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On Saying the Tridentine Mass | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. | August 16, 2007
"It has been the constant concern of the Supreme
Pontiffs, and up to the present time, to ensure that the Church of Christ
offers a worthy worship to the Divine majesty 'to the praise and glory of His
name,' and 'to the benefit of all His Holy Church.'" -- Benedict XVI, Summorum Pontificum, July 7, 2007.
Lo, those many years ago, Schall was ordained to the
priesthood the year after John XXIII made the last revision of the Latin Missale
Romanum before Vatican Council II. At the
time, the pope raised waves because he dared to change the Canon to the extent
of adding the name of St. Joseph to its list of those present at every Mass.
Some do not even accept changes from the Pius Xth edition of the Missal.
However, looking over the whole scope of the Church, including Byzantine rites,
there have always been differing ways of celebrating Mass, usually including a
different language and external forms. Still, in principle, it can be said that
all the essential parts of the Mass--word, sacrifice, and communion--were
clearly present in all the varied rites in so far as they were orthodox.
However, with the advent of the Novus Ordo in 1969, and its apparent, in practice at least,
suppression of the older missal, I, along with most priests on the Roman rite,
have said this Mass in the vernacular. However, in my own private Masses, I
often use the Latin Novus Ordo
form found in the back of the present Roman Missal. Much of the English translation
of the Novus Ordo has been rather
vapid, and the Latin not as elegant as that of the Tridentine Mass.
If at least three popes have reaffirmed the validity of this
Novus Ordo Mass, however much it might
be improved, we must assume it is within the long and orthodox tradition of the
Church's worship. There are those who insist that Pius X was the last "valid"
pope because of issues concerning the form of Mass. In effect, these views make
subsequent popes heretical, so that, on this assumption, it is difficult to see
any continuity in the actual Church. Benedict intended to address these
concerns by frankly affirming that the Old Mass had never been abrogated. The Novus
Ordo, however, is not a new rite, but
another version of the Roman Latin rite. The bottom line is that the same Mass
is always celebrated no matter what language or variety of movement so long as
it is in the direct line of ancient tradition and the authority of the Church.
On September 14, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy
Cross, Benedict's Motu Proprio takes
effect. Any priest can then, if he wishes or is requested, celebrate Mass in
Latin according to the latest Tridentine Latin form. This permission is not to
be seen as somehow taking away something from those who still prefer the
vernacular, as no doubt many will prefer. While there are not a few who look
upon this decree as "conservative," or "back-going," I fail to see why giving
me the permission to say Mass in another language is somehow a "narrowing" of
my freedom. If I say you can say Mass in any language but French, that does not
expand but it narrows my liberty. The pope is not saying that anyone "must" say
or attend a Tridentine Mass, bur rather that if someone wants to say or attend
Mass in that form, well and good. If I can go to Mass any Sunday in Spanish, as
I can, why cannot I go in Latin, which is the remote source of Spanish?
As it is, on any given Sunday or weekday, any priest, as far
as I can tell, can say Mass in French, German, or Spanish if he wants to. I used
to say Mass in Italian in my Roman days. In the earlier American church during
periods of immigration, Mass was said in German, Polish, Spanish, or Italian.
Parishes were organized to make this possible. Such churches have largely
disappeared, only to be replaced by today's situation in which Masses are now
said routinely in a veritable Tower of Babel number of languages. Many think
they have a "right" to hear Mass in their own tongue. Some even excuse
themselves from going to Mass if they are in a place where they do not know the
language of the local Mass, something that is rather frequent in our
Let's look at the issue this way. On any Sunday, in any
large diocese in the United States (or Europe), any Catholic can validly go to Mass
and fulfill his Sunday obligations in English, Chinese, Cantonese, Lithuanian,
Polish, German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Dutch, Korean, Vietnamese,
Caldean, Japanese, Croatian, Czech, Russian, Ukrainian, or I do not know what
all. I have heard it said that in Los Angeles and other large cities, hundreds
and hundreds of languages are spoken. You cannot go to the seminary in many
dioceses unless you learn Spanish. My nephew was recently on a work detail in
Puerto Rico. He went to Sunday Mass in Spanish, even though he does not know
Spanish. As far as I know, one is not "excused" from Sunday Mass simply because
he does not know the language of the Mass. Most people can figure out what is
going on if the same Mass is being said before them in a language they do not
Indeed, paradoxically, this situation is an argument for the Latin Mass, not against it. Had the Church
retained the discipline of the Latin Mass, we might have avoided this enormous
multiplication of languages and the acrimonious controversies over valid
translations. We wonder if all the translations in all the languages are
accurate, faithful to the original Latin text. The Holy See must have to
approve hundreds of different language canons, in all of which a modern
language constantly changes.
Though the Holy Father does not mention this issue, it seems
clear that the self-separation into different language groups has in effect
broken down community, not opened it up. If you have a parish in which the 9:00
a.m. Mass is in Spanish, the 10:30 a.m. in English, and the 12:30 p.m. in
Lithuanian, you really have not one community but three using the same church.
