Printed in the U Matuna, the newspaper for the Archdiocese of Agana on 12/2/12.
Allow me to stray a bit this week into an internal Catholic Church matter which I feel could use some clarification: the return of the “Old Mass”, or more specifically some misunderstandings wrought by its return. By “Old Mass” I mean the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM), now formally labeled the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite.
The restoration of the TLM began in 1984 when John Paul II first issued an indult, a special permission, for its usage. In 1988, the Pope again addressed the TLM and appealed for a wider and more generous usage. In 2007, Pope Benedict in the Apostolic Letter, Summorum Pontificum, went beyond the indult, declaring that the TLM had “never been abrogated” and its celebration needed no indult.
In an accompanying letter to the world’s bishops, the Pope affirmed that there was “no contradiction between the two editions of the Roman Missal” (the TLM and the Mass of Paul VI - the “New Mass”), and that “what earlier generations held as sacred remains sacred and great for us too”. He also called on the bishops to see to it that the TLM, as one of the “riches which have developed through the Church’s faith and prayer”, be given its “proper place”.
All of this is to say that the Pope has declared both forms of the Mass to be equally valid and sacred and one is not to be considered superior to the other. So on to the misunderstandings.
It is not uncommon for those who find the TLM attractive to soon find themselves propagating it with a “born again” zeal. This is particularly true among the youth which is a fast growing demographic at this Mass.
Why the youth find the “Old Mass” new is a matter for another column. The issue we wish to address here is that advocates of the TLM, young or old, should not and cannot speak ill of the “New Mass” (though questioning innovations not prescribed by the Liturgical books is never off-limits).
However, most of the “speaking ill” comes from the other direction in a rather constant chorus of criticisms of the TLM, sometimes from those in high places. Those criticisms consistently center on the two elements of the TLM which most distinguish it from the New Mass: the use of Latin and the “ad orientem” position of the priest, or as critics put it, the priest’s “back to the people”.
We are told that previous generations of Catholics “didn’t get anything out of it” because they didn’t understand Latin, and the priest’s “back to the people” is impugned as a posture of ignorance.
First, let us examine these criticisms on their face. To make either of these accusations is to say that for the better part of 2000 years the infallible Church of God had it WRONG. This a very serious matter even if it is said in jest. But in fact it is normally not said in jest. It is normally said superciliously and often by people who should know better.
Pope Benedict has reaffirmed the sacrality of the TLM, and that includes both the rules governing the actions of the celebrant (rubrics) and the venerable language of its celebration. An attack on either is an attack on the sacred. We may prefer the Mass in the vernacular. We may prefer the priest facing the people. But we don’t get to belittle and impugn the language and rubrics of the ancient Mass. For what was “sacred then is sacred now.”
But beyond that, one does wonder why so many docilely accept these criticisms when there is enormous evidence to the contrary. On Guam, long before the priest turned around and spoke in Chamorro or English, the “Old Mass” was the source of a profound faith, a faith which saw generations of Chamorros through innumerable trials and the incalculable horrors of a World War, and left their faith stronger still!
To accept that our parents or grandparents didn’t get anything out of the “Old Mass” because the priest had his “back to the people” and said the Mass in Latin is an insult to their memory and dangerously doubtful of the power of the Holy Spirit who “blow(s) where it wills” (Jn 3:8)
Speaking only empirically, it is in fact SINCE the celebrant has turned around and the Mass said in local languages that the pews have emptied, the faith has waned, and Catholics have exited, not entered, the “door of faith”.
In fact, it is due to this recent physical, spiritual, and moral exodus from the one, true Church, that the Pope has declared a Year of Faith in the hopes of inspiring a return. And it is this same Pope who has called for the restoration of the ancient Mass. Maybe there’s a connection.