Tridentine (again)

No, it’s not a new kind of gum.

Catholics started celebrating the Mass in “the vernacular” (that is, in the common tongue) in 1962, during the papacy of Pope John XXIII. For some time, it was very much the older form, just done in English, if you were in America. In fact, it was quite liturgically “legal” (that is, it was within form) for the Mass to be said in Latin. It was in the 70s, however, that many changes the Mass as Catholics know it today came to be codified: there were obvious changes, like the Priest now celebrated the Mass facing the parishioners, music would be no longer be the traditional Gregorian Chants, and organ-and-choir hymns we all grew up learning but – um – guitar based folk ballads and yes, there was the occasional interpretive dance. But honestly, I don’t think you find that much in Catholic Churches anymore.
Anyway, bishops could allow the mass to be said in Latin, but the default was understood to be “Celebrate it in the vernacular, unless I say otherwise”, and it was to be in the new form.

The news this year is that Pope Benedict XVI has been moving to allow the Tridentine (post 1962) Mass, unless the Bishop said explicitly otherwise (in other words, the default would be “The Pastor can chose, unless I say no”). From the papal “moto proprio” issued Friday:

The new rules fixed by Benedict XVI widen the permission to celebrate the Mass according to the liturgical books published by John XXIII in 1962, while leaving in place as the “ordinary” form of celebration in the Catholic churches the one established by Paul VI in 1970.

The Mass according to the liturgical books of 1962 is celebrated in Latin, but with the option of reading the Gospel and the other readings in modern languages. Nothing is said in the 1962 missal about the orientation of the altar and the celebrant, whether these should face the people or not.

This will take effect on September 14.

My uneducated take on this is that there’s very little that will happen, but what does happen will be good. I suspect that the disorientation felt by Catholics when the Priest turn around and faced them on Sunday would reappear if he turned around again, but that isn’t going to happen anyway. The bit of “magic” that everyone felt with the “Latin Rite” will be nice to experience again (um, did you know that the words “hocus pocus” recited by magicians when the rabbit appears was a corruption of part of the Latin Rite?). But now that we understand the prayers that would be recited in Latin (from our saying them in English), they might actually be a bit more meaningful, as well as mystical to our sensibilities.

It was the aesthetics that so grated on (some of) us. Yes, I’ll admit that the interpretive dance drove me to stop going to Church for too many years, but in the very next breath I must say that it shouldn’t have. That was an excuse, not a reason. The mediocre music is, well, something liturgists have struggled with for years, indeed forever. The aesthetics argument is always an excuse, and saying the Mass in Latin won’t make the musically awful Gloria I’m subjected to every Sunday in the late spring any better.

I will enjoy the new rite done in Latin (and understand much more of it than I did as a child), but I’m not so harsh in my judgment of the new rite the way we’ve had it anymore.

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