IN the present atmosphere of welcome for a greater variety in Catholic worship, it may be worthwhile to put the case in a single article for two extremes. as well as for a middle course.
By a 'middle course' I refer to the present translated Mass of the Roman Rite. By the extremes I refer to: 1. The Latin Roman Mass. 2. A Mass which, retaining the structure of one or another of the liturgies which the Western and Eastern Churches in Cornmunion with Rome have, is not tied to precise texts. In such a Mass the celebrant would be free to use his own words.
The only line to be drawn round such a Mass would be that it must not contradict Christian doctrine. and that it must follow the New Testament accounts of the Eucharist. The central act must be one of 'thanksgiving,' taking of bread and wine,' referring to them as 'given' or 'shed' for men, 'eating' and 'drinking.' It must be a meal, sacrificial and sacramental.
A middle of the road compromise sometimes misses the best of two very good worlds. There is a case for saying that both the Latin Roman Rite, celebrated as a High Roman Mass, and a free Mass are very good worlds. The present cornpromise loses much in beauty of language. and in practice also a great deal in gesture and music; in general aesthetic 2 appeal.
But it gains immensely in community appeal. In most parish churches this is immediately obvious. But this community appeal is greatly restricted by the cultural and canonical bounds which are still there. While losing too much, we are also perhaps not gaining enough. Probably. this compromise may be the best for most congregations most of the time.
Greater impact of free rite
But there are also certainly many occasions when either the old rite, or a much freer rite, would enable one or another aspect of our religion to come through with greater impact. So it may be worth while to look into this a little further.
Historians, theologians, linguists and artists who have assisted at the Roman rite for many years are naturally able to find in it an unsurpassable expression of Catholic worship. There are numerous anomalies in it, but if one knows about them, one has come to allow for them. The absurdity at one level of 'the sacred mutter' of the Roman Low Mass; the almost paganism at another level of the full glory of the Pontifical Roman High Mass; are in no way 'a bar to, they may even enhance, one's worship.
For they recall this or that historical event which is in its own human way part of that history of salvation which is always to be treasured, and from which those who can will draw inspiration (I am one).
But language is for people. it expresses someone's purpose or character! It communicates something from one to another. For many the Latin language is useless. For many, much of the Roman Mass, instead of taking them into a numinous world, instead of sounding like poetry, conveying in short lapidary phrases whole worlds of belief, is simply alien.
The language itself they do not understand; and they find it difficult to rely on a generalised spirituality or, as in the old days, to say the rosary. And much of this applies still to the translated Mass, in spite of the mostly successful attempt to abandon archaic language.
Far cry from simple world
A small part of the difficulty is inherent in the fact that God chose the Jews. Revelation came at a time and a place. We have to allow the simple Hebrew approach to speak to us. But this is not too difficult. The trouble comes when this particular cultural form has passed through the Greek. Roman and Northern European cultures, and the attentions of
nearly a millennium of Curial Latinists. What we then have is many worlds away from that simple world of the Sermon on the Mount, the upper room, Golgotha, the empty tomb, the road to Emmaus, and St. Peter's first sermons, which all speak to the simplest of men.
The relative success of the translated Roman Mass in bringing people to participate in an act of worship is encouraging. One can bring another human being to it and not feel that it is simply impossible to explain what is supposed to be happening. But it is still very difficult to explain. The language and form is culturally alien to a great many people today in every continent. If there is still everything to be done in this direction in India, there is surely increasingly something to be done in Europe. We need worship less stylised and archaic.
No conclusive reason seems to exist why the Mass must be celebrated throughout to a precise text, complete in every detail. Catholics are widely agreed on the nature of this central sacrament of our faith. They discuss the weight of this emphasis or that. But for all of us. it must he accepted as a memorial, a meal, a sacrifice, a sacrament. We have the New Testament accounts, and we have many traditional orthodox liturgies. These, together with the corpus of Christian doctrine, could be taken as sufficient guide lines.
I will describe a Mass I recently attended which may give some idea of how a freer kind of Mass. with its particular community appeal may sometimes be more appropriate.
It was a 'family' mass. The church was full of parents and children, perhaps a hundred souls, grouped in a thinnish parabola round the altar. There was a low buzz of chatter such as can be heard in a Jewish synagogue, rather a pleasant warm feeling, an expression itself of a community. But it was not such as to make it impossible for one to kneel down and pray if one wished to, as a preparation.
After a while the priest came in, put the chalice on the altar which was against the wall and came down and stopped us talking by saying: 'Well, I think it's time we began the Mass.' The confiteor was replaced by a minute's description of the heart of the day's gospel. We were asked to examine our consciences, practically, on how we had failed to live up to the ideal set by this particular gospel, during the past week. We went straight on to 'Lord have mercy on us' which was appropriate. This and the Gloria were sung to very simple tunes.
There were three readings/ one by a woman. The 'homily' was a homily, though it could easily have become a discussion given the atmosphere of the Mass. The altar was then brought forward. and the members of a single family brought up the bread and wine and water and towel.
Communion was informal. We came up to the two priests who remained still. Those who preferred took the consecrated hosts in their own hand to put into their mouth. lhose who preferred to open their mouths in the traditional way did so.
Spontaneity or set formula
At this Mass the priest kept to the Roman Canon. But it would have seemed more appropriate to have a Canon adapted for the occasion. For the list of saints of the primitive church one would have liked to have saints. canonised or not, with whom the congregation might have been familiar.
The great point to realise is that we live in history. The supposedly 'unchanging' Roman rite was in fact composed by ordinary men, growing in response to this or that religious, cultural or social fact, and it has never been 'unchanging.' Many people prefer to have firmly set ways for doing things; their reasons may he good or not so good.
And sometimes In large gatherings of people for worship a detailed set formula may be needed. But the spontaneity, for instance, in a service such as Negro Evan gelicals hold is worth pondering.
Age of headlong change
A notable instance of such a service occurred in the funeral service of Martin Luther King. Given an accepted structure, there are occasions when a 'free' Mass may enable another kind of art form, as noble and in its way numinous, as the traditional rites of the West and the East, to emerge.
It is not a question of either/ or, but of both/and — and of the compromise as well which tries to have the best of both worlds. We do not want to lose the glory of the ancient liturgies, for instance, that of St. John Chrysostom (1 attended this liturgy, threequartcrs in Italian and quarter in Greek, in Rome not long ago). But in this age of headlong change we must make it possible for the developments in worship which are natural to it, to occur.
The Eucharist seems a formidable word, no doubt, to some. But the same word is still the commonest word in present Greek language, pronounced 'effearisto' — thank you! Jesus announced his New Covenant, with a sacramental meal of bread and wine, which he identified with the sacrifice of Himself. He did it while giving thanks in the traditional Jewish way. Before the end of time there can be as many ways as there are human societies of doing this again in memory of Him.