I will go in the altar of God. After making the Sign of the Cross, these are the opening words of Holy Mass in the Old Form – now called Tridentine.
Recently there has been much controversy in these days approaching the Holy Father’s historic visit regarding the parts of the Mass that are going to be in Latin. There are the usual ‘no-one will understand’, or ‘Latin is a dead language’ or ‘we don’t do that any more’. I could go on. In a majority of parishes in this country, the Novus Ordo is the most commonly used form. At its best it can be a reverent and spiritual experience. More often, sadly, it is not.
A misconception is that Vatican ll changed the liturgy forever. It did not. Perhaps I should qualify that by saying, it should not have. During the first session of Vatican ll (October 1962) it was pressure from the Eastern and Asian Churches arguing that differing forms of liturgy were common during the earliest expressions of Christianity, and would not have Our Blessed Lord himself have offerred that first Eucharistic Sacrifice in a language his apostles and disciples would have understood? A further opinion ‘that Church unity is not bound to mean uniformity’ was put by Cardinal Gracias. It is true that forms of worship differ throughout the many cultures of our world, and the Roman rites might not have sat comfortably for example with the Far Eastern Churches, who considered the liturgy exclusively Western. And yet it was the uniformity of the liturgy that made the Church truly Catholic.
Experiments in adapting the liturgy to different cultures had been successful – the Missa Luba was one outstanding example. I defy anyone who listens to the amazing Sanctus in African voices, and with drums to remain unmoved. But these were still in Latin, and thus the universality of the Church maintained.
I will not go into the machinations of Vatican ll regarding the Liturgy on this occasion, as that would merit a post all of its own, only to say that in 1970 when the Roman Missal was radically revised, it took no account that revisions to the Missal hitherto were always minor, and done with complete reverence. Novus Ordo was meant to please everyone. This did not happen. Scant regard was paid to the Council of Trent which codified Catholic Eucharistic teaching in great detail. It was the first time in 1500 years that a Council and a Pope (Pius V – Patron of Catholicism Pure & Simple) had used legislation to specify and impose a complete rite of Mass.
It is a fact that the Papal Bull Quo Primum of Pius V proclaimed that the Latin Tridentine Mass could never be forbidden, and that priests and the faithful would always have the right to avail themselves of this liturgy. In Legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi – Let the law of prayer fix the law of faith , the liturgy of the Church became the sure guide to her teaching.
It never fails to surprise me how many of the faithful have never been part of a traditional Mass, or how, never having been part of it feel moved to condemn this Form. The beautiful words I have used to introduce this post encapsulate the reverence and the solemnity of the Eucharistic sacrifice. For those who plead ignorance of Latin – rubbish. All Missals had the Latin on one page, and English (or French or whatever language of the country you were in) on the facing page. Never is there any excuse for saying ‘I don’t understand Latin’. These Missals are available now for anyone who is led to explore this exemplary form of worship. Whilst Latin may not be widely taught in schools, it is still the basis of most western modern languages, and most would be surprised how many words in common usage have their origins in this language.
For some, the changes in the Mass post Vatican ll have been used as the excuse for the decline in Mass attendances. It is true that the reforms of the Council left a generation bemused and feeling cast adrift in an unfamiliar place, but one only has to look at the attendances at traditional Mass, now that it has become more available (in some places) to realize that if you feed the faithful, they will come to the feast! And this is my point. The Eucharistic Sacrifice, exemplified in the Tridentine Mass is the recognition of that sacred mystery when we meet with our Blessed Lord. I am not saying that it does not exist in N.O. The sacrament is valid whichever form, the mystery of the Eucharist does not change; what does change is our attitudes and preparations to take part in this sacrifice.
Novus Ordo or Tridentine? Many people have almost fundamentalist views on this. I have heard of an occasion at a First Holy Communion where a small boy was told by the Priest that the Blessed Sacrament ‘was just like a sweetie’. Many feel that in N.O. there have been abuses of the liturgy. It is probable that Post-Reformation Catholics might have felt equally robbed when deprived of Holy Mass in the Sarum Rite. Since I began to write this I have had to examine my own conscience and attitude to N.O. We have lost touch with many of the devotions and prayers that strengthened not only us, but the Church in former times. Somewhere, inside all of us is that longing for the sacred, but the way in which Holy Mass is celebrated should certainly not be divisive and certainly not be quarrelled about.
The Sacrifice of the Mass is too holy, too sacred.