A couple months back, I wrote an article asking, what What was the Golden Age of the Liturgy? For it would seem, that every period has had its challenges, and also, it’s good points. The question of what is the golden year, the paradigm, is most pertinent among traditional Catholics, who largely regard the Golden age of the liturgy to be at some point in the past.
Though the Traditional Latin Mass is celebrated according to the form it had in 1962, most traditional Catholics would set the ideal year, the Golden age, long before that. Yet, there is great debate as to what that year should be. Informal inquiry among traditional friends of mine yielded various results. Many look back to the mid-1940s, still others set the date at the turn of the last century, with Pius X’s reforms. Still others, go back to the 16th century, just after Trent , still others all the way back the 5th century.
Recently however a priest friend of mine, a priest and friend I consider to be very solid and thoughtful, asked me to consider that this is the golden age of the liturgy. He is a priest, about 10 years older than I, but ordained later, a fine musician, classically trained, well read in Latin and Biblical Greek, and well acquainted with the history of the Church. His contention, that this is a golden age of the liturgy, is evidenced by his observation that, perhaps as never before, many are deeply engaged, and well aware of the critical questions of the liturgy, and have a highly developed sense of their own role in the worship of God.
He does not root his vision merely in modern notions of the liturgy. For indeed, there is all whole cadre of laypeople concerned for, and devoted to, the Traditional Latin Mass. Yet unlike many of their forbearers who attended the Latin Mass, say in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, they are passionately involved, and follow the liturgy carefully through the use of their missals, and their awareness of liturgical details, details of which their grandparents were either unaware, or uninterested.
It is also true that there are others engage in more modern forms of the liturgy, but who are also passionate, involved, and aware of their legitimate roles. There are lectors, who are well-trained, there are Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion (I know, I know) who are needed, and aware of their role and the limits of their involvement. Servers, ushers, and choir members are also involved, active, and increasingly, well-trained.
Clergy too, especially younger clergy, are more aware of the rubrics, and the meaning of liturgical customs, and carefully observant of them. This goes for both the older, Traditional Latin Mass, and for the Ordinary Form. It is also far more common for the clergy to teach and draw the faithful into the deeper meaning in the liturgy.
Yes, both clergy and laity, are increasingly attentive and conscientious in terms of their role and the meaning of the liturgy. There is a greater flourishing of traditional forms of the liturgy as well as legitimate and diverse forms of the ordinary form of the Mass.
I know, some of you will say “But father, but Father! What about the dancing girls, what about too many Eucharistic ministers, what about… what about…” I will not deny that there are abuses, and excesses in modern expressions of the liturgy. But the dirty little secret is, there have always been such things.
Get in your time machine and go with the to the 1940s. Yes, even then, there were problems: mumbled Latin, rushed hurried gestures, half genuflections by the priest, poor sermons, and completely omitted sermons, 22 minute Masses, even on a Sunday morning, the rejection of Gregorian chant as “too complicated” and the replacing of it with poorly sung, even bellowed recto tono (usually 8th tone) chanting by Mrs. Murphy in the choir loft. The overall refusal of the sung liturgy in favor of low mass, to a fault. True, every mass could not be sung, but at least one, preferably several masses on Sunday should have been sung. But rarely were they, and up to a dozen masses were celebrated in the local parish all before noon (upper church and lower church – 6:00 am, 6:30, 7:00, 7:30, 8:00, 8:30, 9:00 (upper and lower church), 9:30 (upper and lower church), 10:00 (sung), 11:00, 11:30), often rather rushed, hurried and in a kind of mass production, factory sort of way. Some of the priest from that era tell me they’d go out and start distributing communion at the rail right after the homily while the priest went up to the altar and said the current Mass.
Few Catholics in those days were aware of many of the abuses and short cuts. Much was hidden, under poorly pronounced and mumbled Latin, rushed and hurried low masses etc. But the older priests assure me, priests that I trust, (not haters of the “bad old days,”) that things were often not beautiful in those days.
Neither today are things always beautiful. But now, as then, there are good things, and many are in fact engaged quite deeply in the celebration of the sacred liturgy. It is a sad truth that attendance is low, perhaps as low as 20% of Catholics on a given Sunday. But among those who do attend there is increasing awareness of what we do and why. We can only ask that this will grow. Abuses in liturgical practice must continue to be addressed in loving, but clear ways.
But I wonder, if perhaps my priest friend isn’t right. Perhaps we are in a golden age today.
I was privileged today to celebrate the novus ordo (ordinary form) on two occasions, and then, in the evening, to celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass. All three congregations were engaged, aware, and excited about the liturgy that was celebrated. There was fine music, though from different traditions, at all three masses. There was traditional hymnody, a youth choir, gospel music, a Latin Gregorian schola, and a choir that sang Renaissance Polyphony.
I cannot tell you how blessed I feel, how it enriched, how excited I am to celebrate the sacred liturgy in all these different ways. I walk in a wider, and more diverse church then perhaps my brethren from the 40s and 50s would ever have imagined. But I wonder too how many of them would have heard a full Gregorian Schola singing from an unabridged Liber Usualis, and a full setting Renaissance Polyphonic Mass by Lassus by a 30-voice choir, back in 1946, as I did today.
Yes, I have the best of the old and the best of the new. I am a man most blessed. The people I love, all from very different traditions, love the liturgy, they love the Lord, and they encounter him in every Mass in ways quite rich and wonderful.
Maybe this is the golden age of the liturgy. Before you shake your head and wonder, “Is he insane!?” I ask you to consider if per chance you might know of an era of greater engagement and diversity. Perhaps you do not care for “diversity,” and would like the Mass to be in only one form. But be careful! For the form that might prevail might not be the exact form you prefer. Maybe diversity is okay, maybe it is what God knows is best for his Church now.
Maybe this is a golden age. Think about it…
The follow video I put together a couple of years ago wherein I pondered that maybe the TLM and more modern “charismatic” forms of the liturgy are not so far apart after all.
Photo credit; Bishop Slattery celebrating Novus Ordo, ad orientem in Tulsa Cathedral.