If it is quite clear today that one has to "hunt" for a Mass in one's own
language, it is a sign of division even though valid. Not even English is a
common language of worship in this country. If we all used Latin with a
tradition of seeing it related to our own language, we would in many ways have
a more unified Church. Even today, a hymn like the Salve Regina, sung in Latin, is often one with which every one in
all language groups is familiar.
If I go to Mass in the Tridentine form, I am not going to a
different Mass from that of the Novus Ordo,
no matter in what language I hear the latter Mass. I have always thought that
the Vatican should publish an official Missal that everyone, no matter what
language he speaks, is expected to own and which will not change, except
perhaps for the addition of new saints. On one side would be the Latin and the
other the vernacular, whatever it is that one speaks. Over a lifetime, if the
Mass were in Latin, everyone would be used to the same service, and would be
able to follow and know what it means in his own language. We would then have
more common music and all know certain Latin prayers and chants. That strikes
me as more genuinely universal than anything we now have.
We are rather close to breaking down into merely national
churches without this injection of a more obvious unifying form of liturgical
unity. One cannot argue, in principle, that a vernacular language cannot be
used. It certainly has good arguments for it. But any living language turns out
to be very much more unstable than we might suspect. One only has to recall the
controversies about the feminization of the language to see the ambiguous
effect this movement had on our reading and hearing of the liturgy.
Indeed, the whole structure of the English language was
changed so that older customs, like using "Him" for God, were eliminated by not
a few and "Brethren" had to be changed to "Brothers and Sisters," if not
"Sisters and Brothers." Amusingly, the older tradition always did use "Ladies
and Gentlemen," not "Gentlemen and Ladies," and that latter, I suspect, had
origins in Christian theology. The number of words that we cannot use in our
normal language, let alone in the liturgy, grows daily. This rapid change is
the basis of the argument to use a stable or "dead" language, be it Latin of
Slavonic or Greek. The "Thou and Thee" of the Godhead reminds us that English
itself has an older more stable form. The language itself becomes a basis of
its own culture, a culture common to Christians who had a common worship and
doctrine that depended on their knowing how they were distinct.
In this short document, the Holy Father was mainly concerned
with continuity. The reaffirmation of the Tridentine Mass in its last revision
under John XXIII is an indirect way of saying that this earlier form did not
somehow become "heretical" or contain anything "wrong." There is nothing wrong with
preferring a Novus Ordo vernacular Mass.
But that is no reason to say that the older Mass is somehow suspect. The pope
even went out of his way to admonish those who do regularly choose to celebrate
the older rite not to do so as if there were anything wrong with the Novus
Ordo. One might say that the Tridentine
form had too few readings, while the Novus Ordo has far too many ever to remember.
The replacement of the sermon for the homily on scripture
has yet to prove its superiority. The faithful are in dire need of systematic
teaching on doctrine. The neglect of doctrine has left generations bereft of
familiarity with orthodox teaching in the Church, this all in the name of
Scripture. It is not that one cannot find "doctrine" in Scripture--that is its
origin--but the discipline of clear teaching is not merely or fully satisfied
by scriptural commentary or reading. Catholicism includes the direct addressing
One of the things that comes up with the two ways to
celebrate the same rite is the "mood" of each. Clearly, they have different
"feels." The Tridentine Mass was surrounded by silence. The Blessed Sacrament
was a focus within the actual church. The primary relation was between the
person and the Godhead through the celebration of the one Mass, the sacrifice,
death, and resurrection of Christ. Kneeling was a sign of reverence. The
central feature was awe, transcendence. Everyone, especially the priest, was
focused not on the community but to the East, to the source of faith, symbolized
by the Sun, light, the Word, the Father. The priest's back was not "against"
the people behind him. All--priest and people--were facing the same direction,
to God; all were going in the same direction, none concentrating on themselves.
The understanding of community in the Tridentine Mass was
that every person was actively worshipping God. He was content that his
neighbor was doing the same. He was not "ignoring" the others present. All were
directed to the same Godhead and realized they were. That is what formed their
"community." There was time enough for fellowship later. The two are not
opposed, but they are not exactly the same.
The Novus Ordo Mass
focused on the priest, now called a presider or celebrant. He faced a community
facing him around what usually looked like a table, not an altar. The "meal"
aspect increased; the sacrifice aspect decreased. There was a familiarity.
Silence was not emphasized. People shook hands, hugged, smiled, and whispered.
The guitar replaced the organ. The priest was tempted to add various greetings
and comments. Some even changed the wording of important parts of the Mass as
if it were under their authority to do so. It is not that the Novus
Ordo had to be filled with dubious
exceptions. It could be done as the Church asked, and is in many places.
Cardinal Ratzinger said in The
Spirit of the Liturgy that the priest was tempted to be an actor. It was easy to look upon the
central altar as a stage. In several Masses I attended recently, people clapped
at the music or even at the presentation of programs. What happened at the out
of place "kiss of peace" often had to be seen to be believed. One had the
impression of a "performance." The earlier tradition never clapped at the
music. The reaction was awe. The musician himself was part of the worship. All
were focused on the Godhead. Their music or part was not done for themselves.
