Saturday, June 23, 2007

The "Old" Mass

In the blogs that I read regularly there is a great deal of discussion about so called "liturgical abuses" and about a declaration supposedly coming from the Pope (a motu proprio) that will permit celebration of the Mass as celebrated before Vatican II without expressed permission from the local bishop. This "restoration" of the older form of the Mass is of, I suspect, little interest for the vast majority of Catholics. It is apparently intensely interesting to about three smaller groups of Catholics.

The first of these groups are those who basically oppose the authority of the Popes who came after Pius XII. The most outstanding example of this group is the Society of Saint Pius X. This group was founded by Archbishop Lefebvre in Europe some years ago in defiance of Pope John Paul. What Lefebvre did was to ordain more Bishops without the consent of Rome. We have representatives of this group here in Alberta. Its main "raison d'etre" seems to be the preservation of the "old Mass" but in reality there seems to be a broader disagreement in ecclesiology. The leaders of SSPX claim to be loyal Catholics but do not wish to accept many of the initiatives of Vatican II. Some writers have suggested that Pope Benedict's interest in a motu proprio is primarily to bring the SSPX back into union with the Church. In addition to SSPX there are a number of smaller groups who cling to the "old Mass" and reject the authority of the Church. On the internet you can find groups who insist that Pope John XXIII excommunicated himself when he initiated Vatican II and that subsequent Popes included Benedict were improperly elected and that consequently there currently is no valid Pope. Google "Pius XIII" and you will find the site of an elderly priest who now claims to have been elected legitimate Pope as the successor to Pius XII. The anticipated motu proprio might have some appeal to this group, particularly the SSPX, but many of their writings suggest that their problems are with current ecclesiology as much as with liturgy.

A second group of people interested in this anticipated motu proprio, I would suggest, are simply deeply conservative people who were taken aback by the sudden change that seemed to take place in the Church (especially in the liturgy) during the 1970's. These are simply people who feel that "old ways are best" and who long for "the good old days" of Catholicism which were before Vatican II. I have to say that I can recall the days before Vatican II and I remember our Pastor telling us that only protestant churches changed and the Catholic church would never change. I have read the expressed opinion that the current malaise in the Church is the result of changes in the liturgy instituted following Vatican II. These people, while well intentioned seem to forget that there were many changes in the broader society that brought about the current state of affairs in the Church since Vatican II.

A final group of people interested in the motu proprio I would suggest are people who are interesting in a reformation of the liturgy. These are people who feel that there is an over emphasis on the Eucharist as the meal of the assembly in current liturgy. These people would like to see a greater emphasis on the sacred nature of the Mass. They see the "old Mass" as a vehicle to restore a balance which they feel has been lost in contemporary liturgy.

People who supposedly know these things write that the motu proprio in question has been written and signed and that its promulgation is imminent. I only hope that whatever is said the changes that might come will result in better liturgies and greater unity in the Church.

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