Saturday, July 07, 2007

The Latin Mass: Old Rites and New Rites in Today's World | Anthony E. Clark, Ph.D. | March 28, 2007

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On Sunday, May 12, 1996, Alfons Cardinal Stickler offered a Tridentine Latin Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York in an overfilled church. A strong supporter of the greater use of Latin in the Mass, Cardinal Stickler was visibly happy that day, stating, "I feel privileged that you have requested this Mass be celebrated here in what is your cathedral. . . . All are welcome here. We are one body, one body in Christ." [1] For several thousand lovers of the Latin Mass that day was a rare joy, but it is sadly all too common that whenever one brings up the topic of the "Latin Mass" either an argument or a litany of clarifications ensue.

Nothing should unify Catholics more than the liturgy, but there is little else that so often separates them. It would be dishonest to begin a discussion of the Mass offered in Latin without admitting that God's beautiful gift to his followers has become a venue for division; what brings Catholics together is also the most virulently debated topic in the Church. What is actually a sign of Catholic unity has unfortunately become an area of contention, leading some Catholics to leave the Church altogether.

It is not my intention here to recount the debates between the various camps who argue whether or not the Mass should be in Latin, offered according to the Tridentine Rite, offered according to the New Rite, or whether the Church should return wholesale to the pre-Second Vatican Council liturgy, or "reform the reform" and "traditionalize" the New Mass. My purpose is to provide a general outline of the Old Rite and the New, as they are offered in Latin, still the official language of the Roman Catholic Church.

The Catholic and secular media is presently abuzz with reports of an imminent Motu Proprio (official Papal provision) allowing all Roman Rite priests the freedom to offer the Mass in Latin without the current ecclesial obstacles. [2] The liturgical use of Latin is becoming increasingly popular, and Orders such as the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter (established by Pope John Paul II in 1988) and the Institute of Christ the King (established in 1990) are by necessity turning away applicants because their seminaries are already crowded with young men eager to preserve the old Mass. There are good reasons to celebrate its resurgence in the Church, for it may be that this past venue of division is finally serving its original purpose: to restore unity.

Language, Liturgy, and the Semantic Conundrum

The most common problem that arises when discussing the "Latin Mass" is a basic one: what is meant by the term "Latin Mass"? This is not easily answered because the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council expected all Roman Rite Masses to be offered largely in Latin. It is incorrect, then, to state that only the Tridentine Rite of the Mass is the "Latin Mass." I attend Mass at a parish near Atlanta, Georgia, which is offered according to the Tridentine Rite, and also in Hanceville, Alabama, where the New Rite of Mass is in Latin. The Mass of Trent, called the "Tridentine Mass," and the Mass of Vatican II (Novus Ordo)--sometimes called the "Pauline Mass"--are both correctly called the "Latin Mass" when they are offered in Latin. One can attend the New Rite of Mass at the Vatican offered entirely in Latin.

The Tridentine Mass, unlike the New Mass, can only be offered in Latin; it is presently forbidden to use vernacular in the Old Rite. This regulation was made by the Church in light of its hallowed belief that the Mass should transcend national and cultural divisions; that is, the culture and language of the Church should retain a similar aesthetic and semantic appearance as to best represent its catholicity. By insisting on linguistic continuity, people from all cultures share the same liturgical rites regardless of location. Valerian Cardinal Gracias expressed this idea in his assertion that:
The mind of the Church is expressed in the authoritative teaching of the Fathers is neither Eastern nor Western, but universal. It is expressed in Western languages--Greek and Latin--but it was in Africa rather than in Europe that it received its classical formulation . . . under strong oriental influence. And the same is true of the . . . Latin liturgy itself. No doubt the Roman Rite which has outlived and absorbed other Latin Rites bears an indelible mark on the Roman spirit in its simplicity, its severity, and its concision. But this does not mean that it is only adapted to Western man, or that its spirit is alien from that of the East. On the contrary it gives a classical universal, and supernatural character. . . . [3]
Gracias expresses well the Church's belief that the use of Latin unifies rather than disunites the faithful. The term "Latin Mass," then, can be used to describe both the Tridentine and the new rites of the Roman Mass, and the use of Latin has been preserved, especially in the Old Rite, as a symbol of the Church's unity.

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