More Tridentine Reflections

CNS picks up on the buzz today. I suppose that means the traditionalists had it right all along, only the wrong year for implementation. A few observations:

1. I’m sympathetic to blunders made in implementing the 1970 Rite. But I remain concerned that timid curialists and liturgists of today seem to have put the lid on some of the more important aspects of serious reform. We all concede a better job can be done with liturgy, so let’s get on with it, rather than go the safe route of regurgitating what didn’t really work in the past.

2. Organic development wasn’t an issue for traditionalists before Vatican II. It didn’t merit more than one mention in all the council documents. The council bishops, and rightly so given the situation of the faith in Europe, seemed to be well aware that the spiritual and pastoral needs of the time dictated significant, if not radical change. The traditionalists know that their 1570/1962 Mass will remain, at best, a peripheral portion of the Roman Catholic liturgical picture. Their appeal to organic development sounds rather hollow to me. If the motu proprio puts into place a charge to reform the 1570/1962 Rite according to the guidelines of Sacrosanctum Concilium, I would find that a praiseworthy development. One has to give more than lip service to the Magisterium as expressed in a council.

3. According to the CNS story,  Pope Benedict is not all that excited about the Tridentine Low Mass:

In one revealing speech to Catholic traditionalists in 1998, he said bluntly that the old “low Mass,” with its whispered prayers at the altar and its silent congregation, “was not what liturgy should be, which is why it was not painful for many people” when it disappeared.

The pope’s take seems accurate to me. In fact, I wonder what purpose the Tridentine Low Mass could possibly serve. If the pope were to loosen restrictions a bit on High Mass and just do away with Low Mass, it would seem to aim closer toward the notion that a classical liturgy might have a laudable effect on mainstream Catholic worship. I certainly doubt that classical musicians or liturgists working in the 1970 Rite would consider the Low Mass as any sort of inspiration. If I were a pre-conciliar Catholic, I tend to doubt I would attend a Low Mass by choice.

4. Will the motu proprio promote unity in a better way than the current situation does? I wonder if this is the sticking point for the pope. Clergy morale also has to be an intelligent consideration for him, too. Perhaps the long delay has been due to the agonizing over possible pitfalls. Maybe there’s simply no good decision on the table at all.

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Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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4 Responses to More Tridentine Reflections

  1. Gavin says:

    3. From what I’ve heard from those who predate 1970, the Low Mass was just “Catholic Lite”. Same Mass, just faster. Hence the old line about “you slept in, now you have to go to the High Mass!” I agree, that if I was alive in those times I would have attended (and likely played for) the High Mass. I’ve seen both, and I would say that if the High Mass is “heaven on earth”, the Low Mass is the opposite. Deadly dull, utterly uninspiring, purely functional. These are not values anyone should put into the Liturgy.

  2. CarpeNoctem says:

    Thomas Day in _Why Catholics Can’t Sing_, I think, would disagree with the analysis of the popularity of the Low Mass– I am told that it was quite popular, albeit for all the wrong reasons. Day recalls from his earlier years that when the pastor came out to say that a previously-scheduled low Mass was going to be a high Mass instead, you would think that he announced that there was a bomb in the building as fast as people fled.

    Spoken liturgy is an aberration. If I am not mistaken, the Roman rite is the only rite where spoken liturgy takes place at Sunday Mass with any regularity at all. “High Mass” truly is the norm and “low Mass” is the adaptation. Sure “low Mass” is legitimate and valid, but it is not the best of what we have to offer. The virtue of low Mass is its definition of the minimal practice and prayer necessary for a valid, licit consecration of the Eucharist… offering God ‘just enough’ is not how I want to live my life or practice my ministry.

    I can see the value of low Mass for ferial days and other good reasons, but on Sundays and feasts (or even if the only celebration of the old Mass is once a week on another day,) the celebration should be the best we have to offer. That’s how this Mass will become again the property of the whole Church and not simply an expression of an eccentric-traditionalist-ghetto form of Catholicism. Music, serving, participation of the Church’s ministers, execution of the ritual, vestments… all of that needs to be spot-on for the glory of God and the edification (lit., ‘building up’) of the faithful.

    Indeed, I concur with Gavin: low Mass can often be dull, uninspiring, and purely functional… and I have been to (contemporary indult) celebrations of TLM which totally fit this description. As a priest, I hope and expect to celebrate the old Mass when the M.P. is out. I am going to insist that it be done as an authentic expression of the fullness of the Church’s liturgy and life, and that it be with an eye to authenic renewal of our present normative liturgy. I think on Sundays it would need to be in the high Mass form. (Presuming I am not reassigned to a cluster of rural parishes where I will have to say 4-5 Masses over a Sat-Sunday cycle to simply cover the essential needs of all the faithful entrusted to my care.)

    Say what you will, but the NO liturgy is not going away. But a ‘Tridentine’ schola, well-trained servers, (non-milktoast) catechesis, real homilies, deacons and subdeacons… all of that effort, I hope, will be the tide that raises all the boats in the parish and helps our NO celebrations become what they can and should be. That I can only guess is B16’s intention as well. I wouldn’t mind, indeed, I think I would welcome restrictions on the “low Mass” form with these reasons in mind. (Could it be that the unadorned N.O. could be considered the ‘low Mass’ expression of the faith in years ahead?)

    I would almost wonder if the pope is waiting until after Easter to publish his MP, in order to make sure that a whole bunch of slapped-together, poorly-planned, last-minute low-Mass celebrations attempted by well-meaning but incompetent priests at the high holy days are not the first encounter that many will have with this ‘new’ form of Mass again. As I said, I hope to celebrate it… and I have a good post-conciliar education which includes a facility with Latin and a knowledge of the texts and rubrics of the old Mass, but I expect it will take me a few weeks to a few months before I can celebrate in a fitting way in public. I hope those who pray for the old Mass as I do can wait that long so I can work myself up the learning curve and do this ‘right’.

  3. Gavin says:

    I would almost wonder if the pope is waiting until after Easter to publish his MP, in order to make sure that a whole bunch of slapped-together, poorly-planned, last-minute low-Mass celebrations attempted by well-meaning but incompetent priests at the high holy days are not the first encounter that many will have with this ‘new’ form of Mass again.

    Carpe, I’ve thought the same thing. I recall the excited ramblings on NLM claiming “the Pope wants Easter Sunday Tridentine Masses!” As someone who’s spent the past couple MONTHS preparing for Easter (and Todd will concur), that’s simply not realistic.

    And I will say that my “research” into the old Mass has yielded the same result: that the Low Mass was the more popular option. My mother told me that her family always attended the High Mass, but they had a strong musical tradition as it was. It pleases me greatly to hear you will offer the High Mass, as I believe that WILL have a positive influence on Catholic liturgical culture, as opposed to stopping in at a Low Mass to get one’s “brownie points”.

  4. Liam says:

    Well, folks, the relative popularity of Low vs High Masses on Sunday had a another continental divide of sort: communication vs aesthetics. That is, partaking of Communion versus musical richness.

    For about a half century, from the time Pius X revolutionized sacramental practice by encouraging frequent communion (and, therefore, confession, as people understoo it), until the 1950s, if you were to partake of the Sacrament you had to fast from midnight.

    Pious aesthetes had it easier in the 1950s once the fasting was reduced to 3 hours before Mass; and that may explain if High Masses became a bit more popular just before Vatican II.

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