I’ve been rather hesitant to say anything whatsoever about the recently released motu proprio, Summorum Pontificum, which allows for more liberal use of the Tridentine mass (in its 1962 form). I figured I had little to say that wouldn’t be said by others with greater eloquence. However, in the last few days I’ve read a number of articles that repeat common myths regarding the Roman mass in both its older and newer forms, and they’ve annoyed me sufficiently to provoke me to write (Exhibit A, Exhibit B). Someone may have already written or will write a better correction. If anyone happens upon one, let your fellow readers know by leaving a comment.
Common Mass Myths
- Mass according to the Novus Ordo Missae must be said the vernacular. Actually, the officially promulgated version of the NOM (or “Ordinary Use”, as Summorum Pontificum refers to it”) is in Latin. Vernacular translations of the mass are contingent upon Vatican approval for licit use. For instance, the English translation of the mass in current use has been found to be lacking, due largely to significant deviations from the meaning of the official Latin text, and a new translation is currently under preparation. Furthermore, several Church documents, including those of the Second Vatican Council, clearly state that Latin should have pride of place and be used whenever and wherever practical.
- Mass according to the Tridentinus Ordo Missae must be said in Latin. Strictly speaking, “Traditional Latin Mass” is a misnomer. If I understand correctly, the only reason the Tridentine mass (or “Extraordinary Use”, as Summorum Pontificum refers to it”) must be said in Latin is that there are currently no approved vernacular translations. Since the pope has reminded the Church that the current lectionary can be used in Extraordinary Use masses, I see no reason why vernacular translations of the TOM could not be produced, assuming the bishops’ conferences are willing to commission them.
- Gregorian chant and polyphony are proper to the Extraordinary Use, not the Ordinary Use, and contemporary music cannot be used in Extraordinary Use masses. Church documents continue to extol the virtues of classical forms of liturgical music in the context of either use. However, choice of missal does not affect the kind(s) of music played/sung, if any. Thus, I am aware of no technical reason why folk guitars could not be utilized at Extraordinary Use masses.
- Masses according to the Ordinary Use must be said with the priest facing the people. The current General Instruction of the Roman Missal has nothing to say on this matter. Furthermore, the practice of facing the altar was never officially abolished, and in his days as a Cardinal, Ratzinger/Benedict indicated a preference for it and a desire for its widespread return. That said, if the old mass is allowed to organically develop, perhaps we will see chnages made to its rubrics to permit priests to face the people.
- The old mass has only been preserved for the sake of schismatics and older generations that miss it. While both groups are no doubt pleased by this motu proprio, it is important to note that according to clarifications requested of Ecclesia Dei, the group responsibly for overseeing the indult allowing mass to be said according to the 1962 missal, there is no age limit – no limit whatsoever in fact – to determine who may express a “rightful aspiration” to attend the old mass. Anecdotal evidence suggests that most of the people requesting greater access to the old mass are under 30, not over 70.
- The old mass makes congregational participation difficult. To some extent, I am inclined to agree. However, there are two reasons this needn’t be so. First, Pope Pius XII introduced dialogue masses in 1958, which allow for and encourage greater vocal participation on the part of the congregation. If dialogue masses were used more frequently, parishioners might not feel disconnected from the sacrifice of the old mass. Second, Benedict could expand on Pius XII’s suggestions, making them mandatory and/or making some of his own.
- The Eucharist must be received on the tongue while kneeling at a Tridentine mass and must be received in the hand while standing at a Novus Ordo mass. I won’t go in to the details here, but briefly stated, reception of the Eucharist on the tongue was never forbidden and reception in the hand was never mandated. Both are permitted by the Church, though both John Paul II and Benedict XVI would prefer Catholic receive on the tongue. Also, either can be done standing or kneeling. As a Lutheran, I received in the hand while on my knees, and at the Pittsburgh Oratory, I’ve received on the tongue while standing. In summary, while not practiced often, there is no reason why any combination of tongue or hand and kneeling or standing could not be done licitly at any Roman mass.
If anyone thinks of a myth I missed, let me know.