The Extraordinary Form of the Mass and the Evangelization of the Culture

060814We tend to think of evangelization as focused on individuals. But cultures need evangelizing too, perhaps even more so, due to the influence of culture on so many. In her strongest periods the Church has been instrumental in forming the culture and ethos around her. In her weaker periods the Church begins to parrot and reflect culture which, without her leadership, is too easily ephemeral, disedifying, and at worst, debased.

It is hard to contend that we are in a period in which the Church has a key influence on culture. It is rather more the case that popular culture has far too greatly influenced us. Few Catholics get most of their information or influence from God, the Scriptures, or Church teaching. Most are far more aware of and inclined to listen to secular leaders, pop musicians, entertainers, sports figures, and the general cultural din. And this is where they develop even their most critical insights about God, family, sexuality, and many significant moral questions.

Liturgically, too, there are many problems associated with the triumph and primacy of modern and popular culture. Most of our modern trends in liturgy reflect the preferences of our culture, rather than the ability to challenge and influence people. And thus liturgy must be convenient, fast, entertaining, youthful, “relevant,” accessible, completely understandable even by the smallest child, warm, comfortable, respecting of diversity, friendly, etc. To be sure, most of these are not bad qualities. But the emphasis on them to the exclusion of balancing principles (such as mystery and tradition), and the often shallow understanding of those balancing principles, shows that popular culture rather than the Church is really in the driver’s seat.

I’ll be honest, I don’t know where exactly to draw the line. When exactly is a song too secular or in bad taste? When does something go from being understandable to being “dumbed down”? When does emphasizing a warm and welcoming environment become too anthropocentric and unprayerful? When does respecting diversity become a Balkanization and “stove-piping” of communities? When does “youthful, vibrant, and relevant” do harm to what is ancient, enduring, and time-tested?

Somewhere in all this concern for evangelizing the culture, as opposed to being dominated by it, is the quiet and stable presence of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, often called the Usus Antiquior (the older use or form), that was in use, largely intact, from antiquity until 1970.

A recent article by Tracey Rowland in Sacred Liturgy (The Proceedings of the International Conference on the Sacred Liturgy 2013) develops the way in which the usus antiquior can act as a kind of salve or preservative in the rapidly changing climate of the post-modern West. I want to offer a few excerpts from the lengthy article and add a few comments of my own (in plain, red text). Rowland writes,

Specifically the usus antiquior may be an antidote to the ruthless attacks on memory and tradition and high culture typical of the culture of modernity. [And it can supply] a coherent, non-fragmented tradition that is open to the transcendent … Participation in this form of the rite does require a deeper intellectual engagement, if one is not to get completely lost, but this form is also more contemplative

Yes, once one overcomes the notion that he or she must be hearing, seeing, and interacting with every aspect of the Mass, one is drawn to a more quiet contemplation of God and to the fact that many things are being done by God “for me” in a quiet and hidden way. So too in the Mass when the priest acts on my behalf, it is not required that I hear or understand every word. It is often enough that the priest ministers for me and that God both enables and receives this ministry. To pray quietly is thus an acceptable demeanor rather than to (only) relentlessly participate. Thus the usus antiquior emphasized a more contemplative dimension.

In arguing this, one need not take the view that the usus antiquior should be the only form of the Roman Rite … The older and newer forms … Should be mutually enriching. (p. 117, 130)

Yes, at least in our current setting, the “liturgy wars” are a sign that charity, which ought to be preeminent when it comes to Sacred worship, is lacking. But the main point here is that the usus antiquior acts as a kind of preservative of the overall Roman Rite by holding up “old-time religion.” This helps the newer forms from becoming detached from their proper roots and from the more fully Christian culture that preceded our current secularist and ephemeral culture. The usus antiquior evangelizes current Catholic culture (too easily swayed by modern notions) by showing forth the ancient holy traditions that have sustained us over the centuries.

Yves Congar argued that … the liturgy is truly the holy ark containing sacred tradition at its most intense … He said (in 1963), “We need only step into an old church in order to follow a Mass which has scarcely changed, even in externals, since St. Gregory the Great … Everything has been preserved for us, and we can enter into a heritage which we may easily transmit in our turn, to those coming after us. Ritual … as a victory over devouring time … and a powerful communion in the same reality between men separated by centuries of change (P. 116)

The charcoal drawing at the upper right, if one does not look closely, could be of a Mass from almost any time period going back to at least the 4th Century. But it is a Mass celebrated just two days ago, by me here in my parish. The actual photograph is just below it. This is a demonstration of what Congar says.

