In his 2015 article The Silent Action of the Heart Cardinal Sarah wrote in L'Osservatore Romano that he would welcome a return to normative oriented worship in the fourth edition of the Pauline Roman Missal. “Liturgists” decried the cardinal’s assertion of orthopractic worship and let a more intriguing textual suggest slip by, that is, the desirous return of the Roman offertory prayers. Unlike the Canon Missae, offertory prayers originated in the Middle Ages and never enjoyed a universal text, so why reify such a narrow restoration? The old Roman offertory is now the most commonly used Sunday and festive option in the most recently approval Roman Mass books, the Missals for the various Ordinariate communities whose worship descends from Anglican rites. Has the Ordinariate Missal become a test run for the future of the Latin liturgy? No, but the future itself is less certain than it was just a few years ago.
The Ordinariate Liturgy
“Almighty God, unto Whom all hearts be open” are the first distinctively Anglican words at the Ordinariate Mass to an average Roman Catholic who attends either a Paul VI or pre-Conciliar Mass. In fact this prayer is not Anglican at all. It originated in pre-Reformation England and appears in several editions of the Sarum Missal’s prescribed clerical vesting prayers.
The Ordinariate Missal is not the Sarum Mass or the Tridentine Mass celebrated in English. It is an adaptation of Paul VI’s Mass to a manner of liturgical worship that originated in post-Reformation England and done in accordance to the Book of Common Prayer. Several features of the Prayer Book rites of Eucharist are inserted into the Mass at their appropriate times (the litany, the Comfortable Words, the Prayer of Humble Access) and numerous Anglican formularies appear along Roman greetings (“Christ our Passover is sacrificed”). The Missal renders the texts in an early modern-style English rather than the literal translation now in force for the Roman Missal and the heretical translation previously in force.
Paul VI’s Mass is more than a palimpsest for Prayer Book texts in the Ordinariate rite. The eventual outcome of the Ordinariate liturgy reflects Anglican tradition as much as it reflects the sort of Anglicans who took advantage of Benedict XVI’s generous offerings in Anglicanorum Coetibus. While many who have come over to the Church do so from a “high” American Anglican patrimony of sung Prayer Book Eucharist and Evensong services, a similar number of English extraction converts come from an “Anglo-Catholic” background, wherein some variation of the Tridentine Mass or English Missal was done in fiddleback vestments and Benediction followed Vespers. These celebrants and faithful come to the Ordinariate familiar with the prayers before the altar, the priest offering “a flawless victim” for the benefit “of all Christians living and dead,” the triple Domine non sum dignus, and the Johannine prologue. These prayers are medieval Roman prayers which are as proper to the spirituality of many in the Ordinariate as “Almighty and everliving God….” While they do not belong to the patrimony of William Laud they do belong to the patrimony of the Ordinariate.
Anyone who can attend an Ordinariate Mass, even if infrequently, should do so. The Mass captures the illative part of Catholic worship between reverent words spoken to God and the sweetness needed to move a Christian to devotion without delving into profundity. The parishes tend to exceed the average diocesan church in music; the propers are almost always sung as are motets and hymns. The now-cathedral in Houston even has a Rood Screen, an element of pre-Reformation liturgy if ever there was one. The Divine Worship Missal transposes much of what was good in post-Reformation Anglicanism into the contemporary Roman Mass for most excellent use by Ordinariate parishes.
A True Reform of the Pauline Mass?
Benedict XVI’s 2005 Christmas address to the Roman Curia brought the impossibly post-modern academic phrase “hermeneutic of continuity” into the vocabulary of liturgists and students of ecclesiology. A small collective of critics of the modern Church arose from Benedict’s pontificate. These men tended to have been ordained from the time of Paul VI and John Paul II, too young to remember the days before the Council and too old to be caught up in the post-Summorum traditionalist movement; the outlook on what went wrong always included the liturgy, although agreement on what was never universally agreed upon. The one consensus of their liturgical critiques was that the Mass of Paul VI had been misapplied, that those who brought “Pope Paul’s New Mass” into parishes did so with the “hermeneutic of rupture” rather than continuity. In Work of Human Hands: A Theological Critique of the Mass of Paul VI Anthony Cekada personifies this generation of priests as “Fr. Retreaux,” who believes the reformed liturgy requires an ars celebrandi as buttoned up as an Italian cassock.
