Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Where the "Tridentine" liturgy is heading.

Traditionalist leaning Catholics are abuzz about an interview given by newly appointed Archbishop Sample to The Oregonian. He's evidently a rising star in the episcopate. On the subject of the "Tridetine" liturgy, Sample mentions his appreciation for it and his experience celebrating it and that while he will not force any parish to adopt it, he will be generous with those who wish to celebrate it. You can either search for the online posting of the interview or check out various blogs for the relevant excerpts. In any event, Sample's comments on the old liturgy are illustrative of the bind in which the traditionalist movement has fixed the classic Roman missal.

Traditionalist are almost universally adamant on their instance that the old liturgy be preserved in its "pristine" form, either the Missale Romanum of 1962 or some earlier variety. Any proposed modification to the old liturgy is deemed to be infected with Modernism, and hence a spiritual danger. This was the case almost immediately after the promulgation of the Missale Romanum of Paul VI. In response to what was, admittedly, a sweeping change to the Roman liturgy, traditionalist groups insisted upon inflexibility for the traditional Missale Romanum. While traditionalist enclaves received the promulgation of Summorum Pontificum as a victory for their cause, Archbishop Sample's comments ought to shine a sobering light on any overly sanguine estimations. Indeed, they show the stark reality facing the old liturgy.

Sample's comments show the old liturgy to still be by and large the liturgical expression of a few select groups or a decidedly small minority. The Novus Ordo remains the norm for liturgical use by a considerable margin. Additionally, Sample's mention that he has had three occasions to celebrate the old liturgy reveals the extent to which the "Tridentine" missal has made in roads into the broader Roman Church since Summorum Pontificum: it is used by interested persons in the majority on occasion, otherwise, said persons retain the Novus Ordo as the norm. In other words, to put it more bluntly, the "Tridetnine" liturgy has become a liturgical curiosity at best, the property of some odd groups or taken out here and there for a taste of the past. A slightly better estimate is that the old liturgy, as Sample indicates, is being utilized as a reference for how to celebrate the new liturgy, not with the idea of increasing its presence.

I must reiterate, as this comes up often, that I am not writing to attack the old liturgy or those attached to it. I have an appreciation for the strengths and weaknesses of the old liturgy and the old liturgy was, for a time, a substantial influence in my life. I am, however, pointing to the short sighted vision of those proponents of the old liturgy. The old litrgy, contrary to every hope and expectation in traditionalist circles, is, if things keep developing on their current curve, heading towards obsolescence. The refusal to see the old rite undergo development, the steadfast rejection of the codification of the old missal as it was presented in 1965, the almost superstitious (or dare I say neurotic) insistence on the missal as it was published in 1962 for fear of Modernism or the influence of the Second Vatican Council and the fanatical and almost apocalyptic belief that those parties so attached to the old missal were a faithful remnant, all of these factors have succeeded in perhaps irreparably isolating the old liturgy from the religious experience of the Roman Church. If there is no room to reform the old missal where it has needed it, if there is no option to undue "traditional" modes of celebrating the old missal that where the result of the larger liturgical degeneration that swept the West in the middle ages, if the only option for traditionalists is to continue isolating the old missal in an attempt to retain its purity, then a liturgy which legitimately has much worth treasuring and utilizing in greater measure is destined obscurity. This has been the root of my frustration with so-called traditionalists and persons/groups whose idea of a new liturgical movement is little more than restoring the old mass to pride of place.

There are rumors the Vatican is studying the manner by which the old missal may be updated. The proposals include revising the calendar, adding in the new prefaces and perhaps even looking at the lectionary, all measures that are designed to make sure the "Tridentine" liturgy does not become the equivalent of a liturgical civil war reenactment and, I suspect, one step on the long road to settling into one liturgy of the Roman Rite. I hope the Vatican succeeds - it's the only way for whatever is genuinely worth preserving and utilizing in the "Tridentine" liturgy has any hope for use among the broader Roman Church.