Sadly, shortly after 1963, the “holy ark” was “lost to the Philistines” (cf  1 Sam 5) and has only recently been recovered through a series of indults and the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum.  We can only pray that the holy ark will now stay among us and grow in the influence and “mutual enrichment” for which Pope Benedict XVI longed.

If modernity is a culture of forced forgetting, postmodernity is more of a fragmented culture of retrieval, the mood is less self-assured and more melancholy and nostalgic. Postmodernity, unlike modernity, is not hostile tradition … but it is hostile to the idea that the human intellect can be used to discern that one tradition is to be preferred over another. Most post-moderns tend to think that one’s preference of tradition is likely to stem from one’s aesthetic sensibility, rather than from intellectual judgment. (p. 129). Amen! If we are not careful, our tolerance of aesthetic preferences too easily becomes just another form of relativism.

In the midst of the decadence and fragmentation and Philistinism,  the usus antiquior can continue to be, in the words of Congar, a holy ark, a victory over devouring time, and a means of communication between Catholic separated by centuries of change … It does however need to be disentangled from ghetto culture, either ignorant or suspicious of the genuine reforms of the Council.

Therefore, we must be careful to find a balance that celebrates and insists upon the preservative role of the usus antiquior, but which does not devolve into the smug superiority and dismissiveness that threatens the very influence we seek to foster.

These are just some thoughts about how the usus antiquior can help evangelize culture both within and outside the Church. In this older form of the Mass we step back to what proved right for centuries, to the Mass most saints knew, to what time had tested and retained. This is important in a constantly shifting culture that has lost its moorings.

To have in our midst something that is fixed, stable, proven, and deeply connected to the wisdom of the past is a glorious gift. The newer form of the liturgy also brings gifts (a wider selection of readings, greater access to the vernacular, and some cultural flexibility). But without the stability of the usus antiquior, we see too many risks for wild and inauthentic shifts. And this is just what we have experienced in recent decades.

Both forms are currently the reality for us, but the new without the old is unanchored and drifts too wildly. The usus antiquior, the Extraordinary Form, restores our needed moorings.

22 Replies to “The Extraordinary Form of the Mass and the Evangelization of the Culture”

  1. God Bless Msgr. Pope!

    First, the charcoal drawing is beautiful. Second, both forms of masses need each other and can learn from each other. First, the older mass can learn about the need and importance of evangelizing as you have pointed out, the culture. Second, the newer mass can learn to be more grounded and not become unstable because of the latest fads. Also a very important reminder to preserve and restore older, historic churches.

    Thank-you for taking the time to read my brief reflection.

  2. True !

    Seems there is so much sense of mockery and scorn , may be even cleverly targeted at traidional families and relationships ; unsure if this is more virulent in some of the British programs , such as on P.B.S ( not much exposure to esp. secular T.V )- there by bringing in the beast like the leopard , crawling in , to do its Judasic job !

    We as a people of The Word , very sensitive to all such effects too !

    Latin , being a langauge that is said to be also gifted with special exorcism power ( one of the 3 languages on The Cross ) its revieval , the Liturgy possibly could have effects far beyond what we anticipate !

    Unsure how Hebrew , which would have been the liturgical language of The Lord and His disciples , got so obliterated , esp. in The East – Bl.Emmerich mentions The Lord celebrating the Hoy Mass , with the disciples

    . Hebrew too is said to be another language with exorcism powers and listeing to some of the Hebrew prayers yest , as part of the prayer for peace was touching ; same for the Hebrew related Geez liturgy , in its simple format of a few older simple folk chanting is also very touching ( the Erirtrean Catholic communities often have their liturgies in Catholic churches around .)

    Not wanting to denigrate the language of any one people , yet , this too seems worthwhile to share ; having heard how the Greogorian chant avoids certain notes that supposedly came into the universe after The Fall ,
    unsure if others too have sensed a mournful, wailing tone such as in the prayer call from the mosques !

    Unsure if same have not influnced areas and even Churches and its languages , such as Syriac , that might have come in too close connection , esp. through forced , hidden pacts with Islam , the effects of which might be lingeirng , at levels we may not even fathom, except for the realtionsip to the ‘stronger man ‘ appointed by The Lord , may be esp. for such a role !

