by Father John Carville
Are we reverting back to the old Latin Mass? If so, why?
God bless the Catholic Church. We can't stay out of the headlines. At least it isn't sex scandals this time, but what the Pope hopes will be a step toward reconciliation with a minority of Catholics who do not want to let go of the old Latin Mass that was celebrated before the Second Vatican Council. The updated liturgy by which we now worship, using our own language, was promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1970 according to norms written by the bishops of Vatican II. Positive though the intention is of Pope Benedict's recent expanded permission to celebrate the Latin Mass of the Council of Trent in its last edition promulgated by Pope John XXIII in 1962, it has caused some confusion and left unanswered questions.
Pope Benedict's document, "Summorum Pontificum", actually just expands a permission given by Pope John Paul II in 1988 to bishops, allowing them to have the old liturgy in their dioceses under limited circumstances. Now a pastor can make that decision in his own parish if there is an ongoing community of people who request to worship in Latin according to the old rite. Any priest can now use the old Latin rite for private Masses (those not in the normal parish schedule) and laity can attend, if they choose. But the priest, of course, has to know Latin and be trained in that rite, and the church has to be suited to that liturgy, which is not the case in many of our present churches. Only a few, for instance, still have altar rails. These were removed in renovated churches and not included in new ones to honor a major emphasis of Vatican II, namely, the unity of priest and congregation as the "people of God" in worship.
This permission does not begin until September 14, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. There will be problems in implementing it, although Pope Benedict does not think they will be great, according to a letter he wrote to his bishops on July 7. He acknowledges their reservations about this move, but says that their two main fears are permission will call into question one of the essential decisions of Vatican II, liturgical reform. The Pope assures the bishops that the vernacular Mass of the Council will remain the "normal form... of the Eucharistic Liturgy." The old Latin Mass of 1962 will be simply an "extraordinary form." The second fear, also unfounded, the Pope thinks, is that the wider use of the 1962 Missal will lead to "disarray or even divisions within parish communities." Pope Benedict says that this will not happen because, "The use of the old Missal presupposes a certain degree of liturgical formation and some knowledge of the Latin language; neither of these is found very often."
The Pope may be underestimating the strength of novelty in our modern culture. I see it every day among university students. Our priests, especially those pastoring two or three parishes, are probably cringing at the thought of having to brush up on their Latin, if they still remember any, to say extra Masses for a handful of people. And only a few churches in our diocese remain suited to the old Latin Mass. However, we are prepared to meet the substance of Pope Benedict's changes since long ago Bishop Ott and all of his successors have already given permission for the old Latin Mass to be celebrated at St. Agnes Church. The Pope mentions naming one parish a "personal parish" as a suitable response to his instructions. Those seeking a Latin parish.
There is a mystique in the ancient Latin, the Gregorian chant, the smells and the bells of the old rite. However, as with most things foreign, most of us rather quickly begin to yearn for that which feels more natural, more easily understood. Most of the Hispanic people, for whom I offer a Spanish Mass on Sundays at LSU, actually speak English. But they pray in Spanish.
A fundamental liturgical principle is involved here that was beautifully ex- of Vatican II, a bishop familiar with a rite far older than our Latin, Tridentine one dating from the 16th Century. This most convincing argument came from an Eastern rite patriarch, Maximus IV Saigh of Antioch. He said that from the perspective of the Eastern rite it was strange that the presider in the liturgy would use a language that differed from that of his congregation, who in turn had to pray in a language they did not understand. "A living Church has no use for a dead language." Since it is the instrument of the Holy Spirit, language should be living.
The vernacular Mass we now use has to remain the ordinary and normative rite for our liturgy. Strangely missing from the documents we have received so far from Rome on these liturgical changes is any reference to the two-fold focus of Vatican II's Constitution on the Liturgy. The active participation of the laity offering themselves to God with Christ in the of the document. The old Latin liturgy had long relegated the laity to the role of passive observers. The return to the vernacular was a way of reestablishing contact with the common people by enabling them to pray the Eucharist in an understandable way. Likewise it made it possible for them to take active roles as lectors and extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist, song leaders and musicians. The Archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Montini, who would guide the council to its conclusion as Paul VI, noted that the basic center of approval for the document came from the fact that in it the liturgy was for the people and not the other way around.
The second goal of the Council was renewed emphasis on Sacred Scripture in the Liturgy of the Word. There was much praise from the Vatican II Fathers for the biblical character of the text and joy that it would contribute greatly to the promotion of active participation in the liturgy. In the Vatican II calendar of the Mass, virtually the entire Bible is presented over a three- year cycle. This has been so successful for the promotion of Scripture that most mainline Protestant churches have adopted the same cycle of readings. In comparison, the readings of the old Latin Missal are greatly restricted. Where feasts coincide in the two missals, the Pope's "motu proprio" seems to allow substitution, but if the old missal is used throughout the year, the scriptural renewal of the liturgy will be lost.
We must remember that it is Catholic faith that the teachings of Ecumenical Councils in union with the pope are guided by the Holy Spirit. They are the result of debate, but in this case the voice of the Spirit seems to have been heard rather clearly. The vote approving the Constitution on the Liturgy was 2,162 for and 46 against. Seven votes were invalid. The Holy Spirit had lined up his votes rather well. We forget so soon, and in the name of tradition.