Archbp. Vlazny of Portland on the older form of Mass

An article from September 2006 – NB: 2006 – by His Excellency Most Rev John Vlazny, Archbishop of Portland in The Sentinel gives us insight into his view of the older form of Mass.  

Remember that Archbishop Vlazny was once Bishop of Winona, Minnesota, where the SSPX has its big seminary.

My emphases and comments.


Lifting our hearts in liturgical prayer
09/22/2006 Archbishop John Vlazny

On the final Sunday of August, without giving it much forethought, I set myself up with a daunting liturgical agenda. I began the day at St. Birgitta’s Parish on Highway 30 between Portland and Scappoose. There I attended and preached at the Latin Tridentine Mass, celebrated each week by Father Joseph Browne, CSC, the former pastor. Next I was the celebrant at the regular parish Mass at 10 a.m. It was much like the Masses celebrated in most of our parishes on weekends. Finally at 5:30 p.m. I presided at the Cathedral Sunday evening Mass with a host of young adults who gathered for their annual evening of prayer and barbeque with the archbishop. It was a lively celebration with contemporary music that has become especially popular with the young and the young at heart. Needless to say, each Mass was prayerful and correct, but the styles and the moods were decidedly different.

The remarkable diversity of our church is a reality which no one can escape, not even on Sundays at Mass. The 8 a.m. Tridentine Mass at St. Birgitta’s Church was begun when Cardinal Levada was our archbishop. Pope John Paul II had asked bishops to make this liturgical rite available to those who found it more appropriate for their needs. Father Browne has generously led the community in this liturgical rite for many years.

Those who prefer this rite, in general, appreciate its use of Latin with the priest facing the altar and the faithful following the Mass in private prayer with little or no active role.  [I believe it would come as a surprise to those participating that they had no "active role".  If we mean by active that they were singing every word of songs, carrying things around and clapping, then I suppose they were no active.  But Holy Church does not mean that by the famous phrase "active participation".  Truly active participation is first and foremost interiorly active receptivity, which may come to be expressed also outwardly.] That was the way Sunday Mass was typically celebrated until the mid-1960s when the implementation of the Vatican Council Constitution on the Liturgy was initiated, sometimes wisely, sometimes unwisely,  [That’s a fair statement.] across the Catholic world.

Generally speaking, however, most Catholics nowadays expect and prefer that the Sunday Mass be celebrated in the vernacular with the priest facing the people, that there be some freedom and creativity in the rite [The problem is that "freedom" is often freedom from the Rite, rather than within its rubrics and option and "creativity" was not restricted to those areas where it could be legitimately exercised. ] and that all present exercise an active role[Again, this is a false starting point for consideration of "active".]

That was certainly the style of my second morning Mass at St. Birgitta’s and also at the Cathedral later that day. I must confess that I was much more at ease with those latter celebrations, but I was also impressed with the piety and devotion of those who attend the Tridentine Mass.

But I fail to see how that rite is reflective of the life of the church which I am commissioned to nurture and strengthen as a pastor of God’s people.  [How was the Church was nurtured and strengthened before the Second Vatican Council?]  I cannot fault people for their likes and dislikes, particularly when they are just as devoted as anyone else to our church’s evangelizing mission. The faith of some is fueled in a rite no longer so common among us.

In many ways, at the end of the day, after experiencing these two liturgical rites, I thanked God for giving me the privilege of presiding at the Eucharist in both rites, but especially in the latter one which became prevalent after Vatican II. As I have shared with you before, my favorite responsibility is celebrating the sacred liturgy in parishes across the archdiocese with the full, conscious and active participation of all present.  [This seems to be the main problem: there is a fundamental lack of understanding about what the Church really means by "full, conscious and active participation".  Most people today have fallen into the trap of thinking that unless people are doing things, they are not active.]

Back in 1998, Pope Benedict XVI, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, addressed the question of the different rites in this way: “The orthodox forms of the rite are living realities, born out of the dialogue of love between the Church and her Lord. They are expressions of the life of the church, in which are distilled the faith, the prayer and the very life of whole generations, and which make incarnate in specific forms both the action of God and the response of man.”

I sincerely believe that the liturgical initiatives that have been carried out by our pastors and people in these past 40 years are worthy efforts to enhance this dialogue of love between us and our God. Unfortunately, some individuals have carried the expectation for freedom and creativity too far and created their own rites which reflect neither the spirit nor the letter of the conciliar texts.

My own experience of liturgical prayer in the style to which we have become accustomed did not have its beginnings after the Second Vatican Council. When I was a youngster, our parish priest encouraged our participation during the Latin Tridentine Mass. We called it the Missa recitata. All of us would be invited to respond to the prayers in Latin, already giving us a foretaste of this “sacred dialogue” with our God. When I went to the seminary I discovered the beauty of liturgical music, both in plainsong and polyphony, as provided by choirs but also through community participation. My professor of liturgical studies at the Gregorian University in 1961–62 was an ardent advocate of the kind of liturgical renewal that was inaugurated by the fathers of the Second Vatican Council.

The use of the vernacular, the participation of the people, the importance of song and prayer, while maintaining the appropriate reverence and sense of the sacred, have all played a part in the way I have tried to exercise my role as a pastor and liturgical presider.

Yet we live in a world where the old is still revered and the new continues to be refined. These are challenging times for all liturgists and pastoral ministers. A number of people thanked me for making the Tridentine rite available in this archdiocese and asked that it become even more available here in western Oregon. That request unsettles me but I shall not dismiss it without prayer and reflection.  [And now, a year later, a close reading of Summorum Pontificum.]

Perhaps both rites will continue to serve the needs of the church for many years to come, but challenges remain. Those who espouse the Tridentine rite must seek ways to provide a richer variety of proclamations from Sacred Scripture, particularly from the Old Testament, which are practically nonexistent in the Sunday Tridentine rite.  [Why "must" they do that?  The expansion of readings in the newer form of Mass has not been a unqualified success.  If the older form had fewer readings, people were more likely to know them better and therefore integrate them into their lives.  The sheer volume and variety of readings now makes it far more difficult for anyone really to absorb them, priests to preach well on all them, and they give the Mass the character of a didactic moment.  So, while having more Scripture available for Mass is a good thing, it is without its drawbacks.  I fail, therefore, to see why those who want the older form "must" seek more Scripture during Mass.  They can read Holy Writ at any time, at home, anywhere, and the Church offers indulgences for doing so.  Perhaps that is what His Excellency meant.]

Furthermore, enhanced participation of the faithful both in word and song must be given serious attention. The missal of Pope Paul VI, published after Vatican II, has been a gift to the church, but one that has suffered some abuses. The sense of reverence, a healthy respect for the prescribed rituals and a better appreciation of the sacrificial character of Mass will surely promote a healthier and holier dialogue of love between a good and gracious God and his faithful people.

Let me take this opportunity to thank all of you who serve the many liturgical needs of our parishes across this archdiocese. We cannot afford to diminish the importance and the centrality of the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist in our faith communities. It is from these prayerful gatherings that we find the strength needed to give witness to the Lord each and every day.


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