    And who knows , may be the Latin Church also encouraging The East to look more into use of Hebrew , which would be really going back to the true roots and away from what might have been sneaked in / forced upon , would also help to revive both , in The East and West , along with all the good from same !

  3. Maria,

    It is difficult to describe how offensive your comments are concerning the Syriac Churches.

    Two millennia of Syriac Christians have preserved a truly Semitic Christianity despite oppression from Islam. Many of the most distinctive features of Islam were “stolen” from Syriac Christianity and your implication that we somehow copied them is not only ignorant but offensive beyond belief.

    Also, you do realize that Hebrew is not our “true roots” and it never was? No where in Christianity is Hebrew a traditional language. It was a clerical language not spoken my many people during the time of Christ. They all spoke Aramaic, which has been preserved in the Syriac Churches.

    Please reconsider your most unfortunate conclusions. Thousands of Syriac Christians in Syria and other places are still suffering under the blade of Sunni Muslims, and your comments reduce their suffering and deaths to meaninglessness.

    1. While the Syriac Christians have preserved the beautiful language of Aramaic, please do not forget that it is Hebrew that is the language of the Old Testement or Hebrew Scriptures.

      1. Hebrew was the language in which many of the writings of the Old Testament were written, but not all of them. Some of them were originally in Aramaic. The early church did not much use the Hebrew Bible, they used the Septuagint, which is in Greek and includes texts not originally written in Hebrew. This usage can be determined by examining which version of scripture the New Testament writers cited when they quoted the Old Testament; they mostly used the Greek version.

  4. @ Syriac Chritian,

    Apologies for the pain and misunderstanding seemingly caused by the term of the forced , hidden pacts .

    There was no intent to mean that Syriac Christianity borrowed from Islam , most , including me , know that it is the other way around , as you have pointed out .

    Yet , with a history of pacts such as of Umar and the MIllet system, if the heads of the divided Churches have come into reationships that are not God ordained , effects of which could still be lingering and is even contributing to the problems and pain , is it not right to try to see how to go about correcting same , out of compassion for the suffering !

    As to Hebrew not being the ‘root’ language , guess your own post gives the answer ; if it has been the language of the clergy , meant to be used by The High Priest Himself , efforts to bring same back – are we not being faithful !

    Peace !

  5. Msgr .Pope ,

    If the topic and comments are on too sensitive a topic , esp. at this juncture, do understand if you would not want to post same .

    If there is way to convey the response to the offended person , if you think that would help to correct the misunderstanding , that too would be much appreciated !

    Thank you !

  6. I’m baffled by the idea that the Novus Ordo is somehow more focused on evangelization. Latin America, much of Europe, the Phillipines, much of Africa, etc. were all evangelized under the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) and the pre-Vatican II Church. The Church today does very little to evangelize and appears guilty that it did so in the past – a complete rejection of Christ’s mandate.

    Those who live in the DC area are very blessed to have so many priests willing to offer the TLM. I encourage everyone to take advantage of this blessing. Once you get comforable with the differences, you will find your Faith strengthened and start wondering what madness drove the Church to change its liturgy so drastically. One very special opportunity to do so is next Saturday!

  7. My wife and I attended Pentecost Mass at St. Mary’s in D.C. and experienced all that Tracey Rowland speaks about. The Extraordinary form has a spiritual depth which is much needed by Catholics.

  8. I have found that the Latin Mass helps me keep focused, particularly if I have a Missal that has both the Latin and English translations. I need not hear every word the priest prays, but I am able to follow. By following, I must pay attention to what is going on, and can not let my mind wander (which can happen at vernacular Masses). My grade school Latin is shakey (very shakey), but I think if I were able to attend more often, I have a sneaking suspicion it would come back much better than my High School Spanish ever will. Even with my shakey Latin, I also find a greater beauty and formality to the Extraordinary Mass that is sometimes lacking in the vernacular.

  9. Dear Msgr. Pope,
    I am most happy that you have written about the TLM and its use as evangelization in our culture.
    It is good to see that the EF is becoming more available to the faithful, and surprisingly as you stated,
    there are many young people who attend. All your “red” remarks were very good.
    Thank you so much.

  10. What can I say? When I was young there was only the Latin Mass. I used to take my missal and try to see if I could read the Latin text which I completely did not understand faster than the priest could say it. While I might have appeared devout, I was being anything but. The Mass is not a horse race. I find the modern version draws me closer to Jesus than the old version ever did. But others may have different experiences.

