I returned from France last evening. Ah, the beauty of France, the intelligence and wit of the French, the grace of so many friendships rooted in the faith, the reverent approach to food, drink, and the shared table! While in France, given the circumstances of my séjour, and for compelling pastoral reasons, I celebrated Holy Mass in the so-called Ordinary Form, something I have rarely been obliged to do since the gift of Summorum Pontificum.
Dignity and Loveliness
Let it be said, straightway, that in both places where I offered the Holy Sacrifice in the Ordinary Form, the setting was impeccable: worthy sacred vessels, exquisite chasubles in wool with hand-embroidered adornment, immaculate altar linens, beautifully arranged flowers, etc. The singing too was lovely — all in French (even the Ordinary of the Mass) — but executed with reverence, attention, and artistry.
I thought that I might, however, share with my readers and, especially, with my brother priests, some reflections on the experience of the Ordinary Form, given that I have celebrated daily in the Usus Antiquior since 2007. The first thing that struck me was the inappropriateness of beginning the Holy Sacrifice from the chair facing the congregation, rather than at the foot of the altar facing the liturgical east. Beginnings, introductory rites, and the crossing of thresholds are hugely important, precisely because they have such an impact on all that follows. Nowhere is this more true than in the sacred liturgy.
Introibo Ad Altare Dei
It is more than curious that the verse from Psalm 42 traditionally recited at the foot of the altar before the Confiteor was eliminated from the Missal of Paul VI: Introibo ad altare Dei; “I shall go unto the altar of God.” I find it strange that in a Missal characterized by a multiplicity of options, the traditional use of Psalm 42 was conceded no place. Instead, other options were invented, adapted, or otherwise introduced into the introductory rites.
Toward the Holy Sacrifice
Upon leaving the sacristy and the entering the church, the heart of the priest is set upon the altar, not the chair, nor the ambo. All that precedes the heart of the Holy Sacrifice (that is, the Canon of the Mass) is ordered to it. Even the proclamation and hearing of the Word of God, culminating in the Holy Gospel, is ordered to the Great Thanksgiving, to the Sursum Corda, and to the mystic actualization of the Sacrifice of the Cross.
Chair and Altar
The priest enters the sanctuary in order to approach the altar, conscious that he will stand before it to offer the Holy Sacrifice. By going directly to the chair, albeit after having venerated the altar, the direction of the liturgical action is skewed. The priest himself becomes the focus of attention. His sign of the cross, and his greeting; his introduction to the Act of Penitence, all tend to deflect the attention of the faithful away from the latreutic finality of the Mass, latria being, of course, the technical term for the worship and adoration due to God alone.
At the Foot of the Altar
By placing the introductory rites, including the Act of Penitence, at the chair, the Mass begins in the configuration of a self-contained, closed horizontality. Even though the Confiteor is addressed to Almighty God, the impact of it is substantially diluted by praying it (a) from the chair, facing the people; (b) while standing erect rather than while inclining profoundly; and (c) into no particular direction, if not into some vague space around one’s own feet or above the heads of the people. This particular element of the New Order of the Mass is not a success. It does not do what it is supposed to do. It needs to be corrected. Is it not time to rediscover the significance of praying, and of bowing low at the foot of the altar?
The correction of the Introductory Rite and Act of Penitence in reference to the Usus Antiquior and the replacement of the first salutation of the congregation (Dominus vobiscum) after the Gloria (or Kyrie) and before the Collect, will go a long way toward the recovery of a sense of the Godward direction of every liturgical action and, in particular, of the significance of approaching the altar with a view to offering the Holy Sacrifice.
The Poor New Offertory
The second thing that struck me was the paucity of the reformed Offertory rites and prayers. Others have commented on this matter at length. It would seem to me necessary to restore the Offertory Antiphon to the New Order of the Mass and to restore the Offertory prayers and gestures of the Missal of Saint Pius V as well.
It goes without saying that the rubric of the New Order of the Mass that assumes the eastward position from the Offertory until Holy Communion needs to become always and everywhere normative. Nothing has done more to distort the ars celebrandi than the habit of offering the Holy Sacrifice facing the people. It is, in many instances, an affront to the Divine Majesty. It is, moreover, a tedious distraction to both priest and people, and a symbolic and, alas, subliminal, but all too effective, devalorization of the sacrificial character of Holy Mass. No amount of catechesis, however well-intentioned, will be able to restore to the ars celebrandi of the New Order of the Mass what the position ad orientem will bring about of and by itself. Here, more than anywhere else, actions do speak louder than words.
