Friday, September 24, 2010

Review: The Old Mass and the New

I am a Catholic of the post-Vatican 2 generation.  I was born just before the Council convened and made my First Communion just as the changes were occuring.  When I was little, there were still Communion rails in some churches ... still some who celebrated the Mass ad orientem ... still some parishes who encouraged the traditions of the Church.  Some.

But I am a product of a very liberal catechesis.  After all, I grew up in San Francisco and, although I attended Catholic schools all the way through undergrad, most were pretty liberal and embracing the new way of doing things.  Not that all the "new" ways were bad ...

Personally, I have never understood the desire by many to return to the "old Mass" ... to don mantillas and attempt to follow along while the priest has his back to the congregation and occasionally an altar server moves from right to left and back again.  I just don't get it, but I understand that it is completely valid for others to celebrate the Liturgy in this way.  I just don't get it.

Which is why I jumped at the chance to review The Old Mass and the New: explaining the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum of Pope Benedict XVI by Bishop Marc Aillet.  This book was originally published in France shortly after Pope Benedict's promulgation of his motu proprio in 2007; the version I read has just been translated/published by Ignatius Press.  I wanted to try to understand why the Church is seeking to reform the liturgy.  There are things I don't like about the Mass, but isn't it basically the Mass wherever I go?

Bishop Aillet, who is the bishop of Bayonne, France and has successfully brought both the Old and New Mass into his diocese, proves in his volume the reason behind the liturgical reform and how best for Catholics to keep the good and toss the bad.  The Old Mass and the New: explaining the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum of Pope Benedict XVI is a wonderful reference for Catholics to better understand the WHY of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

It's not a large volume -- only some 126 pages (and that includes the text of Summorum Pontificum as well as all the end notes, etc) -- but it packs a punch!  In this book, I came to understand better the errors made in the execution of the Second Vatican Council's directives for how to encourage greater participation in the Mass while retaining the good, the true and the beautiful.  This book explains that it is much more than a matter of wearing a mantilla to Mass or celebrating the Mass in the vernacular vs Latin.  This is not the point that the Holy Father was trying to make in his motu proprio NOR was it the point of what the Magisterium was trying to do in "throwing wide the doors" of the Church in what has become known as the Second Vatican Council.

Because of the errors in execution, we now have a Church divided -- those who embrace the Old Mass and those who embrace the New.  As Bishop Aillet describes:

The fact is that in the postconciliar Church we have witnessed a kind of dialectic opposition between the defenders of liturgical worship and the promoters of openness to the world.  Because the latter went so far as to reduce the Christian life to a mere social commitment, measured by a secular interpretation of the faith, the former reacted by taking refuge in a liturgy that was rigid to the pont of 'rubricism', with a danger of encouraging the faithful to protect themselves from the world... pg 39
A bunker mentality exists for the Old Mass proponets while the New Mass folks are merrily going about making what should be an expression of the mystery of the our Faith (and how we can live in the world but not "of" it), into a personal feelings expression of what each of us want it to be.  In other words, neither side is right; we have each gone too far to the right or the left.  This is not a question of either the Old or the New, it is a question of why we do what we do and how we do it.

With both sides so far left or right, we have lost the the sense of the mystery ... "the crisis in the liturgy is essentially the loss of the sense of the sacred" (pg 46).  Along with this loss of the sense of the sacred is the loss of the beauty ... the mistaken idea that by removing Chant or ancient music from the Mass we are allowing greater participation by the congregation. 

Bishop Aillet's book helped me to understand that the current Liturgical Reform movement is not a case of either the Old or the New ... but rather a situation of education.  We Catholics need to understand why we have what we have ... we need to re-kindle the beauty and mystery in the greatest celebration we can pariticpate in:  the sacrifice that Jesus made on the Cross.  By revisiting both liturgies ... by looking at what is good, true and beautiful in each, by seeking to return the sense of the sacred to each and every offering at the Altar, is what the Liturgical Reform is all about. 

The book includes the full text of the Summorum Pontificum as well as the cover letter Popy Benedict XVI sent to all the bishops to assist in the promulgation of his motu proprio.

This book is not a light read ... there were areas that I had to re-read or research to understand ... but this is all to the good.  This is a book that stays out of the subjective emotional arena and focuses on the objective reality of what the Sacrifice of the Mass should be.

I highly recommend this one -- whether you wear a mantilla or not!

Full disclosure:  I received this book as part of the Catholic Company's review program.  The thoughts above are my own personal critique of Bishop Aillet's book.  For further information or to order a copy of The Old Mass and the New, please check Catholic Company's site.  Also be sure to check out their great selection of Mary statues.

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