Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Tridentine Observations, Part I : The Calendar.

For over a year, I have been celebrating the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, publicly, at least once a week. I have also been able to celebrate several of the sacraments according to that form. I must confess that I have been interested in the Old Mass since before my conversion. I have collected (i. e. rescued) old missals and altar cards. One of the things that attracted me to the Catholic Faith was its history and continuity. It was established by Christ and our practices stand in continuity with those of the Apostolic Church. While I recognize the validity of the new liturgy, what bothered Cardinal Ratzinger also bothers me. It was an artificial construct, not an organic development. (One should also note the archeologism and romanticism on the Bugnini crowd.) Intellectually, I knew about the traditional rite. I knew what it said and looked like. However, I have become convinced that one cannot really say one knows a liturgy until one has celebrated it. So, over the next little while, I will post at least three reflections on the Ordinary Form.

First, let's begin with the calendar. Remember, the Extraordinary Form has its own seasonal and sanctoral calendar distinct from the revised calendar of 1970. In many ways, they really aren't that different. The main seasons are present in both calendars. However, the mini-Lent before Lent, Septigesima, was dropped from the new calendar as was Passiontide. The option was given to the bishops' conferences to move many holy days to Sunday, which was done with a vengeance. (Give me back my holy days!) Many saint's days were suppressed, moved, or conflated. (One of the ladies in my parish has never forgiven the Church for twice moving the feast of her patron, St. Jane Frances de Chantal.) The intention seems to have been to make the structure of the liturgical year more rational and relevant, which it may have done. But it also made it more sterile and less mysterious. Modern minimalism played a big part, but at least in this case, less is not more, The whole year was something holy, not just Sundays (important as they are). There was an arrogance in saying we know so much more than those of the past, so lets adjust the calendar to fit modern scholarship and preconceptions. When something is changed, it is made less stable, less a fixture of our lives. Certainly, there could have been some minor adjustments to the calendar, but wholesale change wasn't called for.

Then there is what they did to Advent. It is no longer the fast before the Feast of the Incarnation. It is the "season of joyful expectation." Can some please tell me what that means? That we are happy that the Lord has come and will come, but we don't need to do penance to prepare ourselves for his coming? Bunk! Penance isn't spiritual masochism reserved for Lent. It is an integral part of the Christian Life where we pull away from sin and draw closer to the Lord. Traditionally, there was always communal penance before a feast. The Incarnation is surely so central a mystery that it requires an explicitly penitential season to prepare for its celebration. So put away your blue vestments and return Advent to its proper character.

While we are at it, can't we come up with a better term than "Ordinary Time" or "within in the year"? "X Sunday after Pentecost" is much better.

All in all, while the old calendar could have been tweaked a bit, I wish they had left it alone.
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