Responding to Pope Benedict’s call to his fellow bishops to “make room for everything that the faith itself allows”, Fr Bede Rowe of St George’s, Warminster, Wiltshire has introduced weekday and Sunday Masses in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite into the life of his parish. He prepared his parishioners as follows:
Now that the Holy Father has legislated for a more liberal use of the Traditional Rite of Holy Mass, I want to explain some issues around it, to clear up misunderstandings and to prepare the way for its faithful celebration in our parish.
Until recently, the Traditional Rite of Mass has been allowed with the permission of the bishop. Each time it was celebrated, there had to be a separate permission, and it could not replace a usual parish Mass. This meant that celebrations happened at odd times and seldom on a Sunday. There were exceptions to this, and somewhere in the diocese there was always a Mass offered on a Sunday. But this was never in the same place each Sunday, and so there was never a link between the worshipping community, the Rite and the geographical place.
The first Indult concessions were given to England and Wales in response to a plea from Cardinal Heenan to the Holy Father on 5 November 1971. Since then, Traditional Rite celebrations have always been at the discretion of the local bishop, and some bishops have allowed the Mass to be said, some have not. In 1989 Pope John Paul II appealed to the bishops of the world to be generous in provision.
This is how you may have come across the Traditional Rite of Mass being celebrated in Clifton diocese. It is of vital importance to realise that in this, as in all things, our actions must be in full conformity with the teaching of the Church. We are not Presbyterians: one congregation cannot decide what it wants to do without the permission of the bishop, and we cannot be at variance with the teachings of the Church. Pope Benedict XVI’s Motu Proprio, that is an instruction by the Pope regarding his explicit wishes, will only ever be used in accordance with the norms published in it.
So let us look at the Traditional Rite of Mass and see how it can help us worship God, who we are called to adore with our whole heart.
The Traditional Rite
As we look at issues around the Rites of Mass used in the Church, it is important that we have some background information.
The ‘Rite’ is the way or manner in which Mass is celebrated. It is not to do with what type of music there is – a ‘folk’ Mass, or ‘high’ Mass. The Rite is the words and actions that are used to worship God, and more specifically, those that are used to change bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ.
We are used to thinking that there is only one Rite in the Catholic Church, but this is not the case. There are the Rites which are proper to the Churches which are in full unity with the Pope, such as the Syro-Malabar Church (whose Rite is celebrated here within our diocese). Within the Western Church, other Rites of Mass have always existed, such as the Mozarabic Rite in Spain, or the Ambrosian Rite in Milan. There used to be a usage associated with England – the Sarum Rite – but this fell into disuse at the time of the so-called Reformation.
Indeed, up to the time of the Reformation there were many more Rites, often connected to a specific country or religious order. When parts of Europe began to revolt against the Church, the Pope consolidated the Rites of the Church, so that all could see that what an individual did was in accordance with the teaching of the Pope, and thus of the Church, and thus of Christ. Any Rite that had not existed in the West for two hundred years was suppressed and one uniform Rite was to be followed.
As this happened at the request of the Council of Trent, which was called to counter the new Protestant theology, this Rite of Mass was called the ‘Tridentine’ Rite. But that does not mean that it was formulated or made up in the sixteenth century. No, the Rite that was enjoined in all places (with the exemptions mentioned above) was used in Rome at least since the fourth century, and some parts were the original Rites used by Our Lord Himself. We use the term ‘Tridentine Rite’ as a shorthand, but the important thing to remember is that this Rite has a history of at least a thousand years in broadly its present form.
Let us now look at the new rite.
The new rite
The new rite of Mass is the one which most of us are familiar with. It is the one which most will have experienced for the last forty years. It was promulgated in 1969 by Pope Paul VI, and the third edition of its missal was published in 2002 by Pope John Paul II.
