Future Priests of the Third Millennium

A little insight into the life of seminarians from various dioceses preparing for ministry as Roman Catholic priests, including daily activities, personal interests, special events, the spiritual life, news from the seminary, and almost whatever comes to our minds!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Extraodrinary Form of Mass

About three weeks ago I had the privilege of serving as deacon at mass. Now, this is nothing out of the ordinary, except that (and forget my horrible pun) it was Extraordinary — Form, that is. I have heard from many that they have no clue what this whole thing is about, but that they would like to understand. Part of the reason for wanting to understand is that they know the Pope is behind some of this, but don't understand how, or what this means for the Church today, or for the future of the Church. I thought I would take this opportunity to do a couple of posts on the older way of Mass being celebrated.

Admittedly, it can be somewhat confusing to talk about this subject. This particular way of Mass being celebrated has many names - some better, some worse. For this first post, let us just address the various titles by which this way of celebrating Mass is known.

  • Extraordinary Form - This is the name given it by Pope Benedict XVI in the official document of July 7, 2007, Summorum Pontificum, which allowed a greater usage of this way of Mass being celebrated. The benefit of this name is that it highlights that it is a legitimate way of celebrating Mass, though in some way "extraordinary," but that it's not some completely separate Rite of the Church (like Ukranian Catholic, Armenian Catholic, Chaldean Catholic). A Rite, in this sense, is a group of Catholic Christians who have a particular liturgical, theological, spiritual, cultural and disciplinary patrimony. The Latin Rite is the largest of these, and most Catholics are Latin Rite Catholics. The pope, saying "Extraordinary Form" emphasizes that this form is not (at least right now) to be segregated off to a group of the faithful alone who only use this form apart from all of the existing Rites of the Church. No, this way of saying Mass is a legitimate form for the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church.

  • Usus Antiquior - Literally, "the more ancient use," harkens to the fact that this way of Mass being celebrated has a longer history than the form which was put out by Pope Paul VI around 1970. Pope Benedict also used this terminology in Summorum Pontificum.

  • Missal of Blessed John XXIII - This term is used because a "missal" is the name for the book which contains all the prayers of the Mass. We in the U.S. often call the "missal" the "sacramentary." If there are changes officially made to the text of the Mass (which means changes to the missal), the missal is republished and the pope who made those changes has his name attached to the missal. John XXIII made some changes to the texts of the Mass, published a new missal, and so his name is attached to the most recent version of the missal which came before the "Novus Ordo Missal," the Missal of Pope Paul VI.

  • Tridentine Mass - This title was the popular title used up until Summorum Pontificum, though it is still used today. This title (I think, though I may be mistaken) largely had its genesis after 1970, in order to refer to "the old way Mass was said."
    "Tridentine" comes from the fact that in the 1500s there was much division and dissipation within the Church. The Council of Trent had already begun a number of reforms within the life of the Church which aimed at a greater unity in the practice of the faith. Pope Saint Pius V, carrying out Trent's desires, published a missal which was to be a standardized missal, providing for greater unity among the faithful. To aid in this, he suppressed all missals which were not older than 200 years.
    A downfall of this title is that it gives the impression that this form of the mass originated with the Council of Trent, when in fact much of this missal comes from ancient sources and had been in continuous use by much of the Church. Those who argue, in one way or another, that this way of celebrating mass originated with the Council of Trent are flatly wrong. Hence, the next title.

  • Gregorian Rite - "Wait a minute, didn't we just say this form isn't its own Rite?" Hence some of the difficulty with terminology. We spoke of the term "Rite" as it applies to various groups of Catholics - the Latin Rite being one of them. This latter usage of "rite" refers to the actual things to be said and done, the ritual, the "rite." The Pope clarified that the Extraordinary Form will not have its own "Rite," its own exclusive group of Catholics who use it exclusively. However, it is still a "rite" of the Church in that it is a text, a form, a 'composition of things to be done' which is used in celebrating the Church's liturgy.
    Why "Gregorian?" Pope Saint Gregory the Great (who was pope from 590-604) was another pope who made some modifications to the various ways Mass was being said in the 6th/7th centuries. Since his time, there have been changes to the Mass, but there has been a current of continuity which maintained it as significantly unchanged. So much so is this the case that the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia states, "We may say safely that a modern Latin Catholic who could be carried back to Rome in the early seventh century would - while missing some features to which he is accustomed - find himself on the whole quite at home with the service he saw there." Also, referring to what we now call the "Extraordinary Form," Pope Paul VI stated, "In large part these prayer texts owed their arrangement to Saint Gregory the Great" (in his promulgation of the Missal/Sacramentary in 1969).
    The advantage of this term is that it hearkens even more than the others to the antiquity of this form of the Mass - 1300 years or more.

  • Latin Mass - A great pet peeve of those who are knowledgeable liturgically is to call the Extraordinary Form "the Latin Mass." This is primarily for one reason: the form of Mass in the Latin Rite of the Church (hence, the Mass for the great majority of Catholics) is "the Latin Mass." In the mind of the Church, the standard language for the Mass is Latin. Mass, both in the Ordinary Form and the Extraordinary Form, can be said in Latin, and ought to be (see n. 36.1). Of course for the Extraordinary Form, the Mass must be said in Latin. But to refer to the Extraordinary Form as "the Latin Mass" as though the Ordinary Form isn't also the Latin Mass is to misunderstand the practice and mind of the Church; it's to misunderstand who we as Latin Rite Catholics are.

  • Traditional Latin Mass, Traditional Mass - This title rightly points to the fact that the Extraordinary Form is always in Latin, and that it is the more ancient use (it is older, it is more traditional, it has a greater history). The disadvantage of this title is that we as Catholics are Traditional by nature. At the heart of our Tradition (our handing on from generation to generation) is the sacrifice contained within the Mass which is its most important element and its very essence. This is present in every Mass and every form of it, hence, both "Latin Masses" (Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms of the Latin Rite) are Traditional in the most important way. Put another way, since we Catholics are by nature Traditional, to imply that any Mass, whatever form, isn't Traditional is a great offense to the dignity of the Sacrament.

  • Mass of the Ages, Mass of All Time, Most Beautiful Thing This Side of Heaven - These titles are devotionally (lovingly) used by those who have a preference for the Extraordinary Form. However, what was said regarding the last title is true here as well. The primary grace, the essence of the Mass, and the heart of the Church and of the world is the sacrifice contained within the Mass. This sacrifice is present within all true and valid celebrations of the Mass, whatever form. We will address the issue of whether one form can be better than another later.

I don't know that I covered every title or every possible title for the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. I also doubt that I was as clear as I could have been. Nonetheless, I hope this helps in beginning to address the subject. In the next post, we shall briefly discuss the history of the form of Mass in the Latin Rite, its development, and its reform.

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