Friday, June 17, 2011
The Place of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite
I was recently rereading the pertinent documents connected with the expansion of the usage of the Usus antiquior, and a couple of items do tend to jump out. In the Instruction Universae Ecclesiae, issued by the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, three reasons are given for the widening of the usage of the Extraordinary Form, and like any document of this type, it would not be too far fetched a notion to understand them as being in order of importance. The first item on the list notes that by the Motu Proprio, Summorum Pontificum, the Holy Father is "offering to all the faithful the Roman Liturgy in the Usus Antiquior, considered as a precious treasure to be preserved", only secondary is the consideration of those who specifically ask for this form of the Mass, and way down in third place is the notion of reconciliation with those groups who have separated from the Church over issues which include the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council.
This form of the Mass is offered to "all the faithful", but for what purpose, if the people are not asking for this form? The answer can be found in the letter from the Holy Father to the Bishops explaining the Motu Proprio, in which he says, "The celebration of the Mass according to the Missal of Paul VI will be able to demonstrate, more powerfully than has been the case hitherto, the sacrality which attracts many people to the former usage. The most sure guarantee that the Missal of Paul VI can unite parish communities and be loved by them consists in its being celebrated with great reverence in harmony with the liturgical directives. This will bring out the spiritual richness and the theological depth of this Missal." This comes in the paragraph discussing the potential for the mutual enrichment of the two forms of the Roman Rite. Notice the tense, the Holy Father writes in the future tense, "will be able...will bring out." He notes that there is definitely spiritual richness and theological depth in the Missal of Paul VI, but with the way the Ordinary Form is currently celebrated, we have not seen it yet!
The Extraordinary Form is given as a gift to the Church, because we have forgotten what the Roman Rite is supposed to look like, our liturgy is celebrated in a way that does not show spiritual richness and theological depth, at least in the mind of the Holy Father, and many others. This aspect however, continues to be overlooked as many argue that its primary purpose is to satisfy a few individuals on the fringe who like antiquated liturgy, or to foster reunification with the SSPX. I fear too, that the way we are beginning to implement these directives is only furthering those notions. The Motu Proprio allows for the celebration of the Extraordinary Form in any parish and every parish, but in many places it is still confined to one parish per region, and thus will only attract a limited number of people, and inspire only a few priests to bother with learning the older form of the Mass. Often too, it is celebrated as an "event", a special occasion, a one time deal, for particular feast days. This "event" mentality can even be found in the treatment of the Usus antiquior on EWTN. Don't get me wrong, every praise to EWTN for broadcasting the Extraordinary Form, but if it is to have the effect which the Holy Father seems to have in mind, it must become a regular part of the life of the Church.
So here is my bold proposal in two parts. The first part is perhaps a little more ambitious, that there should be a Mass in the Extraordinary Form in every urban centre on a regular basis, offered by diocesan priests, even if there is no great mass of people clamoring for it, priests need to learn it, in order to learn how to offer the Ordinary Form as the Missal intends. The second part (perhaps also ambitious), that the Extraordinary Form needs to become a regular feature on television broadcasts, networks such as EWTN or Salt and Light in Canada should broadcast a Mass in the Extraordinary Form every Sunday, even if it is only a Low Mass, again to drive home the point that it is not just for special occasions, nor is it just for a select few, but for "all the faithful".
Perhaps some may think I've gone off the traditionalist deep end, but as I see more and more young people looking to recapture the sacred in our worship, as I see more and more Catholics drift away from the faith because the Mass "doesn't do anything for them", I wonder if perhaps the Reform of the Reform is indeed past due. Our Mass is not about us, it is about God, but the way we currently celebrate the Ordinary Form does not say that (another post to come on that subject), we need to recapture the Sacred in our worship, and the Holy Father's plan is there to do just that, all we have to do is get on board.