Let us begin with an understatement.
The revitalization of our Catholic identity will be an opus magnum et arduum.
Most of us reading this will not see but the first fruits.
We have to be smart and persistent, using all the tools at our disposal. I am mindful of the ends of rhetoric: teach, delight, persuade. We have to know clearly what it is we wish to accomplish. We must figure out the issues and organize our thoughts. Also, whom do we wish to teach, delight and/or persuade? Our audience determines a great deal for us. With what level of “tone” do we address them? What vocabulary and examples do we use?
Moreover, in our opus we must also be mindful that, in our human endeavors, we can fall into the trap of making the perfect into the enemy of the good. That is to say, if I can’t have my ideal now, I don’t want anything at all. Achievement of the good need not be a settling for the good, in lieu of the better or the best.
Is The Best attainable in this life? That’s a rhetorical question.
This leads me to a piece at NLM by Peter Kwasniewski.
Peter laments the fact that, at the end of the Chartres Pilgrimage, during the splendid Mass with Card. Sarah in the Usus Antiquior, the Subdeacon faced the people instead of ad orientem, and spoke (didn’t sing) the Epistle in French. The Deacon spoke the Gospel in French. Some video: Epistle HERE – Gospel HERE.
Peter rightly implores that we avoid these “pastoral adaptations”. Rightly.
As I have argued before, we need a long period of stability in the recovery of the Usus Antiquor. We have to learn it again and let it become part of the weft and warp of our worship. Once it is well rooted, the organic process of development foreseen by Benedict XVI will inexorably take place, but in a proper way, not an artificial way that comes through tinkeritis. It seems like people these days can’t leave anything alone. What a contrast to our forebears. Hence, Martin Mosebach’s description of how a rock probably feels resentment for centuries after it has been moved.
But I digress.
It could be that those pastoral adaptations were imposed from above upon the organizers of the Mass. That’s my guess. I suspect that the local bishop set a condition or the celebrant Card. Sarah opted for these changes (note that the Cardinal didn’t use gloves).
Hence, the pilgrims wound up with a Really Good™ experience rather than an Even Better™, The Best™ being reserved to the celestial realm.
However, Prof. K doesn’t just lament and implore. He explains why the Latin chanting of the readings – with the proper orientation – ought to be respected without the desire to tinker that so many clerics have now in their liturgical marrow. It isn’t merely for the sake of observing the rules and rubrics (what they did in Chartres was, frankly, contrary to an explicit norm in Summorum Pontificum). It goes beyond saying the black and doing the red for the sake of saying the black and doing the red.
It goes to the heart of why we must respect the rite.
Which also goes to the heart of why so many are interested in the pre-55 Holy Week, without the tinkerings of the “Bugnini abattoir”.
But I digress.
Here is Kwasniewski’s explanation for why the readings ought to be sung in Latin and with the proper orientation (East for the Epistle and North for the Gospel). My emphases and comments.
A major difference between the theology of the classical Roman Rite and that of Paul VI’s modern rite is the difference in how lections are understood. The lections at Mass are not merely instructional or didactic. They are an integral part of the seamless act of worship offered to God in the Holy Sacrifice. The clergy chant the divine words in the presence of their Author as part of the logike latreia, the rational worship, we owe to our Creator and Redeemer. These words are a making-present of the covenant with God, an enactment of their meaning in the sacramental context for which they were intended, a grateful and humble recitation in the sight of God of the truths He has spoken and the good things He has promised….
The chanted Latin lection is an expression of adoring love directed to God before it is a communication of knowledge to the people, and the form in which it is done should reflect this primacy. [I have written many times over the years of what, in our liturgical worship and liturgical choices for music, architecture, etc. (inculturation), must be given logical priority. What God and the Church have to give must be given primary consideration over and above what the world gives or provides. The chanting of the readings in the manner prescribed underscores first that they are from God. Properly understood that enriches and transforms the experience of those who participate in them as they hear. Yes, the texts are instruction, but the instruction is so much more instructive, and in a deeper way, if they are, first, intended as worship. I am reminded of the phrase “Nisi credideritis non intelligetis... You will not understand unless you will have first believed.” There is a sapientia beyond the scientia. My point: those things having to do with GOD in worship must have logical priority and, hence, we sing the readings firstly as acts of worship. That attitude affects how the sing them (and dictates even that we sing them, for, as the Doctor of Grace said, cantare amantis est.] In the ancient liturgy, always and everywhere God enjoys primacy. Nothing is done “simply” for the people. …
Vernacularization and recitation of the lessons at High Mass betrays the rationalism and utilitarianism of the Synod of Pistoia. The chanting of the Word of God is not just for instruction but also a quasi-sacramental action in and of itself (as Martin Mosebach argues with regard to the use of incense, candles, and the prayer “Per evangelica dicta, deleantur nostra delicta”). [YES! Great point!] It is part of the activity of worship, and like the other prayers of the Mass, it should be set apart by words of a sacral register, hallowed by tradition. [And a practical point.] No one will complain [Pace Peter, there’s always someone who will complain about something.] if this formal liturgical chant, which takes only a few minutes in any case, is followed up with a recitation of the vernacular texts before the homily. But the latter should never be substituted for the former.
That point about what the priest says at the end of reading or chanting the Gospel is important.
The priest kisses the book wherefrom the Word of God is read. The sacred minister’s poor human vox is raised mysteriously by God, through baptism and orders, to a be new means of encounter with His presence. An encounter with the presence of God in mystery is transforming, as Moses’ encounters were, with the People, when the presence cloud descended and God spoke.
At the end of the Gospel, the priest kisses the book and says: “Per evangelica dicta deleantur nostra delicta… May our sins be blotted out by the words of the Gospel (lit. the gospelish things said)!” That goes way beyond instruction, moral or otherwise.
If that is true for that moment during Holy Mass, it is true for every moment during Holy Mass. Every word and gesture of Mass is really being carried out by the Divine Actor, Christ the Hight Priest, in whose priesthood we share in different modes through sacraments. When we sing and gesture, Christ is singing and gesturing. His words and deeds, dicta et acta, are not merely moral instruction or intellectual enrichment.
Hence, chanting the Epistle “to the East” and the Gospel “to the North” means something that must be respected.