Saturday, October 4, 2008

Hey Father, Leave This Mass Alone!

Well, it has finally happened. Last Friday we assisted at our first traditional Latin Mass in which the priest introduced a blatant, purposeful liturgical abuse. Just before Mass started, he went to the pulpit to announce that, since the cathedral was built in 1962 and (supposedly) had only "standing stations" for receiving Holy Communion, we were all to stand up to receive our Lord.

I am happy to say that, in our line at least, the convinced traditionalists and even many of those Catholics who would not self-describe as traditionalists knelt anyway. In the other line most stood. The priest's illicit directive created the appearance of division and perhaps even "disobedience", whereas of course the division and disobedience emanated entirely from him.

It was unnecessary. It was senseless. But it was hardly unexpected.

Some years ago, The Latin Mass magazine had an editorial in which concern was raised over opening the Gregorian rite to those priests who lack the formation and the mindset to say it well. I think that in many ways this is a valid concern. Now I'm not one who believes that having diocesan priests (or others who regularly say the Pauline rite) also say the Gregorian rite is an inherently bad thing. (Some traditionalists go so far as to imply a sort of "ritual impurity" if a priest also says the Novus Ordo. Although I concur with many of the serious negative critiques of the new rite, I think this particular position beyond the pale.)

It remains true, however, that priests who received their whole formation in a traditionalist seminary and therefore were specifically formed to say the Gregorian rite have a very different approach to the Catholic faith, to their priesthood, and of course to the liturgy itself.

Still, there are many fine diocesan priests who cultivate a traditional outlook and bring only the best intentions and motivations to their celebration of the traditional Roman rite. Such priests would, in fact, be more than willing to be corrected in order to bring their celebration of the ancient rite more in line with its text, rubrics, and spirit. I think this is all for the good, both for them and for those they serve.

But what if the priest does not have a traditional outlook and a real desire to submit himself to the text, rubrics, and spirit of the ancient liturgy? Well, it's asking for trouble to try to get him say it. In this case, the events of this past Friday evening were entirely avoidable, for that simple reason. This priest did not want to say the traditional Latin Mass in the first place. Or, to put it more accurately, I think, he didn't want to say it if any traditionally-minded Catholics were there. It seems that for some, the traditional Latin Mass is okay in the abstract, it's just that it's connected with those creepy traditionalists (you know, those folks who have taken the slings and arrows from both liberals and neo-conservatives for these past forty years for having the gall to insist on what has now been affirmed publicly by the Holy Father, that they had all that time been unjustly deprived of the Gregorian rite of the Mass.)

Indeed, when some years ago this particular priest was in a position of significant authority in this diocese and was interviewed by the diocesan newspaper as to what the laity should do when faced with liturgical abuse in their parish, he said they should go to the priest to point out his error to him. And if the priest refuses to listen, what should they do then Father? Nothing. That was his answer. They can do nothing. Because on his watch, at least, if they brought it to his attention he wasn't going to do anything about it.

Catholics confronted with what will inevitably be an increased number of attempts to introduce liturgical abuses into the traditional Latin Mass have a golden opportunity to replay the systemic acquiescence that led to and allowed the staggering institutionalization of abuses into the liturgy in 99.8% of the world's parishes. The threshold for liturgical abuse in the traditional Latin Mass should be zero. Vote with your feet. So fool me once, shame on you Father. But fool me twice, shame on me.

Okay, the lesson for Catholics seeking greater access to the Gregorian rite in the post-moto proprio era is: If a priest doesn't want to say the Gregorian rite, don't force him. Because he'll make you pay, one way or the other.

Note: A reader rightly corrected me that no priest should be "messing around" with any rite of the Mass. Although there are many options given to the priest who says the NOM, I am of the opinion that he should not take any of them as an opportunity to assert his creativity, but rather should say the NOM as much in the spirit of the venerable Roman liturgical tradition as possible. I appreciate the correction and have retracted my original statement.

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