31 July 2011

Succintly Put

This weekend I wasn't able to attend the Extraordinary Form Mass I usually go to, so I attended the local Novus Ordo. The priest himself is a good man, strongly pro-life, and--though he tends to ramble--I've never heard him preach heterodoxy. He's also a friend to tradition, opening up the parish chapel to a weekly EF Mass said by a visiting priest.

Still, that doesn't keep him from saying this sort of thing: "Just as Jesus broke the bread, distributed it to His Apostles, who then gave the loaves and fish to the multitude, so we repeat that ritual here: I, the priest, break the bread, I give it to the ministers of communion, who then distribute the Eucharist to the parishioners."


My Novus Ordo friends are surely saying, "What's the big deal?" My trad friends are groaning along with me.


I belong to a split parish, where equal time is given to the Novus Ordo and the Extraordinary Form Mass. It's been this way ever since the archdiocese invited the FSSP, over a decade ago, to make its home here. Since that time, both rites have coexisted harmoniously, the new rite even showing signs of the old rite's influence (e.g., implementing kneeling to receive communion, Latin responses, getting rid of altar girls, reducing the number of extraordinary ministers).

The pastor who said the N.O. was reassigned, so now the FSSP priest (since incardinated into the diocese, infiltrating the common ranks, the better to propagate his traditionalist schemes) is full-time pastor, and fully intends to maintain the harmony that's been a hallmark of this parish. Hoping to steer clear of extremism on either end and promote continued unity--as any good pastor ought--he made passing mention during the homily of "the intrinsic worth" of both rites. He's absolutely right, of course. The Novus Ordo Mass--when said properly, with the proper intention--truly confects the Eucharist and gives us the Body and Blood of Our Lord. In that sense, the new rite has the same intrinsic worth as the old.

But the very fact that one must add the caveat above is of concern.

Oh, that isn't to say the same caveat can't be applied to the old rite; if a priest lacks the proper intention when saying the EF Mass, the bread remains plain old bread.

But the thing is that it's well nigh impossible to do that in the old rite. The same can't be said of the new.

And therein lies the crux of traditionalist concerns. Contrary to popular opinion, we aren't consumed with worry over (a) Latin, (b) sacred music, (c) incense, (d) vestments, (e) statues, or (f) any of the other bells and whistles. These are helpful, but not central. A priest could mutter a low Mass in a prison cell with none of the trappings, and it wouldn't change the character of the Mass.

What's central is the Holy Sacrifice. Anyone who has ever read the prayers and canon of the "Old Mass" can see that the sacrificial nature of that rite cannot, cannot, cannot be in doubt. There are references everywhere deeply unpalatable to Protestants, references to the Divine Victim, the Sacrifice, the Oblation... It is steeped, soaked, positively saturated in distinctively Catholic theology; one cannot follow along with the EF Mass without knowing precisely what happens at the consecration.

It was this sacrificial nature that so disgusted the English reformers they eradicated all mention of it when creating their new worship service. Cranmer made sure to remove any reference to "Divine Victim" or "Oblation", stressing rather the "spiritual", communal nature of communion.

Going forward some centuries, it's fair to say ecumenism fever swept through the Consilium responsible for revision of the Mass in the 1960s. With the desire to make our liturgy more appealing to our Protestant brethren, prayers referring to the Sacrifice of Christ were cut out wholesale from the Mass, replaced with formulations more open to interpretation. The good news, at least, is that the revised Canon retains explicit mention of the Sacrifice; the bad news is that Canon II, ambiguous enough to satisfy a Protestant, is the recommended prayer for Sundays and ferias, and thus is the one most Catholics hear.

Can the Novus Ordo be said properly and reverently? Yes, and I know many a good priest who does. But the very fact that the opposite can easily be the case (and has indeed been the case too often) is a matter for any well-intentioned Catholic to take seriously: it has, after all, real-world implications. Those who continue to dismiss traditionalist concerns with a roll of the eyes need only look around: 75% of Catholics in America (and 90% of Catholics in Europe) don't attend Mass. And among those who do, 70% don't even believe in the Real Presence. That's right; next time you're at the new rite of Mass, look at the fellow to your right and the lady to your left. More likely than not, neither one believes the consecrated Host is the Body and Blood of Our Lord, worthy of veneration and worship, or of protection from sacrilege. And if one thinks that has nothing whatsoever to do with the revisions of the Mass, then I say most respectfully that one is deluding oneself.