Thursday, February 4, 2010

Mass: The Old Way

Mass, the ‘Old Way’

by Fr. Ranhilio Callangan Aquino
I started serving Mass when I was in the second grade, barely able to carry the ponderous Missal that the ‘sacristan’ was supposed to transfer from the Epistle—the left side—to the right, or Gospel side at some point in the celebration. Of course, at that time, it was the Tridentine Rite that priest and sacristans alike had to master. The Confiteor… I confess was, to a young altar server, gut-wrenching, especially when, as in my case, it was a cantankerous, elderly priest who was presiding. Frankly, I never memorized the prayer at that time, although I knew that at some time you had to swing towards the priest, and then beat your breast three times.

It was in 1969 when I entered the minor seminary, and that was a period of exciting confusion in the liturgy, for while the Novus Ordo Missae (the New Order of the Mass) was already in place, it was not yet so in the minds and hearts of many priests who did their best to comply with the letter of the law but were really quite attached to the Mass ‘as it had always been’. Each priest, it seemed to me, had his own rather ingenious way of bringing in the New Order while retaining as much of the Tridentine Liturgy as he could.

By the time I was in college seminary, the New Order of the Mass was no longer new. The vestments that, in the minor seminary, were so familiar because we handled them each day in preparation for Mass, became oddities of the past and soon hardly anyone had any recollection of the Latin prayers of the former rite.

Things came to a head of course, when Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and his followers, who were later to be called the Society of St. Pius X, defied the orders of the Holy See, proceeded to celebrate the liturgy according to the Tridentine Rite, to ordain new priests, and then bishops without papal mandate. John Paul II was many things— holy and noble—but he was not one to stand by as his orders were defied and so hard times fell on Lefebvre and his companions. “Tridentine” became almost synonymous with “schismatic”. But it is necessary to set things aright. What made the Holy See wield its now sparingly-used rod of canonical sanctions was not that Lefebvre and company had used the Tridentine Rite; rather it was their rejection of the liturgical reform of the Second Vatican Council—and some of its doctrinal pronouncements—that set the alarm signals on in aedibus Vaticanis.

Last week, Undersecretary Oscar Palayab of the Department of Tourism brought the John Van de Steen Choir to Tuguegarao City. Before they arrived, I did not know that that is how they called themselves. I was pleasantly surprised to find out when I finally met the group that they were “Van de Steen” boys, the ninos tiples of the Manila Cathedral Choir who were trained by the later Fr. John van de Steen, CICM. I can lay claim to being a “Van de Steen” boy myself because while in college seminary, I did piano lessons and choir work with Fr. Van de Steen. Anyway, Undersecretary Palayab requested for a Tridentine Mass, and Archbishop Diosdado Talamayan consented. The task fell upon me, as chairman of the liturgical commission of the Archdiocese, to be Master of Ceremonies at a Rite that was now as strange to me as the Syrian, Coptic or Malabar rites. But I retrieved a Missal from its resting place in the archives of San Beda College, studied the rite—and struggle with the Latin instructions (as there was no English translation available)—and then train law students, who had been in the minor and college seminaries and had some passable degree of familiarity with Latin to get them by, as Mass servers. So as the choir sang the Misa de Angelis, with the back of the priest to the people, we went on, really inching our way, through the Tridentine Mass—in a Cathedral that was packed with people, many obviously nostalgic about the Mass of yesteryears.

Benedict XVI issued Summorum Pontificum, an apostolic letter on July 7, 2007. He decreed that it was now permissible to celebrate Mass according to the Rite set forth in the Missal of St. Pius V (at the time of the Council of Trent) and re-issued, after editing, by Blessed John XXIII. With generosity towards his predecessor, he pointed out that John Paul II had in fact allowed for this possibility in letter that the late Pope had written. The Pope’s motu proprio did not only give permission; in many ways it encouraged the celebration of the Mass according to this liturgy by recognizing it as the “extraordinary form” of the very same ‘law of prayer’ behind the present rite of the Mass. That is another way of saying that the public worship of God and the sanctification of his people can take different forms: the form as prescribed by the Second Vatican Council, and the form of the Mass “of the past”. The Pope’s Masses in Latin that one can watch over EWTN and other channels is not the Tridentine Liturgy. It is actually the Vatican II Rite in its original Latin.

My mother has always expressed a fondness for the Latin Mass in the Tridentine, or “extraordinary” form because it was the Mass as she had known it from childhood. The chants of the Misa de Angelis are familiar to her. While she understands some Latin words and phrases, particularly as they occur in law and legal literature, she by no means reads, much less writes or speaks it. But she likes it for Mass and, as with many others, she feels that it makes something ‘special’ of the Mass. Of course, my brother grumbles about the priest mumbling to himself in Latin without anybody understanding him.

Actually, every religion is marked by some form of disciplina arcana—the use of gestures, a language, habiliments—that set off the sacred from the profane, for religion can only thrive in that tension that makes the sacred and profane distinct, yet related to each other. And for that matter, even the legal profession as its own language and rites, strange to the uninitiated, but that nevertheless serve the purpose of instilling in all the majesty of the law and the solemnity of the administration of justice.

But preparing for that “re-birth” of the Tridentine Liturgy at our Cathedral left me with an appreciation for the Mass as it had been: the elegance of the Latin prayers, though formulated in lapidary style, is undeniable. The prayer Aufer a nobis..that the priest says while ascending the altar is moving. But this might be the opportune time to set aright a misconception. Actually, the Tridentine Liturgy does not take us closer to the ‘original’. What we have in the Missal of Pius V as re-issued by John XXIII is the Mass encrusted with all the embellishments of the centuries. Witness the repeated blessings, the multiplied bows, genuflections, signs of the cross, etc. and you will get just what I mean. In fact, the very intention of Vatican II’s liturgical reform was to strip the rites of later accretions, take them to the bare simplicity of their Roman origins and then allow for cultural adaptations. So it is that when the Holy See published the editiones typicae (the normative editions) of the Liturgical Books, this was the liturgy in its barest essentials—as close to the original as close can be – and open to adaptations as well as to different forms of inculturation. Having made that clarification and by now having gained some respectable degree of mastery of the Tridentine Rite, I would be happy to celebrate Mass according to its “extraordinary form” soon!
God is to be worshipped in spirit and in truth—and that will mean, according to the various forms that the spirit finds expression in the world and in the culture of men and women who worship. Benedict XVI’s generous concession is not a return to the past. It is a welcome signal that pluralism is not anathema to him and to the shepherding office of the Church!

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