It is sometimes thought that this is just the Traditional Mass in the vernacular and with the priest facing the people. This however is not the case. The new Mass is just that, new. The whole external form of the Mass was changed, from the prayers that the priest used to say at the foot of the altar (which were suppressed) to the Dismissal. Three new Eucharistic prayers were composed, and the translation of the Roman Canon (Eucharistic prayer I) was altered. New feasts were added and old ones abolished. The language of the people was encouraged for the readings, and provision was made for parts, or indeed all, of the Mass to be celebrated with the priest and the people facing each other.
We must clear up a few misconceptions:
The form of Mass which we have today was not envisaged by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council. They called for a more inclusive, participatory worship, but they neither wrote nor sanctioned the new rite. This was done by liturgical scholars, and was authorised by Pope Paul VI. This, of course, makes the new rite valid, and the normal way in which we worship, but it was not mandated by Vatican II.
The new rite can be celebrated in Latin, with Gregorian Chant and with the priest and people facing ad orientem for the Eucharistic Prayer.
It is vitally important that we do not denigrate one Rite of Mass at the expense of the other. The new rite can point beyond us to the transcendent, if celebrated properly, and the Traditional Rite is not in a ‘dead’ language, excluding the people.
Both make God present on our altars.
Why the Traditional Rite?
After the Motu Proprio, perhaps we should really be asking, “Why not the Traditional Rite?”
It is sometimes argued that the strength of the Church was that no matter where you were in the world, the same Mass was said and all the Catholic faithful knew what was going on and would feel at home. If we accept this, then it would seem to be divisive to have two forms of Mass, which could be celebrated side by side in a parish, and which are so different.
If we look at this a little closer, however, we see that this is not so at all. If you go abroad and attend Mass (which, of course, it is your obligation to do!) then, unless you know the local language well, you may be aware of where you are ‘up to’ in the Mass, but that is about all. You will not feel at home, and most definitely will not be able to ‘participate’ in the Mass – even in the limited sense of understanding the language.
This argument of ‘One Rite for One Church’ cannot be upheld if there is not one language that is common to all. Perhaps it is for this reason that Pope Benedict reminds us that we should all know the people’s parts of the Mass in Latin. We have seen also that there are many Rites in the Catholic Church.
Of course, there may be practical difficulties with two Rites in the same parish, as the calendars of the Rites are different, but in practice any problems are easily solved and, anyway, the Anglican Ecclesial Community has been using two calendars for a number of years, and apart from a lengthy bulletin, there seems to be little confusion!
Why then would we not have the Traditional Rite of Mass celebrated? Some feel very strongly about this, that it should be banned and thrown in the dustbin of history. But it is the Rite which nurtured the Martyrs and millions of the faithful for generations. We are not cleverer or more spiritual than they were. What helped them in their spiritual lives may help us. We must be humble and open to the prompting of God in our lives.
One of the most obvious differences between the Traditional and the new Rite of Holy Mass is the language in which they are celebrated, Latin or the vernacular (the common language of the people). I have already touched on one problem with language, namely that if a language is not your language then it is very alienating. Of course this is not a problem for us when Holy Mass is celebrated in English and we ourselves are English, but it is a very real problem which we face in this country at the moment with the increasing number of Eastern European Catholics who have come here.
The use of the vernacular does of course mean that the Mass, and especially the readings, are immediately accessible to all who hear them. But there are still a number of us who read the readings in our missals as they are being proclaimed. Why? Perhaps it is because the readers are not sufficiently clear (but that is a practical problem which could be easily rectified), but perhaps there is a deeper reason. Perhaps it is to focus more on the readings themselves. Of course the readings should be contemplated before we come to Mass, but that is not always possible. Also, the use of a Missal may help to guard against undue distractions. If we are focused on the page then we are not focused on the man in front with the strange hair style.
The reason for pointing this out is to underline that there is no reason why the readings cannot be understood even if they are proclaimed in a language which is not immediately accessible. It goes without saying that the Latin readings at a Traditional Mass would be made available in translation and be accessible to all. People can choose to ignore English as well as Latin!
