En litt nølende støtte til den tradisjonelle latinske messen
I tidsskriftet jeg leser aller grundigst (og som jeg har lest hvert nummer av siden våren 1981), First Things, skriver redaktør R.R. Reno i siste nummer (Desember 2019) i sin faste spalte The Public Square (et stykke ned på siden) om sitt møte med den tradisjonelle latinske messen, som han begynte å gå til sommeren 2018. Her er en hel del av hans tanker om dette:
Et Cum Spiritu Tuo
I don’t know more than a few Latin words and phrases. A former Episcopalian, I take for granted the liturgy in the vernacular. I’ve never been punctilious about ritual. I can’t tell you the difference between the “Introit” and the “Gradual.” … … In spite of all that, I’ve been attending a Latin Mass in Manhattan for more than a year.
My initial reasons for switching to the Tridentine rite had to do with the revelations about Theodore McCarrick in the summer of 2018. I was angry, exasperated by the feckless leadership of bishops and their tolerance of moral corruption in their own ranks. But anger, however righteous and fitting in the moment, can turn into bitterness, even despair, corroding faith and undermining the spiritual life. So I knew I had to find an affirmative way to express my disgust with the status quo in the Catholic Church.
Under these circumstances, I turned to the Latin Mass. In church parlance, it is called the Extraordinary Form, as opposed to the order of the Mass established after Vatican II by Paul VI, which is called the Ordinary Form. These terms are exactly right. The Ordinary Form is the almost universal mode of worship for American Catholics, while the Extraordinary Form marks the exception. Thus, my decision to make the Tridentine rite my regular Sunday Mass was a vote of no confidence in the status quo, but not one that pushed the Church away. Going to the Extraordinary Form was a way of drawing nearer, entering into the great storehouse of the Catholic tradition.
There are Mass booklets for the Extraordinary Form that allow you to follow along with a facing-page translation. Even with this aid, it takes time to get oriented. ….
From the outset I was romanced by the long silences. The Tridentine rite emphasizes the priest as mediator. He faces the altar, not the congregation, and he speaks many parts of the Mass in a whisper. His words are directed, on our behalf, toward God, not toward us. This dynamic of prayer (a dialogue between priest as representative and God) affects the worshiper in subtle ways. It encourages each individual member of the congregation to enter into his own silent conversation with the divine. This is especially true during the consecration of the elements.
Many priests are suspicious of the Latin Mass. Some are hostile. These responses are understandable. Going to the Latin Mass requires me to decide against attending the Ordinary Form, which is of course widely available throughout New York. And because the priestly vocation comes into its most intense focus in the sacrifice of the Mass, this decision can easily be seen casting doubt on the education and formation of priests over the last fifty years.
But my experiences with the Extraordinary Form have been otherwise. The more familiar I have become with the old rite, the more I see and feel the profound continuities with the new one. The elements of the Mass are the same in both. Furthermore, my experience with the Tridentine Mass allows me to appreciate the intentions of the liturgical reformers of the twentieth century. The old rite is colder and less immediately communal. It presumes a well-catechized congregation. By contrast, the use of the vernacular, the more fulsome lectionary, and the clear articulation by the priest of all the elements of the liturgy make the Ordinary Form more effective as a means for inculcating into the faithful the basic teachings of the Church about the nature of God and the role of Christ as the sacrament of our salvation. And not just the faithful. The Extraordinary Form has an other-worldly allure that might attract unbelievers, but both the Latin language and the ritual remoteness of the rite make it difficult to hear the gospel message. By contrast, the Ordinary Form makes the gospel audible.
At the same time, by attending the Extraordinary Form on a regular basis I have learned more about what has been lost. In the Latin Mass, the priest risks tending toward the caricature of remote hierophant engaged in mysterious rites at a distant altar. In the Ordinary Form, he risks tending toward the caricature of mediocre TV host chatting with his daytime audience of distracted housewives. If forced to choose between the two perversions, I vastly prefer the former.
Benedict XVI observed that the Extraordinary and Ordinary Forms are two usages of the self-same Roman rite. This does not mean that they do not have distinct charisms, as it were. The Ordinary Form is well suited for evangelization and catechism. My own entry into the Catholic Church was greatly eased by the accessibility of the Mass in the vernacular. Its more horizontal orientation encourages a sense of Christian community, as the liturgical reformers intended. The reduced emphasis on ritual precision shifts attention to the central gospel truths announced in the readings and reiterated in a liturgy readily heard in the language of the people. All these elements enrich the Catholic Church.
The charism of the Extraordinary Form is needed as well. At a time when all the institutions of the West, including the Church, are wobbling, the antiquity of the Tridentine Mass anchors corporate worship deep in the Church’s past. The remoteness of Latin, a “dead” language, builds a spiritual wall around the Church that helps protect her from capture by the whims and fashions of the contemporary world. The vestments, incense, and ritual create another world, in which it becomes easy to see oneself entering into the precincts of the divine, a prospect at once daunting and joyful. Centuries of use have tuned the Latin Mass to a near perfect pitch. In its more elaborate forms, the orchestrated layers of music, movement, and prayer interweave into a liturgical Gesamtkunstwerk, which is why, although the Mass I now attend is thirty minutes longer than the Ordinary Form liturgy, it seems shorter.
I have not become an ardent proponent of the Extraordinary Form. It has limitations, which is why it was reformed in the last century. But I have come to think the Latin Mass can make a contribution to the Church’s renewal. In the twentieth century, influential theologians called for ressourcement, a return to the sources of our Christian faith. We need always to soak ourselves in the living water of the tradition. The Tridentine rite offers an opportunity for ressourcement. This is not an opportunity to be shunned, because Ordinary Form, too, has it limitations, as most of us know only too well. Those limitations are to be expected. We are only at the first stage of what will be an ongoing refinement and perfection of the Mass in the vernacular. And this process, so needed in order to realize the full promise of what was begun at Vatican II, can be enhanced by the example and inspiration of the Extraordinary Form.