Wednesday, July 11, 2007

A dissenting Catholic's take on Benedict's lifting of restrictions on the Tridentine Mass

Pope Benedict XVI recently issued a motu propio "Summorum Pontificum" authorizing the wider celebration of the Tridentine Mass in Latin thereby allowing the old rite's celebration irregardless of what the local bishop decides. Whereas before, John Paul II issued an indult allowing the celebration of this old rite if the laity requests for it and the diocesan bishop allows it. John Paul left it to the local bishops to make the decision. The bishops have been extremely hesitant to grant the permission since very few Catholics requested for it and that it may cause divisions in the Church.

Conservative and traditionalist Catholics have complained that the New Mass or Novus Ordo (Mass of Paul VI) has been innovated a lot. This is true. Some parishes celebrate the Mass according to the rubrics of Paul VI and some add dances, mimes etc that make the Mass more like a concert than a sacrifice.

Some of the traditionalists have separated from the Catholic Church. These former Catholics have questioned the authority of the Pope and the ecumenical councils while sticking to the old rite. It seems that Benedict wants to bring back these "wayward sheep". But these former Catholics should first accept authority before being reconciled to the Church, especially the authority of the Second Vatican Council. It is beyond the question of what language they use in worship.

I assisted many Masses but I think the Mass was celebrated in the way that the rubrics intended was when I was at Westminster Cathedral (Mass in Latin) and in a non-Catholic church (An Episcopalian church which uses the Catholic worship books).

While the Pope says that his decision is for the good of the Church, I am quite concerned. It would have been better if Benedict XVI had left John Paul's indult alone.

First of all this issue is beyond the language used at Mass. The Novus Ordo can be celebrated in Latin. In fact it SHOULD BE celebrated in Latin. The use of the vernacular is allowable but not the intended norm.

Secondly Catholics will end up choosing services like the Episcopalians do. In Episcopal Churches Holy Communion is celebrated according to the 1662 Prayerbook (traditional language), 1929 Prayerbook, 1979 revised prayerbook, the Roman Missal and in the Church of England, the alternative service book. Now we may see parishes advertising which rite parishioners go to. The traditionalists may not even bother to attend services not to their liking. Parishioners who grew up in the Novus Ordo may think the Tridentine Rite as a museum piece. The result will be division in each parish. This would be the end of what it means to be Catholic.

To really put it plainly, despite what the Vatican neo-conservatives say, this Catholic Church is on the way to division. The laity will use two service books, a Tridentine one and the New Missal. We have the Anglican experience to teach us. Anglicans bemoan that the beginning of their communion's division really started when their church dumped the Book of Common Prayer for other books of common prayer. For more than 400 years, the Prayerbook maintained the unity of Anglicanism despite Anglicanism having no office of a Pope. The acrimonious exchanges about same-sex marriages and homosexual theology in the Anglican communion is the last straw in the schism that really started with abandonment of the prayerbook.

The Catholic Church has the grace of unity (even though Catholics are divided on many issues) and this was evident in the Second Vatican Council which mandated reforms on how the church considered itself.

Catholicism embraces all sharing unity in faith but diversity in practice. This new state of affairs may induce Catholics to focus more on the externals (like what rubric to use etc) rather on the essentials. Worse adhesion to a traditionalist position on the externals may be used as a litmus test of obedience to the Pope.

At an EWTN roundtable discussion on the Pope's motu proprio a pastoral theologian said that s the old Latin service books cover only a small part of the Bible in scripture reading and the New service books cover up to 76% of the Bible. Catholics can actually read and hear the Bible preached if they attend Mass every day. There will be a problem now. What book of readings will the Tridentine Mass goers use? To hear the same words and readings of Scripture in what ever language the Mass is celebrated, in any country or culture is a major mark of what it means to be Catholic.

I accept that the Pope has authority to lift the restrictions on the Tridentine Mass. But we Catholics will have to face the ramifications. We just hope we have more unity. Benedict will have to follow through. The Anglican prayerbook used by Anglicans who have been reconciled to Rome should be designated as an extraordinary rite of the Latin Church.

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