Twenty-five years ago this week, Vatican II ushered in the New Rite. To this day, there are some among the faithful who yearn for the old, Tridentine Mass. Here below two priests, Fr Kit Cunningham and Fr Alan Cheales OP (below, right) share with readers their reasons for holding opposing theological positions on an issue that refuses to go away.
THE FIRST THING that needs to be said in any discussion on what is commonly referred to as the Tridentine Mass, or the Mass in the old rite, is that it was an administrative and not a pastoral decision which indicated that on the first Sunday of Advent the new rite was in order, and the old was abrogated.
True, experimentation took place in the years prior to the changeover, and if memory serves me correctly, even prior to Vatican II, there was a dialogue Mass. So it can be said that the late 50s and the 60s saw a period of change, and of all the changes that came from Vatican H, none were more striking for ordinary people than the liturgical ones. This was bound to be so, given that the liturgy is the physical expression of our beliefs. Here was the area in which ordinary people, with the evidence before their eyes and ears, could make a judgement. And many did not like what they saw or heard.
The change was too abrupt, and the effort to get it established left the impression that it was being forced on people. They were even told whether they were good or bad Catholics by their reaction.
The argument for the new rite lay, it seemed, in the disparagement of the old. There was a certain intoxication with the use of the native tongue. All would be light after the darkness of Latin. Great emphasis had of course been placed on the use of the vernacular in the Proper Instruction of the People. It was felt there would be greater understanding and devotion.
Unfortunately, there were too many assumptions in this, among which were those which patently did away with the Grace of God. There was a shift of emphasis in the theology of the Mass, from what had been the traditional understanding of the "sacrifice" of the Mass. In the effort to encourage a new sense of "Church" the community there was a change in the concept of the Mass. Many felt that the new rite was not the old rite in new clothing, but something very different.
And certainly, looking at the Requiem Mass of the old rite and that of the new rite, one sees that they are poles apart theologically. The old rite tended to speak of the theme, "God be merciful to a sinner", and pardon for sin, while the new tends to celebrate the life of the deceased, with little mention of the Judgement.
This did reflect a change in theological insights and concepts. But if you read the Vatican documents, you will be surprised at their moderation and their fidelity to the Deposit of Faith.
So something went wrong. What did go wrong? People point a finger at the implementation of Vatican 11, and the liturgy is of course the most visible sign.
The protagonists of the old rite would defend Latin as a mark of the universality of the Church. They would see talk of "tables" rather than "altars" as minimising the sacrificial nature of the Mass, that Christ did die for the sins of mankind and the redemption of all. They would see the priest facing the people as the destruction of the ancient concept of the priest facing East, of the priest leading his people in the celebration of Mass, and the preservation of that air of mystery which the old Mass carried.
Its opponents maintain that the new rite has made the Mass a too human celebration, with its emphasis on community, and do not see this as God's community, the mystical body of Christ. Adherents to the old rite see a lack of discipline, and reject the so-called spontaneity of the new rite. They hold that the rubrics of the Mass are there to protect its solemnity , and see evidence of much abuse when priests "ad lib" what should be the sacred words of the Mass.
In all this, there seems to be one thing that did lead to an appreciation of the old rite, and that was the use of Missals, which had both the Latin and English side by side. So it could not be said that the prayers said by the priest were totally unintelligible. People could pray the Mass with their Missals, and did. There was a unity in the Church on such occasions: like people with like minds doing like things. This had been the Church for hundreds of years, and suddenly all of it seemed wrong. How come?
The mistake made was in the implementation. It was too quick, too all-embracing with the speed of communication.
Change needs to be gradual; to be informed and informing, and the pressure brought to bear on people to be loyal Catholics was railroading the whole affair. As our forebears at the time of the Reformation, in different parts of the country, rose up with the cry, "we want our Mass back", and were prepared to die for their Mass, it would be wise for the fathers of the church, since the clock cannot be put back, to allow the old rite to co-exist with the new.
And in this country, thankfully this is being done.
WHFN I WAS RECEIVED into the Roman Catholic Church in the early '40s, what a relief it was after the turmoil of being a Cambridge student torn between the rival claims of the Church of England led by Archbishop Temple, of the Fascism of Mussolini, the National Socialism of Hitler and the simplistic solution of Communism, "From each one according to his ability, to each one according to his need."
What a joy it was no longer to be among divided Christians (as the pioneer-ecumenist Abbe Couterier curiously seemed to wish to be), but to belong to the One Church, for which Jesus Himself prayed "that they may be One"!
Yet almost at once I was introduced to the deep divergences within the One Church. Kneeling quietly at the back of the church, I was pleased to answer the priest's "Dominus vobiscum" ("The Lord be with you") with the server's "Et cum spiritu tuo" ("And also with you") until I was rebuked gently by a Dominican: "It is not customary for the laity to answer at Mass!" Naturally, I accepted the rebuke, but thought to myself: "The mills of God grind slowly but they grind exceeding small."
Surely, I thought, in about 200 years' time we will all understand what the plural "Dominus vobiscum" really means?
Then, to my delighted surprise, at the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity in 1959 good Pope John called the Second Vatican Council, not for any doctrinal reason but to make the Church, Christ's Body, more relevant to the modern world. I have been on the crest of a wave ever since!
Over 2,000 Roman Catholic bishops, under the chairmanship of the Pope, the Vicar of Christ and the Successor of Peter, and led by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, published in the 1960s the 17 most important Church documents in this
century. In the meanwhile I had become a Dominican myself, and I was overwhelmed by the joyful simplicity and succinct beauty of the Dominican rite, with its links to that of Sarum. Remember how St Dominic would move from one side of the choir to the other exhorting the brothers (or the sisters at Prouille) "Fortiter fortiter" "Louder and more joyfully, please."
The big question is: Why did we jettison so much? For, indeed, it has cost many traditional Catholics much heartache. The quick answer is: Because we are both the Catholic and also the Apostolic Church.
When I came to the Dominican priory at Haverstock Hill as Vicarius Cooperator in 1963, we were trying, in line with liturgical study, to involve the laity actively in the Mass especially by encouraging them to answer or sing the Latin response. But to little avail it was impossible. Whatever the understanding of Latin
might have been in former times, it was now irrelevant in London NW5.
However, as the 21st century approaches, the Anglican, the Lutheran, the Pentecostal and other Protestant groups are gathering together, drawing on each others' musical traditions for example, Luther's and Wesley's hymns, and Anglican psalmody. And we too.
Thus, building on the great Gregorian and Byzantine traditions, surely there is coming about in the language of the people a new overflowing of the liturgy. How wonderful it is to see the priesthood of the laity in action, with women, children and men getting involved and, above all, understanding better the great mysteries, the sacraments. What an exciting time this is! Fired by the Holy Spirit, with enthusiasm and patient hard work may we evolve the new-old liturgy, "the work of the people", to the greater glory of God.
Deo Gratias! Thanks be to God.