On the Closing of the Lefebvrist Mind

28 06 2008

Some thoughts about the current situation between the Society of St. Pius X and Rome

The night of the consecration of the church in La Reja, I met up again with a French priest who I had met when I lived in a priory in the United States. I saw him in the open field on the seminary grounds, and I decided to go over to introduce myself again.

“Hello, Fr. X, [I was saying this in English]. I don’t know if you remember me, but we met in [such and such priory]…”

“Oh, yes,” was his reply, but I saw he was more concerned with looking up at the stars at this point. “We are in the Southern Hemisphere. I think I see up there the Southern Cross. Excuse me.”

He wandered eagerly into the darkness of the night with the curiosity and glee of a child. I left him to his stargazing.

When I think of the Society of St. Pius X, the first things that come to mind concern neither theology nor the “crisis in the Church”. They are anecdotes like the one above, or anecdotes about having to carry Bishop Fellay’s rather heavy baggage down a precariously wet metal spiral staircase, or having to drag a boy back to the sacristy after Mass after he had very publicly picked his nose while serving at altar, and so on and so forth. Most people who like to comment on the SSPX are either Catholics who never had or never will have sympathy to their cause and thus treat them like three-headed monsters, or ex-supporters who have a rather personal and petty axe to grind with them. Having left their circle on amicable terms, and having been always fairly treated by them, I can say that I have neither tendency.

I am still nevertheless a bit saddened about the Society’s cold response to the Pope’s gesture. I do think that if Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre were alive today, he would be more conciliatory to the Holy Father’s conditions. My speculation about the leadership of the SSPX is not that they are prideful or intransigent, but rather that they are scared and confused, and this fear and confusion do not allow them to see that if the barque is not yet headed completely in the right direction, it is turning around slowly. Fellay is probably too concerned at this point with preserving what he has rather than putting the house that Lefebvre built at the service of the Church. I am not one of those naïve people who think that a papal love-fest is going to solve all of the SSPX’s problems overnight. There are entire episcopal conferences that still would love to see the SSPX disappear from the face of the planet altogether. If the Pope says that he has their back, he has their back, and they should not be hesitant to fight the fights that will inevitably take place.

I am one of those “hermeneuts of discontinuity” who think that something did indeed change at the Second Vatican Council that harmed the well-being of the Church. No amount of rhetorical gymnastics can ever convince me otherwise. I do not want to get into details lest I start another combox “food-fight” that the Internet is so good at fostering, but I think that if you venture to read the Syllabus of Errors, Dignitatis Humanae, Mediator Dei, and Sancrosanctum Concilium all in one sitting, you are going to come away with a headache and some profound confusion about what the Church teaches on some fundamental issues. This is what the SSPX refers to when it talks about having doctrinal clarity prior to having a canonical solution.

My contention, however, is that there is no use crying over spilled milk at this point. What happened at Vatican II and in its aftermath happened. The point is not to obsess over it or to argue how the mess got started and who is at fault, but rather to clean up the mess. Pope Benedict himself is the voice that is most adamant about getting down to the dirty business of sorting through all of the tendencies that have come into the Church in the last fifty years and trying to square them with the ethos of the Church that came before. The point is not to stay in the past but to move forward, not to point fingers of blame but to fix the problem. Only a blind person would refuse to see the sea change that is slowly emerging within the Church, and it is a pity that the leadership of the SSPX is afflicted with such blindness.

In my opinion, what lies at the root of their intransigence has very little to do with theology or even Catholicism in general. My less than pleasant memories of being in the SSPX for three years have to do with the politics and rhetoric of the its hierarchy and faithful. Being out of their circle now, I can console myself with the thought that I will never again have to eat quietly in an SSPX seminary refectory while listening to Jean Ousset being read in a bad Spanish translation, or hear an SSPX pied-noir priest give a conference about how the Jews and Masons are constantly making plots to destroy the Church and the very fabric of society. Never again will I have to rub shoulders with members of the John Birch Society, Argentine fascists, and people who think that the defining point in modern history was the Vatican’s condemnation of the Action Française early last century. People on the outside are often clueless as to how truly crazy many of the SSPX people are. At this point in the game, there are only two types of people left in that group: the crazy people who only see the Vatican swarming with Freemasons in the style of a Malachi Martin novel, and those who will forever be faithful to the SSPX “right or wrong”. The latter put up with the former for the sake of unity, and the former find in the latter a willing audience for their tirades. It all works so dysfunctionally well.