The Roman Canon
It was when I came to the Eucharistic Prayer, using the Roman Canon as adapted — I rather think mutilated — in the New Order of the Mass, that I found myself most deeply disturbed. The elimination of the traditional signs of the cross and genuflexions is redolent of a puritanical rationalism that either fears the participation of the body in worship or sneers at it; it is, in effect, the divorce of word from action, a kind of disincarnation of the text.
There is absolutely no reason to have altered the age-old and venerable words of consecration in the Roman Canon. Nothing in Sacrosanctum Concilium authorizes or justifies so barbaric an assault on a text universally regarded as sacrosanct and fixed by tradition. Fifty years after the Second Vatican Council, has not the moment at last come to repair the damage done by an erroneous interpretation and brash disregard of the letter of the Conciliar text and the intentions of the Council Fathers?
The Words of Consecration and Mysterium Fidei
I would propose, then, that the words of consecration in the Eucharistic Prayers II, III, and IV of the New Order of the Mass be brought into conformity with the traditional text of the Roman Canon as found in the Missal of 1962, and as used at the Second Vatican Council and in the years immediately following it. This would entail the replacement of the mysterium fidei within the words of consecration of the chalice and the suppression of the acclamation introduced in the Missal of Paul VI, which, to be honest, would be, to my mind at least, no great loss. Its inorganic insertion into the Canon has the effect of an interruption of the flow and movement of the prayer itself.
Of course, one needs to ask if four Eucharistic Prayers are, in fact, necessary in the New Rite of the Mass. Of the four, Eucharistic Prayer II is the one most widely used, not because of any intrinsic sublimity, but because of its brevity. It is a routinely rattled text that has longed passed its expiration date. It should be given an honourable burial alongside the breviary of Cardinal Quignonez. Eucharistic Prayer IV is used very rarely, if at all, in most places. Eucharistic Prayer III, the so-called Canon of Paul VI is the second most widely used. Has the time not come to reduce the Eucharistic Prayers of the New Order of the Mass from four to two, keeping only the venerable Roman Canon and what is now called Eucharistic Prayer III? It should, I think be legislated that the use of Roman Canon be obligatory on all Sundays, solemnities, feasts of the Apostles and of the saints named in the Communicantes and in the Nobis Quoque.
Domine, non sum dignus
The threefold Domine, non sum dignus needs to be restored to the New Order of the Mass. The single recitation of the centurion’s heartfelt prayer sounds pathetically and artificially truncated. The threefold Domine, non sum dignus is no vain repetition; it is a trirhythmic grace of compunction that batters the door of even the most hardened heart.
The manner of distributing Holy Communion to the faithful has been addressed by the example of the Holy Father, but his example has not garnered the support it deserves in the episcopate. It would seem that most bishops are insensitive to the persuasive language of example and, thus, must be compelled by legislation. Holy Communion in the hand and the scandalously abusive proliferation of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion are matters that must be addressed by clear and binding legislation. The grave scandal among the Eastern Orthodox Churches that these practices cause is, of itself, sufficient to warrant their immediate suppression.
The Last Gospel
Finally, it is, I think, a good thing to close the Holy Sacrifice en douceur with the reading of the Prologue of Saint John. It is, in effect, a kind of final blessing over the heads and hearts of the faithful, a thanksgiving after Holy Communion, and a bridge from the Holy Mysteries into the world that they alone can redeem, heal, sanctify, and elevate. I would argue, then, for the addition of the Prologue of Saint John to the New Order of the Mass, except on those occasions when the Mass itself is immediately followed by another liturgical function.
Reform of the Reform?
These are but a few thoughts on my experience of returning — out of pastoral necessity — to the New Order of the Mass for less than a week. I could not wait to resume the Usus Antiquior. The New Order of the Mass is in dire need of correction, enrichment, and consolidation. The “reform of the reform” is the single most urgent task of the New Evangelisation. Is it not time to place clear and binding liturgical law at the service of life? The example of the Holy Father, however edifying and consoling it may be, is not sufficient to curb the liturgical abuses rampant in the Church and to “fix” the New Order of the Mass. Something more is required.