NCR has just published one of the best articles I’ve read in a long time. Granted, my judgment is coloured by the fact that I completely agree with the reasoning of the author.
Fr. Ron Schmit, pastor of St. Anne Church in Byron, California, explores the deeper meaning and symbolism behind the “extraordinary form” of our liturgy; the pre-Vatican II, 1962 Latin Mass. He believes it goes beyond the fancy trappings of excessive liturgical garb and gestures. The way we celebrate our liturgy, which is the source and summit of our faith, reflects our ecclesiology and theology.
Pope Paul VI believed that a refusal to accept the liturgical changes of Vatican II was a rejection of the authority of the Council itself. Therefore, he refused to concede to Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and his followers who believed in the exclusive validity of the Tridentine rite. He once stated,
Never. This Mass … becomes the symbol of the condemnation of the council. I will not accept, under any circumstances, the condemnation of the council through a symbol. Should this exception to the liturgy of Vatican II have its way, the entire council would be shaken. And, as a consequence, the apostolic authority of the council would be shaken.
Vatican II renewed the focus on the Church as the people of God. Fr. Schmit describes the Tridentine Mass,
They are there to watch the priest say “his” Mass. The emphasis is hierarchical and legalistic (who has the power and how are they lawfully exercising that power). Rather than the risen Christ working through the whole people of God (lay and ordained), we have a powerful clergy ministering to a passive people. Instead of church as sacrament, we have church as a juridical hierarchy.
The attempt to resurrect and popularize the 1962 pre-Vatican II Mass has serious ramifications. Will we be a church that looks narrowly inward — where God is found only in piety and private devotion, or will we be a church as Vatican II defined it — a Spirit-filled people on fire with an urgent sense of mission? We are at a crossroads. The extraordinary form is incapable of activating us as the priestly people of God — the vision of Vatican II. Which path will we follow?
My struggle is with my desire to embrace diversity in our church. If I truly believe this, then there is room for all. We should have the freedom to reflect that diversity in the way we worship. But, whenever I see photos of bishops and priests parading in such grotesquely excessive garb, with servers kneeling all around them, I can’t help but feel both revulsion and sadness. A great sadness.
Fr. Schmit has provided the perfect words to my gut feelings. The Tridentine Mass may be legitimized, but it does not symbolize the church that I yearn for. It reflects all that angers and disappoints me –increased clericalism, a passive laity, exclusivity that flies in the face of our ecumenical efforts and a stress on pious actions, devotions and personal salvation. It is a church that focuses more on what goes on inside its four walls, than a church that is called in mission to go out into the world.
It is shameful when our worship becomes a source of battle within our faith community. I am not proud of adding to the battle by taking a stand. I still believe that if a community, as a whole, desires to worship in Latin with all the bells and whistles, then they have the right to do so. If a diocese offers the option of a Tridentine Mass for those so inclined, fine and good. I would never stand on the church steps with a banner denouncing it.
The Mass in the “extraordinary form” may answer a need for a certain population in our church. I just hope it remains within that population and isn’t imposed on those of us who happily identify ourselves as Vatican II Catholics.