During Benedict’s papacy a style of Mass emerged in a handful of parishes in every diocese called “Reform of the Reform.” Just as the hermeneuticists of continuity could not agree with what was defective in modern liturgy, they could not agree on a consistent fix. Several different reformed styles of celebrating the reformed Mass proliferated. They included Latin chants for the ordo Missae, use of the Roman Canon, fiddleback vestments, canonical digits, singing of the propers, male altar boys, birettas, six candles around a central crucifix atop the altar, and, when possible, Mass versus Deum.
These applications of the pre-Conciliar praxis to the new Mass reflect an outlook already held by English Oratorians since the 1970s, although the Oratorians’ independence allowed them to anticipate the Reform of the Reform more thoroughly than most diocesan ordinaries will permit their pastors.
Even before the election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, interest in the Reform of the Reform waned. No one declared it dead or read its obituary at a CMAA conference, but there was a subtle realization that “Blessed are You, Lord God of the Universe” is a Seder Meal prayer, whether in Latin or Latvian. Moreover, the assertion that Paul VI meant for the reformed Missal to be celebrated like an Institute of Christ the King Mass has no basis in the historical record. The three trial run demonstrations put on for the 1967 synod of archbishops in the Sistine chapel were a low Mass, a low Mass with hymns, and some sort of “high Mass”, all on a free standing table. Paul VI celebrated a hybrid Mass in Italian and Latin versus populum the first day the law permitted in 1964 following the changes of Inter oecumenici.
The faithful welcomed or sought improved celebrations of the Mass of Paul VI, but by 2013 few were still extolling its inherently ceremonial character. If the election of Francis did not end the Reform of the Reform, time would have. The Oratorian celebration of the Pauline Mass can be an aesthetic apotheosis that few bishops would permit; it was easier to celebrate a 3PM indult Mass for the hundred people who want it than to celebrate an improved new Mass as the primary service of the day in full view of a thousand donating parishioners. With the election of Francis to the Petrine See and the conversion of several Reformers of the Reform (notably Thomas Kocik) to the old Mass the movement to celebrate the new liturgy as if it was the old lost momentum.
No broad movement has been born out of the publication of the finalized Ordinariate Missal, but significant anecdotal discussion has come out of it and what it might imply for the Roman rite said in 99% of parishes throughout the world. A celebratory change in the new Mass could only accomplish so much without becoming awkward and uncharacteristic of its intent. The Ordinariate Missal offered something Benedict’s outlook did not, the possibility of fundamental changes to the text in the post-Conciliar Missal. Few if any are interested in the uniquely English flavor of the translation, ceremonial movements, or the character of those for whom it was ratified, merely how it might prove a useful precedent for improving what people have to sit through one hour a week.
What did attract the attention of post-Benedictine Catholics were the Anglo-Catholic features of the Missal, namely the prayers before the altar with the double Confiteor, the Tridentine offertory, the restriction of Eucharistic prayers with an explicit preference for the Roman Canon, and the Johannine prologue at the end of the Mass. All traditional elements of Roman worship present in a ritus for former Anglicans and all absent in the Missal of Paul VI.
So the question arises, could the Mass of Papa Montini effectively remain as is in its lectionary and sacramentary, but find the eventual additions of certain elements from the old Mass, saved only by the miracle of the Ordinariate? Or, put another way, could the Ordinariate Mass, sans its many Anglican texts imported from the Prayer Book, be a template for how the new Mass might look in twenty or fifty years? Is the Ordinariate a typos of the general Roman Church’s future?
