Saint Thomas Aquinas

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Dare We Compare the Masses? Part I: Introduction

It seems to be increasingly unpopular today to be a Catholic and compare the age old Latin Mass and the ad-hoc, composed by committee Novus Ordo Mass. Many pop-apologists today are not likely to discuss such controversial topics as the theologians of old once did. They consider these matters to be below them. However, provided that Catholics acknowledge the obvious fact that the Church cannot give us an invalid Mass, it is no sin to study and compare the New Order Mass to the Tridentine Mass. In fact, I would argue that if done properly and with prudence, it is a great help to the Church to examine the two liturgies to see which, if either of the two Masses better serve the faithful. For those who wish to take the easy way out and assume the two as being equal, this series of articles is probably not for you. For those who like to dig into the liturgies and examine their structure, celebration, and historical context, you may enjoy them.

The Latin Rite today finds itself in an odd state where two liturgies are essentially now competing for the same real estate. We find both Masses being increasingly offered in the same parishes often drawing people usually to one or the other. It is interesting to note that rarely do you find Catholics who straddle the line between the two, even if they claim that they believe they are both essentially the same. Despite many Catholics claiming to see them as equals, or else claiming each to be special in their own way, most Catholics will strongly favor one or the other for various reasons. In past ages the West has had different liturgies being celebrated by different communities at the same time, but we really have not seen an identical situation which have today, where the Latin Rite has two liturgies, one which was for all practical purposes, for a time abolished. 

As we know, the Latin Rite Mass was for the most part completely replaced by the New Order Mass by Pope Paul VI in 1969. In hindsight it is easy for people to say that the old Tridentine Mass was never replaced, but just ask any priest who was ordained just before the Council, and they will all tell you they were forbidden to say the old Tridentine Mass. So for all intents and purposes, although it was not really abrogated by a solemn formal papal decree, the Latin Mass was for a time abolished to the point where ordinary priests were not allowed to say the old Mass. Pope Paul VI did decree that the old Missal was to be a replaced for ordinary use by the New Order. Priests were commanded to use only the New Order for that time forward. Then for a time, the old Mass was allowed only by Indult, which was put into place by John Paul II. That however never really took hold since the vast majority of the world's bishops would never grant permission. Then of course after the 2007 motu proprio "Summorum Pontificum" everything changed, and we now see a true resurgence of the Latin Mass. This progression of events was surely an oddity for the Church. 

Since 2007 there has been growing friction between proponents of the New Order Mass and those of the Tridentine Mass. We should ask a few questions about this state of affairs. Is there a harmonious balance to be struck between the two? Many theologians claim there is. Do they mutually enrich each other as many have also claimed? Is one of them truly better suited to serve the Church, as many others argue? In this short series of posts I will examine each of these claims and see which proposal makes the most sense. Can both of these liturgies remain as siblings in the life of the Latin Church for an extended period of time? Will one or the other eventually be officially abrogated, or will one of them simply die out? Will changes be made to both liturgies until they eventually merge into one another, making yet another type of hybrid Mass? 

I think these are all valid questions to ponder. Although we may not know the future of what will happen, we can examine each of the liturgical structures and the theology that underpins their compositions. We can also examine the observed effects that each Mass has had on the faithful, and wether or not one solution seems to be better than another. Since the Mass is such a crucial element of the Catholic faith, should we not dare to compare these two Masses? To be sure, this series is not for the faint of heart! 

1 comment:

Lynne said...

In 1971, an indult was granted by Pope Paul VI for the people of England and Wales to be able to have the TLM said there. It's known as the Agatha Christie indult.