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Seattle Catholic
A Journal of Catholic News and Views
2 Jun 2004

Restore the Old Mass

by Robert Moynihan

Traditional Latin Mass

[This article originally appeared an an editorial in the May 4, 2004 issue of Inside the Vatican ( For subscription information, call 1-800-789-9494]

"By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song: and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land? If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy."
(Psalms 137: 1-6 (KJV))

On April 23, the Congregation for Divine Worship issued a 60 page instruction, Redemptionis Sacramentum, ("The Sacrament of Redemption"). It is the result of long and serious deliberations on how the Mass is being celebrated today in the Church, and sets forth a standard of solemnity to be followed everywhere. (Even in Rome, I would hope: a couple of weeks ago at the Church of San Giovanni dei Fiorentini, I heard "Danny Boy" played during Communion).

No one can deny the desire on the part of the authors of this instruction to impart a sense of the sacred to the new Mass.

But after studying the catalogue of the "do's and don'ts" in the document, one senses a reluctance on Rome's part to get to the root causes of the problem: namely, the new Mass itself.

There have been books written on what's missing in the new Mass, by Cardinal Ratzinger among others, and the authors of this instruction are aware of these studies. But they do not pinpoint the real source of the 40-year secularization of the Mass. The problem is that the new Mass attracts and "enables" abuses because it was intentionally shaped to diminish the "transcendent" and emphasize the "profane" dimension.

The new Mass has turned out to be a rite too rapidly produced and too influenced by the rampant secularization of the 1960's. Patching it up is a vain effort.

At least in this one area it is possible for the Church to take decisive action.

The successor of Peter can even tomorrow issue a solemn decree more or less as follows "The cries of God's people are at last heard; the winter is over, the true springtime is come; the ancient, holy liturgy of the Roman rite, cherished by so many saints, will, with no further delay, be restored in all the churches of Christendom..."

Then the Pope would set forth the steps by which innovation, experiment, and individual artistry would come to an end and the ancient sacrificial offering of the Mass — in all dignity and solemnity — would be restored. Some would argue that such an action would be a grave mistake, that making such a liturgical change would both "impede ecumenical progress" and "further confuse the faithful."

I understand these arguments and feel their force.

But I am persuaded that the restoration of the old Mass, with its simple solemnity and rich symbolism, would not offend non-Catholics, as is feared, but attract them and attract them profoundly.

And I am persuaded that the restoration of the old Mass would not "confuse" the faithful, but would "galvanize' them, deepening their Christian faith, confirming them in the love of God and their neighbor. And this, in fact, is what the bishops at Vatican II most deeply desired.

I am convinced that the restoration of the old liturgy would be a consolation to many, who have attended the new Mass, not to "participate more fully" in the new liturgy, but, out of obedience to a Pope and hierarchy which has asked them to "give up" the Mass they love.

I am persuaded that the restoration of the old Mass would be a "festival day," a day of universal celebration and, as such, would mark the beginning of a great renewal in Church life."

Some will argue that such a restoration would be disrespectful toward Pope Paul VI, who promulgated the new Mass in 1969.

I disagree. Paul VI himself was hesitant about the new Mass, as he was about so many things. He approved it half-heartedly. It is said that after he attended a "trial run" of the new Mass, he said, "But where is the mystery? The mystery is gone!" He himself felt something was missing in the new Mass, but promulgated it anyway.

In April I had a conversation with Fr. Jean Marie Charles-Roux, 90, one of the priests who celebrated Mass for Mel Gibson in Rome during the filming of The Passion of the Christ. Charles-Roux was ordained in the 1950's. He knew Pius XII, John XXIII, and Paul VI personally, In 1971, after celebrating the new Mass for about 18 months, he asked Paul VI to receive him at Castel Gandolfo. Paul agreed. Charles-Roux said to Paul: "For 18 months I have celebrated the new Mass, but I cannot continue. I was ordained to celebrate the old Mass, and I want to return to it. Will you permit me to do so?" And Paul said: "Certainly, I never forbade celebration of the old Mass; I have only offered an alternative."

The alternative has become the norm, and the perennial liturgy of the Latin West is celebrated in only a few chapels here and there, almost furtively, as if in hiding, as if in a time of persecution.

So let us read the sign of the times and restore the liturgy of the ages, the liturgy of Gregory the Great and St. Augustine of England, of Boniface and Bernard, of Francis and Clare, of Aquinas and Bonaventure, of Ignatius and Bellarmine, of Newman and Chesterton, and our own parents and grandparents.

Let us preserve from oblivion the beautiful and holy liturgy which we inherited from our forefathers, that our posterity may thank us for having the courage to do what is fitting and just in an age of iron and lead.


Robert Moynihan is the editor of Inside the Vatican magazine.

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