I left the SSPX not because they claimed to be “more Catholic than the Pope”, but rather because I saw that what they were doing was profoundly UNtraditional. Catholicism has never been about women in long skirts and mantillas having their noses buried in a St. Joseph’s Missal during Mass. It has never been about driving an hour to your local Mass center at odd hours of the day to find the “true Mass” and priests who have not been affected by the “Conciliar Church”. It is not about sermons that unceasingly talk about the “crisis in the Church” or intra-traditionalist squabbling. People at this point find in the SSPX a moral and ideological crutch that supports them through the illness and angst of postmodernity. Not just the SSPX people do this; I think that many other traditionalists and conservative Catholics do this as well. This crutch, this identity as “one of the chosen”, one of the “six thousand who have not bent their knee to Baal”, is an excuse not to live in the present and to wash one’s hands of all the society’s problems. It is to avoid the real cause of the problem: us, our own sinfulness and buying into the hyper-rationalist amoral system of license that now governs all that we do. In the end, it is that family of eight kids in the big white van driving an hour to the SSPX chapel that most embodies this destructive system. It certainly doesn’t really oppose it.

Catholicism for me is about being in the midst of the Church, and part of the asceticism of it is to be around people who you suspect are wrong and having enough humility and wisdom to keep your mouth shut long enough to listen to what they have to say. Catholicism is not about conforming your thinking to the Papist “hive-mind”. It is not about the latest theological fad coming out of the Vatican, or being a cheerleader for an ecclesiastical “dream team” that is going to save the world from falling into a precipice of darkness. It is about knowing enough to realize that you are too stupid to go it alone and that you need all the help you can get. It is about rubbing your ideological shoulders with a billion other people and realizing that your experience of Jesus Christ is not the only relevant and important one. It is about finding your own niche or corner in the Church to foster your own devotions, hang-ups, and nutty ideas without harming anyone else or going against the general rules of the road. One’s joy as a Catholic does not come from ecclesiastical politics or ideological affairs, but from colorful scapulars, rosaries on the fingers in a cold morning, and old women staying a little while to pray after Mass.

The real sadness that comes out of my reflecting on the current situation of the SSPX is that it can no longer see that such magical things occur outside of its circle. Many no longer see the Church outside of the SSPX, and this has been the case for some time now. I never bought into that idea even during my stay with them, and that is probably the reason why I left. In this age of ecumenism and partial communion, we cannot blow the SSPX’s lack of filial piety towards the Holy Father out of proportion. In the end, however, it is the SSPX, and not the Universal Church, that stands to lose the most.


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19 responses

3 07 2008
Arturo Vasquez

Mr. Cole,

Thank you for your comment and understanding. In the end, your perspective got me thinking about my own experiences with the old Mass. I don’t really know why people are so horrified by brief Masses (fifteen minutes still seems a little exaggerated, but then again I wasn’t there). In seminary, we all had to serve the private Masses of various priests which also meant that we had to set up the side altars and lay out the vestments for them, as well as put everything away at the end. Since this would often cut into breakfast and our valuable and all-too-little free time, being able to get a priest that allowed you to set up, serve, and clean up the fastest was a most coveted thing indeed. All the seminarians knew who said Mass the fastest and who dragged it out. Often, since these were at side altars, the Masses would be whispered and they would all go on at the same time. Many think this would be a horrible thing, but for me it was quite beautiful.

Anyway, the private Masses at the SSPX seminary ranged anywhere from twenty minutes to a half an hour. The fastest priest was Fr. Calderon. To this day, I don’t know how he can say certain prayers so fast. Back in the day, I had most of the Mass, including the priest’s parts, memorized, so when I would try to say certain prayers with him while I was serving, he would still beat me. Then again, he was also the holiest priest there: he would always attend to the poor, and always hear you out if you had a problem. He was pious and approachable and a real human being all at the same time. And he was also the smartest priest there. His Mass was fast as lightening.

