Is the New Mass Really a Return to Patristic Sources?
by Fr. Romano Thommasi
When a man such as His Excellency Bishop Piero Marini finds himself in a unique position of authority, every action and every word that he speaks is normally seen as symbolic or indicative of an ideology held by the same man. In drafting a response to the interview granted by His Excellency Bishop Piero Marini to John L. Allen Jr. of the National Catholic Reporter, some first impressions and observations ought to be expressed before critiquing some very troubling phrases that supposedly issued from the good Monsignor's mouth. First of all, it is extremely troubling to the author to see that the good Monsignor granted an interview to such a divisive paper which has made no apologies for directly opposing formal dogmatic teachings of the Magisterium and of the current Pontiff; the very same Pontiff that His Excellency Piero Marini ought to be faithfully serving and protecting. To grant an interview as an attaché bishop and personal assistant to the Pope to such an anti-papal periodical is to tread on very thin ice; in so much that one might easily interpret the interviewee as being a disgruntled or sympathizing element with the "enemy" of the current "administration."
Having said this, one can not with confidence infer from such an interview that His Excellency is disloyal or heretical, since one ought to have his own suspicions about the accuracy of the reporting done by the NCR. Although in the case of John L. Allen Jr., the report seems to be written in a rather objective and matter of fact style, one still might have some misgivings about his concern for exactness, no matter how well-intended he may have been. In the edition of the interview which is in author's possession, careless mistakes like a reference to the Ordinis Romanae, which is almost certainly an incorrect and careless reference to the Ordines Romani, possibly demonstrates a lack concern for precision on the part of the interviewer. This inexactitude could be considered symptomatic of a periodical that on other occasions has demonstrated little concern for scholarship and accuracy. One need refer only to the fact that Fr. Richard McBrien is a columnist for this same paper. This man is not so offensive for his formal professed heresy as much as he is offensive to the mind by means of his arguments and positions that simply betray a lack of scholarly objectivity and a biased distortion of fact that is only paralleled by anti-Catholic biblical fundamentalists.
Lastly, it should be mentioned that many on both the left and right have lamented the clericalization that has taken place in the curia ever since the Council. Piero Marini, supposedly a reformer, is symptomatic of this type of concern, since his position as bishop appears to be a 'reward' for being a Master of Ceremonies amounting to the creation of a glorified altar boy into a titular bishop. He is a Pastor nulliusPastor of nothing!
The suppression of the subdiaconate and minor orders by the Consilium was based on the purported need to have only those church ministries that would be "authentic". This meant that because exorcists and porters were never used in the practical life of the Church, and since subdeacons were merely transitional and not of great utility, they should be eliminated. Yet similar logic seemingly does not apply to bishop making. Every major office and nunciature has been deemed uniquely an episcopal office. What does being a bishop have to do with directing altar boys (and girls) or telling a priest in which row he is to sit? It is beyond many to see how such a "reform minded" cleric could possibly accept the office of bishop which should be of its very nature pastoral in character.
A final comment would be in order regarding Mr. John Allen's statement that some consider Bishop Marini's Masses as "Broadway production numbers". For those like the author who had the privilege of being in Rome during the Jubilee, one of the most memorable Masses had to be the Jubilee for entertainers, whereat clowns, mimes and various circus people were tramping around during the whole of the outdoor Mass. When costumed men receive Communion on stilts (which the Italian newspapers placed on the front page), does it really lend itself to a two-sided interpretation? If one does not consider this Mass to be theatrics, then what is the current definition of a theatrical production?
All of these observations, however, do not really strike at the heart of the matter opined by His Excellency Msgr. Marini. The good Msgr. makes several bold claims regarding the reformed liturgy. He is quoted as saying:
"The reform was a return to the authentic tradition of the church, which is the liturgy of the Fathers. This meant taking away all the duplications that found their way into the liturgy, the encrustations that were superimposed over the centuries. This was a work of cleaning, like the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel."
Msgr. Marini emphasized the patristic nature of the reform just a few lines earlier in the same article, but here he says explicitly that, according to his mind, the liturgy carries weight and is authentic principally because it relies on the authentic tradition of the church, which we know through the writings and compositions of the Fathers.
Unfortunately, Msgr. Marini failed to mention that this is a complete fabrication, as will become apparent. Hopefully a step by step general commentary on elements of the New Mass ritual will suffice to demonstrate the ridiculous nature of these claims:
- The entrance procession, consecration, and recessional of the new Mass prescribe a genuflection in the presence of the Ss. Sacrament. As any liturgist knows, the genuflection is a late medieval addition to the liturgy which did not become predominant in the Mass until the 14th century, and then only in certain western liturgies. Here we see a medieval element in this so-called "patristic" liturgy. Furthermore the celebrant enters and begins Mass, following an entrance song, with the sign of the cross. This practice too is a late 14th century addition which was scheduled to be eliminated by the Consilium, but was retained by the express desire of Paul VI.
