March 13, 2001
volume 12, no. 72

The Mass Wasn't Broke;
It Didn't Need Fixing!

By Gary L. Morella

    As a Roman Catholic I take issue with the comments of Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland in an article which appeared in the Altoona-Johnstown diocesan paper - The Catholic Register (CR).

    In particular, I don't understand the inference that the Old Mass (Tridentine Latin Rite) is prohibited by Vatican II.

    Please show me in the documents where such prohibition is stated. My experience with the Tridentine Mass and that of three nuns in my family was very positive. To imply that the indult of Pope John Paul II was somehow an aberration of the Council is fallacious in the extreme. The Pope via Ecclesiae Dei was simply insuring that the Council directives be carried out, recognizing the provision for worship via the Tridentine Rite in the Council documents. The truth is that such an idult would not have been necessary had the bishops of this country been obedient to the Council and to Rome.

    The Latin Mass was the most beautiful of liturgies with the priest and laity conveying the meaning of the Mystical Body of Christ and the commemoration of the Holy Sacrifice of Christ on Calvary in the most reverential of fashions befitting the Triune God of Creation, Redemption, and Sanctification.

    There was a mysticism about the old rite which could be visibly felt. There was an atmosphere created in Churches where high altars and glorious golden tabernacles conveyed in unmistakable terms that God WAS TRULY PRESENT, BODY, BLOOD, SOUL AND DIVINITY.

    This was manifested by the distinction between the ministerial priesthood of the celebrant who, in the "person of Christ", was the High Priest and the laity representing the "priesthood of the Faithful" - both priest celebrant and laity looking toward their God on the high altar with the clear symbolism of the priest being the mediator between the laity and God offering up our petitions with the Body and Blood of Christ as Jesus did on that first Holy Thursday. (The priest stood facing God on the altar with his back to the laity underscoring the proper hierarchical symbolism of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass instead of God being between the priest and the laity, the present configuration with the priest facing the congregation, thereby making the Faithful "equal" to the ministerial priest, a mistake condemned by God in regard to Core's rebellion (Jude 1:11, Numbers 16:1-35).

    To say that the laity weren't fully participating in that liturgy is to convey a misunderstanding of same. Full participation doesn't demand constant verbalization, singing, swaying in the pews. Someone mentioned how silence can be indicative of the most fervent participation imaginable in Church liturgies. This was particularly true of the old Latin Rite. There was a solemnity that told all that something SPECIAL was happening in the Church. God Almighty was present there and, as such, deserved our respect.

    There was no leaving Mass talking to one's friends as if you were in a Mall. There was no "Our Lady of Perpetual Dins." I'll tell you what there was. There was a feeling that you were just privileged to be in the real presence of God with the symbolism of the rite unmistakably conveying that. You knelt at the Holy Communion rails and waited for the principal celebrant to bring God to you, not Joe or Sally down the street. You stayed after Mass and said the prayer to St. Michael because you believed that the devil existed. You wouldn't dream of touching the host with your hands because you were "unworthy" befitting the prayer said before receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus in the host, "Lord, I am not worthy for Thou to come under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed."

    Latin was the universal language of the Roman Empire and, as such, became the universal language of the Church since Christianity was founded within the confines of Rome. There was a reason for this uniformity. That being no matter where you went in the Roman world, you would have a common liturgy understood by all with translations available as required. In other words, it was a Godsend to have such a beautiful, precise language where the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass could be freely understood regardless of the particular nationality of the participants.

    Latin is a very unforgiving language with no room for the natural ambiguities which result with the vernacular in many instances. The constant repetition that the Faithful heard in regard to the Roman Canon reinforced what the words meant so that they could go anywhere in the world and understand what was happening at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, at least at the most important parts. Again, there were innumerable Missals available with full translations for the rest. You didn't need Latin 101, you learned it in Church, more often than not daily, not just on Sundays. You learned it through beautiful devotions taking the form of litanies, novenas, Stations of the Cross, etc. as a function of the liturgical year. As an altar boy, I knew exactly what I was saying in response to the priest after just one year as a server at Mass.

    There was nothing "disjointed" about the "old" Mass. It was beautiful in its simplicity, in its regard for the most accurate translation of the Word of God, and in particular, in its SENSE OF THE SUPERNATURAL which has been lost with the Novus Ordo. That is not only my humble opinion but that of an increasing number of Catholics who have come to realize that the "old" Mass wasn't broke but, somehow, that fact didn't seem to enter into the minds of progressive liturgists who were bound and determined to "fix" it anyway. It is a fact that the problems in the liturgy today are a result of ICEL's introduction of inane vertical/horizontal inclusive language with the blessings of the BCL of the NCCB.

    Why are we so reticent to consider the beauty of the Tridentine Mass? Why do liturgical "experts" and clergy feel obliged to go out of their way and say that we most certainly must not go back to that beautiful liturgy? Maybe one of the "experts" could explain that to a poor simple "Joe six-pack in-the-pew" who is minus degrees in Theology and Scripture Studies but who has noticed that the Churches were filled before Vatican II and are empty now.

    Statements have been made that what was desired by Vatican II was an improvement on the Tridentine Mass, losing none of its reverential symbolism. More power to you if such a goal can be realized. I and a good many Roman Catholics have not seen it to date. We lost much with the demise of the "old" Mass - a demise never intended by the Council, by the way, but rather by the liberal periti who had their own agenda. And it's high time we started admitting it instead of making statements to the effect that it was some kind of "pariah" never to be considered again. Vatican II never said that and neither should Archbishop Weakland.

    Scott Hahn once talked about "The Splendor of the Church" in one of his video studies. How utterly distinctive a Roman Catholic Church was from all others. And why shouldn't it be for it is, literally, the HOUSE OF GOD per the Gospel of John. The Hebrews carried the tablets and the rod of Aaron around in a golden tabernacle guarded with angels. The God of the Hebrews is now relegated to a back room in what should be HIS HOUSE.

    What we've witnessed since Vatican II is the piecemeal destruction of our Churches, our liturgy - in effect the Protestantization of our Faith. (Why are nonCatholic theologians sitting on a commission recommending Catholic Marian dogma? - related story in CR.) We're in the process of losing that "splendor" Hahn talks about because we're allowing the trivialization of our God into the "pal" that sits with us at a "community meal" celebrated on card tables in "town halls" masquerading as "c"atholic Churches with the community in the "gathering space" calling God down with the priest at the "c"onsecration.

    We're told in Sacred Scripture that "At the very name of God every knee shall bend on Earth, in Heaven, and under the Earth." Isn't it sad that even the demons must kneel at the name of God, yet some Roman Catholics find that impossible!

    You mess with the liturgy, you're messing with the beliefs of the Faithful. You change the language, you change the ideas. I wouldn't want that on my soul when I meet my Maker.

Gary L. Morella

March 13, 2001
volume 12, no. 72
Exspectans exspectavibus Ecclesia Dei
Return to Today's Issue