On Wednesday, at the annual meeting of the Tridentine Mass Society of Madison, I was elected to the organization’s board, together with youthful local blogger Ben Yanke, who just secured an internship with New Liturgical Movement blog, and Father John Zuhlsdorf, who is TMSM president, having been nominated for such by Bishop Morlino. Ben pointed out it’s “the blogger board.” It’s also definitely the Pope Benedict XVI “hermeneutic of continuity” board.
There are many opinions about the older form of the Mass. Recently a Cardinal from Germany, not a fan of the old Mass, said, “I have the impression that the whole enthusiasm for the Latin has a lot to do with prestige and the false pretenses of a supposed cultural elite.”
I wonder if that’s why Vatican II said “[p]articular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites,” and that “…steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them,” and of course prestige and elitism is surely the most reasonable explanation for why Vatican II says that “[t]he Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as proper to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services.” (Sacrosanctum Concilium)
There is a rightness to the old Mass, “the extraordinary form,” that refreshes and renews the soul; we step out of the vernacular and mundane to encounter God; it can be like a retreat. I love Novus Ordo Mass, “the ordinary form,” in Latin too. With the old Mass you have the Gregorian chant intact in the traditional calendar, and this also I fell in love with, through my experience with the Schola Cantorum, the Gregorian chant choir. Vatican II calls that musical heritage a “treasure of inestimable value.” I love the prayers at the foot of the altar. I don’t know about you, but I do need to be sprinkled with holy water, and I do need the triple non sum dignus.
I just turned 35. Did I even know, while I was growing up Catholic, that we believe that Jesus is truly bodily present in the Eucharist, and the Mass is truly the re-presentation of His one saving sacrifice at Calvary? Probably not, which was a result of changes in the Mass and the altered understanding many people had about the Mass. In actuality what the Mass is, didn’t change a bit. But there was just a great loss in understanding, in belief, in reverence, and as a result, people could no longer see why they needed to come to Mass, much less why they needed to go to Confession. Today the old Mass is helping restore continuity in the Church, dignity, reverence and timeless beauty in worship, helping us to remember what the Mass actually is, a sacrifice, and recover our sense of awe and mystery, and that it is centered on God and not on the priest or the congregation, and that in the the Mass the priest addresses primarily God, rather than the congregation.
I suppose if you think of Holy Mass as religious entertainment rather than worship, and as something that we decided on the form of rather than something given to us, handed on to us, and you have amnesia about the reasons Pope John XXIII gave immediately before Vatican II about why it matters to use Latin, it might seem like the old Mass is a most pretentious form of religious entertainment. There is no TV show, no broadway performance or movie that is narrated in Latin (okay, The Passion of the Christ–a film I have not seen and do not care to see, but which is, of course, a traditionalist-Catholic-made film showing graphically the one sacrifice of Christ that is precisely the sacrifice of Christ on the altar at Mass).
It seems to me that that’s the point, really: the freedom of the Holy Mass from mundane and secular associations that go along with the vernacular, secular musical forms, etc. It is different from any form of entertainment. As we enter into praying the Mass, this helps our freedom to center on God and to worship. This is true even if we don’t know Latin, though a translation is valuable, it is good to have our hand missal. If we’re properly catechized, we know what the Mass is, entering into it with profound humility and contrition, and offering our whole self, all that we have, our sufferings and joys, at the offertory, and are praying profoundly, with our whole self, our whole life, what the Mass is.