Solemn Mass at Brompton, a mile down the road from Harrod's, is a great aesthetic pleasure and an illustration that the Pauline Mass can be quite beautiful, even if perhaps not having all the same qualities as the old. What is striking is the degree to which it is modeled after the old Mass.
Discussions of "ars celebrandi", as if celebrating Mass is an art rather than a sacred action, and the "hermeneutic of continuity" dominated the liturgosphere after Benedict XVI's election to the Apostolic See. Benedict's thesis that the new Mass is a natural evolution of the old spurred several different attempts to integrate pieces of pre-Conciliar liturgy into the 1970 Roman Missal: maniples, ad orientem, Latin, plainsong in any language, fiddleback chasubles, the "big six" on the altar, canonical digits, copes for processions, birettas, and anything else that was explicitly tossed out; this writer knows one priest who even began adding the Last Gospel to his new rites Masses.
The main difference between these Benedictine attempts at continuity and the Rite of Michael Napier is that the latter began with the old rite as the presumed model, but accepted the mandate to use the new texts. The result is that the same vestments, altar arrangements, ceremonial movements like the ministers aligning behind each other during the orations, musical selections, the silent Canon (as far as Quam oblationem) and other outwardly characteristic parts of the old liturgy naturally became part of the new. Although it seems like a natural evolution of the liturgy within the context of one specific parish, the decision to assimilate the Novus Ordo into the old outlook had to be a conscientious one given the destructive instincts of the age which brought the reforms to life.
This traditional new rite Mass eased the transition for the faithful accustomed to the old rite and even expanded the Oratory's base congregation. It is second only to Westminster cathedral in congregation size among Catholic churches in London. Today, rather than bridging from the old to the new, the Rite of Michael Napier functions in a semi-reverse fashion, showing traditional pieces of liturgy within the context of prayers and rhythm that the average parish-going Catholic already knows.
|credit: John Aron|
This last point may prove an issue if the Oratory ever wishes to revert to the old liturgy in the future. The current provost, Fr. Julian Large, is a bona fide traditionalist and has even celebrated the pre-Pacellian rites publicly. Any desire to change the standard Sunday Mass would require the unanimous consent of the Oratory Fathers. It happened in Birmingham; it has not yet happened in Oxford, although I suspect it will eventually.
But this discussion of the Mass does not complete the unique pastiche that is the Rite of Michael Napier, for it includes an Office, too. Their Compline is basically 1967, or so I am told, with the old structure and the reduced choir ceremonies. Vespers, however, follows no particular version of the Breviarium Romanum ever printed. Is it 1962? 1964? Paul VI? Yes, yes, and yes.
During solemn Vespers for Pentecost Sunday this year the Fathers followed the traditional ceremonies for assistants and cantors, their movements, and their intonations of the antiphons. During the incensation at the Magnificat the thurifer and assistant clearly followed the reduced choir observances of 1964's Inter oecumenici, with only the celebrant being incensed by the assistant, and then the thurifer incensing the clergy in three swings to each side. Textually Pentecost Sunday Vespers are not very different in 1962, 1964, and 1664, but the rest of the year can differ radically.
The general strategy for Vespers seems to be to follows 1962 without any commemorations and conform the rite to the Pauline kalendar wherever it may differ. For example, if July 1 falls on Sunday then Vespers will be of the Sunday and not of the Precious Blood. The Mass and Office of Christ the King fall on the last Sunday before Advent rather than on the last Sunday of October. The Advent feria is not commemorated for Vespers of the Immaculate Conception. The Alleluia is banished for Septuagesima season, but the services are celebrated in green until purple appears in the new rite on Ash Wednesday. And in a nod to the older old rite, the Fathers retain Ave Maris Stella as the Vespers hymn for the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin.
Had I lived in 1975 London, the Brompton Oratory would likely have been my home parish and a place of refuge for one caught in the tempests and tergiversations of destructive worship. Today it may be quite lovely, however the efforts to preserve liturgical orthopraxis have turned in a different direction. Today, the Rite of Michael Napier is less a bridge between the new and old rites and more a unique practice of the Oratory.
Next on the Rad Trad: a review of A.N. Wilson's Unguarded Hours