The New Old Liturgy
Catholics with a special interest in liturgical matters could be forgiven for scratching their heads last month over several news stories that centered on the celebration of the Mass. First, Bishop Edward Slattery of Tulsa, Okla., announced that in his cathedral he would henceforth be celebrating Masses ad orientem, that is, facing East with his back to the people. Explaining his decision, the bishop called the Second Vatican Council’s “innovation” of the priest facing the congregation a “serious rupture with the Church’s ancient tradition.” On the other hand, a few weeks before, Vincent Nichols, the new archbishop of Westminster, wrote the following to the Latin Mass Society regarding the Tridentine Rite: “The view that the ordinary form of the Mass, in itself, is in some way deficient finds no place here.” The Tablet of London praised Nichols for a “timely display of clear leadership” in the matter. But then, in a letter to The Tablet, one of Nichols’s auxiliary bishops wrote that the archbishop had not intended to marginalize the Tridentine Rite in any way.
These recent developments fall under the rubric of reaction to Summorum Pontificum, issued motu proprio by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007, which encouraged greater use of the old rite. It has been taken as a signal of the Vatican’s approval of forms of the Mass other than what most Catholics are now used to seeing every Sunday—in the vernacular, with the priest facing the people. Thus bishops are now navigating among several desires: to hew to tradition, to respond to the needs of the faithful and to listen to the pope. But another voice also needs to be heard: that of the Second Vatican Council, which clearly opted for encouraging the Mass that we have come to consider familiar.
Repentance for My Lai
William Calley has apologized for his leadership role in the massacre in 1968 of over 300 civilians in the village of My Lai in Vietnam. Now 66, he told Kiwanis Club members in Greater Columbus, Ga., in August, “There is not a day that goes by that I do not feel remorse for what happened that day.”
A young lieutenant at the time, he received a life sentence, but President Nixon reduced it to three years in Calley’s apartment at nearby Fort Benning. Calley was the sole U.S. army officer convicted, although over 20 soldiers were arrested. Seeing bodies, three helicopter crew members tried to stop the massacre, landing their helicopter between a group of still living women and children and U.S. troops who were ready to fire on them. After testifying before a Congressional committee about the atrocities, the helicopter crew received hate mail and death threats.
One survivor, Pham Thanh Cong, who saw his mother and brothers killed in the massacre, said he accepted the apology, but “his apologies come too late.” Cong, director of a small museum in My Lai, told the news agency AFP, “We want him to come back...and see things here. Maybe he has repented for his crimes.” War-related massacres have always been common, but apologies have been very rare. In the case of My Lai, the conscience of the individual most directly responsible prompted long-overdue repentance. We hope other deeds of repentance and signs of reconciliation will follow, not only for atrocities in Vietnam, but for crimes of war committed elsewhere as well.
Wheels of Misfortune
Every year drunk driving causes more than 17,000 fatalities and 500,000 injuries. Alcohol-related fatalities in the past 25 years, according to the Web site AlcoholAlert.com, total well over half a million. A recent case in upstate New York has drawn extensive media coverage and elicited public outrage. Returning with her children and nieces from a camping trip, a young mother drove the wrong way on a parkway, crashing head-on into a vehicle carrying three men. Eight lives were lost in an instant. Since the driver herself was killed, no criminal penalties can be imposed.
But what about the drunk driver who survives? States use varying criteria to impose penalties. In a case from 2006, an intoxicated young man drove the wrong way on an expressway and hit a limousine head-on, killing the driver and decapitating a young flower girl returning from a wedding. Found guilty of two murders, he was sentenced to 18-to-25 years. But penalties meted out when there is no fatality often range from a slap on the wrist to a few months in prison.
In response to demands for stiffer penalties, some states are now drafting harsher legislation and calling for mandatory installation of ignition interlocks after a person’s first violation. The driver must blow into the device, which then registers blood alcohol level and renders the vehicle inoperable if the driver fails the test. This year 21 states have passed new legislation about driving while under the influence of alcohol (see Dui.DrivingLaws.org). Still, the number of accidents reportedly holds steady: our nation’s highways are becoming killing fields. Government agencies, legislators and prosecutors must change their approach to the problem—and soon.