Semper ubi sub ubi
If you don’t understand that, you’re gonna love the new, old Latin Mass.
The old German pastor of my first parish, Father Albert Henkel, was marked by both an endearing character—affectionately calling all us servers by our “real” name, George—and an almost indomitable resistance to change. When the liturgical reforms of Vatican II rolled around, the only new addition to the church was a plywood altar finished in family-room paneling, a reflection of Father Henkel’s belief that the “old” liturgy would soon return.
My pastor’s reaction seems to have been on the mark. For months now the Vatican has been—depending on your point of view—either promising or threatening to permit individual parish priests to celebrate at their discretion the so-called “Tridentine” liturgy, so named because it was mandated after the Council of Trent. A near-unanimous vote by the bishops at the Second Vatican Council ordered a reform of that liturgy, calling in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy for a renewal guided by the principle of “full and active participation” of all the baptized as its “paramount concern.”
That charge dramatically restored variety to a liturgy that had for 400 years remained almost unchanged. In the 40 years since, the people of God have embraced praying in their own languages, singing their own music, and taking on roles once reserved to clergy. Though it has had its share of bumps, the reform of the liturgy by most accounts has been a magnificent success.
But there is an oft-forgotten passage in the liturgy document that proved prophetic. The bishops warned that there was “no hope of achieving this [reform] unless pastors themselves...become fully imbued with the spirit and power of the liturgy and attain competence in it.” First among the resisters of reform was the late Swiss Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who led his followers into schism in 1988. Others stayed to push for restoration, and under Pope John Paul II they won a dispensation to celebrate the suppressed liturgy of Trent with permission from the local bishop.
Others worked for restrictions on the “new” liturgy, successfully opposing lectionary translations that used inclusive language and an improved translation of the prayers used for Mass, both approved by super-majorities of all the world’s English-speaking bishops’ conferences. Now a special commission of cardinals called Vox Clara, a who’s who of prominent conservatives, oversees the translation of the liturgy into English, despite the council’s explicit directive that the conferences of bishops should do so. For this reason English-speaking Catholics will soon be responding “And with your spirit” to “The Lord be with you,” even though it makes no sense in modern English.
All of this may seem like too much conspiracy—though I am barely touching the highlights—and some may wonder what all the fuss is about. Indeed, the National Catholic Reporter’s John Allen recently argued in The New York Times that the return of the Tridentine liturgy is really no big deal, wryly commenting, “If only we could convince the activists to slug it out in Latin, leaving the rest of us blissfully oblivious, then we might have something.”
But any good liturgist will tell you that the ancient saying lex orandi, lex credendi—the prayer of the church is the source of its faith—applies here. Trent’s liturgy wasn’t just a way of celebrating the Lord’s Supper. It embodied a particular way of being church: an all-powerful clergy mediating between God and a silent, sinful laity; a church frozen in time, untouched by the world around it.
The liturgy of Vatican II no less embodies a way of being church, one rooted in the cultures of God’s people, one engaged in the “joys and hope, the grief and anguish” of the world, one that requires the gifts of every baptized person. It should be no surprise, for example, that liberation theology arose after Vatican II. Once the poor found their voice in the liturgy, they were sure also to find it in theology as well.
Proponents of the old liturgy, who reside mostly in the Roman curia rather than in churches with actual people, argue that there is a popular groundswell in its favor, a judgment based on nothing but anecdote. What is more likely is that they know the liturgy of Trent is a major step back toward the church of Trent, a fear expressed publicly by several prominent European bishops. Absent any actual pastoral need, I’d argue that’s exactly what it is.
Bryan Cones is associate editor of U.S. Catholic. This article appeared in the August 2007 (Volume 72, Number 8; page 7) issue of U.S. Catholic.