    1. Yes that was the Only fault of the TLM. It was in parts rushed. Especialy the Confetior. This rushed gabbling away in latin was an abuse which we had to suffer. Now we don’t have either at least in my part of England.

    2. ‘I find the modern version draws me closer to Jesus.’

      I have no doubt that for some people this is true. The problem I see is that Paul VI did not offer his new mass as a set of alternative options to the old, but imposed it as a new missal on the church and a mandatory one at that. (Whether any pope has the right to do that is another discussion.)

      To this day, among the die-hard proponents of the Novus Ordo, there remains a determination to impose one way of worship (their way) on the entire church. Local adaptations are fine (inculturation) as long as they’re confined to the third world and allude to colourful native traditions. But heaven forbid any nod to historic western traditions (like the last gospel, etc). Unfortunately, too many people conflate the language question (Latin versus vernacular) with the changes to the missal, most of which were not suggested by Sacr.Conc. and none of which were desired by ordinary people in the pews.

      Who knows how many people we lost because of that? Yes, we know about the Lefebvrists and the splinter groups, but I suspect countless more just walked away.

      It’s also time the hierarchy stops idolising Vatican II. It’s been 50 years, for goodness sake; let’s approach it more critically now. With the perspective of history, perhaps it caused as many problems as Vatican I. Time for some honest critique.

      Maybe it’s time for some Athansian-style disobedience from the traditionalists within the church. The ‘progressives’ have ignored the missal and its rubrics for years when it suited them (that’s how we ended up with additional eucharistic prayers). Already I’m hearing the readings at some EF masses in English, which probably isn’t allowed (is it?). Maybe a more vernacular, or an entirely vernacular EF, would open the treasures of this mass to more people. Just don’t wait for permission from the bishops.

  11. A short time ago, I returned from the traditional Latin Mass that I attend every Sunday here in Dusseldorf, Germany, celebrated by an FSSP priest. I found Monsignor Pope’s writing and the article he comments on in my mailbox. I can only say that it is all so brilliant and true that I am left practically speechless. I’m afraid that if I tried to describe exactly HOW brilliant and true it all seems to me, the words would just gush out in a kind of emotional storm, and I would wind up sounding like a babbling idiot. What I CAN say, though, is this: “Monsignor Pope is completely, absolutely, one hundred-percent RIGHT!”

  12. The gifts of the TLM are finally recognised! Wow, I would not have expected this to be heard in the 70s or 80s. Then it raises the very fundamental question of why do we need the New Mass if we have everything we need with the Old one to lead holy and fruitful Catholic lives?

    Why do we need the New Mass if it always needs the succour of the Old Mass to cover its shortcomings? It is sort of the elephant in the room; everyone praises the TLM, but no one asks questions about why do we always need the TLM’s help to get the ”true meaning/fullness” of the New Mass?

  13. It must be always remembered that Vatican II in the document on the Liturgy did NOT CALL FOR A NEW MISSAL MUCH LESS a NEW ORDER MISSAL. It was assumed by the Council Fathers that there would only be small organic changes in the Missal of 1962. The idea for a new mass to serve Modern man’s needs came from Archbishop Bugnini who came up with this idea to Pope Paul VI and twisted his arm because even Paul had his own misgivings about it in his speech. The idea was to strip it of any Catholic trappings in order to apple more to Protestants. It will not last. A certain Prelate predicted a few years back this Mass will not be around in 50 years or less. Cardinal Burke has concerns the NO Mass because of its theological outlook more about the People or the Community could make a Catholic loss their Faith. There are too many abuses in this Mass.

  14. Dear Msgr. Pope, thank you, once again for a life giving post.

    Lately, the weight of so many trashy Sunday liturgies has left me distracted so much so I now come away from Sunday Mass angry and frustrated at the lack of reverence and shabby music that is, more often than not, not suitable for Catholic worship. This past Sunday at the cathedral, as on most Sundays, not one—not one!—hymn actually offered adoration, praise and/or thanksgiving to God. The songs could have been directed to the Buddha. For all the talk of “active participation”, most of the music in our parishes has us talking about God or how much we deserve spiritual niceties, music that actually distances us from God. Frequently, the songs have the congregation singing ‘in the voice of God’. I cannot help but think that ad orientem worship is the linchpin to effecting a return to Catholic worship, i.e., worship offered to God (and not some spiritual pep rally that has us worshipping each other).

    I’m grateful for your affirmations regarding the true dignity and orientation of Catholic worship. Your words are water to a (very) weary soul.

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