and Islam. The monumental effects of this great document are still apparent in the daily life of our Catholic faith as we struggle with new and developing Catholic concerns for our peaceful integration with these religions. Nostra Aetate, In our Times dramatically and clearly mandated a deeper appreciation of Catholics to the roots of our New Covenant of Faith in the God of Abraham, and our relationship with the Jewish people. The continued preponderance to this theological union between our cousins in faith is best exemplified by the visits of Paul VI to the Holy Land, the praying of John-Paul II at the Western Wall and the revision of Good Friday prayers by Benedict XVI to initiate new harmony and understanding between faiths.
The relationship of Islam and Catholicism is also noted in Nostra Aetate, which at the time of its proclamation had yet to experience the development of Middle Eastern hostilities towards the west, a resurgence of Islamic fundamentalism and the call of the Holy See towards dialogue with the distant peoples of the Koran. Even as this reflection is written, there are new exegetical discoveries that base the writings of the Islamic Holy Book on the lectionary used by the early Catholic Church. Truly, this indicates for all faithful peoples a cause for global harmony and religious unity while respecting theological pluralism.
Again, and again the Catholic Church transforms its liturgical expressions of Sacred celebrations through adaptation of signs and symbols. Most importantly is the matter and form of the expressions of our sacramental expression never change. It is an enlightened moment when the Holy See calls upon the educational facilities of the Church to instruct clergy and future clergy on the various methods of expression of our most deeply rooted sacred Mysteries. Education and expression such as correct training is quite in context to the teachings of the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council, simply because it permits a legitimate expression of theological faith through a liturgical option.
The Second Vatican Council provides the logical framework for the Church in the 21st century to grow, nurture and flourish in a cosmological reality of human existence that was never anticipated in the 20th century. In the same manner, the Church of the 21st century is markedly different from the expressions of the Council of Ephesus, or the liturgical innovations of Nicea or any of the Lateran Councils. However most importantly the theological essence of the Gospel message has never changed in the passage of time since any of these councils. We are the same divinely instituted Church of Jesus Christ…just expressing our beliefs in a different manner of liturgical expression.
If indeed any one of our past Catholic brothers and sisters in the Lord, or any future Catholic believers of the next millennium ever shared our liturgical and theological place in current human history…it is loudly clear they would still, “…come to know Him in the breaking of the Bread!”
After all is said and done, such a celebration is the greatest expression of our beliefs that we have as a Church, a people and as a transient traveler towards the Father’s house.

Hugh McNichol is a Catholic author that writes on Catholic topics. He writes daily at http://verbumcarofactumest.blogspot.com 
He can be reached with comments at
hjmn4@comcast.net

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