I have seen some priests do a more pious Mass, but that is really not the point. For the priests that I have admired most, it wasn’t a spectacle where they could show off their devotion, it was merely the opus Dei, the offering up of sacrifice, the Sacrifice, for the living and the dead, as the old rite of ordination put it. It was precisely an opus, a work. I don’t remember who said it, but someone once put it that a priest and his server went up to the altar in a low Mass as if they had a job to do. It is a joyous job, it is a holy job, but it is a job like all others.

My family prays the rosary every night, and my grandparents often stumble over each other when praying rapidly those prayers that they learned as youth in Mexico:

“santamariamadredediosruegapornosotros….”

It sounds jumbled and rushed, but for me it has that same pious music to it. It’s a task like all the others they do, and perhaps for that reason it is all the more real for them. When that stuff has become so much a part of you that it is like your breath, then it is just so second nature that you can rattle it off at the drop of a hat. Maybe that’s what these priests were doing when they were saying their Mass “too quickly”. When you have been saying it for over fifty years of your life, maybe it too would seem like a rote ritual or something that you don’t take seriously. But then again, as in my grandparent’s rosary, that could just be the outsider’s perspective.

3 07 2008
Jim Cole

AG: I was giving my impression that our priests would mumble Latin, skipping syllables of many words, not whole paragraphs of any prayers. I also should have made clear that it was weekday Masses that stick in my memory as the 15-minute jobs. Sunday Masses were longer, because a sermon was given and Communion was distributed to many more people than weekdays. I have to apologize for any misimpression I allowed about Sunday Masses by failing to make myself clear.

Also, let no one think I did not like these priests or do not revere them today. Those men, mostly of German and Irish extraction, were sometimes gruff compared to the priests who are now pastors, but they were good and true, tougher on themselves than they ever were on us. Just my impression, of course, from a my youth in a very small part of the rural Midwest.

Arturo: No apology needed. Nothing you said was personal in any way. I did not think you were accusing me of being brainwashed by Protestants, although I have to disagree that it is “Protestant” to want to hear the prayers said aloud during the Canon. It is good to read strongly held beliefs that are backed up by reasoned argument, and much of what you said was new to me. I always like to learn things from people who have thought them through, whether I end up agreeing or disagreeing.

Jim Cole

2 07 2008
AG

To further clarify, to put my statement here in context: “I’m also a little bit baffled when someone brings up examples of what occurs in other (non-Roman) rites. Are such examples supposed to showcase divergence between the Roman rites and others?” read your own previous comment in which you go on about what happens in the Byzantine Rite and then your first statement in the following paragraph is “The problem with modern people…”

2 07 2008
AG

To clarify: “You ask why scholars of Western liturgy have cared about what goes on in liturgies in other Apostolic rites,” isn’t even close to what I asked, any more than any non-existent questions about the ideas of the V2 reformers you seem to have found. In context, what I was referring to is the attempt to argue that one form is superior because it is more like x, y, and z, when the latter do not necessarily provide/prevent what is under discussion. One can’t argue “it should be hidden” and appeal to Eastern rites without establishing that there are actual observable benefits to this in those communities. All that the appeal to other rites establishes is that a differentceexists, but one can find that in other elements, as you yourself pointed out, before V2 reforms. Nowhere did I argue or imply that people (at the very least scholars) shouldn’t care about the content of other liturgies; rather, that it’s a very poor argument when one is claiming specific benefits to one form over another (all the ‘hidden’ and ‘holy’ talk).

“The most obvious detail is of course the ad orientem position of the priest at prayer, but one could also cite a number of other similarities such as symbolic language, extensive silent prayers of the priest, multiple reverences (bows, genuflections, kissing the altar) throughout the liturgy, and so on and so forth. After 1962, these obvious relationships even to the casual observer are significantly diminished.”

