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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, 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 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.

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9 years 4 months ago
"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." 
Where?  Where did Vatican II encourage this?  The 1964 Missal was said at the time to fulfill all of the requests of Vatican II. 
No, I'm afraid that the Mass "we have come to consider familiar" is nothing but a shell of its former self, a banal on the spot product, the product of a commission, representing the aesthetical and theological tastes of an already superseded generation that effectively gave up on its own heritage. 
This is why younger people yearn for the past... not because we think the Church can't develop, but because we feel robbed of the greatest treasure of our faith.  And for what? For what did we trade the Church's greatest treasure?  Innovation, novelty, experimentation...
No, the young people of the Church are also a voice that must be heard... we love the Traditions of the Church, and we will NOT accept any substitutes or novelties in its place.
9 years 4 months ago
I would love to know what the editor(s) define as "clear" when they speak of Vatican II "clearly opting" for "the Mass that we have come to consider familiar." Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Council's constitution on the liturgy, clearly mentions Gregorian chant as having pride of place (116); it clearly teaches that the laity should be taught to chant in Latin the Ordinary responses, e.g., the Gloria and Agnus Dei (54); and it clearly commends the use of the Latin language (along with, but not replaced by, the vernacular (no. 36.1-2; cf. 54)). While the Council does mention some things that have now become familiar to us, such as communion under both kinds (55) and concelebration (57), it does not mention other familiar items such as lay lectors or ministers of Holy Communion, and most importantly, nowhere does it mention the very thing prompting the editorial, the so-called Mass facing the people. It is not clear to me that the editors clearly read Sacrosanctum Concilium before offering their opinion; at the very least, if the document were as clear as they claim, there would never have arisen the international debate that is the subject of their editorial.
9 years 4 months ago
After struggling for close to 15 years with this bishop, this is no surprise. He has always had his back to the laity ever since he arrived!  Unfortunately, this attempt to literally turn back the clock will continue to result in the laity leaving the church.  Slattery is quickly approaching the year 1510 in his thinking and his actions in the diocese.
Any openings available in another diocese for his transfer?  Will entertain any offers!
9 years 4 months ago
I don't think Calley's sorry, except for the fact that his life's ambitions were thwarted. His sentence was a joke. On the other hand, those really responsible walked.
Jay Rothmeier
9 years 4 months ago
The true promulgations and original intent of the Second Vatican Council with regard to the use of latin in the liturgy is indeed a voice that needs to be heard, as stated explicitly in Sacrosanctum Concilium, nos. 36 and 54., which underscore the desire of the Council Fathers to preserve the use of latin in the Roman liturgy.  
9 years 4 months ago

Jay Rothmeier is quite correct in this observation.


I would also add that the first Synod of Bishops in 1967, a first expression of post-conciliar collegiality – made up of Bishops nearly all of whom had been at the Council - rejected by vote what was put before them as an example of the reformed liturgy. And, of course, that example had few of the features which were later introduced in the 1970s.


Following what Pope Benedict himself has written on this before his election, I in no way wish to express disobedience to matters authorised by Pope Paul VI. However, no theologian would deny that there is a distinction to be made between the wishes of the Council Fathers (approved by the Pope) on the one hand, and Papal authorizations of a disciplinary nature, subsequent to the Council, on the other. (There is plenty of evidence to hand to show Pope Paul was himself often reluctant in giving such permissions). As the history of the liturgy shows, such disciplinary (non-doctrinal) authorisations can, and have been, revoked by subsequent popes.