Moving music on or near the altar away from a choir loft contributed to this
The personality of the priest, Cardinal Ratzinger said in
the same book, should decrease. It is not "his" Mass; he is a servant there to
do what the Lord guides through the Church. The Mass transcended the
personality of the priest. We should not have to choose what parish or Mass we
go to on the basis of a calculation of the personality or talents of the
priest, however fine they might be. The liberals go to liberal parishes; the
conservatives to conservative ones. That is just another version of the
language problem of separating people rather than uniting them.
We used to often hear Catholics or other people coming into
the Church saying that there was something powerful about going to a Mass that
is celebrated basically the same way now that it was two, four, nine hundred
years ago. It was not only that we went to the same Mass as the Chinese or the
Germans or the Spanish, but that we went to the same Mass as our ancestors. We
have a statue of John Carroll, the first American Catholic bishop-ordinary, in
front of our main building here at Georgetown. There is something powerful, in
thinking of the Tridentine Mass, to realize that he and I say the exact same
Mass that itself transcends time. The same is true if we think of Augustine and
Thomas Aquinas, who lived before the Tridentine formula, which was based on
earlier Roman-influenced liturgies.
In conclusion, I think that the words cited from Benedict in
the beginning from Summorum Pontificum
strike best at what I want to say here. The concern of the Supreme Pontiffs is
that the Church of Christ offers "a worthy worship to the Divine Majesty." It
is offered first "to the praise and glory of His name" and secondly "to the
benefit of the all His Holy Church." When he promulgated this motu
proprio, this is what the Holy Father had
in mind. He intended precisely to "benefit" the Church, but one can only do
this if we "glorify" God as God Himself has directed us. The worship of the
Father in Christ through the Spirit is not a human concoction, though
appropriate to the Incarnation it has human aspects in architecture, words,
music, personality, material gifts, bread and wine prior to consecration.
I would recommend two readings in connection with this issue
of connecting the present and ancient tradition of the same Mass, the same
liturgy. The first is the last section of Catherine Pickstock's book After
Writing on the nature of the classic Roman
liturgy; the second is the chapter "On Praying the Canon of the Mass," in
Robert Sokolowski's Christian Faith & Human Understanding. No two readings that I know give a better sense of
what is at stake in the question of the one Mass.
The Holy Father is concerned with something that is his
duty, namely that all say and understand the same Mass, whatever be its
language, or particular variation:
Each particular Church must concur
with the universal Church, not only as regards the doctrine of the faith and
the sacramental signs, but also as regards the usages universally accepted by
uninterrupted apostolic tradition, whish must be observed not only to avoid
errors but also to transmit the integrity of the faith, because the Church's
law of prayer corresponds to her law of faith.
The latter passage Benedict cites from the "General
Introduction to the Roman Missal" (2002).
What is said here, if I understand it properly, is simply
that the doctrine and the expression of worship manifest, visibly and
interiorly, the same form of worship of the Trinitarian God. This form is to be
present in all nations and times in obedience to the mandate of Christ to "do
this in memory of me." This is the form of worship that mankind could not
itself formulate, but only receive. The papacy has as one of its principal
tasks the integrity of this worship. This is what the pope's decree was about.
Related IgnatiusInsight.com Articles, Interviews, and Book Excerpts:
Author Page for Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI
The Spirit of the Liturgy page
For "Many" or For "All"? | From God Is Near Us: The Eucharist, the Heart
of Life | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
U.M. Lang's Turning Towards the Lord: Orientation in Liturgical Prayer
| Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
Music and Liturgy | From The Spirit of the Liturgy
| Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
The Altar and the Direction of Liturgical Prayer | From The Spirit of the Liturgy
| Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
The Mass of Vatican II | Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J.
Reform or Return? | An Interview with Rev. Thomas M. Kocik
Does Christianity Need A Liturgy? | From
The Heresy of Formlessness: The Roman Liturgy and Its Enemy | Martin Mosebach
To Heaven Backward | Interview with Father Jonathan Robinson of the Oratory
Rite and Liturgy | Denis Crouan, STD
The Liturgy Lived: The Divinization of Man | Jean Corbon, OP
Worshipping at the Feet of the Lord: Pope Benedict XVI and
the Liturgy | Anthony E. Clark, Ph.D.
The Latin Mass: Old Rites and New Rites in
Today's World | Anthony E. Clark, Ph.D.
James V. Schall, S.J., is Professor of Political Philosophy at Georgetown
He is the author of numerous books on social issues, spirituality, culture,
and literature including Another
Sort of Learning, Idylls
and Rambles, On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs: Teaching, Writing,
Playing, Believing, Lecturing, Philosophizing, Singing, Dancing,
and A Student's Guide to Liberal Learning. His most recent books are
The Life of the Mind (ISI, 2006), The Sum Total of Human
Happiness (St. Augustine's Press, 2007), and
The Regensburg Lecture.
Read more of his essays on his
the Insight Scoop Blog and read the latest posts and comments by
IgnatiusInsight.com staff and readers about current events, controversies,
and news in the Church!
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