No, it is not, but the future is increasingly difficult to ascertain.
The Road Ahead
There are a few hundred traditionalist Mass centers, regular or irregular, in the United States. There is a similar figure in France, which comprises a significantly higher percentage of practicing Catholics in that country. Currently there are a humble 43 Ordinariate parishes in North America with similarly modest figures in England and Australia. Along the same vein various Oratories of Saint Philip Neri have appeared regularly in the Anglophonic world, always styled after their English counterparts rather than their Continental ancestors.
These groups collectively make up a fraction of a percent of the Roman Church throughout the world, yet discussion about the future of the Roman Church tangibly looks at little else if only because there are few other places to look. Countries which once propagated Catholic culture are now utterly bereft of it. The land of Ferdinand and Isabela championed gay marriage long before most European nations would touch the issue; 17% of Spaniards attend Mass. The Fraternity of St. Pius X has served a few Mass centers in Portugal for nearly five decades and has never had a vocation from that country; 19% of self-identified Catholics hear Mass on Sundays. The most stunning collapse of Christianity has transpired in Ireland, where, in the wake of institutional protection of pederast priests and an economic boom in the years after the birth of the Common Market, Mass attendance has dropped from 90% to below 30%; Maynooth seminary operates at 10% its intended capacity. Hardly any of those who still attend Mass go parishes staffed by Ordinariate priests, traditionalists, hermeneuticists of continuity, or reformers of the reform. Yet this topic must necessarily revolve around those very people.
The shortage of vocations to the priesthood in more troubling that the decay of Mass attendance, if only because it offers fewer opportunities for those weak in faith or who attend Mass for habitual reasons to remain somewhere near the bosom of the Church. Jansenism is for the devout, the Church is for all. While Rorate-Caeli could hardly suppress its Alleluias that every parish in Limerick, save for the Institute of Christ the King, will be without Mass every other Sunday, others understand that this marks the beginning of the end for a highly structural, NGO institutional Church that emerged after the 19th political revolutions and normalization of Catholicism in non-Catholic countries. There are enough faithful to justify a few Sunday Masses, but fewer and fewer priests to celebrate them.
Progressive relics from the ages of Paul VI and John Paul II, who for years yearned that the laity might have greater participation in the “ministries” of the Church, may finally get their hearts’ desire, the priestless parish. Meanwhile, the real battle should be over what emerges among those who do celebrate Mass, barring a drastic change in paradigm such as the normative ordination of married men in the West.
Among priest-filled parishes will emerge destination churches, the kinds of parishes people seek in preference to the nearest convenience. Traditional forms of Catholicism are not merely the fastest growing in vocational numbers, they are the only places where there is growth. These various expressions of traditionalist or conservative parish life invariably favor some brand of liturgical orthopraxy, numerous priests living together under one roof, and offer more programs than the average parish. These parishes appeal to a broad range of faithful, from aesthetes to families with children, the simple and the over-educated. Parishes like this currently struggle in bringing the middle of the Church through their doors, the weekly Mass and little-catechized people in suspect marriages. However, as clergy fade without replacement and the less anchored lamentably lapse, the “remnant” may not have much choice but to embrace these destination churches.
In France there are already less than a hundred priestly ordinations a year, between seventy and eighty when excluding the archdiocese of Paris. Various purveyors of “destination parishes”—FSSPX, FSSP, ICRSS, IBP, Communauté de Saint-Martin, the diocese of Fréjus-Toulon, and traditionalist monasteries—gradually occupy a larger and larger percentage of the declining total. A similar effect might eventually take root in less “integrist” lands where one off communities like Oratories or canonries become thriving focal points of dioceses, even if they do not make up a significant portion of priests. Destination parishes will never make up the majority of the Roman diocesan churches, but then again neither did the Dominicans, Franciscans, Oratorians, or Augustinian Canons. Movements are never effected by majorities, but vocal minorities whose vigor convinces a surplus to throw in with their cause or become amenable to their view.
