Friday, 15 December 2006

Gordon Ramsey and the Tridentine Mass phenomenon.

Two posts ago there was a suggestion that the re-employment of the Tridentine Mass would turn failing parishes round, in a way which would compare with Ramsey's methods in failing restaurants. Well, there is a very colourful thought. It is great that we can have the Tridentine Mass as well as the New Mass and, who knows, there may be a wider use of it in the future. But I would like to direct readers of this Blog beyond mere ritual to the person of Christ who is present in the Mass. Fr Julian has wonderfully sketched the heart of the Catholic Priesthood as a living relationship with Christ; I would like to say that this relationship, which feeds the whole Church, is the hinge of every baptised person's life. We are all called to draw people into the life of the Church - this is our primary task in life. Indeed, the priority and focus today is Evangelisation, not rites, customs, ways of thinking, frames of reference, what we like best nor what we did yesterday. Evangelisation is the focus - drawing people into the life of the Church.
The Tridentine Mass is an enormous inheritance for the Church (and the world) and it is very important for us, in appreciating the Liturgy of the Mass, to know something of how that Liturgy has arisen and been celebrated down the ages. In fact, I think that the Tridentine Rite of Mass today seems to be responsible for helping many people come to discover the extraordinary meaning of the Mass. This is a very good thing. But the work of the Church right now is not one of ritual. We are not called to draw people into a Rite but into the Life of the Church. This means enabling people to come to know Christ.
I don't want this post to irritate anyone who has an affinity with the Tridentine Mass, but I do want to point you beyond Ritual to the living relationship with Christ which uniquely is the hinge of life. Don't fall short of being made alive by Christ and witnessing to him by focussing on the forms of liturgy. Christ is greater than a Rite. The Rite helps us to possess Christ. Possessing Christ leads us to live in a new way. Living in a new way will enable grace to work in the world. And the only thing that lasts is grace.
Fr Richard


Niamh- the changing heathen said...

so well said! here here!
Jesus is the bomb!

Mark said...

Like Niamh said, well said, well said!

...but my question is a bit mundane: where is that amazing photo from?

orielensis said...

Actually that photo is NOT of the Tridentine Mass. There were no concelebrants in the Tridentine Rite, you see. But this is the French Community of St Martin. They are 'Reform of the Reform' types, a semi-canonical group from what I can gather.

I would just like to say that while there is more to Catholicism and our Faith than mere ritual, and our relationship with Christ is indeed most important, I do feel that, particularly in my case, an appreciation for the Tridentine Mass has helped my Faith enormously. It is not just the knowlege of a now almost obsolete liturgical history - although having a link to our ancestors through the old rite is certainly a powerful and palpable sign; I am a student, so never grew up on the 'Old Mass', but I remember thinking as a child - was the Mass always like this, in English, with modern music, with lay people giving out communion. Little books I found quickly told me, via pictures, that it was not. Over time, after getting to know and love the Tridentine rite, I realised that there is a whole lot to be gained from a study of the text of the Mass as it was, and that there is so much missing from the current rite.
Where did it all go? Why were we robbed of such beauty, such powerful words, such physical reminders (through word, gesture, colour etc - which we humans need so much) of the truths of our Faith?

That is largely why its return is so very important for the Church today. It must not be forgotten, because it is so precious. As a museum piece it would be no good. It must be lived.
And it's not just the Mass - but the ritual and the breviary as well.

orielensis said...

Sorry, one more point:
This is a very odd statement to make -
"But the work of the Church right now is not one of ritual."

The Church has always considered her ritual as sacrosanct, at the very heart of her Work. Even Vatican II confirmed this. Sure, there are other aspects to the Church's apostolate, in line with Gospel values (evangelisation, aid, community, mission, etc), but the worship of God through the liturgy prescribed by the Church is at the forefront of this work, as the source of its power.

Fr Richard Aladics said...

The photo is from the website of the Community of St Martin:

Fr Julian Green said...

Well I suppose I'm a 'reform of the reform' type too, or, as a friend of mine once called me, a 'trendy trad'. I've been called many things in the past and I suppose that's not the worst of them. Just for the sake of the record, the St Martin Community are not semi-canonical, but fully canonical, as a clerical association of pontifical right.

