My more traditionalist friends will forgive me for poking just a little bit of fun at the increasing mania over the motu proprio that is expected from Rome. If anyone is still ignorant about this, it is the rumour that Pope Benedict will soon grant universal freedom for the Tridentine Rite of the Catholic liturgy to be celebrated. (At present a priest needs permission from his bishop to use it.)
There is much talk about when the motu proprio will be released. Vatican watchers have spoken of significant events; every hint of movement in this direction is snatched up eagerly by lovers of the Latin Mass, and there is a growing fever pitch of excitement about it all that reminds me of the ‘rapture fever’ among the fundamentalists with whom I was brought up. “The Lord Jesus is about to return in power and glory in the clouds to take us all up to be with Him!” The newspapers were scrutinized, and the signs of the times were read like portents of the coming Day of the Lord.
OK, I’m exaggerating to make a point, but the excitement and anticipation feels much the same to me. Don’t we need to pause and catch our breath a little? If the motu proprio is promulgated it isn’t going to suddently make the Tridentine Rite the new norm. I expect the Novus Ordo will still be the main liturgical workhorse for 99.9% of Catholics worldwide. As I see it, those who want to celebrate according to the Tridentine Rite will be allowed the freedom to do so, and good for them. I’m in favor.
I admit I’m only a convert, and a very new Catholic priest, and maybe I’m missing the point, and maybe I’m just not a natural liturgist, but I have to admit that I can’t really see what all the liturgical fuss is about. Yes, there are some truly awful abuses in Catholic liturgy, but hasn’t that always been the case? When I talk to the old timers who remember the pre V2 days they tell me that most masses were not sublime worship experiences in which there were deacons, sub deacons, seventeen perfectly trained altar servers and a Palestrina Mass. Instead the church was full of ordinary people listening to words they didn’t understand in a liturgy that Fr. Magee was rattling through to set a new land speed record. Don’t jump the gun! I’m not down on the Tridentine Rite–only making the point that abuses you will have with you always.
Neither am I excusing the abuses–whether they be Novus Ordo Barney Masses or Tridentine mumblings. Abuses should always be corrected, and the liturgy should always be improved.
But I think we also focus too much on the abuses, and in a negative and critical spirit miss the fact that the vast majority of masses are not that bad. Over the last ten years in England I had a job which took me to a different Catholic parish each week. Over that time I experienced perhaps two or three masses that were totally awful in their abuses. The rest were celebrated with care, devotion and reverence. The music was not always the best, and there were bits here and there that made one cringe, but even then most of the ‘abuses’ were done by people of good will and sincere desire to serve God and make things better. If they got it wrong, well who hasn’t made a sincere mistake in their life?
Finally, I have to wonder at all the harsh criticism of the Novus Ordo. Why is it really so awful? Why are the critics so silent about the real advantages of the Novus Ordo? Why so much nit pcking? Why such a negative spirit and so much griping? Maybe I don’t see it because I’m a priest and I can say Mass the way I want to, and I belong to a fantastic parish where the Novus Ordo is celebrated beautifully. Maybe if I had to endure some awful parish with a flying saucer church, day glo vestments with grapes on them, a goofy new age priest and liturgical dance I would be howling with grief and rage and frustration too.
On the other hand, it seems to me that we have always had change and upheaval in the church in one way or another. Maybe, just maybe, the Holy Spirit really is with his Church. Maybe just maybe, the second Vatican Council was inspired and led by the Holy Spirit. Maybe, just maybe the Novus Ordo is part of that whole movement (complete with the arguments among the faithful) by the Spirit to take us into the 21st century. Maybe just maybe God knows what he’s doing.