As Dr. John C. Rao, Professor of History at St. John's University in New York, has commented, someone from 1862 would not have had any problem recognizing the Mass celebrating according to the Missal of 1962, which was promulgated by Pope John XXIII. To be sure, there had been some changes made (feasts added, the insertion of Saint Joseph's name in the Roman Canon, making the prayers after Low Mass optional, Pope Pius XII's reformation of the Holy Week liturgies).
However, the Mass, in se, would have been recognizable in 1962 to one who had lived in the previous century. Indeed, the unchanging essence of the Mass of the Roman rite produced a sense of stability in the faith lives of Catholics around the world. The unchanging nature of the Mass communicated to simple Catholics the fact that the truths of the faith themselves are as unchanging as our Triune God Himself, Who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
And despite the revisionist history which has been used to justify the liturgical revolution (and the unremitting series of changes, both authorized and unauthorized, which have taken place for over thirty years), the average Catholic had a better understanding of the truths of the faith when the Mass was celebrated in a dead language (which is not subject to misinterpretation) than they do now after over thirty years of "inculturation" and Mass in the vernacular. This provided parents with a solid bedrock on which they gave their children the gift of the faith in a liturgical atmosphere which was reverent and devout, not irreverent and profane.
The Traditional Latin Mass conveys the fullness of the mysteries of salvation. Its permanence made it immune from the celebratory style of individual priests. The priest faced the altar (facing the Tabernacle and facing East, the direction of the Resurrection) not because he was insulting the faithful. Although an individual priest's priesthood is essential to the perpetuation of the unbloody representation of Our Lord's Sacrifice to the Father in Spirit and in Truth in the Mass, his individual personality is unimportant. He is an alter Christus, another Christ. His actions at the altar are the actions of Christ. And the very language of the Mass, Latin, conveyed its permanence. Living languages are subject to change and to deconstruction. The use of a dead language made it impossible for priests or liturgists or theologians to use the Mass as a means of changing doctrine. The Mass should be the same year in and year out because the faith is unchanging. It is immutable.
Additionally, the Traditional Latin Mass was celebrated in the context of an annual cycle of readings and preaching, not the triennial cycle of readings which obtains in the Novus Ordo. The annual cycle of readings and of preaching was deemed necessary because people tend to forget. They are busy with their own lives. They need to be reminded of the basic truths of the faith on an annual basis. The Novus Ordo calendar created a triennial cycle of readings for Sunday Mass and a biannual cycle of readings for Daily Mass, and it abandoned the annual cycle of preaching (on the sacraments, the moral life, the life of prayer, the annual parish mission).
The steady reminders provided by the very nature and context of the Traditional Latin Mass were replaced by the uncertainty and ambiguity created by a synthetic liturgy which has, whether by accident or design, undermined the integrity of faith, profaned worship, and helped to expedite the triumph of secular political ideologies as the replacement for the faith.
Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for us.
Tomorrow: 1965 as a Prelude to 1969.
Thomas A. Droleskey, Ph.D.
For past columns in The DAILY CATHOLIC by Dr. Droleskey, see Archives