If we are going to have this discussion at the level of the casual observer, ad orientem and symbolic language can be part of the N.O., as I’m sure you well know. While I’m sure you can point out to me the exact number of reverences mandated in the old form of the rite compared to the new, I have been a Mass-goer my entire life and can honestly say that I have never noted reverences being more infrequent in the latter compared to the former. Perhaps I just pay attention to other things at Mass. And in chapels with no sound system or early morning Masses, oh, many of the prayers of a soft-spoken priest become inaudible, in violation of the rubrics of the N.O. Nevertheless, it can still be found. So no, I don’t see the examples you’ve given as “obvious relationships” either.

BTW, I understood Mr. Cole to be stating that the priest would in effect SKIP parts of the Canon, not merely mumble each word inaudibly, the former allowing the priest to get through the Mass in 15 minutes (it’s my understanding that the priest is actually supposed to recite the words or at least barely move his lips, not silently read, though of course I could be wrong).

2 07 2008
Arturo Vasquez

AG,

You bring up some good points, and I will address some of your concerns.

Firstly, Christian liturgy, as you point out, has not been “arcana” since the early Church. From Pseudo-Dionysius and Maximus Confessor to the commentaries of Dom Gueranger and Gogol in the nineteenth century, people have commented on the liturgy in order to allow greater “participation” in it. The main difference between that time and the time that we are in now is that there are liturgists now that feel that the people should see and hear everything. People have always known what was contained in the liturgy, and let us remember that even in the Western Church, people have fought duels over liturgies that were in Latin, as was the case in Spain and Milan. The issue is not then of the secrecy of the liturgy, it has more to do with the hieratic and hierarchical aspects of it. Just because people can know what’s in the Mass doesn’t necessarily entail that they must hear it aloud as well.

You ask why scholars of Western liturgy have cared about what goes on in liturgies in other Apostolic rites. The reason is simple: just as one cannot be a linguist by knowing only one language, so one cannot study the history of liturgy by knowing only about one liturgy. Indeed, the reformers of the liturgy themselves last century had (rather tenuous in my opinion) recourse to other liturgies in order to advocate their reforms. The offertory procession was an import from medieval missals, but more directly from the rite of Milan. The silent Canon itself was given up and an acclamation put after the consecration because that is what the reformers saw in other rites and thought it was a good idea (though, as I pointed out, most of the anaphora in the Byzantine Church is not chanted, though the Copts I think chant most of it.) The petitions after the Creed were put in the style of a Byzantine litany, and the Our Father is now recited by all and not just the priest because that is what the East does as well. The most significant change was the removal of the words “Mysterium Fidei” from the words of consecration themselves, in spite of the fact that these words are included in the consecration of the Chalice in the oldest manuscripts of the Roman liturgy, and are piously believed to have been passed down by St. Peter himself. Why their removal? Most directly: they’re not Biblical, but also because no other rite of the Church contained them. So indeed, why should we care what other liturgies contained? Such was not the sentiment of the people who changed the liturgy themselves.

In the end, if I bring up comparisons with other liturgies, it is to trace a common thread that went through all of them. I think it is beyond dispute that the old rite had more kinship with the liturgies that existed in apostolic Christendom prior to 1962 than the rites that came afterwards. The most obvious detail is of course the ad orientem position of the priest at prayer, but one could also cite a number of other similarities such as symbolic language, extensive silent prayers of the priest, multiple reverences (bows, genuflections, kissing the altar) throughout the liturgy, and so on and so forth. After 1962, these obvious relationships even to the casual observer are significantly diminished. That is all that I am pointing out.

I also must apologize to Mr. Cole for some of my rhetoric. Some of the ways I phrased things were uncalled for.

While you may be right, AG, about the relationship between theatre, performance and liturgy, the solution cannot be to transform the liturgy into a talk-show like format (not that I am saying that that is what you are proposing). The main principle here is one that I have written many times on my blogs and it is this: just because the liturgy is broken doesn’t necessarily entail that we are smart enough to fix it. While the reforms of the liturgy (which are a big hit at my family’s house from what they tell me about their experiences pre-Vatican II) may have given us some things, they took away others. I am merely speculating (not infallibly nor authoritatively by any means) that such changes took away more good than they bestowed. Then again, this may be part and parcel of Christianity’s struggle with modernity, and I think that the reformers have the burden of proof in showing that their ideas contributed positively in this struggle rather than making things worse. Until someone can come up with good reasons otherwise, I think this allows me to remain skeptical.

