(This is Neil.) I suppose that I should say something about the forthcoming motu proprio, in which the Pope will presumably extend permission for the celebration of the Mass of Pius V. The Cardinal Archbishop of Boston, having participated in a meeting about the document, tells us that “in the United States the number of people who participate in the Latin Mass even with permission is very low.” Cardinal O’Malley also says, “The Holy Father was very clear that the ordinary form of celebrating the Mass will be the new rite, the Novus Ordo.” For many of us, then, the obvious question might be: What difference does this make for me? Of course, even for those who have no immediate plans to attend a Latin Mass, the motu proprio might have a myriad of effects – it can indirectly, perhaps purposely, affect the manner in which the Mass of Paul VI will be celebrated, and its anticipated promulgation has already raised concerns about Catholic-Jewish relations.
Here, though, I want to ask a question about a possible (and somewhat ironic) conceptual effect that the motu proprio might have.
Let me be speculative. I think that a non-Catholic observer of discussions on liturgy will notice two things. First, especially if these discussions happen to be recent, our hypothetical listener will point out that the Tridentine Mass and the Novus Ordo are almost inevitably seen as rivals, playing now-familiar roles in narratives of progress or decline centering on either “reverence” or “participation.” Second, the observer will notice something similar to what Rowan Williams, the (Anglican) Archbishop of Canterbury, pointed out after a recent visit to Rome as “one of those Counter-Reformation things.” Regarding translation issues, he told the Tablet that there is “a level of anxiety about getting the words right,” and went on to say, “It isn’t characteristic of the early or medieval Church: there’s not a fear of getting it right nor even is there is a sense of one model against which everything else has to be tested.”
Perhaps, then, we can suggest (again, let me be speculative) that we possess a certain level of anxiety about liturgy that makes us continually search for “one model against which everything else has to be tested,” that this anxiety dates from the contentious period of the Catholic Reformation, and that it makes the Tridentine Mass and the Novus Ordo seem mutually exclusive.
Might the motu proprio, intentionally or not, dispel this anxiety? It will presumably, in the words of Cardinal O’Malley, establish “one Roman Rite celebrated with different forms” (my emphasis). So, then, it will serve as a clear sign that, as Cardinal Ratzinger said in 1999, following Newman, “the Church, throughout her history, has never abolished nor forbidden orthodox liturgical forms, which would be quite alien to the Spirit of the Church.” Beyond reiterating that particular theological point, since the Church does have the power to “define and limit the use of such rites in different historical situations,” the motu proprio’s encouragement of a once marginalized liturgical form might also implicitly suggest that it is pastorally unwise for the Church to unnecessarily restrict liturgical practices. Thus, the motu proprio, without embracing liturgical anarchy, might dissuade us from searching for “one model against which everything else has to be tested” by proposing that liturgical unity actually exists through a multiplicity of forms.
Since the motu proprio will be the words of Joseph Ratzinger, we might also suspect that it will express another view clearly expressed in his memoirs. “Enormous harm,” he opines, occurred because the imposition of the Mass of Paul VI made the liturgy appear “to be no longer a product of living development, but the product of erudite work and juridical authority.” We might expect that the motu proprio will consequently show a real caution about the juridical and erudite certainties that once “demolished” the “old building” – a skepticism towards what we might call the “one model against which everything else has to be tested” that easily emerges from the desire for institutional centralization and the pretensions of expertise. This “new construction,” after all, often comes at the expense of the joyous (if theologically imprecise) customs of the Bavarian countryside.
The irony, though, is that we will then have a Tridentine Mass whose use is broadened in the name of an authentic liturgical pluralism – and against the abstract clarity of the novel constructions of erudite work and juridical authority. We can add that we will have a Tridentine Mass that is self-consciously countercultural. This might be a good thing, but it is somewhat ironic because the Mass promulgated in 1570 was meant to be the decisive product of expertise and a felt need for papal centralization. It was meant to create widespread uniformity under the motto “uni deo, una & eadem formula, preces, & laudes adhibendi.” And it hardly ended up as countercultural.
The principles that guided the liturgical commission in its work of reform are evident in the papal bull Quo primum, which introduced the new missal. Five cardinal principles are announced. First, a single rite for mass and office is to be used throughout the Latin church. Second, the antiquity, quality, and probity of the missal’s contents are to be guaranteed by the work of scholars. Third, the commission’s primary goal is to restore the mass to the “pristine norm of the ancient Fathers.” Fourth, this patristic norm will be strictly interpreted by papal authority, for the regulation of liturgical practice in the Western Church belongs to the pope and is contained in the official books (editiones typicae) he approves and promulgates. Fifth, nothing may be added or subtracted either from the rites and rubrics found in the missal or from the bull Quo primum, except by direction of the pope. In short, the Roman rite was redefined as a papal rite – papal in its origins (the liturgy of the papal court), papal in form and norm, and papal in its promulgation and regulation. By remanding reform of the liturgical library to the pope in its final session, Trent had (perhaps unwittingly) created a new liturgical universe, a style of reform based on political principles that would later serve the emerging “nation states” of early modern Europe. In sum, the Missale Pianum of 1570 redefined the art of politics in matters liturgical. In the medieval world such politics had been local, with responsibility for worship in the hands of the local ordinary (the bishop); in the post-Tridentine world, liturgical politics became global, international, with final responsibility vested in the pope.
These were, of course, quite “modern” principles that reflected influences from both the new technology of the time (printing) and enlightened humanist scholarship. The pope blatantly admitted the missal was the work of a professional class – liturgical “experts,” scholarly librarians combing through “ancient manuscripts contained in our Vatican Library,” not pastors responding to the needs of their people. He assumed, further, that the model of “historical repristination” – the “return to the sources” (which the Reformers themselves also esteemed) – was the proper one for such scholarly work. Moreover, despite warnings against “lasciviousness” in church music, both Trent and the post-Tridentine reform actually embraced many modern (“secular”) innovations in art, literature, architecture, and music. On many levels, Trent’s reform of Catholic worship, which took the form of purging late medieval rites of their disturbing “muddle” and “rubbish,” represented Renaissance humanism’s love for “clean, unadulterated forms.” One is not surprised, then, to read, in Quod a nobis, the papal bull which promulgated the reformed Breviarium Romanum, that Pius V lamented “divini cultus perturbatio” and wished to rid public worship of orandi varietas.” To achieve such goals it was necessary to remove liturgy from the turgid flow of daily life and to make of it a kind of “political performance” – the “official cult” of the church as a public institution, rather than living worship by a holy community whose every member contributes to the action.
What does this mean? This means that the motu proprio might present an opportunity to re-receive the Tridentine Mass and our own shared liturgical history as something very different than as “one of those Counter-Reformation things” and its predictable aftermath. It might actually – perhaps ironically – liberate all of us from our liturgical anxieties and our desperate search for, in Rowan Williams’ words, “one model against which everything else has to be tested.” We can become more conscious that the richness of our tradition lies in an irreducible diversity that need not lead to disunity. We can become happily – if messily – medieval again.
(Once more, please let me be speculative.)
Well, what do you think?