Saint Thomas Aquinas

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Dare We Compare the Masses? Part 6: Historical Background Comparison


As we begin the task of comparing our two rituals it will do us well to understand a little of the history behind each Mass. The Tridentine Mass (Extraordinary Form) is a liturgy that has been refined over the course of the better part of 2000 years. Beginning most likely in the very first Masses held in Rome, it has undergone organic change as the Church strove to meet the growing number of members joining her ranks. After the Church was able to breath a bit after the Edict of Milan in 313, the simplistic liturgies of the early Church began to develop gradually. This is not to say that the basic structure of the Mass was not in place from the beginning. In fact, scholars such as Kasimir Kucharek state that by the third century most liturgies of the both East and West were fairly uniform in their celebration, and as time passed they organically changed to form the various liturgical Rites we now have in the Church. The Roman Rite developed according to local ordinaries, the bishops, and the various practices of religious orders.

It is not difficult to prove that Sacrifice is the essence of the Mass from the beginning, and continued to be thought of in this manner until the changes after Vatican II came into play. Sacred Scripture and the testimony of the Church Fathers attest to the Mass as a Sacrifice. For example, Saint Paul makes this idea clear in the book of Hebrews chapter 10 verses 10-12, "We have an altar, whereof they have no power to eat who serve the tabernacle. For the bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the holies by the high priest for sin, are burned without the camp. Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people by his own blood, suffered without the gate.” Likewise Pope Clement I wrote around 80AD, "Our sin will not be small if we eject from the episcopate those who blamelessly and holily have offered its sacrifices.” (Letter to the Corinthians 44:4–5 ) St. Cyprian of Carthage wrote the following around 253 AD, "If Christ Jesus, our Lord and God, is himself the high priest of God the Father; and if he offered himself as a sacrifice to the Father; and if he commanded that this be done in commemoration of himself, then certainly the priest, who imitates that which Christ did, truly functions in place of Christ" (Letters 63:14 [A.D. 253]). The reality of Sacrifice was always present despite the organic development of the Roman Rite.

As the Roman Rite organically grew in the West variations of the ritual developed depending on the local bishops and their preferences. This eventually began to present a problem, and Pope Pius IV decided to reign in some of the liberties being taken by various bishops and religious communities. This however was not the primary inspiration to promulgate a new Missal. The evil Protestant revolt gave cause for the Church to call an Ecumenical Council to combat the pernicious heresy. Likewise it was thought that the Mass should also be more uniform in the West to be more effective in demonstrating the proper theology of the Mass. Pope Pius IV died before he could implement the change, as a result of this, St. Pius V promulgated a Missal, which was not really "new" but took into consideration the way the Mass should be celebrated as to convey with one voice, the objective reality of the Mass. This "Mass of Pius V" based on St. Gregory I's Sacramentory,  has remained intact since 1570 with only small organic changes taking place over the course of 500 years. Pope Pius XII probably made the most noticeable changes in the 1950s, yet never approached anything near the complete overhaul the Mass would experience by Pope Paul VI. In fact, nothing truly substantially ever changed in the Missal itself since 1570. Michael Davies in his book 'Pope Paul's New Mass' wrote, "No change of significance was made in the Roman Missal until the post-Vatican II revolution got underway."

As we look to the history of the Novus Ordo, it is a complex subject, often described in broad brushstrokes. We will have no choice but to do the same here, and volumes have been written on the subject. It is important that we understand a couple of overlooked facts. One of the core sources I will be referencing to shed light upon the implementation of the new Mass is Annibale Bugnini's diary. HE was indeed Pope Paul VI's right hand man in concocting the Novus Ordo. Bugnini was the main architect. Many Catholic apologists today hinge everything concerning the New Mass on the Vatican II document 'Sacrosanctum Concilium.' The fact is this document was only a small part of the puzzle. Pope Paul VI issued other documents which gave further direction to the construction and implementation of the Novus Ordo that Sancrosanctum never addressed. Few Catholics know about the Motu Proprio Sacram Liturgium that Pope Paul VI released in 1964, or the other documents such as Sacra Rituum Congregatio, which changed the face of how liturgical issues of the Church would be dealt with, establishing the new Congregation for Divine Worship. Bugnini's Consilium was given the position it needed through the latter document to interpret the VC II Constitution authoritatively, and eventually to implement the reform of the Mass in an official capacity. It would be a mistake to separate the many documents issued both before and after the Council document.

This fact is important, because as we will see, this commission of Bugnini was the "official" interpreter of the Second Vatican Council's ideas concerning the reform of the Mass. The most common argument used today when deficiencies in the Novis Ordo are pointed out, is that the new Mass was not implemented in accordance with the Council's Constitution on the Liturgy. However the reality is quite different when examined in context of how the Church works. Bugnini's ideas were in fact the one's taken by Pope Paul VI as being "authentic." Too many Catholic writers like to have their cake and eat it too. When a document that they agree with is promulgated by Church authorities they are too quick to point out how must listen to them as being an authoritative interpreter of the Council and its documents. When the opposite happens and the results are not so pretty, they completely discard the same type of documents and act as if they never existed and have no real authority.

For example, many claim that the Vatican II document never said anything about the priest facing the people, and that is correct. But the Consilium that was put in charge of constructing and implementing the Novus Ordo by the Pope himself, called for the reorientation of the priest. This group which was given authority by the Pope himself put everything in place for this to happen, with his approval. Trust me, there is no way that a rogue commission was responsible for overturning 2000 years of liturgical tradition with the priest now facing ad-populum. Almost every book written about the Mass since the time of the Council, that is in any way critical of the New Mass, make the claim that the Council fathers never intended to implement liturgical changes as they were done after the Council. That may or may not be true, but in my opinion this is completely irrelevant as we address this issue of the two Masses. The fact is, we have what we have because those in authority in the Church, including the Pope, gave us what we have, and that is what we must truly deal with, not what we wished should have happened in some fantasy world that does not, nor will ever exist. Like it or not, the Novus Ordo is "the" product of Vatican II and it is the authoritative implementation of its liturgical document, and that is the fact that we must deal with.

Before I go any further, it must be clearly noted that as Catholics we must acknowledge the Holy Father's authority to make such a decision. We must also recognize the Novus Ordo as being a valid Mass. This however is also not an issue that needs to be debated. The issue to be debated is whether or not Pope Paul VI made the correct decision to invent a new Mass, and wether he did so properly and effectively. If indeed the Church authorities made a mistake in its implementation, then we should be willing to acknowledge it, and change directions. This would not be the first time in the history of the Church where those in authority, including many popes, made poor decisions which negatively affected the Church. I will not dwell too much here on the history of these two liturgies. The main point I wanted to get across here is that these two Masses developed very differently from one another, and as we progress in our comparison, this fact will shed some light upon their structural differences. We must also be honest enough to acknowledge that both liturgies that we have now, have been unequivocally approved by the proper authorities in the Church. Now our task is to make an objective comparison to see which one, if either, is objectively superior to the other, and wether or not we as Catholics should be actively promoting one over the other.  

For more historical information on Vatican II and the Novus Ordo, the following books are very useful.

1. The Liturgical Revolution 3 Volume Set by Michael Davies.
2. The Reform of the Liturgy 1948-1975 by Annibale Bugnini







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