2 07 2008
AG

“Things that hide really reveal: that is a truth that is woefully missing in most modern discourses about Christianity.”

I think this quote points to something that has not been stressed enough – these holy things are not hidden in our age of missals in the narthex or at the end of the pew, and the entire rite written out with a few clicks on the internet. It’s all well and good to claim that the canon, along with other prayers and gestures, should be veiled and hidden because it helps people to re-incorporate mystery and ritual into their personal experience of worship, but it seems a bit silly to claim that when the lady on your left has her nose buried in a missal complete with drawings of the hand gestures the priest is making out of her immediate view, and the gentleman on your right has served at 1000 traditional Latin masses and is observing if the altar boys are kneeling in the right location and is critiquing the priest on his Latin.

What some traditionalists fail to recognize, most deeply, is that their very emphasis on worship, the wealth of knowledge available in our age, HAS made the liturgy transparent. There aren’t any hidden rituals here anymore – I can do a search and find out each prayer the priest says as he’s vested. The only people who don’t know what’s going on –referring to the most basic and superficial level of prayers and gestures – are those who remain willfully in the dark (I’ve never read along in a missal in my life) or those who have no access to know any better (my poor nearly illiterate grandmother, who probably doesn’t understand much of the N.O. either because her English is not that good). What’s so sacred about words when just about everyone, even non-Catholics, is in on the secret? From whom exactly does one think these rituals are still actually hidden? It’s too holy to be said out loud, so everyone is going to read along in their (sometimes disposal) pamphlets?

And while this may be a modern tendency, it certainly predates V2. My maternal grandmother’s 1940ish Catholic Devotions book, that I don’t think she ever read, lays everything in the old Mass out, including the priest’s hand gestures, with photographs and the whole bit. If one perceives that as a problem, find the right people to blame for it.

I’m also a little bit baffled when someone brings up examples of what occurs in other (non-Roman) rites. Are such examples supposed to showcase divergence between the Roman rites and others? On that I can agree, but does it establish anything else? Are those who participate in these other rites cultivating a greater sense of mystery, or of holiness? Do they attend their church services in equal or greater numbers to that of Catholics, holding all other factors (persecution, ethnic enclaves, availability, devotions practiced within the family, etc) constant? I believe that certain elements should be hidden – and actually hidden, i.e., not known to everyone who can do an internet search or almost every boy who serves at altar – but the appeal to other traditions only establishes that there’s a difference, and nothing more. And even there, the real root of that difference begins with the reforms at Trent, not those in the 20th century.

“The problem with modern people is that we have been brainwashed into suspecting that all the things Protestants say about the liturgy are true. We somehow feel that the liturgy of the early Christians had more to do with a Calvinist table service than with an all-night Vigil on Mount Athos. We feel entitled to a transparency of the liturgy so that it can edify us and make us ‘feel better’. Liturgy is not about feeling good or transparency.”

Since I covered above how some traditionalists seem to want their liturgy just as transparent as the next Joe, I also fail to see how ‘feelings’ – emotion – plays a part decisively in the experience of those who assist at the N.O., and not those who assist at the traditional Mass. Am I to believe that many of those who choose to assist at traditional masses, sometimes driving far distances at odd times, really don’t like that form of the Mass but are conscience-bound to it by tradition alone? If you want to argue the superiority of one form of the rite from another, it has to be argued from an objective perspective, without making appeals to what people “prefer” – which can’t be definitely established separate from what they’ve been exposed most often to – or that modern people en masse have been brainwashed into believing something about liturgy that Protestants do. Much – not all, but much – of the language that traditionalists use about why they assist at traditional masses could be turned around just as easily into why others assist at N.O. masses.

“What this world really needs is the witness of the ancient and the sacred, not the soundtrack and accoutrements of the Christian liturgy as done by the producers of Oprah.”

