Worshipping at the Feet of the Lord | By Anthony E. Clark, Ph.D. | April
Worshipping at the Feet of the Lord | By Anthony E. Clark, Ph.D. | April
Pope Benedict XVIs first Mass as pope in the Sistine Chapel provided
an insight into our new Holy Fathers liturgical vision, one which
may bring young Catholics closer to the perennial traditions of the Church
and heal the rifts between those attached to the Tridentine Mass and those
accustomed to the Mass of Paul VI.
Benedict XVI has consistently asserted that there should be a continuity
between the venerable Mass of Trent, normally referred to as the Tridentine
Mass, and the Mass envisioned by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council.
In a lecture given at a recent liturgical conference at Fontgombault, then
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger stated that in the "genuine progress which
the Liturgical Movement brought which led us toward Vatican II, toward
Sacrosanctum Concilium there lay also a danger: that of despising
the Middle Ages as such, and scholastic theology as such." He noted
that participants in the Liturgical Movement before Vatican II became divided,
some wishing to ignore the Mass of the Middle Ages and re-create a purely
"patristic" theological understanding of Eucharist.
Benedict XVI recalls that many who desired a purely pre-Middle Age liturgy
vocalized slogans such as, "The consecrated bread is not there to be
looked at, but to be eaten," thus arguing against Eucharistic adoration,
seeing it as a medieval aberration. Such views, our current pope suggests,
are a "serious danger for the Church." In general, he argues for
more liturgical continuity between the Mass as celebrated before Vatican
II and the Mass of Paul VI, something he clearly believes has not happened.
Benedict XVIs insistence on liturgical continuity is merely a faithful
response to what the Second Vatican Councils documents actually prescribe,
that is, that any revisions to the Mass be made "carefully in light
of sound tradition" (Sacrosanctum Concilium). One of the chief
complaints made by Catholics attached to the Tridentine Mass is that the
Mass commonly celebrated in Catholic churches today represents a break from
the perennial tradition of the Church. How often have we heard priests or
fellow parishioners disparage the "Latin Mass" as a vestige of
the past and a mark of "radical traditionalists" who are "no
longer Catholic"? Are we to suppose that our grandparents and many
honored saints who knew of no other Mass were not "really Catholic"
Benedict XVIs funeral Mass for John Paul II, his pre-conclave Mass,
and his first Mass as pope were all in Latin, and those Catholics who grew
up in the 1940s and 50s, would recognize that the tones he sang during the
entire Canon Missae (Eucharistic Prayer, etc.), and the Pater
Noster (Our Father) are all commonly used during the Tridentine Mass.
At the Fontgombault conference, Cardinal Ratzinger stated: "Personally,
I was from the beginning in favor of the freedom to continue using the old
Missal (Tridentine Mass)." He explained that some early proponents
of the Liturgical Movement were "beginning to talk about making a break
with the pre-conciliar Church, and of developing . . . a new and conciliar
type of Church." This, our Holy Father suggests, is why today we have
the Lefebvrists on the one hand, who seek to live a liturgical and devotional
life as it was lived just prior to Vatican II, and the much larger group
of Catholics who live a quite different liturgical and devotional lifesome
even insisting that the Church today is indeed a "new Church"
somehow divorced from its past. This, the Holy Father warns, is unacceptable,
for the Council did not create a new Church, but ratified the "Church
of all ages: even the Church of the Middle Ages." He also argues that
it is essential "to recognize that both Missals (Tridentine and Paul
VI) are Missals of the Church, and belong to the Church which remains the
same as ever."
What are some examples of how our Holy Father views the Holy Mass? While
he is certainly in favor of the Mass of Paul VI and the liturgical vision
of the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council, he is not without criticisms
of how the Mass has sometimes come to be celebrated. He is in favor of turning
the direction of the priest back to liturgical East, that is, toward the
Altar, and thus, to God, as do Eastern Catholic priests to this day. He
recently wrote the forward to U. M. Langs
Turning Towards the Lord: Orientation in Liturgical Prayer (Ignatius, 2004), which makes a vigorous
and compelling argument for priests to face east in saying Mass. And in
his work, Feast of Faith, then-Cardinal Ratzinger noted:
The original meaning of what nowadays is called the priest
turning his back to the people is, in fact . . . the priest and
people together facing the same way in a common act of Trinitarian worship.
. . . Priest and people were united in facing eastward. . . . Because
of the rising sun, the East oriens was naturally
both a symbol of the Resurrection . . . and a presentation of the hope
of the parousia (Second Coming).
He adds that the venerable and ancient practice of having a crucifix on
the altar is a "tradition of praying to Lord who is to come under the
sign of the cross."
Benedict XVI is also in favor of the celebration of Pope Paul VIs
Mass in Latina position in keeping with the actual directives of the
Second Vatican Council. Sacrosanctum Concilium states, "The
use of Latin, with due respect to particular law, is to be preserved in
the Latin rites." The use of vernacular was suggested only for "readings,
directives and in some prayers and chants."
Sadly, this wise exhortation of Vatican II has been largely ignored, and
a growing number of Catholicsboth older and youngerhave
called for the return of the "official language" of the Roman
Church. The Holy Father is in favor of restoring the traditional aesthetic
of sacred architecture, i.e., building Catholic churches in the tradition
of those of the past, with many images of saints and angels, and of reemphasizing
the tabernacle. In The Spirit of the Liturgy, he wrote, "A church
without the Eucharistic Presence is somehow dead. . . . If the presence
of the Lord is to touch us in a concrete way, the tabernacle must also find
its proper place in the architecture of our church buildings." Finally,
he is in favor of maintaining the use of the Tridentine Mass, rather thanas
he stated at the Fontgomault conferencehaving it "frozen, as
if in a deep-freeze, just for a certain type of people."
What, then, might transpire during the pontificate of Benedict XVI regarding
the Mass? There is, of course, no way of knowing exactly how the Holy Spirit
will guide him, but his views on the subject are clearly and consistently
expressed in his past writings and talks. He insists that the rich liturgical
heritage of the Church should appear as continuity rather than rupture.
And this is not just talk: in 1991, Benedict XVI celebrated the Tridentine
Latin Mass in Weimar, Germany, in a crowded church, which included many
priests and seminarians. In 2001, while at the Fontgombault conference,
Cardinal Ratzinger sang the Tridentine Latin Mass.
In his preface to Franz Brieds Die heilige Liturgie, Benedict
XVI wrote that, "The Church stands and falls with the Liturgy."
The way Holy Mass is celebrated is clearly of paramount importance to our
Holy Father. In his homily given during the Tridentine Mass he celebrated
in the Abbey at Fontgombault, he stated: "Let us pray to the Lord to
help us to help the Church to celebrate the Liturgy well,
to be truly at the feet of the Lord, to receive the gift of true
life, the essential and necessary reality, for the salvation of all, the
salvation of the world. Amen." It is a prayer for all Catholics, regardless
of the particular rite and Mass they participate in.
E. Clark, Ph.D., recently completed his doctoral studies at the University
of Oregon, where he studied Chinese history, philosophy, and religion. He
has been appointed assistant professor of Asian history at the University of Alabama. His more
recent research has centered on East/West religious dialogue.
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