Friday, June 08, 2007

"So Father, what do you think about the Motu?"

Unless you have been living under a rock or in a small town in rural Utah for the last couple of years, you have heard that the Holy Father is planning on issuing a document liberalizing, to an unknowing extent, the ability of Latin Rite priests to celebrate the Classical Roman Rite, commonly known as the Tridentine Mass, without seeking permission from the local ordinary (usually the diocesan bishop). Reaction has varied from breathless anticipation to pure horror. There has also been a healthy dose of skepticism as to when or if it would ever be issued. The Famous Father Z (no relation to Teddy) assures us that it is at the translators now and should be issued soon (in the non-eschatological sense).

I have been asked by several parishioners what I think about this. (Considering that I occasionally celebrate the Novus Ordo in Latin, it shouldn't have been hard to guess my opinion.) I have answered that I think it is a very good thing. Then I explain what I mean because odds are several of them think this mean I want to jump in a time machine and return to the magically pre-1965 golden age. Well, there was no such thing and even if there was, we could not go back even if we wanted to.

It was a colossal mistake to effectively suppress the Classic Rite in 1970. Not only did it feed the fires of those who reject II Vatican, but it also deprived the faithful of their legitimate liturgical heritage. This heritage is founded in tradition that had been guided and protected over centuries by the Church. Is it the most perfect expression of Christian worship? No, if this were the case, then why would need other rites within the Church? We also would not have needed the periodic reforms that have occurred throughout Church history. But it is the heritage of the Latin West and chucking it out wholesale was imprudent to say the least.

Good arguments can be made the the Consilium went far beyond the reforms mandated by the last Council. But, no legitimate argument can be made that Paul VI lacked the authority to implement the Novus Ordo. (Prudence is an entirely different issue. I would have kept the Ad Orientem, a singular Canon (the Roman of course), and detailed rubrics at least. But, as we said in the military, those decisions were made above my pay grade.) We cannot, and should not, pretend that the Novus Ordo does not exist. Nor can we wave a magic want and restore a magical liturgical Never-Never-land. What can be done is to restore the opportunity to celebrate the Classical Rite in the generous manner envisioned by John Paul II in Ecclesia Dei, but most often frustrated at the local level.

I think this will restore a general attitude of worship and reverence within the Latin Rite; the vision of the liturgy as a thing of God, not a plaything for us to 'express ourselves'. Exposure to the Classical Rite may lead to a helpful correction of the defects in the practice of the Novus Ordo. (I believe that this is what Pope Benedict hopes for.) I hope that I live to see the day when more of the Mass is celebrated in the universal language of the Rite and said ad orientem. (Newsflash BTW: the Mass was never said with the priest's back to the people. He was facing the same direction as they were. He was leading them in prayer addressed to God. Facing the congregation leads to the unfortunate psychological message that the prayers are addressed to them.) Eventually, this may lead to a return to the organic development of the liturgy rather than the artificial, academically derived ex machina approach of the Consilium.

What will be the response of the clergy? I can't think of many in my own diocese who will be interested in or able to celebrate the Classical Rite. What will be the response of the laity? I don't know, but I expect that it will be less than some hope for and more than some expect. I hope they will at least have the opportunity to experience it at its best.

In short, I for one welcome the Motu and expect it to have a positive effect on the Church. However, no one should think of it as a panacea.

(Excuse my while I put on my asbestos cassock before the flaming starts.)
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