This is just silly rhetoric.

In any case, what’s also consistently missing in these analyses is the recognition that the Catholic Church was indeed trying to ‘de-mystify’ several elements in the liturgy: the rise in missals, in dialogue Masses, the exhortation for frequent reception of the Eucharist, etc. I think that somewhere there’s a link between that move and the rise and increase in the availability of the theatrical experience as ritual, the latter involving a large group of people sitting in silence watching a small number (or central person – conductors work with their backs to the audience) performing in some way. Although it was very common to speak of the Theatre as Church, Performing as Ritual – “where once people went to Mass, they now go to the theatre,” according to Lincoln Kirstein in the early 1930’s – the two are indeed separate, and I wonder if “enhanced participation” was one of the ways that a divide between the two was attempted.

2 07 2008
Arturo Vasquez

Ron:

I am tempted to delete your comment, but I will let it stand. All are welcome to read and comment on this blog (except for one guy and he knows who he is). As long as they maintain a respectful tone all readers are welcome, so if you want to express such sentiments, I would ask that you keep them to yourself.

Mr. Cole,

I will re-echo others in saying that a silent Canon is something that is found in many rites of the Church. In this Byzantine Church, only certain parts are uttered allowed. While the Words of Institution are chanted, the “real consecration” in Byzantine praxis, the epiclesis, is never said allowed due to the liturgical principle of “sancta sanctis” (holy things for the holy). Also, at least in the old rite the priest only had “his back turned to the people”. In the Byzantine rite, especially in Russia and in the monastic usage, the doors of the iconostasis are closed and the curtains drawn for the Eucharistic anaphora, and aren’t open again until communion. In other rites, the drawing of curtains at certain parts of the liturgy is quite common, and in the Ethiopian church, the altar is in another room altogether.

The problem with modern people is that we have been brainwashed into suspecting that all the things Protestants say about the liturgy are true. We somehow feel that the liturgy of the early Christians had more to do with a Calvinist table service than with an all-night Vigil on Mount Athos. We feel entitled to a transparency of the liturgy so that it can edify us and make us “feel better”. Liturgy is not about feeling good or transparency. The hieratic, hierarchical, and initiatory aspects of primitive Christianity are just as much part of the Gospel as the Sermon on Mount and the Cross itself. Things that hide really reveal: that is a truth that is woefully missing in most modern discourses about Christianity. This is not a truth that one can express in a catechism or a theology manual, but it is an important truth nonetheless. (Here I will insinuate blame for Thomism, moderate realism, and the scholastic method, but that is just my Neoplatonic slip showing, as one reader put it.)

I understand your dismay at the fifteen minute Masses of yesteryear. I wasn’t even a twinkle in my mother’s eye when they changed the liturgy, but my padrino de confirmacion (confirmation sponsor for the Hispanically challenged) recalled the old Masses as being sloppy and rushed affairs, and High Mass in his parish was only chirped by the girl’s choir once or twice a year. My point is that if people want to do sloppy liturgy, they will do it whether it is the Pauline rite, the traditional rite, the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, or libations for the goddess Diana. (Indeed, Greek priests are often accused of speeding through and unlawfully abbreviating the Orthodox liturgy.) That is not the issue. The real issue is that these things that you may like about the current Mass (the St. Louis Jesuit psalms, etc.) may be slowly corroding the fabric of the Christian message itself due to the principles I elucidated above. What this world really needs is the witness of the ancient and the sacred, not the soundtrack and accoutrements of the Christian liturgy as done by the producers of Oprah.

2 07 2008
Ron

Sigh. Heavy sigh. I didn’t realize that Diane frequented this blog. What a drag.

2 07 2008
jacobus

“the point Arturo makes”

If I may be so bold to say so, that is-

2 07 2008
Leah

To Jim:
Missal for the laity didn’t really catch on until the 1920s or so. They were forbidden until 1897.

2 07 2008
jacobus

I’m with Fr. Greg: this 15 minute Mass thing seems to be a myth. I have no doubt that many Masses back in the old days were short, quickly mumbled, and nigh-irreverent, but 15 minutes?

