With the introduction of the new translation of the Roman Missal just around the corner, Crisis magazine reprinted its 2000 article “Worship Gone Awry.” Its author, Maureen Mullarkey, advanced some excellent arguments about some problems with the Ordinary Form of the Mass (OF), many of which that only became increasingly obvious as the decades of the 1970’s, 80’s, and ’90s unfolded.
But, does that mean the OF is as bad as Ms. Mullarkey indicates? More importantly, should the Extraordinary Form of the Mass (EF) be made more readily available, as Ms. Mullarkey seems to be implying?
On both counts, The Motley Monk thinks the answer is a resounding “No” if only because Joseph Jungmann’s concept of the “developmental nature of the liturgy” cannot be so easily dismissed. As the Lutheran theologian, Jaroslav Pelikan, noted one generation ago: “Tradition is the living faith of the dead. Traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.”
History teaches that what is now the EF developed out of multiple strands constituting a “tradition” of worship, introducing “reforms” to that tradition. In contemporary language, to make that tradition meaningful—daresay I, “relevant”—in a new era.
The development of medieval Masses and, finally, of the Tridentine Mass also represents a reflection on the part of pastors and theologians in terms of what was not working right in the Mass. While it is true that the patristic Mass in the West resembled more of the OF than the EF, great Church Fathers like Augustine inherited a form of the Mass from an earlier time (St. Cyprian of Carthage) in which sacramental theology, especially in terms of the concept of mystery, was not as developed as it was by Augustine’s time. In this way, Augustine and other Church Fathers from the 5th century onward provided the sources for a later medieval rethinking of liturgy. So, it’s not the form of the Mass that, say, an Augustine said, that indicates what he really thought, but the deeper sacramental theology in his writings which then influences later medieval developments. In that sense medieval/Tridentine liturgy was a correction and, perhaps arguably at the time, an improvement over the patristic liturgies.
The same is true of the OF. It also developed out of a very longstanding tradition of worship, introducing its own “reforms” that hearkened back to the pre-patristic era, “leapfrogging” backwards over the EF’s reforms of the patristic era’s form of authentic worship.
That said, in its intent and design OF may very well have erred in the direction of allowing worship to be made so meaningful—daresay I, “relevant”—that it becomes banal. And, there certainly is much to support that assertion. But, that is to overlook the fact that Ms. Mullarkey has emphasized only one side of that history by seizing, as she has, upon post-Vatican II excesses. That does not mean, ipso facto, that the OF is errant. After all, the same observation can be made about the EF. Its attention to the details of historical artifacts—the stuff of maniples, burses, Gothic vestments, birettas, precious metals—can err in the direction of emphasizing what was relevant in previous generations so that that it errs in the direction of being irrelevant in this generation.
There are some real problems with the OF Ms. Mullarkey didn’t mention in her article, but likely would agree with. These include, but are not limited to:
- The OF can be celebrated in a prayerful and dignified way. But, “ad populum” Mass can be problematic in that the celebrant inevitably is reduced to the role of “Entertainer-in-Chief,” even if he keeps his eyes focused upon the altar and not upon the congregation. Like it or not, the OF encourages people in the congregation to vote implicitly concerning how they “feel” about a particular celebrant’s “style.” Not only does that verge on Donatism, but it also focuses worship on the person of the ordained minister not the Great High Priest, Jesus Christ through whom God is authentically worshipped.
- The OF totally and irrevocably erases the “apophatic elements” that are present—even if they are over-emphasized—in the EF. “Tossing out the baby with the bathwater” may represent a very great loss, one that is known only in retrospect. After all, authentic worship in any form should “raise up” the congregation’s spiritual sensibilities to the ineffable, not drag them down into the banal. Clowns, puppets, and vestal virgins prancing around bearing incense buckets, and priests bedecked in vestments decorated with disco-glitter only encourage the latter.
- In the OF, there is an over emphasis upon Word. In reality, there are four readings each Sunday if the Responsorial Psalm is counted. In many instances, the Epistle also has absolutely no connection to the first reading, the gospel, and the “bridge” of the psalm. And that’s to say nothing about the fact that the celebrant’s prayers are entirely disconnected from the “theme” presented in the readings. For a sacramental ritual that is supposed to reflect the “best” in that its principles dignify worship of God, this error alone seems egregious.
The OF appeals to children and adults who need to be kept busy and entertained because they are easily bored. However, those who designed the OF appear not to have know or did not realize that the threshold for boredom lowers as people get accustomed to the little gestures and words that they perform, so that even the participation in the Mass signalled in the Missal inevitably becomes boring. The OF has fallen into the trap of trying to ward off boredom throughout the Mass by getting the congregation “involved.” But, even that becomes “boring” and can only be reversed if there is continuous change in the liturgy. So, liturgists keep inventing new gimmicks and tricks for people to perform and remain actively engaged during the Holy Mass. Even that term, “Holy Mass,” seems somehow unrelated to the OF.
The EF requires mental concentration if one’s worship to get absorbed in it in a way that makes what one does a form of engaged participation. This is not singing. Nor is it gesturing. It is being actively engaged with one’s mind (and hopefully, too, one’s heart). In contrast, participation in the OF has come to mean “everybody does everything.” And even where that is not yet the case, there is a built in inevitability of people thinking that they are being excluded if there is something the priest does that they can’t do. This may be the most damning criticism of the OF: it breeds a form of egalitarianism that has very little, if nothing to do with Roman Catholic hierarchalism and everything to do with post-Enlightenment individualism.
More likely than not, both the EF and OF err in the direction of crafting idols out of their definitions of “relevance” so that authentic worship today becomes an more of an afterthought rather than a guiding principle.
For what it’s worth, the new translation of the Roman Missal, celebrated/prayed/said (whatever word is appropriate these days) will go a long way in correcting the excesses in terms of relevance.
Let the discussion begin…
To read Maureen Mullarkey’s article in Crisis, click on the following link: