From a reader:
I am a new convert to the Faith within the last nine months, and I am
still in the process of joining the Church formally. As such I’m still
learning a good deal about the Church, her liturgy, etc. One thing
that I’ve noticed that’s struck me as odd is the sheer number of
variations there are within the ordinary form. I’ve seen Priests vary
how they hold the Hosts during consecration, I’ve seen some not even
raise the Host. Then after the canon of the Mass I’ve seen some
variance regarding whether the Priest raises the Host over the Chalice
in front of the people, or whether they just raise them both in
opposite hands, and on and on. Are any of these type of variations
liturgical abuses, or is there *that* much room for variation in the
Congratulations on your journey into union with the Church Christ Himself established.
In a nutshell, some decades ago in the books for the older form of Holy Mass, what we call the Extraordinary Form, there were clear indications that some “defects” in how the priest celebrated Mass were sins. The Missal said, in black and white, that if a priest did certain things wrong he committed a sin. Furthermore, since the issue of rubrics (the red writing in the Missal providing “stage directions” for Mass) was a matter of moral theology, when seminarians and priests studied moral theology and also how to say Mass, they learned specific ways to do things. There would still be a little variation from priest to priest, but in general every priest in the world said Mass more or less the same way.
Sadly, some seminarians and priests who came out of particularly rigid programs of formation because, if they were on the scrupulous side, fixated on certain details of celebration to such an extent that their concerns for perfection were rather unhealthy. This rigidity in some, tarred the whole clear, precise method and approach to following the rubrics with the same brush. When the chance came with the post-Conciliar reform of the liturgy, the complex web of clear and understandable rules was swept aside. There was no longer any mention of sin in the forward for the newer Missal (Ordinary Form) if someone went off and did his own thing or made up his own words. There was also a terrible antinomian spirit that flooded into the Church through that crack Paul VI famously mentioned as the ingress of the smoke of Satan. There was a wave of wild-experimentation that was utterly at odds with the way Catholics had done things for centuries.
We are still living in trailing edge of the riptide of those times, especially when it comes to priests who went through those wild days in the 60s and priests who were trained by the iconoclasts through about the 80s.
Another problem is that the book for the Ordinary Form describes how to do certain things in rather vague terms. Therefore, variations crop up. Some legitimate. Some not.
Happily younger priests are more and more inclined to follow the book exactly, to say the black words on the page and do what the red words indicate. They are happy to take their cue from the older, Extraordinary Form to recuperate a Roman style of celebration consistent with our Latin Church identity.
In short, we are growing out of the silly season.
But we are a long way from consistency from priest to priest (especially those of a certain age) when it comes to the Ordinary Form. It’ll take quite a while for that to happen.
This is one of the reason why we need more and more and more celebrations of Holy Mass with the Extraordinary Form. This is one of the reasons Pope Benedict issued his provision in his document Summorum Pontificum, the “emancipation proclamation” for the older form of Mass. He thinks that a kind of gravitational pull will be exerted by side-by-side use of both Forms of the Roman Rite. The growing use of the older, Extraordinary Form will do a great deal to clean up liturgical sloppiness in the Ordinary Form.
In the meantime, don’t let the small variations bother you too much, unless they are simply weird. And you should also attend the Extraordinary Form if it is available in your area.