- Following the greeting and introductory remarks, there is the Confiteor or "I confess to Almighty God, etc." This new Mass version is based on the medieval Dominican form of the Confiteor which was a prayer found in the Gallican, or non-Roman, liturgies of medieval northern Europe, which have been demonized by liturgical reformers. The original Roman practice, according to the Ordines Romani, is that the celebrant simply prostrates himself on the ground in private preparatory prayer. The Misereatur or "May almighty God have mercy on us, etc." is a medieval absolution formula used probably in sacramental confessions of that period. Liturgists of great note have criticized these formulas as giving the impression of granting sacramental absolution at the Mass. This formula is not in accord with the patristic usage of the ancient Roman Church.
- At the Collect (opening/closing prayer), and at other times, the clergy in the sanctuary are instructed to hold their hands in the traditional position of palms facing inward with fingers extended, a Gallican prayer and medieval fealty pose not in keeping with a puritanical concept of a Roman type Mass.
- The Creed, recited only since the 11th century, is a medieval introduction which interrupts the flow of the liturgy according to modern liturgical understanding and yet persists as an obligatory element in the new Mass. In the Roman rite only the Apostle's Creed historically had a place of honor in liturgical worship and principally only during specific ceremonies of the liturgical year. Thus another element is left unrestored in comparison to the ritual of the Fathers.
- The Prayer of the Faithful, or petitions, is of doubtful existence in the early church of Rome or even the medieval church. It is likely that it has never existed in the Roman rite, except for intercessions contained in the Roman Canon. This is not a restoration, but a hypothetical introduction of an ancient prayer which original form is completely unknown to us. It is difficult to restore something if one does not know what it originally looked like.
- The offertory rite has offertory prayers over the bread and wine. There were no offertory prayers at all in the patristic Roman rite. The celebrant simply prayed in silence. Furthermore, the offertory collect, or secret, is of dubious existence in the ancient and early medieval church. The ancient manuscripts presume that the Pope simply offered the gifts of bread and wine on the altar in silent prayer. Furthermore, upon going up to the altar at this time, the celebrant "greets" or presumably kisses the altar; something forbidden in the new Mass. The patristic church, apart from Armenia, knew nothing except leavened bread, yet this was left unrestored? Even the Consilium itself originally opposed the new offertory prayers. This was so since there was a useless doublet whereby the faithful give assent to the offering of the gifts of bread and wine which is once again to be repeated by their "Amen" at the offertory prayer (secret) which is a prayer of offering of the bread and wine as well!
- The Orate, Fratres or "Pray, brethren, that our sacrifice, etc." was a medieval accretion that the Consilium voted to expunge, but it was retained for sentimental reasons on the part of the Pope and some expert liturgists of the committee.
- The new eucharistic prayers are all foreign to the Roman rite, which has only known one eucharistic prayer since the rite's advent (c. 380). The eucharistic prayer of Hippolytus was considered theologically impoverished by the Consilium and so was amplified in the new Mass, while it was simultaneously recognized as a prayer with extremely private theological leanings that reflected its unknown author, commonly referred to as Hippolytus. The fourth eucharistic prayer, supposedly based on Byzantine sources, is foreign to the patristic Roman church which used its own particular genius to express its theology, not the verbose and poetic prayers typical of the East. Finally, the Roman Canon was modified in the new Mass in such a way that it does not agree with the earliest manuscripts from the patristic age. Its words of consecration do not reflect the authentic Roman tradition.
- Regarding the "Our Father", it is a source of confusion, since the old authentic Roman tradition, as attested to by Innocent I, was to recite it before the Canon, along with the sign of peace, while the Gregorian reform placed them both before the reception of Communion. Thus the Consilium offers us no guiding principle as to which date, age, or Father would be the best or most ideal to imitate. Therefore, arbitrarily, the Consilium placed the "Our Father" and sign of peace in the same place as the Gregorian reform of Pope St. Gregory the Great while ignoring the more ancient tradition of Pope St. Innocent I.
- The embolism after the "Our Father" or "Deliver us, Lord from every evil, etc." was modified from the most ancient and patristic manuscripts conveniently omitting the special Roman devotion to the Ss. Peter and Paul and mention of the B. V. Mary. The prayer of peace "Lord Jesus Christ you said to your apostles 'I leave you peace…' etc." was a medieval private prayer that is now recited aloud instead of being thrown out, for the simple reason that the Consilium considered it a beautiful prayer. One should not retain a prayer because it is "beautiful", if, according to Msgr. Marini the task of the Consilium was to restore the authentic Roman rite (in his words, like the restoration of the Sistine Chapel), not to give the old Roman rite a makeover (like the successive Pope's who covered the nudes of the Sistine Chapel). Furthermore, the Agnus Dei, a Syrian import from the 8th century, was considered an authentic Roman part of the Mass by the Consilium even though it is foreign in origin. It was introduced into the ancient Roman rite to accompany the fraction of the leavened bread after the "Our Father". The fraction of the bread was eventually deemed unnecessary due to the introduction of unleavened bread in the 9th and 10th centuries. Therefore it remains puzzling as to why the Consilium restored the fraction, or breaking of the bread, at the Agnus Dei since the whole ritual of breaking the loaves at this time depended on the use of leavened bread which was substantial bread requiring ample time to tear and break. The Roman rite still continues to use the medieval practice of unleavened bread to this day, making the restoration of the fraction at the Agnus Dei superfluous.