The photo, in a way, sums up my attitude to the whole thing. Most people who are in favour of the use of the traditional Roman Rite are in favour of it because of the sense of mystery which symbolically represents the mysterious dimension of the Eucharist. That is a vast simplification, but I am trying to be brief. My experience of participating in relatively few Masses of the traditional usage is that the externals of the celebration are more 'set up' for communicating mystery. By that I mean that the externals of the liturgy are put in place already so as to communicate the sense of mystery, as well as theological truth. However, I have seen the 'old Mass' celebrated in a rather tawdry way, and I do wonder what it really was like in the old days when this was the norm. I can't imagine the bands of priests who today say the 'new Mass' in a careless or unrecollected way would have celebrated the 'old Mass' in any better way. I can only imagine the mess some of them made of it.

I do not object to the 'old Rite' of Mass at all. Indeed, I am very pleased that it is available, and that it may become more available with the forthcoming Motu Proprio of the Holy Father. However, I do not think that it is the magical resolution to all the ills of the Church. I do not think that if the old Rite were imposed on the Church, and the new Mass were got rid of, suddenly all the rats would start swimming back to the barque of Peter. I do not think that it would be the cause of a major new Evangelisation. I am certain that the lamentable liturgical experimentation of the post-conciliar years have been the cause (or a symptom?) of a decadence in the Church. That decadence has been in terms not only of liturgy, but - more importantly - of catechesis, of the living of the faith, of Catholic family life, of priestly life, of religious life, etc, etc. That decadence has - I am sure - come about through the assimilation by the Church of the 'spirit of the age', and one symptom of that was the attitude to the liturgy, reducing it to an anthropological gathering. But, I also think that - had the old Mass been rigourously retained - it would have created a major alienation from people who live in an overbearing secular culture. Sure, the Mass would possibly have been celebrated with more dignity, but it would - I opine - have become more and more removed from the experience of people who otherwise live pagan lives. In that way I think that - not for all, but for the majority - it would have become a barrier to evangelisation. It's a case of 'what if' history - and that's never easy to construct.

So what of the 'new Rite'? I certainly think that the new Rite has all the possibilities of being celebrated in as dignified a manner, and a manner which expresses the mystery, as much as the 'old Rite'. Anyone who has ever been to Mass at, for example, Pluscarden Abbey - and I have had the privilege to celebrate the conventual Mass there on a couple of occasions - would know that the new Rite can be celebrated in a way which engages the participant in the mystery of Christ as any celebration of the 'old Rite'. The thing is, that the 'new Rite', being celebrated almost exclusively in the vernacular, is at the mercy of the celebrant. I appreciate the fact that there can be different forms of celebration - and that the monastic community Mass in Latin can be different from the Mass celebrated at a Youth 2000 festival, from a Mass celebrated well in a Parish, from a Mass celebrated - as I do each day - in my little catacomb on the University campus. That I think is a positive dimension of the 'new Rite'. But the downside of that is that it is at the mercy of those who would have celebrated the 'old Rite' badly too, except it is more noticeable in the 'new Rite' because of the vernacular.

One other dimension of the new Rite is the feeling that one has to engage the congregation, though I feel that this has more to do with the celebration being 'versus populum' than what rite is followed. The temptation is greater for the priest to become the centre of attention rather than Christ. I think that this is more to do with the orientation of the celebration 'versus populum' (facing the people) than to do with the rite followed.

Looking at that photo of the community of St Martin I see immediately that it puts across to me a sense of the mystery. What causes a difficulty for me is when those in favour of the 'old Rite' dismiss the celebration of the 'new Rite' in this way. At that point it becomes a movement to canonise a particular way of celebrating Mass, which leads to claims about 'Quo Primum' which cannot logically be made.

To me what is important is that we evangelise. I know that good liturgy evangelises. My case would be that it is the liturgy celebrated well in a variety of ways which can evangelise. It is important to recognise the principle of St Paul, that we should make ourselves all things to all men in order to save some of them. The very correct celebration of the 'old Rite' might evangelise the few, but how are those who are immersed in such an alien secular culture going to be able to approach the Eucharistic mystery in its celebration if that is the only way to celebrate? If the celebration is so alien to them, then the liturgy may become a barrier to incorporation into the Body of Christ.