Circumire ad Commandum
If you understood that, you will love this rebuttal
by Lily A. Thorns
Today’s parish priest is as likely to sport a ponytail and jeans as the pre-Vatican II priest was to sport a crew cut and a cassock. He is also likely to incorporate new elements into the liturgy with each passing fancy, or sing songs from popular radio in his homily to make a point. The ‘Spirit of Vatican II’ has become so distorted that is should be called semper reformanda (always reforming) or perhaps, free spirit reforms.
Since Pope Benedict XVI released his motu proprio in July, there has been a panic among the liberals that the ‘Mass of the Ages’ would squash all of the new found politically correct freedoms the Catholic liturgists and music ministers enjoy. The ‘Catholic feminists’ (an oxymoron if ever there was) are afraid priests will send them packing, back to their seats and away from the altar they are trying to infiltrate with their desire of ordination.
The Supreme Pontiff, in his letter to the bishops of the world, specifically stated the fear some hold that the Vatican II reforms were going to be called into question was unfounded. He also stated that the desire for the Mass to be said under the extraordinary form is “...because in many places celebrations were not faithful to the prescriptions of the new Missal but ... was understood as authorizing or even requiring creativity which ... led to deformations of the liturgy which was hard to bear...I have seen how arbitary deformations...caused deep pain.”
Instead of singing sacred songs, music has degenerated to popular style, as often as not the Catholics today are unwittingly singing Protestant hymns. Have you ever sung “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” (by Martin Luther) or “How Great Thou Art” (by Carl Boberg) or “Amazing Grace” (by John Newton) at Mass? In Sacramentum Caritatis (released in February) the pope stated, “...the better-known prayers of the Church's tradition should be recited in Latin ...selections of Gregorian chant should be sung...I ask that future priests...receive the preparation needed to understand and to celebrate Mass in Latin...and execute Gregorian chant...the faithful can be taught to recite...prayers in Latin, and...Gregorian chant.”
The motu proprio, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s statement about the ‘5 questions’ and the pope promulgating the 1962 Missal (because it was never abrogated in the first place) is not a conspiracy. Correlating the Protestant worship service and the post Vatican II ordinary form will reveal that they are strikingly similar. Comparing the ordinary against the extraordinary form of the Mass, the differences are evident. The conspiracy lies in the protestant influence we find infiltrating Masses in the free spirit interpretations of the Second Vatican Council.
The liturgy of Vatican II did give rise to liberation theology. And the Vatican issued formal rejections of the theology in the 1980s. Both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI issued serious criticisms of liberation theology. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger wrote in 1984, "Preliminary Notes on Liberation Theology." He stated, “An analysis of the phenomenon of liberation theology reveals that it constitutes a fundamental threat to the faith of the Church..The very radicality of liberation theology means that its seriousness is often underestimated, since it does not fit into any of the accepted categories of heresy; its fundamental concern cannot be detected by the existing range of standard questions.” This perfectly illustrates the danger in semper reformanda in the style of a free spirit instead of seeking guidance in the Holy Spirit. Conspiracy theorists should look back into the last forty years of church history. Si tacuisses, philosophus mansisses, if you had kept your silence, you would have stayed a philosopher.
Proponents of the old liturgy (the ones who attend the Churches of America, not those who undoubtedly live in Rome) are the people who are producing vocations; the all accessible free spirits liturgists are not. The traditional conservatives are sending their sons to the priesthood, cultivating vocations at home. Without the vocations there will be no priests and no Eucharist. One day, perhaps sooner rather than later, liberals may have to follow the groundswell to the Tridentine community to find the Holy Eucharist. Hopefully, crossing the ‘Pons Asinorum’ will not be too difficult for them. The free spirit liberals will be blissfully oblivious when the Traditional activists slug it out in Latin trying to name the bridge they will build to invite the liberals in.
For those who do not understand Latin, Circumire ad Commandum roughly translates into "going about in the fashion of a commando." If I were to name this article in English, it would be called, "Going Commando." The "Pons Asinorum" means, "Bridge of Asses."