Let’s go back to our series on why I maintain that the current Roman Rite of the Mass is superior to the unreformed rites used previous to the Council. I had enumerated 10 reasons—in response to a rather supercilious article by the ever supercilious Professor Peter Kwasniewski of Wyoming Catholic College making the counter-claim—that I believe make it clear why the current Rites, though still in need of much work, are a vast improvement over the Traditional Liturgy. We had looked at the first five claims. Now let’s go to the sixth.
The liturgy walks us through the cycle of Christ’s birth, life, teaching, suffering, death, resurrection and sending the Holy Spirit.
Now, remember I am not giving a set of abstract reflections here. I am talking from experience. I grew up under the Tridentine Liturgy. I was an altar boy with that Rite. I went to Mass daily under that Rite. I am not some armchair pontificator still in my 40’s or 50’s (or late 20’s) that whines about some supposed loss of reverence or why women don’t invest more in mantillas when a lace shawl makes them look so much more
subservient to male fantasies authority. When it comes to the
Traditional Latin Mass, I’ve been there; done that; and got the cotta.
(A cotta is a sort of ecclesiastical
T-shirt, a type of surplice that ends at about the line of the pubis.)
One of the things I remember most of being an altar boy in the old days of the TLM was the constancy of the Black Mass. No, I am not referring to Satanic Worship. We didn’t know about such things in those days before Stephen King. I mean that weekdays, despite a rich and deep calendar of saints that kept being ignored were given to Requiem Masses. Day after day, week after week, Mass was invariably the same. The same introit. The same epistle. The same gradual. The same gospel. The same cradling voice of the aged Mrs. Steffans coming from the choir loft as she pedaled the harmonium. Everything was Requiem Aeternam dona eis Domine. Mass after Mass, day after day, week after week. And of course once one got into the “Mass of the Faithful” (more or less equivalent to today’s Liturgy of the Eucharist) nothing ever changed. Nothing. Ever. One didn’t get to hear the gospels unfold the cycle of Jesus’s Incarnation, birth, teaching, miracles, suffering, death, and Resurrection. O sure, there were Advent Sundays and Lent Sundays and Easter Sundays where you got a somewhat bare-bones account, a sketchy outline of the gospel story, Gospel Highlights as it were, but it was all so abstract and far-away because it just wasn’t tied together through the week. All in all, we heard less than 15% of the Gospels read to us during the liturgy—and that presumes, of course, that we knew our Latin well enough to comprehend the readings that were being mumbled by the priest at the altar without a vernacular repetition. Yes, we had missals, but who used them. Mass was good for two, maybe three trips around the beads. I mean, really??? It just removed by mystery of Christ’s Life, Death, and Resurrection to a sort of mental tableau for us to contemplate through the veil of the centuries, sucking life and color from it to reduce it to nothing more than a spiritual representation of the same cheap plaster tableaux with which our churches were over-decorated.
These many years later I am all but a daily communicant. There are days, relatively few, when I am not at Mass. There is always a reason if I am not. I want to go to morning Mass. I find that the systematic reading of the scriptures and especially the Gospels nourishes me and makes the reality of Christ’s life something very tangible. My Latin is more than sufficient that were the Mass in Latin I would still find great value in it—but it is infinitely richer for me when I can pick up the nuances of the prayers without doing the mental gymnastics of interfacing two languages. (I have studied the Latin texts, and especially those of the Eucharistic Prayers, carefully in order to better understand the precise theology they contain and I must say, Liturgiam Authenicam be damned, Vox Clara has done a huge screw-up of those translations in which they have sacrificed sound theology for their own political purposes.) I find that the role of the Holy Spirit in consecrating the Eucharist and in uniting us in Eucharistic Unity is so much more developed in the new Eucharistic Prayers over the faint epiclesis of the Roman Canon. The Mass is the highlight of my day, not simply in the way of some pious reverie, but in what integrates my day, what gives it shape and depth. I have come to not just understand but in some way appropriate the cycle of Christ’s life, from the appearance of the Baptist in the desert until the rush of the Holy Spirit upon those in the Upper Room, into my life. Part of this is that it has been long journey through sixty-some years, but it is the collapse of the TLM in favor of the Novus Ordo that let it be a journey and not be stuck in that short-circuited cycle of an infinity of Black Masses which marked my youth. It is, to cite Jaroslav Pelikan, the difference between living faith and dead faith.