Page 8, 5th February 1999

5th February 1999
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Page 8, 5th February 1999 — But what is a traditionalist?
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But what is a traditionalist?

Personal View

Gerard Noel

WE ARE just corning up to 30 years since the inauguration of Mass in its present form. Its actual promulgation was made by Pope Paul VI on April 3, 1969. It is thus timely to look back on its progress.

Initial reactions in some quarters tended to illustrate the remark of Ronnie Knox which I quoted last month, namely that "there is nothing more untraditional than a 'traditionalise." I well remember him saying this to me as I was driving him to King's Cross station nearly 50 years ago after a wedding that he had been celebrating. It had been accompanied by a "Dialogue Mass", then quite a startling innovation with the congregation being encouraged to join in the responses to the celebrant's prayers.

It was in commenting on the objections some had found to this practice that Ronnie made his distinction between those who understood genuine Catholic tradition and those who styled themselves "traditionalists" when some of the traditions they favoured were of comparatively recent development. He went on to point out that the oldest written accounts of the earlier Eucharist, as offered in the second century, describe what is essentially a dialogue between the "president" — as the celebrant was then called — and the rest of those celebrating with him.

Some modem commentators have described the second century Eucharist as a "concelebration" between president and people, there being, at that time, no distinction between priests and laity as later understood. This description however, is perilously open to misunderstanding.

It is an example, in fact, of the same sort of exaggeration as that criticised by Archbishop AffigISHIetUgnini, chief architect of the modem liturgical revisions, in his massive work The Reform of the Liturgy, 1948-1975.

He points out, on the other hand, that the Mass as officially promulgated in 1969 was conceived as a return, though in modern form, to the Eucharist of the earliest centuries. In no sense was it an act of innovation or iconoclasm. Still less did it contain, as alleged by some, "heretical" elements. The exchanging of a sign of peace, for example, far from being a novelty, is the oldest liturgical symbolic practice in Christian history. It was the first gesture changed by those second century Christians, as described by Justin Martyr, on coming together for a celebration of what they referred to as the Lord's Supper or the Breaking of Bread.

The second Eucharistic Prayer of the Modem Mass, moreover, is exactly modelled, on that of this earliest recorded Eucharist. The "Roman Canon", as we came to call it, was of a very much later development.

Furthermore the language of the liturgy of that period was, by a tradition already established, that which was generally understood of the people, namely Greek. When Latin, as the lingua franca of the West, began giving way to modern tongues, it was declared the intention of the church to adapt the liturgy to this change. But such intention were shelved for good with the coming of the Reformation: a vernacular liturgy was now considered an unacceptable symbol of Protestantism.

To trace the progress of the Eucharist after the second century recourse must be had to another monumental source work, namely The Mass of the Roman Rite, by Joseph Jungman, SJ. He shows how the changes gradually introduced from the eighth century onwards were given impetus by the revolutionary findings of the scholastic philosophers, inspired by St Thomas Aquinas, particularly as to the unfolding of the doctrine of transubstantiation.

When the medieval Mass that then evolved came under attack from the Reformers, there was a robust reaction from Rome. The resulting ("Tridentine") Mass — often referrred to today as "the old Mass" — thus became normative for the next four centuries.

But the Mass of1969 was in no sense a "new Mass", resembling closely, as it did, the Eucharist of the sub-apostolic age. Unfortunately, however, the reformed Mass • of Pope Paul VI also introduced elements which, though steeped in antiquity, resembled certain features which had, much earlier, been reintroduced into Christian liturgy by the Reformers.

Thus, much of the dislike of the so-called "new Mass" stemmed from the fact that "traditionalists" viewed it as somehow being a compromise with Protestantism. It is an irony of the kind that Ronnie Knox greatly relished.




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