9 years 4 months ago
I still feel, after almost 40 years as a priest, that the Mass and all other liturgical celebrations should be celebrated in the same language in which the announcements about the collection are made.
William Bagley
9 years 4 months ago
Whether facing East, or bidding "with your spirit," I fear that we stand to learn again the lesson that you can't "go home again."  Thank you for your injunction suggesting that "reformers" ought to pay attention to Vatican II.  The challenge of smart, reverent and engaging liturgies won't be met by a return to the past or more "faithful" translations of Latin (I don't recall Jesus speaking Latin)... there's nothing magic about it, and worse yet, perhaps some think that there is.  Rather, thoughtfully put together liturgies, with good, engaging preaching, is what counts.  And if it is in a language and colloquial phrasing we understand, wel all the better.  I just won't be able to bring myself to say "and with your spirit"... perhaps if others feel the same way a little revolution from the pews might do the trick. 
Gerald Ragan
9 years 4 months ago
Ditto to Mr. Bagley's comments.  I believe obedience to the Holy Father is important, but obedience also involves listening.  And a vast majority of bishops, priests, and laity, simply aren't willing to go back to a dead liturgy.
9 years 4 months ago

Although I’m no great fan of the so-called Tridentine version of the Mass, I make two observations:

  1. There is nothing particularly retrograde, or reactionary, or improper about the ad orientem posture. In fact, the smaller the congregation or building, the more appropriate it is that the presider and people face the same direction in prayer. (Indeed, many progressive presiders invite smaller congregations to stand around the altar…which often results in most of the congregation standing behind the priest, facing in the same direction as the presider). Father is not a performer putting on a show for us, and we should really avoid the cult of personality. When the presider addresses us, he should face us. The Anglican Church has had no problem with the ad orientem posture for the last 400 years, celebrating Mass in English with full lay participation. In some ways the Anglican and Lutheran churches have done better at retaining the church’s ancient tradition.

  2. Latin has always been permitted, at least in the format of the Missal of Paul VI. All along, parishes should have offered at least one mass on Sunday in the language of our heritage, Latin. It is ironic that the churches of the reform have used more Latin in their liturgies than the Roman church in the last 40 years. Fortunately, our parishes are finally becoming much less Latin-phobic.

9 years 4 months ago
People like to show off, this includes some bishops and me. Quidquid latine dictum sit, altum viditur. 
9 years 4 months ago

I understood that Summorum Pontificum called for the allowance of choice of lturgicaal style. Vatican II ushered in changes that were often returns to the earliest forms of divine liturgy (much older and authentic than the Tridentine Liturgy. The error was that they were mandated, rather than allowed to be phased in. Perhaps the Holy Father wishes to remove the coercion, and allow some variety. What should be standard is the Proper of the Mass, but otherwise, let many flowers blossom.

As for Bishop Slattery's insistance on ad Orientum worship, lets hope that the Tulsa Cathedral truly faces East, in the manner of all Europen churches prior the the building of St. Peter's second basicilica. In its wisdom, the Church has allowed the siting of subsequent churches to be sited as local considerations considerations.

9 years 4 months ago
The article states, "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."  Can anyone back this assertion with actual quotes from the council's sacred documents?
9 years 4 months ago
My great devotion to St Ignatius is waning as I consider that he and all of the Jesuits for the first 420 years of the order celebrated Holy Mass with their backs to the Faithful.Disgusting !How could they ever make him a saint.I know the argument is that he was facing the same way as the Faithful and did not have his back turned on the Lord but as that argument does not convince you nor does it convince me.
9 years 4 months ago
There is a need to adapt to the times and that is something very difficult to those who are trapped in the past.In this case people need a Liturgy that brings them closer to God and gives them a sense of the transcendent which the New Form very often fails to give.The use of latin is not important it could be done in English but with the rubrics in place.The editors seem to be claiming that time is on their side but that is not really true.If you go where the Old Form is you will see a vibrant Parish and one that really is not trapped in the past but open  to the eternal.The sign of the times can swing any way ,and the assumption by the editors is a type of chronological snobbery.The old form is at this moment the new one and the Jesuits should not fear that and be more open to the moment and not insist that we all hew to the one they are used to ,it is this insistence that we stick with what we know that shows a narrowness of soul.Blessed Pope John was very clear on the Old form of celebrating and that is now the new form and it is as beautiful now as it was then.I am young and not afraid to try it ,people should try to move beyond the limits of their experience.Give the old form a fair hearing,you might even like it and thank God for it. Obedientia et Pax
Joe Mcmahon
9 years 4 months ago