The surplus in this case is whatever remains of the diocesan priesthood, men who survive seminary formation and who are spread thin like butter over too much bread in a cluster of parishes in France or alone in a rectory built for five in Ireland. Diocesan formation is as mediocre as it has been since the 1970s, save for a few reputable programs. The “JP2 generation”, however, does not share the political views of its antecedents and often not its liturgical views either. Anecdotally, diocesan seminarians are either friendly to traditional liturgy or indifferent on the matter with the former more resolute in its interest than the latter in its disinterest. This hardly constitutes a movement, but it does constitute a group of people who can be moved, especially if they already have something in common with more vibrant destination churches than they do with those where the weak continue to lapse.
The Growing Rift
The failure of the Reform of the Reform or improved celebrations of the Mass of Paul VI to take root originate in two distinct places, the nature of the new liturgy’s introduction and its regulation.
Conventionally, attempts at Tridentinizing, medievalizing, or simply making more reverent the common celebration of the Montinian Mass came from desire to continue a pre-existing liturgical maximalism in an age where the ceremonies and texts did not agree with symphonic Masses or Palestrina’s motets. This was certainly the case with Msgr. Schuler or the Brompton Oratory. The purpose to prolong a certain liturgical style characteristic to a parish did not apply to the majority of churches after 1970. More relevant today is without formation in the old liturgy few clerics feel compelled to sublimate its genius in the context of the new liturgy.
The other impediment to the various essays at “enriching” the new liturgy is that organic development is both unknown and illegal in the modern liturgy. The new Missal is without essential change since its introduction, not unlike the Roman liturgy from the time of Trent until the nineteen regrettable years of Pius XII. Celebrants follow an intuitive combination of what is in the book and what they have watched since childhood. The ritual imitation of the old rite once called Reform of the Reform comes across as stilted, misapplied, and out of place. It is even more difficult to imagine a textual enrichment of the new Mass from the old, or from other sources, in the current milieu. The books of the reformed liturgy are regulated and published by the Congregation for Divine Worship without the input or approval of local priests, who habitually follow its familiar gestures.
While the number of priests continues to contract and the number of more traditional (broadly understood) Masses proliferate, the very barriers to the long desired “mutual enrichment” remain, the barriers of inorganic formation and of the centralization around the new rite. Diocesan clergy who wish for more to their new rite Mass than the odd Latin Agnus Dei at Christmas may find it easier to throw in their lot with the “stable groups” who want an old Mass or with destination parish clergy who have adopted a different outlook altogether.
One might optimistically tend to think this would eventually effect a more traditional version of the new liturgy. It will not. Unlike diocesan clergy, bishops are selected abroad from among men whose dedication to the current causes of national conferences and Rome outweigh their sympathy for the interests of parish liturgy. As long as this remains true the new Missal will remain as is, without any mutual enrichment, Tridentinisms, or new developments of its own accord.
What might this mean in a world of fewer priests and less ecclesiastical structure to watch over those who remain in parishes rather than in the growing fraternal communities? Diocesan clergy who were interested in the old liturgy, in part or whole (a sizeable minority from purely anecdotal experience), but who were not interested in leaving their hometowns for ‘50s-ism or Nerian spirituality, may find themselves free to expand their offering of the old Missal rather than toy with what they know they may not change. As peculiar as it sounded ten years ago, traditionalist communities have expanded modestly, but diocesan Latin Masses have grown by a multiple. Many remain at odd times for small groups, but the growing normality of the [putative] 1962 Missal could well justify a liturgically-minded pastor’s expansion of his Mass schedule to include a Latin Mass at 11AM rather than at 2PM, especially if he is the only priest in a parish.
