Well the press is reporting that Benedict XVI will release the long anticipated Motu Proprio relaxing the restrictions of the Tridentine Liturgy from active celebration. It appears that one of the unique qualifications of this papal prerogative will be the acknowledgement of an ordinary liturgical rite, which will be the Novus Ordo of Paul VI, and the proclamation of an extraordinary ordinary rite, which is the Roman Ritual of John the XXIII from 1962. What seems so interesting about this approach is the development of an extraordinary/ordinary mode of the celebration of the Eucharist. However, such permission is clearly intended to signal the understanding that multiple manners of liturgical worship exist within the Roman Catholic Church. 

One factor that I hope is quite obvious is this: the need for good catechetical retro-education on the history and significance of the Tridentine Mass. In the 1960’s when the situation was reversed, the Novus Ordo appeared with little preparation and consigned the Latin liturgy to a nostalgic memory. Now it appears the Latin Liturgy is set to reemerge as a legitimate expression of the Church’s liturgical prayer. However forty plus years have transpired since the last…Introibo, ad altare Dei’s were elocuted. Generations of Catholic priests have known nothing of the Tridentine Mass, and it was clandestinely seen as a nostalgic whim to recall a different Catholic Church, during very different world times. 

Seminary students of today are not even old enough to remember the pre-Vatican II celebration of the liturgy, and the priests old enough to have celebrated this rite are either long gone, retired or on their way to either destination. Before there is any widespread usage and application of this restored form of the Church’s liturgy we need a good period of educational foundation laying in sacramental theology, church history, liturgical studies, ecclesial roles and responsibilities and so on. 

There are practical points that need to be considered that go far beyond just going in and celebrating a Mass that has been on liturgical hiatus for almost half a century. Let’s start with some simple points…where are you going to find subdeacons, porters, exorcists and other ranks of minor clergy whose existence was eliminated by the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. Every specific part of the liturgy prior to Vatican II had specific and clearly defined roles for each specific ministry. Furthermore all of these roles were filled by male Catholics, usually preparing for the Catholic priesthood. Should we anticipate a restoration of Sacred Tonsure as well as the Minor Orders in order to properly celebrate this traditional form of Eucharistic worship? If that is the case what norms of clerical preparation will be embraced? Does such a restoration of the Tridentine liturgy formulate distinctive norms for the education and development of each “rite” of clergy? I don’t think the intention of the Holy Father is to repeal almost fifty years of liturgical and educational progression just to include an option of celebrating the Tridentine Liturgy. 

Besides wondering about the obvious concerns regarding the restoration of the old liturgy the Bishops of the world need to spend some serious time considering the manner in which they intend to educate their faithful believers in the nuances of Mother Latin. For the most part generations of Catholics have no conception of Latin as part of their Liturgical prayers and were even at times discouraged by these same bishops from even considering use of Latin. There has been a widespread shift not only in our Catholic Church to social and cultural norms that will be rather protective of the Novus Ordo liturgy of Paul VI. We might even see the same cultural and liturgical conflicts that occurred when the directives of Vatican II were implemented. I have known of a few cases in some dioceses where the parish community has chosen to celebrate exclusively one rite over another. They have even modeled their sacred architecture to pre-Vatican II specifications, so that the Mass of Paul VI cannot even be accommodated in their Churches. It does not seem that such contention is intended to produce such theological and liturgical division, but there is always a distinct possibility. 

When I was a first grader at Saint Gabriel School in Philadelphia (1965), I was taught the Catholic liturgy in Latin. That was in the first semester. In the second semester we moved on to English and that has been the norm ever since. There was really never an explanation of the change, nor do I remember any real effort on the part of the IHM Sisters to provide any explanation. I think this was partially true because in 1965, truly good female religious did not question what the Bishop and Father told them to do! We have evolved quite a bit from the seemingly nostalgic days of, “Ozzie and Harriet” in the Catholic Church. For the most part the transition has also been a good thing. Vatican II offered not only an opportunity for Catholics to integrate themselves more closely into the Church’s liturgical expressions, but also provided a conduit for creative thought and discussion of the liturgical norms we have celebrated ever since. While it is quite a bit different from returning to a Latin liturgy, I often think about how the restoration of Jim Crowe laws would affect Americans of the 21st century. Would such restoration be eagerly accepted by all Americans? In the same manner the restoration of our former Catholic liturgy might spark similar reactions as the restoration of segregation laws of the American 19th and 20th centuries. 

While I do not remember a lot about the liturgy prior to the Second Vatican Council, I do remember an intrinsically different manner of Catholic lifestyle that existed prior to the Council. Catholics didn’t eat meat on Fridays, all of the Holy Days were intact (and always celebrated when they occurred), there was a fast before reception of the Eucharist, women wore veils in church, only clergy distributed Holy Communion, only clergy or parish men read scriptures at Mass, no one ever spoke above a whisper in the Church, confession was in a box and no Catholic even publically thought of using the Pill. 

Even the manner of our Popes has changed. John XXIII and Paul VI were carried about in a papal mobile throne called the “sedia gestatoria”. Only John Paul I and John Paul II started the initiation of papal perambulation around 1978. Our Popes really didn’t travel much either. John XXIII stayed primarily in Italy, spoke mostly Italian, Paul VI was a bit more cosmopolitan, He travelled the globe in the footsteps of Saint Paul even making it to the United States. John Paul II of course was perhaps the greatest international traveler in the Church’s history, and he was as well a well educated polyglot. However the rock star super qualities of John-Paul’s papacy evolved from seemingly simple acts committed by previous Popes. Had John XXIII not visited Regina Caeli Prison in Rome decades ago, the travels of John-Paul II most likely would have never occurred. Not only would the travels of this frequent flyer most like have not happened, but the thought and canonical election of a non Italian Pope would have been inconceivable. 

So really, there is a lot more to think about than just the simple restoration of the Tridentine Liturgy. If indeed we all lived and worked and worshipped in an existential vacuum there would be no real problem. Time transportation back to 1962 and Camelot would not even be a concern. But our world, our Church and our Catholic appreciations of everything has changed dramatically since John XXIII called for aggiornamento in the Catholic Church. While the potential restoration of the Tridentine liturgy might be a welcome change from the Novus Ordo of Paul VI…it really doesn’t reflect who and what we are as Catholics. Our world has changed. Our theological lives have changed and our Church has changed. 

The best thing that could be imagined from the impending restoration of the option to celebrate the Tridentine Liturgy would be this: That Catholics learn a deeper appreciation of the heritage of their sacred Liturgy from both past and present rites. With this deeper appreciation in hand, perhaps our Catholic liturgy will grow and develop in some manner and form that reflects a truly natural and organic development of both pre and post Vatican II theology and finally all of Catholicism will come to realize that it is the true sacramental nature and dignity of the Eucharistic Presence is our true source of prayer and nourishment. 

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