Is the old rite "flourishing" since Benedict's Summorun Pontificum? I don't think it is. I can and do attend the old rite across 3 counties and it is the same old faces I see where ever I go. It is a darn small world. Yes, there are plenty of young enthusiasts and lots of young families at these Masses. Yes, there are plenty of good and holy priests involved but it all feels like a fringe activity. It feels like a self-help group for a disenfranchised minority and what is worse I fear it is led by the intellect rather than the heart. Yes, they are well educated people with all the answers, but that isn’t enough. I just wish I knew who they loved the most. It isn't obvious and it ought to be. I was talking to a priest recently, saying that I was dismayed that the number of parishioners who were routinely bi-ritual was so small. I named a few, he said he could add a few more to the list, but the numbers are still small. The preference for a particular Mass is essentially factional; a lifestyle choice, a statement of allegiance. And the two sides of the OF/EF debate loathe each other at some quite fundamental level. I have perfectly rational and solid friends on both sides but I really don’t think I could invite them to the same tea-party at my house, it would be extremely uncomfortable. So to the OF/EF debate I reverse the letters and say politely, “ef-of”.
What is missing is what Benedict pleaded so much for: MUTUAL ENRICHMENT. The old rite lovers are so convinced in the superiority of their own brand that they can’t see how the new rite could possibly enrich their experience. New rite lovers who at heart are clericalists and have been sorely influenced by priests who were only too keen to ditch the old rite 45 years ago feel much the same in the opposite sense. Younger attendees at the new rite often have such a poor grasp of the faith that it really is genuine encounter with Christ that is needed and arguments over the liturgy are essentially meaningless in this case.
Much has been written on how the old rite could enrich the newer rite. I want to end this post by saying how the newer rite could enrich the old rite, which is what must happen.
Where I worship, it is possible to find a Holy Day Mass in the old rite virtually entirely populated by souls who don’t normally experience this. They are there because it is Mass and the time is convenient. They are not tut-tutting and horrified by what they see. There is a prayerful, reverential atmosphere, but I will add a note of caution; these irregulars rarely stay after communion, it seems like they have had enough at that point.
So here are my suggestions for enrichment of the old rite with a nod to what happens in the newer; it must flow, it must be coherent but it must not be regimented and it must not be linear (like a cookery show- raw ingredients to meal) as it was never intended to be:
- Scripture readings in the regional tongue, either by the priest or simultaneously delivered from the lectern whilst the priest says the readings in Latin.
- Get rid of all the hand kissing in the old rite High Mass. In these days of scandal the gesture looks offensive.
- The bowing in the old rite so often looks like Daleks having a pow-wow, somehow the humility has been lost.
- There is a younger generation of priests and servers who are saying the old rite who have been very effectively “Bugninnid” but don’t realise that they are. They see the Mass as performance and they perform; Fortescue, Fortescue, Fortescue. It can be quite unpleasant to watch, indeed it is no better than a Clown Mass. The priest and the servers ought to be invisible in the Mass, or atleast not bringing attention upon themselves. Once again, it is a humility thing and manifests itself best when a Mass is just a wee bit shambolic, a wee bit less than perfectly executed, a wee bit more realising that our sacrifice is ALWAYS unworthy.
- There are perhaps some words that need to be said more clearly so that the congregation can hear them, the “introibo” and the dismissal and the Last Gospel must all be said slowly and audibly.
I remain convinced that the loss of the vulgar tongue for Mass to be replaced by regional tongues was a mistake, however I remain equally convinced that preserving the Mass of 1962 just as it is, to have it there like a fly in amber, a moment in time caught for eternity, is quite simply a nonsense. The Holy Sacrifice of Calvary is THE moment in time caught for Eternity, and this is not anything to do with the liturgy but everything to do with our faith and ultimately if our faith doesn’t breathe this reality any liturgical reform is a dead duck.
A group of liturgical pedants learning to serve the old rite (or Daleks in 1963)