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The Confederate Lawyer
February 27, 2013

Pope Benedict and the Liturgy
by Charles G. Mills
fitzgerald griffin foundation

ancient mass

A Catholic priest celebrates Mass according to the 1962 missal at St. John Cantius Church in Chicago.
(Photo by Fran Griffin)

GLEN COVE, NY — Every week in a church in downtown Troy, New York, the ancient Carmelite Mass is celebrated in Latin — one of the many fruits of the liturgical reforms of Pope Benedict XVI.

Under the guidance of the Apostles, the Mass or Divine Liturgy took the form of a two-part ceremony, the first based in part on Jewish tradition, and the second on the Last Supper and Our Lord's teachings. The Church has the final authority to establish the details of both parts of the ceremony within the overall limits imposed by the Apostolic Tradition.

In the East, this liturgy takes a number of forms. The oldest is the Syriac Rite, but the ancient Indian rites of Saint Thomas the Apostle are almost as old. Other Eastern rites include the Byzantine, the Melkite, the Maronite, and the Coptic.

In the West, greater uniformity developed over the centuries. In the ninth century, as Charlemagne unified much of continental Europe, most of the rites of Italy, France, Austria, Germany, northern Spain, and nearby countries were made more consistent with one another. Many small variations from the Roman Rite died out over the ensuing centuries. In the sixteenth century, Pope Saint Pius V stopped all liturgical innovation and established the Roman Rite as the rite for places under persecution (such as Britain) and for the missions. Most western Catholics came to regard the Roman Rite as if were universal, or at least nearly so.

Changing or "reforming" the liturgy is a delicate process. In the East, the adoption of the Gregorian calendar precipitated a schism. Protestantism attacked the Church's liturgical tradition. Calvinists simply repudiated the great majority of liturgical tradition. Lutherans and Anglicans were less extreme but still rejected much of the Catholic liturgy. In England, the traditional Roman Mass became one of the most important things for which Catholics suffered persecution. Catholics fined for not attending the Church of England services often told their judges that it was not the Mass they grew up with.

In the period from 1964-1969, the changes to the liturgy were so extensive and so quickly implemented that they are still harming the Church. To make matters worse, a lot of innovations were invented without any authority from the Church.

  The Second Vatican Council envisioned the use of modern languages, instead of Latin, in the proper of the day as an option. The use of modern languages already existed to a very limited extent. In many countries, including the English-speaking ones, the Leonine prayers after low Mass were in modern languages. Communion was distributed in German in some places. Many of the Eastern Rites had introduced some vernacular. Instead of a limited option for modern languages, however, the result of the reforms was a Mass entirely in modern languages and a crusade by liturgical extremists to suppress Latin entirely. These results offended huge numbers of the faithful who loved Latin.     ...the result of the reforms was a Mass entirely in modern languages and a crusade by liturgical extremists to suppress Latin entirely. .. offended huge numbers of the faithful who loved Latin.

One of the goals of the Second Vatican Council reforms was to provide a liturgy that would clarify the distinction between the priest speaking to God and the priest speaking to the people. Instead, the priest says everything into a microphone facing the people, and the distinction is obliterated.

Other changes made a lot of people think that we were faced with a radical remaking of the Mass. Some even doubted, and still doubt, the validity of the 1969 Mass or the authority of the Church to promulgate it.

This was the situation that Pope Benedict faced. He could not reverse the status quo immediately and entirely without causing the kind of turmoil and spiritual distress that characterized the reforms of the 1960s. He had to proceed as gradually as Pope Saint Pius X and the Venerable Pius XII did in their liturgical reforms, rather than as quickly as Pope Paul VI did. Sir Arnold Lunn was virtually alone in opposing the reforms of Pope Pius XII. Opposition to those of Paul VI was wide enough to be considered a crisis.

  Pope Benedict ... promulgate[d] a document begun by Blessed John Paul II that restored the Mass as it existed in 1962 for those who wanted it.     The first thing Pope Benedict did was to finish and promulgate a document begun by Blessed John Paul II that restored the Mass as it existed in 1962 for those who wanted it. In most cases where there was doubt as to whether 1962 or twenty-first century rules applied to the celebration of this Mass, the document clearly prescribed the 1962 rules. The document also elevated the status of the 1962 Mass to the same status as the 1969 Mass and authorized the ancient Latin Masses of orders of monks and friars. Those who want and have access to the 1962 Mass are thereby relieved of the liturgical problems created in the 1960s. If the use of this option keeps expanding, it will be an important part of the legacy of Benedict XV.

Pope Benedict also returned the altar in the Sistine Chapel to its original position; when he celebrates there, he has his back to the people during those parts of the Mass that are directed to God. He has long made it clear that he dislikes the contemporary practice of having most altars designed only for Masses facing the people. Let us hope that his true understanding on this point will spread. Benedict has also made great strides in bringing Anglicans back into the Church with a liturgy that reflects one of the ancient English rites.

More harm was done in the 1960s than can be prudently corrected in a single pontificate, but Pope Benedict XVI has made a substantial contribution.

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The Confederate Lawyer column is copyright © 2013 by Charles G. Mills and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation, www.fgfBooks.com. All rights reserved.

This column may be forwarded, posted, or published if credit is given to Charles Mills and fgfBooks.com.

Charles G. Mills is the Judge Advocate or general counsel for the New York State American Legion. He has forty years of experience in many trial and appellate courts and has published several articles about the law.

See his biographical sketch and additional columns here.

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