Thursday, 19 February 2009

The Extraordinary Rite and Me (and Fr. Finnegan)

When I was in Bradford (at the magnificent - and now defunct - St. Mary's), I was approached by the Diocesan rep. of the Latin Mass Society to consider learning the Old Latin Rite. There were not enough priests able or available to celebrate it, and the bishop had given his permission for a search of likely volunteers.
To begin with I was not really interested, but I said "yes" because it seemed the thing to do. I have an idea that a Catholic priest is supposed to be a servant, and if a request seems reasonable I will consider doing what I can to help. My Latin was almost "gone". I had studied Latin (half-hearted, I must admit) but hardly used it. I say this although when I was at Harrogate we had a monthly full-blown Latin Mass (Ordinary Rite), and I took my turn and enjoyed it immensely.
I kept putting off learning the Tridentine Rite, but when Summorum Pontificum was published I began to think again, and it was when I was watching a televised Latin Mass (Extraordinary Rite) on EWTN that I decided I must do something about it. I contacted the priest designated as an instructor. He was watching the same programme.
Since learning the Old Rite, and celebrating the Mass of the 1962 Missal, I have learnt more about myself and about the Mass. This may seem strange to some since I have been a priest for 33 years, but there is always something else to learn - always another step to take. I can't remember the exact quote from Newman about change and growth, and if I attempt it I will get it wrong, but I have always believed that we must progress, spiritually and intellectually, in this life, and that sometimes in order to go "forward" we need to retrace our steps. I'm sure historians will agree.
I have been celebrating the Extraordinary Rite for some time (but not quite a year). I have found it both challenging and enlightening. It has increased my sense of priesthood, and what I mean by that is my sense of being a servant. It has affected the way I celebrate the Ordinary Rite, and as I say this, I am also conscious of the point made elsewhere that both rites should be informed by each other. There are aspects of the 1962 Rite which need to be "tuned" by reference to the Ordinary Rite, and the Ordinary Rite certainly needs the reverence and silence of the Tridentine Rite.
I have found celebrating the 1962 Rite both difficult and moving, and I am profoundly grateful for the gift of being able to celebrate it. The sacrificial aspect of the Mass is more accessible (at least to the priest) and the biblical roots of the Liturgy are more obvious (though I admit this is purely my experience). However, there are some other points I need to make.
I recently attended a conference on the new English translation of the Ordinary Rite. I am impressed with the new version of the Common of the Mass - very impressed, and I believe it will do much good. It may, in fact, revolutionize the way most of us celebrate the Mass in English. I do not believe - and have never believed - that the answer to our liturgical problems is a complete return to the Tridentine Rite. However, I have come to believe that, in line with the original intention of Pope John XX111 and the original intentions of those who drew up the Vatican 11 Document of the Liturgy, that Latin should have been kept as the normal language of worship, with the vernacular allowed as an alternative at the discretion of Bishops and Parish Priests. The English Liturgy up to this point has been less than satisfactory, and in some cases, its practise has been disastrous. We have lost a great deal because of it. So much came in with it that was not necessary and has been damaging. Let me give an example; the manner of receiving Holy Communion.
This morning I attended an Anglican Eucharist. It was a simple form, with only one hymn, and the priest did not wear a chasuble. He obviously believes in the Real Presence, judging from his reverence and his actions. I was impressed by the prayerfulness of the rite, the priest and the congregation. I was also impressed with the language - much better than the English Roman liturgy. I was also impressed by the reverence with which the congregation received Holy Communion, in both kinds, kneeling. (Why did Catholic liturgists and bishops insist on people standing? The idea that you cannot receive from the chalice on your knees is just false)
Having said all that, I offer my poor opinion on the controversy affecting Fr. Finnegan and his parishioners. First of all, I think it was a mistake on his part to make the main Sunday Mass the celebration of the old Latin Rite. This runs the risk of signalling that it has precedence. We have to avoid doing that if we are going to avoid unnecessary complaints and confusion. Secondly, we need to be patient - both priests and laity - and allow ourselves more time to accept the resurgence of the Tridentine Rite. Thirdly, we must work with our bishops and with our fellow priests and laity. There are already enough factions around - and more may be in the offing. We do not need any more. We should strive to maintain unity in peace, and if this means celebrating the Latin less often than I, as a priest, would like, so be it.
We need time, patience, tolerance and understanding. In my view it is too early to start making the main Sunday Mass a celebration of the 1962 Missal. It is clear that there are many Catholics who still do not understand why the Latin Rites (both of them) are important. Let's take a deep breath and more measured steps.
A final point. The New Latin Missal is brilliant (in my opinion). If too much emphasis is being put on the 1962 Missal, it is likely that the riches of the New Latin Missal will be missed, if not entirely lost. We surely need to celebrate the Ordinary Rite in Latin now and again otherwise this will hardly be used outside Rome. To me this would be a serious error. We need to take a wider view of what is going on and avoid taking opposing sides. I would hate to be in Fr. Finnegan's position at this time, but if I was, I would retrace my steps, take a deep breath, and try again (with respect).

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