Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Novus Ordo Mass: A Quickie Rumination

     The arguments raging over the value, acceptability, and validity of the contemporary, or Novus Ordo Mass as opposed to the prior, Tridentine Mass strike me as pointless.

     Churches are largely conservators of doctrine, but it’s in their nature as conservators also to conserve traditions. Thus, one expects that little or nothing about one’s church will change noticeably over one’s lifetime. Though the changes decreed by the Second Ecumenical Council, a.k.a. Vatican II, were doctrinally rather gentle, those pertaining to ritual were considerably more dramatic. Perhaps the most dramatic was the transition to the Novus Ordo or local-vernacular Mass.

     Many Catholics felt that something was lost when Vatican II approved the transition. Before that, the Mass was celebrated primarily in Latin, the language of the long-deceased Roman Empire. As few persons are familiar enough with Latin to understand it today, that gave the rite an element of mystery that the change to the use of the local vernacular removed. The linguistic separation of the celebrant and the congregation struck many Catholics as important to the essence of Christian worship, though their reasons were as many as themselves.

     But what is the Mass? Its essence is a reenactment of the Last Supper, at which Christ celebrated the first Eucharist. In commanding His apostles to “do this in memory of me,” He inaugurated the most important of all recurring rites in Christian life...and He did it in the local vernacular of His place and time.

     Latin, be it remembered, was the local vernacular of Rome, the city Saint Peter chose for the seat of the papacy. The Latin Mass was therefore a vernacular rite. Subsequent rationalizations of the Latin Mass as “having the prayers of the faithful rise to God in a single language” were absent from the thoughts of the founders of the Church.

     In short: You may prefer the Tridentine rite. You may believe that the mysterious, almost shamanistic use of a language only the celebrant knows adds to the religious value of the ceremony. But there is no sound argument that the Tridentine is the one and only “valid” Mass simply because it’s performed in a dead language.

     That having been said, I’m pleased that the Church has stopped trying to render the Tridentine rite extinct by command. There is value in remembering what has gone before. Indeed, that value is greater in matters of religion than in many other aspects of life in society. But there’s also value in understanding the prayers the celebrant offers for the benefit of his congregation, rather than merely assuming that his ordination makes everything okay.

     May God bless and keep you all.

7 comments:

  1. Then again, it wasn't always a language "only the celebrant knows." (Although few of my peers, and fewer still of younger generations, have studied enough Latin, classical or ecclesiastical, to comprehend much of the Rite.)

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  2. Francis, I agree completely with what you are saying about the Novus Ordo Mass. However, I must point out that pre Novus Ordo, Latin wasn't a language only the celebrant knew. As a child growing up with the Tridentine Latin Mass, I can assure you that by the time of my confirmation ceremony at age 8, I knew enough Latin to understand nearly everything that went on at Mass. And I was not the exception.

    But there were other advantages to the Latin mass as well. The Catholic Church, being an international institution, celebrated masses all over the world. I could take my 1962 "St. Joseph's Missal" to a mass being celebrated in Warsaw Poland, or Berlin Germany, or Manila PI - and not speak a word of the vernacular language - and still participate fully in the Mass.

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  3. When I took first communion and then was confirmed, although I had not taken the years of Latin I later took, our missals contained translations of the Latin next to the Mass in English. I enjoyed this, and it stimulated my desire to study Latin as a language. Latin actually helped me understand English better, as well.

    I know my father enjoyed the Latin, not as a mystery, but as a tradition that befitted our ROMAN Catholic religion. Of course, that was before all of the groovy folk masses, turning and kissing strangers sitting next to you, and the rest of the newer stuff that I missed by leaving the Church at fourteen.

    I wonder - in these days of HIV and AIDS, do the celebrants still kiss each other as I understand they did for a number of years? Is the Church still called the Roman Catholic Church, or simply the Catholic Church now?

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  4. (chuckle) I should have guessed that this piece would bring all us old Latin scholars together. I, too, took Latin in high school -- I was one of the last in my district to do so -- but then, at that time I had it in mind to enter the priesthood.

    Concerning the frequently heard "Roman Catholic Church" phrase, this is a common misconception -- so common that I know ordained priests who had to be told about it. in point of fact the "Roman" part denotes a Rite within the Church. The Church itself is the Catholic Church. There are several Rites, with the Roman Rite being the largest thereof. The forms the sacraments take are somewhat different, but doctrinally all the Rites are the same. (Esample: Robert Spencer, best known for his voluminous writings on Islam, is a Catholic of the Melkite Rite.)

    A friend of mine discovered this when she moved to Alaska, and found that the only Catholic parish nearby was Eastern Rite. She'd never before attended a service in a non-Roman Rite parish, and was charmed by the differences.

    For more information on the various rites, start here.

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  5. I think a lot of people are stirred up because lex orandi, lex credendi - the translations from Tridentine to Novus Ordo did not really say the same things. Witness the recent fixes to the translations recently promulgated.

    Also, the Novus Ordo seems to encourage, or at least allow, more innovation. Weirdos aside, the variety of music is a big issue for me. Some Masses sound more like rock concerts than worship. When a "band" goes into loud, jangly, Protestant-sounding music during communion, I can't pray.

    The Novus Ordo seems to have discarded most of the dignity of the Tridentine Mass, and I regret that as well.

    I don't think it's all about the Latin, either. The Missal has the Latin on one side and English on the other. It's not hard to follow along.

    Plus, I like uniformity. Must be the engineer in me. ;-)

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  6. I remember the latin mass as well. What it meant to me? Well, I was only eight to ten years old or so, by the time it had transitioned to Novus Ordo, but being the precocious child that I was. I felt a loss. Even at that young age, I felt the Church was something "etched in stone" (perhaps this was also brought to the fore via listening in to the adults ... grandparents, parents, and the like ... vice any enlightened thought on my part...but still...) everything else was being exposed to the winds of change...the culture, the nightly news about race (riots/demonstrations), the growing war in a little far off Asian country, the assassination of a President (a Catholic one no less).

    In my little world, at least it appeared the Church was constant....and at that timeframe, the Latin (at least to me) was cool!! We got to speak a language no one else used ... it did seem to add to the mystery of the Church. And suddenly, all this changed. It was all in English now. (And I tended to lump this in the same group as, now it was "okay" to eat meat on Fridays (except for Lent) I did to some extent, rock my little world. "Hey if this, supposedly constant event...going to Mass... was subject to change...was nothing sacred? "

    A few short years later, I signed up for Latin in High School, my freshman year. Came to find out, because there were not enough folks signed up for same...the course was cancelled. Ended up taking Spanish for two years.

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  7. Fran, I never knew the difference in the various rites, or that they were actually connected. By Eastern Rite, are we talking Russian Orthodox? Greek Orthodox?The link didn't seem to go into that detail.

    I'm surprised about the title, though. I could swear I read many, many references in my childhood to the "Holy Roman Catholic Church". The mass (Tridentine?) being in Latin, rather than Greek - the next most widely spoken language back then, IIRC - seemed to reinforce the "roman" connection. I guess it might have been a very common misperception then, even among the priests teaching our communion and confirmation classes back in the fifties.

    As an aside, I've read that priests in Africa - men who were native to that area, as opposed to missionaries - were actually allowed to be married, like Episcopalians, as opposed to celibate, like most other Catholic priests. I wonder if that is true, or just a story someone made up?

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