And secondly, Mr. Cole, as for silent prayers– there is a reason: the same reason the Israelites hid the Ark, the same reason Catholics veil the tabernacle, the same reason the Orthodox veil the chalice, the same reason Catholics used to kick the catechumens out of Mass before the consecration: Holy things are best hidden from vulgar view. We have no holier prayer than the Canon. Silence is the Canon’s veil. We can argue in modern terms about how this makes us feel uneasy or whatever, but our spiritual ancestors have been doing it for thousands of years; who are we to argue?

Anyway, I wish the self-styled Traditionalists and their opponents would realize that the point Arturo makes is about recovering the good, true Catholicism we have lost and using that as a lens to seek the Good. Good true Catholicism is not the same as ‘everything as done in the ’50s’ (whether the 1950s for your average American traditionalist, or the 1750s for the SSPX). I would say that the good Catholicism of the 50s subsists in this true Catholicism.

2 07 2008
Jim Cole

Like Diane, I am a child of the 50’s. I was trained as an altar boy in one of the last years that the Latin Mass was celebrated. My parish priests said the 6:00 a.m. Low Mass in 15 minutes regularly. I suspected that they mumbled only about one-third of the actual syllables in the silent prayers that comprised the Canon (now, “Liturgy of the Eucharist”) of the Mass.

Low Mass was largely silent after the readings, which is why many people who attended got out their Rosaries and prayed individually during the Canon. I have the impression that the English-Latin Missals that were used in the 60’s were innovations. I wish someone of the older generation in my family was still around to ask. I was certainly glad for the Missals as a kid. I wanted to know what prayers were being offered.

Attending a Tridentine High Mass last year brought back some of the memories of my altar boy years, but also memories of why I was glad to see the old Mass go and the Novus Ordo come in. I think that much is lost in the old Latin Mass by making people into just observers of what is going on at the altar, especially when the priest’s actions are mostly hidden from view. Silent prayers can turn into no prayers, from the congregation’s point of view. Much better to have prayers said out loud that everyone can hear and understand.

While I am very critical of most Novus Ordo Masses, it is because most are not celebrated with respect and love. A properly celebrated Novus Ordo Mass, with music from the psalms (like the much-maligned St. Louis Jesuits specialized in) rather than self-absorbed New Age nonsense that so many Mass songs are these days, is a joy and delight. I hope we begin to have more of them as people learn Masses should be about participating in the eternal life of the eschaton that Jesus Christ brings into the sanctuary in every celebration.

Jim Cole

29 06 2008
diane

Father Greg: I confess to hyperbole–mea culpa! Maybe they just seemed like 15 minutes. 😉 Of course, these were Low Masses and usually weekday Masses.

When we lived in southern Vermont, we once attended a Sunday Novus Ordo Mass which, I swear, took all of 20 minutes. I have never seen a priest speed through a Mass so fast, not in my adult life. Apparently, Father speeded through everything. A local cop, a Catholic, stopped him for speeding and asked, “Racing to get to Heaven. eh, Father?”

After this high-speed Mass, we started attending Mass across the border, in the Massachusetts mill / quarry town of North Adams. Much, much better.

29 06 2008
FrGregACCA

Diane, I have a question about “15 minute Masses”. I first encountered mention of such Masses in St. Alphonsus Liguiori, who stated that celebrating Mass “in less than a quarter of an hour” was certain to be a “mortal sin”. My question is: how in the heck did they do it? Were things left out? From what I’ve seen, a weekday NO Mass, said VERY quckly and using EP II, requires a mininum of 20 minutes. How is it possible to say a TLM in 15 minutes?

29 06 2008
diane

One clarification: When I say the householder has brought “new treasures” from his storeroom, I do not mean to imply that the post-VC II Church has either altered old doctrines or added new ones. She hasn’t. She cannot. She could not even if she wanted to. For further insight, see Mike Liccione’s excellent series on “Development and Negation” at mliccione.blogspot.com

No: The “new treasures” are not new doctrines but new insights, amplified understandings, and new expressions of the ancient faith. I am speaking here of the genuine fruits of VCII, not of the bogus “spirit of VCII,” which is actually a betrayal thereof.