The danger in this emerging trend of traditionally minded seminarians, priests, and priests of what we have termed destination parishes is that the Roman Church’s internal divisions would become externally manifested by liturgical praxis. If the French trend continues and diocesan interest in the Latin Mass increases, a third of French clergy may be Tridentine Mass-saying integrists who support the National Front while the other two thirds wear golf shirts around town between celebrating one monthly Mass at each parish in their clusters. Bishops, again, almost always strangers to their own flock, will have less and less in common with a growing segment of their own clergy. What are they to do with such priests? Ghettoize them? Leave them be? Promote them to larger parishes on merit?
Reform or Return?
1982 might have been the optimal year to re-instate the pre-Conciliar Latin liturgy as the normative Mass in the Roman Church. John Paul II re-established a nominal orthodoxy regarding sex, the roles of the sexes, and basic doctrines that were ignored during the stagnant post-Conciliar days of Papa Montini. Regardless of his phenomenology the Polish Pope created an externally sound perception to the Church that hid the liturgical abuse so arrant to those inside. Liturgical experiment continued in some circles, but a general mediocrity, born in suburban American parishes, became the international standard. So why would 1982 have been the best year to return to the old Roman ways?
In that same year The Tablet published results of a poll of English Catholics concerning the liturgical reform. Over 40% desired a return to the old Mass; the next largest block were indifferent; only a quarter preferred the new Mass to the old. The new liturgy’s novelty factor had run its course during an age when the former ways were still within living memory of most priests and laity. A return would have been difficult, but far easier than either a return to the old rite or a revitalization of the new rite has proven today.
There also existed the issue of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who, for what good he did, missed a grand opportunity at this juncture. He founded the Seminary of Saint Pius X in 1970 with permission of the diocesan bishop for the formation and ordination of priests. Doctrine concerned the French archbishop as did clerical education. Liturgy ranked lower on his list of priorities. Originally, the Seminary of Saint Pius X, and the associated priestly fraternity that governed it, was intended for the training of clergy who could return to their home dioceses for regular parish work; Cardinal Siri sent men to Econe in the early years and incardinated a few into his diocese, presumably celebrating the “illegal” Latin Mass until Paul VI noticed. If he had qualms about the new rite, then those qualms arose from what the new rite represented more than the integrity of the rites themselves; how could he celebrate the 1962 rite otherwise? After his 1976 suspension by Paul VI the “rebel archbishop” found himself the subject of religion segments in the newspapers and the topic of shorts in international news. During the same period a significant number of clergy in the United States and Europe, some retired and some forced into “independent” ministry, could have reverted to the old rite with the inspiration that a charismatic, orthodox figure could imbue. As a former missionary who baptized thousands of Africans, Msgr. Lefebvre should have been that very figure. The requisite inspiration never came, and the old Mass remained a symbol of opposition to Dignitatis humanae and French democracy. At the peak of his potential influence Lefebvre quietly began to work with the Vatican for a successor bishop and in the process forced the entire non-Francophonic populace of his Fraternity into adopting the 1962 liturgy over the pre-Pius XII book in force; it seems “pre-Vatican II” and “Latin” were more operative in the Fraternity’s liturgical outlook than “tradition.” Lefebvre never lawfully received his successor bishop; the June 30, 1988 consecrations and the following Vatican pseudo-liberation of the 1962 Mass in Ecclesia Dei adflicta all but ensured the old liturgy would stay in the realm of ghettos for those who could not move on.
While a wholesale return to the old liturgy remains an elusive dream, the prominent return of older rites in a larger portion of the Church remains more probable than a reform of the Pauline Mass along the lines of the Ordinariate Missal or a better practice of the current Novus Ordo liturgy. On its own, diverse rites cause little trouble; Lebanese Catholics attend rites based on whether they live in a Maronite village or Melkite village. However, liturgical diversity within narrow geographies, when the liturgical boundary is not also a national or cultural boundary, has a checkered history on a larger scale. Melkite Christians lost their original Antiochian liturgy and were compelled to adopt the Byzantine rite. Roman missionaries in Ethiopia attempted to foist the Roman rite on the locals and separate the priests from their wives. In a divided Church liturgy has historically been used as a symbolic weapon against those with a different idea of how to be a Catholic. Given the turbulence of the contemporary Roman Church the Pauline Mass, old Mass, and reformed new Mass—if the latter two gain sufficient “market share”—may provide visible markers of division between contrasting opinions of what constitutes a Catholic.
