Saturday, May 18, 2013

The "Organic" in the Roman Rite

When reviewing Fr. Sven Conrad's Ratzingerian paper on the development and changes in the Roman liturgy since the 1960s, one criticism I levied was an excessive, albeit implicit, reliance on the notion of the "organic" within the pre-Conciliar Roman rite.

Fr. Conrad's article defined, or exemplified, organic as concerning the development of secondary customs around a set Roman form. This is certainly true concerning local usages, but I would argue that it is true of the form itself. A look at the appendices of the Ordo Romanus Primus reveals a Roman Mass clearly a predecessor to the "Tridentine" form of the Roman rite. The structure is darn-near the same, although quite a lot is different: much of the chants we think of as reserved for the schola were sung antiphonally, like the Resurrexi introit for Pascha as is illustrated in this edition; many of the prayers and responses were handled by the subdeacons (yes, plural); there was no Agnus Dei; communion was distributed in a manner similar to how the Byzantine churches do it now; and the general use of space was much more similar to that of Papal Mass than a Solemn Mass or even Pontifical Mass in the "extraordinary" form, lending a lot of credibility to Fr. Franck Quoex's thesis that Papal Mass ought to be taken as the norm when considering the Roman rite, rather than, as the reformers took it to be, parish-level Mass.

Moreover, the private prayers most of us love—the prayers at the foot of the altar, the offertory prayers, the blessing, and Last Gospel—came midway through the Middle Ages and were not original to the rite. Far from being corruptions or secondary customs, these were marvelous developments. I would hardly call the prayers at the foot of the altar a secondary custom, but rather part of the form. Their exact character could be considered secondary.

Perhaps we could even consider the diffused use of the Roman rite to be inorganic but related to the form, rather than the secondary. Fr. Conrad draws attention to Pepin's mandate that the Roman rite be used throughout the Frankish kingdom, eliminating local rites very distinct from the Roman rite. Milan similarly adopted the Roman Canon. Ditto for rites of far northern Europe. One could tell a similar story of the spread of the Byzantine rites throughout the Eastern Roman Empire, where political centralization quashed local, but obscure to us, liturgical rites.

Why am I saying all this? To complain? No. I just wanted to say that liturgy, good or bad, is often spread and promulgated by broad steps. However, the Roman rite, in its form and not just its customs, was subject to organic change for a long time, indeed distribution of Holy Communion was not explicitly prescribed until 1962 (was Communion a secondary custom I wonder?), the spread of the Roman rite was sometimes natural and sometimes imposed.

How does this fit into Fr. Conrad's article? Not everything in the Pauline or 1962 rites can be judged as traditional or novel. Many things in the old liturgy we treasure, like the opening of Mattins or singing hymns in the Divine Office, were once novelties. The question should be: Does this improve upon what it replaces? or: Does this additional to an existing practice enrich it? Does this help the practice of the liturgy in a given setting?—be it Papal or private Mass. The Pauline rites, unfortunately, have little to no organic element, which is what separates it from the older rites. But we should not think everything in the older form was made entirely by custom. Some centralization did exist. Local adaptations followed centralization, rather precede it.

Just some thoughts....

The Rad Trad

1 comment:

  1. Recently we celebrated our daughter's baptism according to the EF. It was a bit atypical, though. I'd like to exchange some ideas with you about it, if you'd like. Can you e-mail me?