I for one remain eternally grateful that VCII happened, although I could gladly live without the bogus “spirit of VCII” stuff. But every major ecumenical council is followed by a period of turbulence…and this most recent turbulence is already beginning to calm down.

29 06 2008
diane

Sigh. Heavy sigh. (And prayers for Ron’s return to the Fold. ;))

I grew up in the Fifties. Y’all, it was not some sort of Catholic Golden Age. Do I miss some of the cool stuff, like the dim church interiors smelling of candlewax and incense, with statues everywhere and sunlight slanting through stained glass? Yes…but that stuff’s coming back anyway, so where’s the prob? Are there things I don’t miss, though? You betcha: 15-minute Masses, mean nuns (yes, they existed), and an absence of, well, love. I’m sure there were many loving priests and nuns who conveyed the love of Christ to people back then. I know there were. I just didn’t happen to meet too many of them.

The post-VCII Church, when all the dust has settled, will fulfill Our Lord’s description of the wise householder who brings out of his store both old treasures and new. As someone who’s been on both sides of the VCII watershed, I firmly believe this. If that makes me a hermeneut of continuity, so be it.

29 06 2008
FrGregACCA

Ron, I don’t exactly have a dog/horse/whatever in this race either, but I too am sympathetic to RC’s who prefer the TLM, rightwing nutjobs or not (I grew up among several of these, some Birchers and some people for whom the John Bircher Society was too liberal: in general, good people as long as you stayed away from certain subjects.) At the same time, if you haven’t done so, you might want to watch the NO Mass as celebrated on EWTN.

28 06 2008
Ron

I am a convert to Orthodoxy from Roman Catholicism and have no personal experience of SSPX, but I have a friend who has been a member of the SSPX church in Dickenson Texas since its inception. After all these years, he admits that he doesn’t know anyone else in the parish because most of them are right wing nutjobs. But I have to confess being somewhat bewildered about what traditional Catholics are supposed to do in the present crisis. I work in a library near the University of St. Thomas in Houston. Because I have to drive my mother to work, I get to work about an hour early and often spend it in the chapel at St. Thomas, reading. Yesterday morning an old priest came in and celebrated a traditional Mass. It struck me very forcefully that the religion implicit in that form of Mass was not the religion implicit in the Novus Ordo Masses I was familiar with. I am dealing at the level of subjective impressions that have to be unpacked of course but the impression was so powerful. I kept thinking, “How could anyone confuse these two rites or argue that the two are simply two different ways of expressing the same common faith?” Surely not the Novus Ordo bishops who are doing everything in their power to obliterate the traditional rite. So if traditionalists are all nutjobs, and Novus Ordo Catholics are deluding themselves into thinking that the differences between the OF and the EF are purely cosmetic, where is the church exactly?

28 06 2008
Leah

Great post. I go to an FSSP parish, but about 1/3 of the members are SSPX supporters. They form a sub-group in the parish and are often rather troublesome, the most obvious example being of how our last pastor was driven out by a group of these people (who falsely accused him of every kind of wrong doing under the sun). I’ve never understood their unhappiness; there is an SSPX in the next suburb over, so if they’re into that kind of thing why don’t they just go there? It’s gotten to the point where I almost dread going to mass, but I’m such a liturgical snob that I couldn’t go anywhere else, though I might give the Melkite parish a shot.

I’m also aware of how untraditional most traditionalists are. They often say, “We’re just being Catholic the way Catholics have always been Catholic,” but that’s clearly not the case; for example, I doubt that most Catholics 100+ years ago spend a great deal of time analyzing the pope’s choice in footwear, but today there’s a sizable group that cares about such things. Traditionally, “the Church” was your local parish and everything that was associated with it. Today (thanks to the Internet) we can see inside every parish in the world and get suitably outraged about it, but there’s less connection than ever with the fellow Catholics that we come into contact with on a regular basis. I often wonder sometimes if popes like Pius IX and St. Pius X made the kind of well publicized gaffes that John Paul II is criticized for, but sans mass media, nobody knows about them.

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