Latin, then, can be a universal language. Another reason why Latin is the living language of the Church and of her liturgy is precisely that although it is living, it is dead. A paradox? Well not really. All vernacular translations have to change periodically, because a language which is the current language of millions of people changes constantly. This is why our new rite missal will be revised and the translations which we have grown up with will be different. This can be very unsettling. Latin does not change. It is the constant language that was spoken in Rome when St Peter and St Paul were martyred.
Another obvious difference between the Traditional and new rites is the direction that the priest faces. Here we must be very careful about language. There is that old adage that one man’s freedom fighter being another man's terrorist. If we use certain terms then we will not look at the situation calmly.
I use the terms “facing East”, that is the priest faces the same direction as the people and directs his prayers to the East, (in our church this is where the tabernacle is), and “facing the people”, that is the priest faces the people over a free-standing altar. We must not use terms like “the priest turns his back on the people”, as in English this signifies a rude thing. We would not use it of a chauffeur in a car (“that driver is so rude because he sits with his back to the people he is driving”), and we should not use it of a priest leading the people in prayer.
Why face East? Well, from the earliest times Christians have always prayed to the East as the direction from which Christ will come at the end of time. Most churches were built so that all people could face East and raise up their prayers for the coming of Jesus Christ at the end of time. There was a vogue amongst “trained liturgists” for saying that the ancient churches in Rome were not aligned in this way, and that in them the priest faced the people, but this cannot be proved at all. It may well be that parts of the Mass were offered in this way, but from the Eucharistic Prayer onwards priest and people would have faced East together.
In some of our practices in the new rite, the priest and people face the same way (and indeed there is nothing stopping the priest from facing East from the Eucharistic prayer onwards). At the appropriate moment in the Creed on Christmas Day and the Annunciation, I leave the place from where I preside and kneel in front of the altar, facing East with the people. On Good Friday I prostrate myself before reaching the sanctuary, with the people kneeling in homage to the great acts that Christ will do for us.
In these cases I, the priest, lead the people in the worship of God. A leader is the one who is first over the top, who shows the way we are to go. In the Traditional Rite, this means I stand with you, facing God, and offer your prayers on your behalf. This is what I was ordained to do.
Facing the people?
What, then, do we gain by the priest facing the people? I think that we must look at this in two ways, firstly in relation to the new rite and then to the Traditional. Actually, one will inform the other, as the places where the priest face the people in the Traditional Rite are written down in the rubrics, and are only when he blesses them at the end of Mass, or asks them to pray. It is difficult to be definitive with the new rite on this subject, because quite frankly most priests do something different. Let me simply give you my reflections on my role during the new rite, and the times that I face you.
As a general rule I face you, my people, when I am speaking to you – firstly, in the introductory rites (“In the Name of the Father”, “I Confess”, the Gloria, the Opening Prayer). You see the problem here, however. In some parts of the rites, the Gloria and the prayers, I am not speaking to you, I am praying in your name to God. But I have my back to Him in the tabernacle, and I have my back to the ancient direction of prayer...namely East.
For the Liturgy of the Word, I sit down. When I came to this church, one of the first things I did was to move the chair I sit in. It now faces sideways. It used to face the congregation. I moved it, not so that you would not be distracted by my good looks, but because when I sit, I have no liturgical function. It is not I who am proclaiming the readings, nor the psalm nor the alleluia. Consider them, not me.
I resume my place for the Bidding Prayers and the Creed. The prayers are directed to God, and yet again I face the congregation. The Creed is our common expression of the Faith, we stand united in expressing our belief; well, we don’t because I am facing in the opposite direction to you. At this moment I am not leading you, I am not one with you proclaiming our Faith.
At the altar I stand and offer the great sacrifice of God to God. I ask you to ask yourselves, what does it gain for me to face you? What can you see? I do not look at you – quite frankly what I am doing on the altar is more important than sharing a reassuring smile. All you see is me making the Sign of the Cross, and holding out my hands. The important thing is when I raise the Sacred Host and the Chalice containing the Precious Blood (which you would have been able to see if I had faced East, as the Traditional rubrics direct me to raise the Host and Chalice above my head). The prayers are to God, who is now on the altar, no matter which way I face. He is more important than either you or me.
