Thursday, September 1, 2022

Pope Francis 'We cannot go backwards...'

Sunday Mass at St. Dominic parish in the Bronx

 Liturgy is the most important prayer of the Church.  Christ is present in the Liturgy both in the person of the priest and in the Sacramental sense. Since the onset of Traditionis Custodes, the Liturgy has come up a lot among Catholic circles. Some see the motu propio as an assault against so-called "Traditionalists" and the Extraordinary Form of the Latin Rite, while others applaud it as the Vatican's attempt to bring unity and restore a sound understanding of the Liturgy.  Today, Pope Francis made some interesting comments.  He said that the liturgy must be nurtured with care and never be neglected or abused.  He added, "The liturgy is Christ's work and the Church's, and as such, it is a living body."  Furthermore, he stated that the liturgy "is not a monument made of marble or bronze, it's not a museum piece. The liturgy is alive like a plant, and it must be nurtured with care" and never be "neglected or mistreated."  Moreover, he criticized those who want the Extraordinary Form to return by calling it "going backward" and stated that there is a "worldly spirit" behind this that is "disguised as tradition."

What does he mean by this? Well, let us begin with the issue.  After Vatican II, St. Paul VI introduced the Ordinary Form of the Mass which we use today. The rite is much simpler than the Extraordinary Form but is the same Mass (see: In other words, there are not two different Masses with the Extraordinary Form and Ordinary Form. They are both the same Mass using different formulas.  However, some did not accept this introduction and rebelled claiming modernism entered the Church and a "New World Order" sect took over. This eventually led to the pejorative term "Novus Ordo" which is erroneously applied to the Ordinary Form of the Mass in an attempt to diminish its validity as a mere innovation. The Extraordinary Form was then embellished with the terms "True Mass," "Mass of all Ages," "Traditional Mass," and "Traditional Latin Mass."  These terms attempt to pit the Ordinary and Extraordinary forms against each other. Neither of the aforementioned is used in the Catholic Church, Liturgical documents, or even by liturgists. Any educated Catholic knows that there is no "traditional" point of the rites of the Mass. It has been developing for years. In fact, the rite from 500 AD is not the same as the one from Trent and the one from Trent is not the same as the one from 1962. The true traditional Mass was the one at the Last Supper which was in Aramaic, not Greek or Latin.  By the way, Greek is an older liturgical language which defeats the claim that Latin is some special language in which the Mass must be said so as for it to be valid and sacred. Latin has no more power than English, Spanish, or any other vernacular.  Nevertheless, some insist that Latin must be used and that the Extraordinary Form of the Mass is the "Traditional Mass" despite historical and liturgical documentation showing otherwise.  

The Ordinary Form is not some innovation. It is the rite closer to the one used in the Early Church if we read the Apologia by St. Justin Martyr which shows one of the earliest accounts of the Mass outside of the New Testament. There is some that claim that modernists were responsible for the changes. This is not so. We must remember that the bishops who participated in Vatican II were all trained to say the Mass in the Extraordinary Form. This is all they knew.  It would be hard-pressed to believe that these bishops woke one morning with the idea to innovate the Mass.  These men were all silk, ermine, biretta-wearing clerics who spoke Latin.  There was no agenda to change anything or make the Church Protestant. On this point, some claim that Protestant observers invited to Vatican II had input on the "Novus Ordo Mass." This is also a falsehood. These Protestant ministers were simply observers. The Council of Trent even had Protestant observers (see: session 13, chapter 8  Library : Vatican II & Ecumenism: What did the Council Really Say? | Catholic Culture). There are also absurd claims that Eucharistic prayers were written on a napkin during a dinner between clerics. All of this is just nonsense worthy of Alex Jones and his Infowars program.  Some Catholics just are lazy and do not want to research the facts. They are quick to adopt conspiracies because they are easy to process and no study is needed to vet them. 

These ideas harm the Church and the Liturgy and is why Pope Francis calls it "backwardism" which he described in these words: "is a temptation in the life of the church that leads you to worldly restorationism, disguised as liturgy and theology."  The pope condemns the impulse to go backward by stating that this is worldly, or an idea based on worldly attraction.  In other words, the Liturgy is being turned into a show or thing that we must enjoy or must serve our palates instead of the prayer that brings us to look up to Christ as the people of God.  He stated, "We need more than ever today an exalted vision of the liturgy so that it is not reduced to rambling about rubrical detail or liturgical rules." He is correct. Those who solely want the Extraordinary Form and condemn everything else have turned the rite into mere rambling and focus on externals. The rite then fails to inspire conversion and spiritual growth. It because a sort of sports theater with Yankee fans fighting Red Sox fans on who truly represents baseball.  The soul of the game is lost and becomes trivial. 

Similarly, the liturgy loses its sacredness and becomes someone's personal taste. Pope Francis stated, "The liturgy is not a worldly festivity, nor should it feel gloomy or funeral. It is filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit, and it celebrates the beauty and grandeur of the mystery of God, who gives himself to us."  This is important.  One of the good points those who want the return of the Extraordinary Form to return make is that the Ordinary Form is often transformed into a performance. Recently, actor Shia LaBeouf who is playing St. Padre Pio in an upcoming film stated in an interview with Bishop Barron that in the Extraordinary Form he does not feel like he is being sold a car. It is unclear what he meant by this, but he must be alluding to the attempts by some pastors into turning the Ordinary Form into a form of entertainment or human experience. No one can deny that the introduction of the Ordinary Form did not go smoothly. There is in fact a loss of the sacred in many parishes. The Ordinary Form is often disrupted with signs of peace, collections, announcements, applause, and so on.  Music is often used in the Ordinary Form which takes away from the sacred and makes it mundane. This is not to say that the music is wrong, but how it is implemented often takes on an entertainment atmosphere.  

There is a way to celebrate the Ordinary Form with dignity and sacredness, but unfortunately, not many priests know how to do this and the people have been accustomed to the pauses and disruptions. One such disruption is the sign of peace which gives no time for the Lamb of God. It is often seen that as the priest is breaking the host by saying "Lamb of God.." the people are still shaking hands, hugging each other with some even running around the aisles attempting to say hello to everyone. These things are a disaster for the Mass and Eucharist.  It is no wonder why over 70% of Catholics do not believe in the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Would we be running around or shaking hands while Queen Elizabeth or the US President is before us?  Probably not, so why should we be doing this before the King of kings and Lord of lords in the Holy Eucharist?  This is why the pope is correct in stating that the Mass is not a worldly festival nor should it be gloomy or have a feel as if it were a funeral. We can see this a lot in the Extraordinary Form where the rite can often be too serious, too gloomy, and disconnected from the people.  We see the priest alone or with a server at the altar while the people sit watching as if it were a show. The priest is nearly always with a resting face like Spock of Star Trek or a Vulcan from the series. It becomes robotic.  We must assume that when Jesus had the Last Supper and said, "take and eat... take and drink.." He must have had some facial expression showing humanity and warmth inviting them to "take and eat.. take and drink."  

There must be a healthy balance of seriousness and humanity in the Liturgy. As Pope Francis said, "The liturgy must make people raise their eyes to heaven, to feel that the mystery of Christ dwells in the world and life and, at the same time, it must be a liturgy for the good of humanity, with its feet on the ground and not removed from people's lives. The liturgy should be serious (and) close to the people."  We as Catholics must work hard to bring the Liturgy to this level and the bishops must enforce it.  If not, then all is lost. The Liturgy becomes nothing more than our personal taste that sustains our palate. 

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