Regarding the "Wheels of Misfortune" editorial, third sentence:  I suspect that the location of the Taconic Parkway disaster in Westchester County is more accurately described as "Downstate" rather than "Upstate."  Perhaps in America's point of view Upstate begins at West 262nd Street.  How did this lapse pass review?

9 years 4 months ago
Interesting tid bit about the Mai Lai massacre. Easy for those of that generation to get worked up about it I guess. My generation grew up with Vietnamese boat people who'd suffered the fall of the South, the "re-education" camps, the flight by sea, squalid refuge camps in Thailand and finally re-location to the USA. They were classmates, playmates. Fellow Americans. They all mentioned two things; the US Congress betrayed their loyalty but that they loved the American people for welcoming them to this country.
Mai Lai was a war crime. But no less was the Democrat led Congress' betrayal of the entire South Vietnamese Government leading up to their annihilation on April 30, 1975. What moral responsibility does a former "anti-vietnam war" "peace" protester have, I wonder? None? You got what you wanted: the US pulled out, the South fell. Now it's been plowed under Communism for 34 years. Satisfied? Out of sight, out of mind? Someone elses' moral responsibility? Interesting ethical theory that I look forward to seeing applied elsewhere on OTHER issues.
Something to think about when we contemplate the human cost either of staying in Iraq and Afghanistan or pulling out without victory. War is full of atrocities, but so is defeat.
9 years 4 months ago
I believe there are around seven different rites (families of liturgical expression) in the Catholic Church.  These rites are all supposed to be of "equal dignity."  The Latin rite (in the ordinary or extraordinary forms) isn't the only rite, or the end-all, be-all in the whole Church.  People tend to forget that Pope Servant of God Paul VI, formerly Archbishop of Milan, was a priest/bishop of the Ambrosian rite (a venerable and beautiful liturgy).  I thank God for the diversity and beauty of our liturgical heritage.  I think modern, vernacular celebrations are helpful for evangelism.  But I love the silent dignity of celebrations using the 1962 Missal of John XXIII.  One isn't better than the other.  They're just different.  And these differences have pastoral value.  And I love all sorts of celebrations using the Missal of Paul VI (this liturgy can be celebrated completely in Latin or partly in Latin).  We have a wide variety of rites in the Church.  And within the rites we have the gift of some flexibility.  Not all Catholics use the Latin rite.  Within the Latin rite, some use the Anglican use liturgy, others the Ambrosian, etc.  Some Catholics use Byzantine, Maronite or Chaldean texts.  In St. Peter's in Rome, the pope faces East for the liturgy at the altar, but this means he ends up facing the people because of the layout of the church.  Ad orientem and versus populum aren't mutually exclusive.  There isn't one uniform rite in the Catholic Church and never has been (some people seem to believe this or want it).  It is church teaching that the Byzantine rite is of "equal dignity" with the Latin rite (and Pope Servant of God John Paul II said the Church needs to breathe with both lungs of East and West).  We have diversity of rites (again, they all have equal dignity).  Within each family of rites, there is some diversity and this diversity is nothing new (for example, Bulgarian Catholics and Melkites are from the family of Eastern rites with some similarities and some differeneces).  Why is flexibility and diversity within the Latin rite something to be abhored?  The Latin rite isn't the only rite in the Church.  And there is the gift and blessing of flexibility and diversity within the Latin rite.  We should no more be trashing the ordinary/extraordinary Latin rites than trashing or condemning Byzantine Catholic liturgy.  Some of the people behaving in the most reactionary and silly manner about the liturgy are priests and bishops who should know better.


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