|The New Liturgical Movement and|
the New Old New Mass
Not all of the Katholique Krazies (I know, the spelling keeps evolving—English is, after all, a living language unlike Old Church Slavonic or its Western equivalent) are careless in their appropriation of catholicitatis antiquae. One of the better sites—an often serious academic investigation of liturgical history though directed towards a bat****crazy agenda—is “New Liturgical Movement.” An intriguing assortment of scholars, professional and amateur, covering a wide range of topics from the Ambrosian Rite to Sacred Architecture regularly post meticulously researched articles aimed at stemming the tide of the Novus Ordo and restoring credibility to the usus antiquior. I regularly read their postings—not because I agree with their agenda of Instaurare Omnia in Vanitate, but because, well because they are worth reading from a historical point of view. The interpretation of historical data can be skewed towards their particular agenda, but the data itself is fascinating. But I was a bit taken aback by a recent posting that implied that the “Ordinary Form” of the Liturgy is somehow in need of a strong infusion of spirituality as was found in the golden days of yore when the 1570 Rite was the ordinary rite and before we surrendered to all this vulgar tongue and even more vulgar guitars and more vulgar yet, women on the altar, and all the other abominations brought about by that detestable crypto-Freemason, Annibale Bugnini. (By the way, I notice that New Liturgical Movement not only keeps women off the sanctuary but off their editorial board. Hmmm, that’s the problem you know: first the editorial board and then altar girls and who knows where it ends up. The Church of England began its steady decline into post-modern Witchery when they started to let women serve on vestries.)
In any event, I can’t quite figure out what the folks over at New Liturgical Movement mean by “spirituality” in this context. I used to teach courses in spirituality back in the day. Admittedly it was the classic Catholic approach—monastic spirituality, John of the Cross, the devotio moderna, 17th century French Spirituality—you know, the usual diet. I think what they are speaking about is not spirituality proper, but piety. There is a difference, one that unfortunately is not often covered in seminary classes leaving many priests to confuse the two. Now, piety is not a bad thing; to the contrary. But it is not spirituality.
I always over-simplified it to my students until they could get a sense of it for themselves from reading the texts, as: Spirituality marks the relationship of God with the person in which God takes the initiative and invites the person into relationship and sustains the person in that relationship by God’s grace. Piety, which comes from the Latin pietas, meaning our duty towards our deities, our parents, our mentors and others who have guided us through our formative years or who otherwise have a claim over us, piety marks the relationship of the person to God in which the person, inspired by grace, takes the initiative and seeks a deeper relationship to God. Though I never used this image in class, it is somewhat like who does the leading when we dance. Now piety is often the foundation on which God builds the relationship we call spirituality, though piety can easily become short-circuited and engender religious feelings without the genuine sort of conversion God works in us through spirituality.
So back to the New Liturgical Movement and its suggestions how to infuse the New Liturgy with Old Time “Spirituality.” Some of my favorite suggestions are:
1. Wear the maniple and biretta, and the cope for processions or the Asperges/Vidi Aquam.
2. be sure to lower your gaze so not as to make eye contact with the people when greeting them with “the Lord be with you” and other liturgical greetings.
3. Stand at the altar with your back towards the congregation, the ad absidem position.
4. Add all the old offertory prayers silently alongside the current rite (also to be done silently) as a “private devotion.”
5. Recite the Canon (Roman of course) is a “more subdued voice.” A footnote suggests that it might even be said inaudibly
6. Bend noticeably over the host and chalice when reciting the Words of Consecration and recite them slowly and deliberately so as to give them “due metaphysical weight.”
7. Omit the sign of peace which is, after all, optional (again, we don’t want too much intimacy with the folk—nothing destroys spirituality like other people)
8. Hold one’s thumbs and forefingers together from the consecration to the ablutions
9. Omit the prayer of the faithful whenever possible.
10. Use only the Roman Canon, mentioning all of the saints and using the “through Christ our Lord conclusions.
11. Say the prayer “Placeat tibi” or the Prologue of John’s Gospel (the “last gospel” of the TLM) as a “community devotion” at the end of Mass.
While such practices may increase a certain piety in the liturgical celebrations, I am not sure, given the difference between piety and spirituality, how all this relates to “spirituality.” The article’s author, Professor Peter Kwasniewski of Wyoming Catholic College, claims
Since the usus antiquior preserves in a specially intense way the theology and piety of many centuries of faith, a judicious emulation or adoption from it of elements of holiness and “good form” will make a real difference in the devotion of the celebrant and the ensuing fruitfulness of the Mass.
I can’t disagree that the usus antiquior preserves the theology and piety of many centuries of faith, but that is no guarantee that it will bring about an increase of holiness for either the priest-celebrant or the faithful attending. I have no doubt that the faithful attending a devoutly celebrated TLM can benefit from the graces thereof, but I have seen no convincing evidence that there is either a quantitative or qualitative superiority of the graces bestowed in one rite over the other.
Certainly Professor Kwasniewski’s suggestions go back to the Liturgy as theatrical performance model as his suggestions push the faithful to the edge of irrelevance to the Rite, something that might inspire a certain sense of awe but which would not normally be taken to result in a deepening of spirituality. That sense of awe or mystery, taken for itself alone, remains a subjective experience which is not to say it could not be a channel of grace but it remains only piety. I think this is the problem when people have not studied Christian spirituality sufficiently well and they confuse feelings of aesthetic pleasure of spiritual experience. As I have often said before, go and see the last scene of Act 1 of Tosca and you will be transported to the seventh heaven with incense and chierichetti and copes and ombralline galore. I confess that the “New Mass” is too often poorly celebrated with ugly churches, overly chatty priests, servers that show little attention to their duties, music that is banal at best, and people who come late, leave early, and show precious little interest in what is going on at the altar. I don’t go to those churches and I don’t know why other people do. But I am old enough to remember fly-specked altar clothes, albs with ripped lace, altar-servers who kept nudging one another to make each other laugh, a old lady with a chipped larynx warbling the Missa de Angelis from the choir loft, and a priest with last night’s whiskey still on his breath. I know now that the old rite is so rarely done, few priests are still quite so casual about it, but why does it now have to reduce the celebration of the Mysterium Fidei to something akin to Les Ballets Trocadero de Monte Carlo? No, the Novus Ordo doesn’t need to look to the Usus Antiquior for guidance. It just needs to be done with an incarnational mixture of human authenticity and divine gravitas.