The Pope’s ambition, a powerful blend of the Novus Ordo and the Old Rite, could sweep the Church

Cardinal Walter Brandmüller celebrated the Extraordinary Form Mass at St Peter's Basilica on Sunday (CNS photo)

An extremely interesting story by John Thavis – which appears currently on the Herald’s homepage under the headline “Pope’s ‘reform of the reform’ in liturgy to continue” – reports what seems to me a potentially wondrous proposed advance. But will it happen? There is a danger that what amounts to an entirely new proposal of a fresh liturgical development, going beyond both the Ordinary and the Extraordinary forms of the Mass to something possibly better than either, will sink without trace: so here’s my two penn’orth towards getting it noticed and talked about, and I hope acted on. Here’s what Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (of all things) said on Sunday:

“The Pope’s long-term aim is not simply to allow the old and new rites to co-exist, but to move toward a ‘common rite’ that is shaped by the mutual enrichment of the two Mass forms.”

The fact is that both existing forms, as at present celebrated, lack something. Much has been alleged and lengthily spelled out about the defects of the Novus Ordo, so I say nothing about them here. But the Old Rite (I intend to call it that in future: “Extraordinary Form” sounds like a physical defect of some sort) also presents its difficulties, if for no other reason than that it has become so unfamiliar to many if not most people. I have always thought it nonsensical and wrong that the Old Rite should be banned in the aftermath of Vatican II; the liberalisation of its use following Summorum Pontificum was long overdue. But the great and undoubted riches of the Old Rite, it has seemed to me since I recently began to attend it on Sundays, are impeded from re-entering the mainstream of the Church’s liturgical life by an almost insuperable barrier. It’s very difficult indeed for anyone not actually brought up with it (and that’s a large and growing proportion of congregations these days) to find out what is actually going on, except at certain key points when bells, the elevations and so on, indicate it unmistakeably.

Though I have been moved by the powerful atmosphere of devotion surrounding the celebrations of the 1962 Mass I have attended, especially during the silent prayer of consecration itself, I have struggled during most of the celebration to pinpoint what point in the Mass we have actually reached: just where I am and what is happening. I have the text there in front of me, in both English and Latin: but when the Mass is being “said”, either virtually inaudibly or in total silence, it’s easy to get lost. Look, this isn’t in any way a negative reaction. But it is a difficulty. I will just have to persevere. But it’s discouraging. I had already studied (and been greatly moved by the beauty of) the text. There were some landmarks in it I was watching out for, for instance that wonderful opening declaration “Introibo ad altare Dei”: but I never even heard it the first time, and still haven’t. We were miles past it when I caught up. Now, as I say, I will need to persevere: but most people who don’t have a long acquaintanceship with the old Mass and how to attend it will be put off. And that is a very great pity.

So the idea of a “common rite” that is “shaped by the mutual enrichment of the two Mass forms” is very attractive to me. The Novus Ordo, celebrated in Latin as a High Mass (as it is in what I am fortunate to be able to say is the church I attend on Sundays, the Oxford Oratory), is very moving as it is. To add, for instance, the whole introductory rite of the old Mass, asperges and all, would immensely enrich it even further. In a new translation (which would have to be done to the same standard as that of the awaited translation of the Novus Ordo) it would help at churches which are, at the moment, liturgically struggling to get to the point of devotional take-off (I’m assuming, of course that there’ll be no guitars around by then: if there are, better for them to stick to the Novus Ordo we have rather than compromise the “enriched” form I look forward to having).

Meanwhile, the struggle to establish, often against the obstruction of local bishops, the absolute right of those who wish for it to have the old Mass, continues. As a story on this home page reports:

A new Vatican instruction calls on local bishops and pastors to respond generously to Catholics who seek celebration of the Mass according to the 1962 Roman Missal. The instruction, issued today, said pastors should approve such Masses for groups of faithful, even when such groups are small or are formed of people from different parishes or dioceses.

But the CDF statement does more than just call on bishops to “respond generously”, as though they had any business whatever doing anything else. It tells, them, in terms, that the people have an absolute right to the old Mass if they want it, and that they are not to get in the way:

The Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum constitutes an important expression of the Magisterium of the Roman Pontiff and of his munus of regulating and ordering the Church’s Sacred Liturgy. The Motu Proprio manifests his solicitude as Vicar of Christ and Supreme Pastor of the Universal Church, and has the aim of:

a) offering to all [my italics] the faithful the Roman Liturgy in the Usus Antiquior, considered as a precious treasure to be preserved;

b) effectively guaranteeing and ensuring the use of the forma extraordinaria for all who ask for it, given that the use of the 1962 Roman Liturgy is a faculty generously granted for the good of the faithful and therefore is to be interpreted in a sense favourable to the faithful who are its principal addressees

Bishops are also instructed “to offer their clergy the possibility of acquiring adequate preparation for celebrations in the forma extraordinaria. This applies also to seminaries, where future priests should be given proper formation, including study of Latin and, where pastoral needs suggest it, the opportunity to learn the forma extraordinaria of the Roman Rite”.

So the people have a right to the old Mass: and the clergy should be trained in its use: that is the Pope’s wish. In the light of all that enthusiastic stuff about a “Benedict bounce” that we heard from the bishops after the Pope’s visit, can we expect them now to respect his wishes?

I have two motives in harrying the bishops in this matter: first, it’s a matter of justice: those who want the old Mass now have an actual right to it, and it’s the bishops’ pastoral duty actually to facilitate the implementation of that right. Second, the more the Old Rite is celebrated, the more likely, perhaps, will become what I would really like to see: a new rite, in which the best of the Novus Ordo (including two of the three new Canons) would be retained, with the whole liturgy enhanced by the riches of the Old Rite, now clearly and audibly celebrated for the first time: that could be a liturgical wonder which would sweep the Church.

I prattle, of course. There are too many enemies of any real “reform of the reform”, and they are too powerful, for any such thing to get off the ground anytime soon. Aren’t there? All the same, according to the Herald, Cardinal Koch says that this and nothing less is “the Pope’s long-term aim”. But how long is “long-term”? There’s the question. Ah, well.