In a normatively Catholic world justice would demand those who believe themselves in the right to combat those in the wrong at the parish level as Athanasius did against the Arians and Augustine against the Donatists; even the Great Western Schism, which controverted the legitimacy of the rival popes more than any doctrine, was reduced to the local church with rival bishoprics. We do not live in a normatively Catholic society anymore, any further diversity risks creating an Anglican menagerie if the liturgy merely becomes a banner for other causes.
The broad mission of liturgical restoration must make inroads with seminarians and celebrants for diocesan churches in order to be anything other than a sect within a sect. Anything less than meeting Catholics where they are—poorly catechized, in dubious marriages, and agnostic to Latin—will only succeed in creating more minute groups dedicated to long dresses, home schooling, lace albs, and the National Front. The new liturgy has too little history and too much centralization to reform itself organically while the old is too different from the new to be introduced in a broad stroke; with these challenges, champions of reform—or, more accurately, restoration—would be wise to let reverent liturgy inform the culture of a parish rather than force an arbitrary culture on those who seek reverent liturgy.
Benedict Revisited: Felix Culpa?
Four weeks ago more Roman Catholics celebrated the traditional rites of Holy Week than at any other point since 1955. Deacons sanctified the Paschal candle by inserting blessed incense into the torch that burns with the uncreated light. During the blessing the Levite remembered God’s permitting the Fall of Adam: “O felix culpa quae talem et tantem meruit habere redemptorem.” God, wrote Saint Augustine when he coined the term felix culpa, does not create evil, but he does allow it if a greater good might prevail.
Never before have the futures of both the liturgy and the institutional structures of the Church been less certain. Past attempts to focus the reformed liturgy through the lens of tradition belong to extenuating circumstances in an era gone by, while current attempts, exemplified by the Ordinariate liturgy, are bound to be thwarted by the bureaucratic root of the contemporary Mass. Groups desiring more orthopractic liturgical forms have experienced modest growth, but the most startling numbers lay in the growth of vocations in these “destination” communities, which figure to make up a sizable minority of the shrinking institutional Church within a few generations. Those favoring older rites have a clearer path to influence than Reformers of the Reform, although they lack any clear route to the restoration they so desire unless they are willing to engage younger diocesan celebrants who are amenable to tradition and not weighed down by the baggage of post-Vatican II Traditionalism.
In a Church where some purport to speak for the Magisterium, some for God, some for Kasper, and all for Bergoglio, any liturgical revival threatens to become a battlefield for other conflicts that will make visible those divisions which have already insinuated the subterranean structures of Western Catholicism. Yet does not natural justice demand the right thing be done irrespective of circumstance? It does, and targeting strife within the Church is far apart from trying to survive it. Laity, unfortunately, suffer more than clergy amid disputes between Churchmen and their causes, as happened during the Great Western Schism, the Reformation, and the 20th century liturgical revolt.
Benedict XVI’s liberalization of the 1962 liturgy may well have been a felix culpa in clarifying competing factions and the struggle for the Church’s temporal future. More importantly Benedict’s motu proprio led to a dual effort to revive the ’62 rite and improve the new rite using its existing text. The abandonment of the Reform of the Reform and visible trend to pre-Pacellian rites among diocesan Traditionalists can only mean people have looked at the existing Roman liturgy in both “forms” and found it wanting. While the future is less certain than ever the current revival of the old rite and trend towards the un-revised Roman liturgy represent the first genuinely organic, non-committee driven liturgical movement in the Roman Catholic Church since the original Liturgical Movement a century and a half ago. A grassroots transition through an Ordinariate-style Missal would benefit the faithful, but there exists no viable channel for such a transition.