In summary, I'd say that the first thing in importance for the Church is that in this secular western culture the most urgent thing is that we evangelise - including the nominal Catholics. The 'old Rite', for all its greatness and attraction, is something which, in the end, is not easy to relate to for the majority. 'Good liturgy' for one person may be different to another person's idea. The liturgy needs to express the faith of the Church. If it does this, while maintaining the norms of celebration, then it is perfectly valid to have different forms of celebration of the liturgy. In other words, it is more important that people engage with the liturgy, than that it be a particular style of celebration.

One final thing: I have lived for eight years in Spain, in the nineties. I saw some horrific celebrations of the Mass there, as well as some very dignified celebrations. But I never once saw a Mass in the 'old Rite' advertised. Why is the call for the 'old Rite' so geographically specific to the British Isles, the USA, France and some other parts of western Europe? That is a question I will leave in mid air.

orielensis said...

Thanks for your comments, Fr Julian.
Spain is an odd case. I know that Franco refused to allow the New Mass (It is ridiculous that he thought he had the jurisdiction to do so!!), but that personal persuasion by Pope Paul VI made him accept it. His funeral was in the new rite.
However, Spain is to be commended (along with Poland and Italy, to a certain extent) for sticking closely by the decisions of the Holy See come what may. There was almost no discussion of the possible dangers of a new missal, nor any call to keep the Old. We seem to be less accepting in this country... There was much discussion in England around the council about liturgical reform. The interesting correspondence of Evelyn Waugh and Cardinal Heenan shows this admirably, as well as the 'Agatha Christie' indult that we later gained. The continentals were more easily persuaded, it would appear. The Latin Mass Society in England existed before the Mass was ever allowed in the vernacular- people felt strongly about it. This might have something to do with the effect of the Oxford Movement and the High Church phenomenon here- I don't know.
The French were also among the first to object to a new missal - Archbishop Lefevre was of course the most famous Frenchman to do so. The French are now realising that the only places were families remain church-goers who practice each week, baptise their children and pass on the faith are those who attend the Tridentine Mass. This is, I'm afraid, true. Shocking, though, isn't it?! Things are far worse in France than in England.
Thank God for good priests who celebrate Holy Mass reverently, in whatever rite.

I think the discussion should not simply focus on the sense of mystery conveyed by the liturgy; the appeal that it should have to the senses is of course important - gesture, order, etc. - but the actual text is for me of greater importance. Why was so much of the text of the Mass changed/omitted? It has 'dumbed down' what was recognisably Catholic. That is, as I see it, a terrible mistake. Now Anglicans think we all do the same thing. I daresay some Catholics now think we do the same as the Anglicans.
Why was the beauty, precision, poetry, significance, symbolism and truly catholic (universal) content of the text of the Tridentine Mass lost, to a more banal Latin missal. I don't mean the English translations (bad as they are). Even the Latin was dumbed down. It's more than just mass facing the people or not. We aren't worshipping as the Church used to.

Fr Julian Green said...

"Thank God for good priests who celebrate Holy Mass reverently, in whatever rite." Amen to that (which I pronounce Aaamen not Ayemen, in case you think I've gone American). I think you're right about the national differences. I'd love to see something written - maybe in a more scholarly form that a blog - about national cultures and the forms that traditionalism takes. Ooooo maybe that could be a piece of research for me!

"the actual text is for me of greater importance. Why was so much of the text of the Mass changed/omitted? It has 'dumbed down' what was recognisably Catholic. That is, as I see it, a terrible mistake. Now Anglicans think we all do the same thing. I daresay some Catholics now think we do the same as the Anglicans." I don't know whether that's worse, or the Anglicans thinking they do the same as us. I agree - as did the Pope as Cardinal Ratzinger - that the Reform of the Liturgy was badly done, and part of that was that it was imposed and written by people with an agenda in an office. The liturgy should flow from the faith of the people as it is lived and prayed. Even so, the text in Latin of the 'new Rite' I find palatable - with some exceptions, like the pretend berrakah prayers at the Offertory. It is the English of the 1974 ICEL translation which is particularly bad, incorporating ecumenically agreed translations of liturgical texts from ICET. What makes me smart most is when Anglicans say they've been to Mass - and I don't mean high Church Anglicans, but middle of the road types - and say "Oh it's just like what we do". Hence my position, which is - as I said above - for a reform of the Reform. I am hopeful that the Holy Father may begin to do something a little more daring liturgically to put into practice some of the things he has suggested in his writings and interviews.

Thank you for your contributions - this is a valuable discussion.