A young woman at my home parish, St. Agnes in St. Paul, MN, penned a piece for the National Catholic Register in reaction to Pope Francis’ recent curious statements about liturgical reform.
As you may recall, the Pope (or, better, his ghost writer) seemed to pour cold water (and gasoline, it turns out) on the desire of those for a so-called “reform of the reform” even as he seemed to be invoking the Magisterium in saying that forward progress cannot be reversed.
What makes one scratch one’s head is that what drives movements in the Church (such as that which drove the Liturgical Movement and which will, inexorably drive further developments in in our sacred liturgical worship) don’t seem to be the object of magisterial declarations.
To make an analogy, King Cnute the Great famously instructed his sycophant vassals, who greasily said that even the tide would obey him, that there were limits to what he could command. In their presence, Cnute ordered the tide not to come in. Of course the tide did come in. He told his fawning nobles, “How empty and worthless is the power of kings, for there is none worthy of the name other than He whom heaven, earth, and sea obey by eternal laws.” After that, the King hung his crown upon a crucifix and never wore it again.
Similarly, people can claim that all day that there is “no going back” when it comes to liturgical reform, but they simply can’t know that. We can strongly suspect that the impact of Vatican II (and many of the things wrought in the name of the Council) will never be reversed, but we can’t know that.
Popes don’t command the tide. Their enthusiastic and imprudent and papalatrous supporters, like the toadies who told Cnute that even the tide would obey him, have to learn this soon before they do harm to souls.
Pope Benedict, in issuing his monumentally important Summorum Pontificum, ensured that there would be a dialogue of the two forms, traditional and post-Conciliar. There is now a channel for the forward flow. However, Benedict hoped for mutual enrichment of the forms. He issued his norms and then, at the end of the instructive letter to the world’s bishops that accompanied the Motu Proprio, entrusted those norms to the Blessed Virgin. Did you know that? Benedict entrusted his project to Mary.
Neither Benedict nor Francis command the tide any more than King Cnute. We can only channel it. That’s what Summorum Pontificum is: it’s like a channel. Channels guide the flow.
Of course it is possible to hack away at the banks channels to create chaos and destruction.
To use another simile, the Motu Proprio is like a gravitational force introduced to act on a body that is moving in its trajectory. Remember your physics? Bodies in motion tend to stay in motion unless another force works on them to change their course. So too, side by side celebrations of the traditional form with the Novus Ordo will exert a strong influence particularly on the Novus Ordo, since the traditional form has far more “gravitas“.
Will tradtional gravitas entirely turn around and reverse the course of the Novus Ordo? I doubt it. I can’t know one way or another. I am sure that the gravitas by which the traditional faithful conduct themselves will be a factor. But I digress.
As I have been saying on this blog for many years, the Novus Ordo is not going to go away any time soon. Moreover, we now see many fruits of Benedict’s bold and overdue move. That has spooked some people who are now flailing about trying to stop the tide, trying to spur Francis to command the tide that he cannot command.
Back to the piece that NCRegister. Here’s a short taste of the writer said (my emphases and comments):
[M]ost of the Catholic Church has been reeling ever since the introduction of the New Mass, and it seems to me that the waves from the rocks thrown into the water are settling down, and the things worth having are floating back to the surface. A lot of younger Catholics, raised since the 80s are fishing out of the water the beautiful things left to sink to the bottom. So, I say, let us not reverse what has been done, let us move forward. [I respond: “Forward” is the only gear that the tank has.]
The pope gave three keys in his speech to having a “living” liturgy. These were to have a focus on the lively presence of Him who ‘dying has destroyed our death, and by rising, restored our life,” to be not clerically focused but “an action for the people, but also by the people,” and to transform one’s life—it should bring us into relationship to God. The pope said that, “There’s a big difference between hearing that God exists, and feeling that he loves us, just as we are, here and now.” (quotations from Crux). [ALL of those things are possible and even carried out in a superior way in the older, traditional form of Mass, especially when celebrated ad orientem. Think about this: Would Catholics have gone to Mass or have tolerated he dearth of these elements for centuries? Of course not.]
These points Pope Francis made are important and can be fully practiced in the OF and the EF. It is not weak human beings that can make a “living” liturgy, but the action of the Holy Spirit—and by simply gathering in Christ’s name, he has promised to be there (Mt 18:20). Christ makes himself lively and present, we can call upon him to help us at whatever form of liturgy is celebrated. Even at the barest bones liturgy when the priest’s heart is not in it—if he says the right words of consecration, Christ is there. In my experience, each individual at Mass has to choose to focus on the lively presence of God—it cannot be forced. And more often than not a quiet, simple liturgy is much more conducive to prayer and worship than one interrupted by much chatter. Yet, no matter what the liturgy is like, it is up to each individual member of the faithful to enter fully into the Mass.
The pope said that the liturgy should be an action “for the people” and “by the people.” The practice of the priest leading us in prayer with us all facing the same way towards a crucifix (ad orientem), facing reverently Jesus’ Real Presence in the tabernacle, is much more suited to a mass “for the people” than one in which the priest speaks facing the laity (versus populum). [Exactly.] When done this way, the priest is no longer the center of attention. He does not have to “perform”, but can simply enter into the person of Christ that he is for the Church at that moment. He is able to allow the liturgy to no be about himself front and center at Mass, but face his Lord and act as Christ at the Last Supper for the people. The people at this time must actively participate by bringing our own internal offerings to the sacrifice—uniting our sufferings and joys and bringing sorrow for our sins which are the very cause of Christ’s death and resurrection. The liturgy should facilitate this internal participation to match the actions on the altar as we all worship Our Lord as a united body.
I see that, after all these years, the ars celebrandi so carefully fostered at St. Agnes is still bearing fruit.