Monday, February 05, 2007

Tridentine vs. Paul VI

In 1570, at the behest of the Council of Trent, Pope St. Pius V revised and promulgated the Roman Missal, typifying it and making its use obligatory for most in the Western, Latin Church. The Missal is the book which contains prayers said (as well as all else that is read or sung) in connection with the offering of the holy Sacrifice of the Mass. From 1570-1970, the Tridentine Mass (Latin Tridentum = Trent) was almost universally celebrated in the West.

As of 1970, however, the same may be said of the universality of the Mass of Paul VI. Called Novus Ordo by traditionalists, it developed, among other reasons, out of a concern for the laity's ability to understand and thus more actively participate in the sacred liturgy. After all, other than a few lines in Greek and Hebrew, the Tridentine Mass is celebrated completely in Latin, and it has no licit vernacular translations. And so it was that after 400 years, at the urging of another Church Council (Vatican II), the liturgy was once again revised, codified, and made compelling.

As a child of the V-II era of the Church, the only liturgy I have ever known is the Mass of Paul VI. Celebrated rightly, it is as sublime an experience as is possible on earth; indeed, celebrated rightly, it is perfection on earth. However, a number of unfortunate circunstances have led to widespread watering down and general abuse of the liturgy. In America in particular, enter any Catholic church on a Sunday morning, and the chances are more likely than not that you will witness at least a couple illicit practices: banal (even off the cuff) translations of the Latin, bizarre liturgical "innovations," etc. Thankfully, B16 has mentioned a few times that reform is in order, so maybe sooner rather than later that mess will be attended to.

Now, back to the Tridentine. Currently, in order to celebrate Mass under the Tridentine form, priests and/or laypeople must request an indult from the local bishop. Obviously, this requirement limits its practicability. In fact, in all of Houston there is only one church that I know of that has such an indult: Annunciation. I went there yesterday, and for the first time in 24 years attended a Tridentine Mass.

One thing that the Novus Ordo Missae is big on is audible response, and audibility in general; the priest offers very few prayers up in silence. The exact opposite is true for the Tridentine. There, very seldom is the congregation prescribed to respond, and the overwhelming majority of the prayers are offered by the priest, alone and in silence, at the altar. Another big difference is the music. Many, if not all, of the Mass parts are sung in Gregorian Chant in the Tridentine liturgy. Not so, in most Catholic churches these days. There the best you will get as far as music is concerned are abysmally vapid "hymns" about "we are church" or some other such non-worship-related theme.

The most important difference, however, was the palpability of the level of reverence. So often, I find myself sitting through a Mass wondering why the people there even bother showing up. They're in jeans, they're yappin' away, their cell phones are going off, they leave immediately following Communion, on and on. Mass under the Tridentine form was such that reverence and awe and complete submission were natural reactions.

Now, I'm not going to stop attending the parish that I normally do. Sure, it's got its flaws, but they all do. Besides, it's still the same holy Sacrifice being offered up in propitiation as it's always been. Also, even though I know most of the Mass parts in Latin, it's easier for me to concentrate on what I'm saying when I am able to recite them and follow along in English. I do think that I will start making monthy or maybe bi-monthly Sunday morning trips to Annunciation, however; the Latin Tradition runs too deeply in my blood and is far too compelling to avoid.

Here's an excellent video of a Tridentine Solemn High Mass, narrated in detail by [then] Mgr. Fulton J. Sheen(!).

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At 9:49 AM, February 06, 2007, Anonymous Cody said...

so from Star Wars euphamisms to essays on the nuances of the Catholic Church, eh. You constantly amaze me Vince.


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