Latin Mass

There have been stories in the popular press for over a year indicating that Pope Benedict wants a return, of sorts, to the Tridentine Mass. That’s not completely accurate. It’s better to say “The Latin Rite” – that is, the current Liturgy done in Latin. George Weigel at Newsweek attempts to give some insight.

Father Ratzinger was a peritus, a theological expert, at the council, and like many others, he welcomed the council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy: here was a ratification of the liturgical reform movement he had long supported and a blueprint for further organic development of the celebration of mass. In the immediate aftermath of Vatican II, however, Ratzinger became convinced that organic development had been jettisoned for revolution, the liturgical Jacobins being a cadre of academics determined to impose their view of a populist liturgy on the entire Catholic Church.

Dem’s fightin’ words, Jacobins. Weigel has used a rather loaded term to vividly describe the emotion of a serious academic scholar and theologian some forty years ago. Do you think he’s right?

Finding congregations that seemed more interested in self-affirmation than worship, and priests given to making their personalities the center of the liturgical action, they asked whether the rush to create a kind of sacred circle in which the priest faces the people over the eucharistic “table” might have something to do with the problem.

And they reminded the entire church that Vatican II had not mandated many of the things most Catholics thought it had decreed: for example, the elimination of Latin (and chant) from the liturgy and the free-standing altar behind which the priest faced the congregation.

I suspect the story is not so simple as which way the Priest faces during Mass. First of all, there’s at least three layers of Church hierarchy between the Vatican and the Parish Priest, and each has some say in some specific ideas about what is Liturgically acceptable. And those details do tend to change with time, after all (trust me on this – “interpretive dance” on an alter at Mass was much more acceptable in Ann Arbor in 1976 than in Washington DC in 2008). But the author of the story does offer a reasonable description of the limits (and of the subtlety of the change).

Yes, the mass of John XXIII is celebrated in Latin, and yes, it is often celebrated (although it need not be) with the priest and the congregation facing the same direction as they pray–looking together, as classic liturgical theology teaches, toward the return of Christ and the inauguration of the heavenly Jerusalem. But the pope’s point in making this form of liturgy more widely available is neither nostalgic nor retrogade. Rather, by encouraging the more widespread celebration of this classic form of the always-evolving Roman rite, Benedict XVI intends to create a kind of liturgical magnet, drawing the “reform of the reform” in the direction of greater reverence in the Catholic Church’s public worship.

That’s almost exactly right, I think. The emphasis on “greater reverence” is consistent with the Pope’s message.

In doing so, the pope is also reminding the church that, as Vatican II put it, the mass is a moment of privileged participation in “that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the Holy City of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God, minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle.” “Going to mass,” in other words, is not something we do for ourselves, or something we make up ourselves; liturgical worship is our participation in something God is doing for us.

Strikes me as a good thing, too.

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