Priestly Ignorance of the New Mass

If priests are not aware of the origins of the new Mass, how can we expect fruitful dialog about the fact that some people prefer the preconciliar Mass to the modern one?

At a reunion of priests on the occasion of an anniversary, there was a discussion of the many aspects of Church life, especially about the suppression of the pre-Paul VI Roman Rite. Only one of the priests had celebrated the Mass of St. Pius V, and some of the padres were surprised at how some younger priests favored the old Mass.

“I just believe that when the Second Vatican Council said that we had to use English that we have to accept what it said,” opined one of the brethren.

In my usual and subtle way, I commented on his statement.

“What are you talking about? The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy was written before the Novus Ordo was written and speaks of permitting the vernacular, not mandating it.”

In fact, the Constitution says, “The use of the Latin language is to be maintained in the Latin rites, except where a particular law might indicate otherwise” (36.1). The next statement reads, “there cannot at all infrequently [haud raro] exist a practice of using the local language…firstly in the readings and in instructions given to the people, in some prayers and in some of the singing” (emphasis added). Paragraph 54 also calls for “a suitable place for the local language” in the liturgy, not the exclusion of Latin.

The Second Vatican Council called for a reform of the liturgy but did not write the new Missal. There is a real need to distinguish the conciliar teaching on the Eucharist in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy and the reforms that were promulgated afterward. The Novus Ordo was composed after the bishops went home and the pope had approved the decrees. Just as there are those who quibble with the use of the phrase Tridentine Mass, there is much more reason to distinguish the teaching of the Council with the postconciliar Mass.

Msgr. Klaus Gamber was a severe critic of the New Mass. He had no trouble distinguishing it from the Council teaching, however. He wrote: “There is also a consensus that the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy corresponded in many respects to the legitimate pastoral requirements of our time. But no such consensus exists when we look at the reforms that were actually introduced.”

Cardinal Ratzinger, in the preface of a French edition of Gamber’s book The Reform of the Roman Liturgy: Its Problems and Background, had a very startling comment on the work of the committees that rewrote the Roman Missal. After mentioning J.A. Jungmann’s theory of the organic development of the Western liturgy, he wrote,

What happened after the Council was something else entirely: in the place of liturgy as the fruit of development came fabricated liturgy. We abandoned the organic, living process of growth and development over centuries, and replaced it—as in a manufacturing process—with a fabrication, a banal on-the-spot product.

(This is the translation on the book cover of Gamber’s work, it varies somewhat from that given in the Ignatius Press collected works, with “insipid” instead of banal.)

Louis Bouyer, one of the liturgical theologians at the Council had a similar idea. “You’ll have some idea of the deplorable conditions in which this hasty reform was expedited when I recount how the second Eucharistic prayer was cobbled together…I cannot reread that improbable composition without recalling the Trastevere café terrace where we had to put the finishing touches to our assignment in order to show up with it at the Bronze Gate by the time set by our masters” (Memoirs of Louis Bouyer, 222). It sounds like some of the reforms were written as I wrote some college term papers, the night before they were due.

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