- The priest's private communion preparatory prayers are Gallican (non-Roman) in origin and were thrown out by the Consilium, but reinstated by the wishes of the Pontiff. Moreover, the last blessing in its current form is Gallican in origin, and yet it is retained.
These observations are merely the beginning of a plethora of examples that demonstrate that the new Mass is not patristic, nor is it a restoration. It is merely a radical simplification based on the preferences of liturgists up to and including the 1960's who based their reform not on returning to a patristic liturgy, but on something quite different. The basis for each change varies according to the group assigned to discuss the particular ritual, or on a host of other factors. What is clear is that this liturgy has very little patristic about it. It is pure invention based on the arbitrary opinions of men who were historically conditioned by the thinking of the decade of the 1960's. What made their decisions any more valuable or inspired than another's has yet to be determined, since they had deep rifts and disagreements among themselves; as a perusal of the minutes of the meetings and the tally of votes demonstrates.
Msgr. Marini's generalization that the ancient Roman rite was merely a "liturgical expression of the Mediterranean Basin" is technically incorrect. A purported reason why the liturgy needed to be reformed in the first place was based on the fact that there where too many Gallican (Northern French, Germanic, etc.) elements. Many of these elements are not at all reflective of Mediterranean culture. The Roman rite missal of Pius V draws on various elements from Palestinian and Greek Judaism, to Syrian, Greek, North African and German-French Christianity (and Spanish elements which are of varying origin themselves). The amalgamation and mixing of sources, texts, and rituals made it one of the most cosmopolitan of rites, especially following the medieval period which brought on the expansion of the Roman rite beyond the Mediterranean Basin. The mestizo nature of the Missal of Pius V could arguably be used to promote it as a ritual that neither favors nor denigrates a particular culture, since the majority of the elements are from dead Latin-Gallican cultures.
This means that the language of the ancient Mass and its ritual is neutral in regard to various cultures. On the contrary Greek or Syrian liturgies are very much reflective of local national customs and language. In the majority of countries using the Roman rite, it was not the Roman liturgy that was adapted to national customs or sentiments, but it was the Roman Liturgy to which a particular culture or nation needed to adapt in order to become Catholic. It was by adopting the rites and traditions of the Roman Missal, Ritual, Calendar and theology that one could adopt a new culture not of Europeans, but a culture into which Catholic Europeans had also been absorbed in order to embrace a truly universal Christian identity, even in regards to the externals of worship.
Perhaps the part of the interview with Msgr. Marini that is the most telling is his words in defense of the Pontiff being 'purified' in a pagan cultic ritual while visiting Mexico, which ceremony was originally planned to be within, and not after, the actual celebration of Mass. Msgr. Marini draws attention to the fact that the bishop who had requested the ritual did not really understand its significance or nature, yet he felt that it would be an important political statement of solidarity with the Indians by permitting into the Mass an ambiguous pagan, or quasi-pagan, ritual. This action is really symbolic of the entire liturgical movement since the Council. Experts, clerics, and laymen alike, not understanding what exactly they are dealing with, feel free to impose and construct new liturgical forms in the mere hope that it will bring human beings into some sort of experience of the divine. To the modernist, it does not matter that the old ritual about to be scrapped is not fully understood, nor whether the ritual may be of value. The important quest is to adapt divine worship according to peoples' desires and customs, even if they still be pagan or only quasi-Christian.
The instrument of evangelization and contact with the divinity is now culture, not divine revelation. The presumption is that one cannot comprehend divine revelation except through the narrow constraints of current religious rituals within their own culture, regardless whether or not these rituals symbolically oppose or distort Christian revelation. In the modern lingo, "Christianizing a ritual" means allowing Christians to use pagan rituals since they claim it is the best means for them to encounter the divine. The effect is to subject divine revelation and its concrete realities to ambiguous and untested rituals and modes of expression.
The focal point of this article, however, is that the reform of the New Mass is not patristic. It may occasionally refer to patristic practices to justify its existence, but the reality is that the New Mass retains encrusted medieval accretions, with the added distinction of no longer being a ritual that developed naturally and organically through the centuries. It is rather a ritual which has been artificially imposed on the Church by, for the most part, western Europeans who may themselves have been victims of the Zeitgeist and historical conditioning of their own decade, which decade's fads, politics, and optimism have already become irrelevant in our current age.
It is no wonder that the artificial construct of the New Mass is always changing and being modified as it will always be at least a decade behind the current fads with which it seeks to be in synch, since the principle theoretical means by which the new Mass has relevance is by its ability to communicate with the modern mentality and needs of a particular people of the modern age only. The Mass' value has become its functional utility to communicate, and no longer does it emphasize the eternal transcendent nature of the sacrifice which depends on no culture or ritual, but upon fidelity to the apostolic traditions known only in the forms which have been handed down to use through the centuries in the ancient Mass, not through the interpretations and abstractions of European scholars who have only of late invented a new science of liturgiology, which is liable to all the limitations and deficiencies contracted by the curse of original sin.