What about God?
By the end of the Eucharistic Prayer, God is present on the altar (which is why the priest and deacons are forbidden to leave the sanctuary and give you the Sign of Peace). All prayers are directed to Him.
You may have noticed that the only time I look at you is when I am directly addressing you – the invitation to pray the Our Father (which I then say gazing at the Sacred Host); the invitation to offer one another the Sign of Peace. Even when I elevate the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ and proclaim, “This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world...”, I do not look at you, rather I look at the Lamb of God. (In the Traditional Rite, the priest at this point also turns to face the people and does the same thing.) Until the end of Holy Mass, after Communion, the priest sits. Then, facing you, he invites you to stand and pray. The only odd thing is again this prayer which is addressed to God, and yet is not said facing Him.
It may seem strange that I have run through the whole of Mass; after all what does it matter what direction we face when we pray? Well individually not that much, but liturgically it is of vital importance. We are a praying, worshipping people, united with the saints in heaven, part of the courts of God. The way we stand, sit, kneel shows what we believe. Let me give you an example. Who is more likely to show reverence to God on the altar? The girl who is kneeling, or the one in a mini skirt, winking to the boys, lounging at the back of the church? A ridiculous extreme obviously, but we human beings show what we mean by our body language. If I stand over you, with you bowed at my feet, and I declare that we are as important as each other, is there not something wrong with the scene? If a man and his wife are equal (though different), what does it say if she must walk three paces behind him? What does it say if I am leading you in the worship of God but face a different direction so that we cannot even stand shoulder to shoulder in expressing our Faith?
The worship of God is not dependent upon my mood, or my being a fun priest or one who can hold his hands beautifully. No, it is Christ within me who matters. Sometimes in the new rite I fear that if I have an off day, then you have an off day. If I lead the Mass badly, then your experience of God is marred.
One of the saddest results of the imposition of the new rite of Mass was that it polarised two groups within the Catholic Church, and they became focused on the ‘Rite’. As a result, it is very difficult to talk dispassionately about the whole subject. I am sure that some will be incandescent with rage even at the thought of the Traditional Rite of Mass being offered in their parish. I ask you, with charity, to ask yourselves why. Seldom is it to do with the worship of God. We must be honest with ourselves, or otherwise we cannot be honest with anyone.
The new rite of Holy Mass has already been through many changes. In its first years, there was an indecent amount of experimentation which, unfortunately, continues in certain places. I have seen recently on the internet a recording of Holy Mass in America with someone dressed as Satan administering the Precious Blood. Thankfully Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have reminded us priests that the Mass is not ours to do with as we wish, but must be celebrated according to the teaching of the Church.
We have seen a refinement of the new rite, an addition of texts and new translations. This new rite is still very young; who knows how it will develop? The Church thinks in centuries not decades. We must be faithful to it as it is now, and celebrate it well. Perhaps these new developments in both new and Traditional Rites are still part of an experimental phase and at some point in the future the two Rites will merge. Who knows?
All I believe is that we are stupid if we cut ourselves off from our roots. We cannot appreciate the good things in the new rite if we do not love the Traditional. We cannot understand the signs and symbols of our Faith if they are cut off from their liturgical roots. Why is the Corporal called the Corporal and why is it folded in a certain way? This only has meaning derived from the Traditional Rite. I well remember as I was learning to say Mass at seminary – the movements around the altar, the way the hands are held, the Sacred Species are touched, genuflections made – all of these actions came to life and had fuller meaning when I learnt to say the Traditional Rite. The one informs the other.
How silly we would be if we ignored our grandparents and did not learn from them. Let us learn from their faith and from their Rite. There is a wealth of treasures waiting for us, let us reach out and take them.