Main Stream Media’s Motu Proprio Improprieties

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

Comments 8

  1. Chad Kimmel wrote:


    Thanks for posting all of this. I learned a-lot. Ya, I have read a slew of articles in the past three days that reverberate your points. But remember, as far as the popular media is concerned, they just care about what the usual status quo norm is – not what is actually official. And yes, for the most part, they are correct: in most ordinary masses, the priest does face the congregation and contemporary music is sung – not gregorian chants.

    And the point you brought up about the Latin Mass is a very important one. Yes, technically, the Latin Mass is the only fully approved version of the mass. And when you think about it, it sort of puts you in a tailspin, because every time you go to mass on Sunday, you are practicing something that the Vatican does not really approve of. Not every one realizes it (even the priest!), but its true. Thanks.

    Posted 10 Jul 2007 at 7:59 pm
  2. Chad Kimmel wrote:

    I thought you might be interested in this Eric:

    Posted 10 Jul 2007 at 8:18 pm
  3. Funky Dung wrote:

    “what the usual status quo norm is – not what is actually official”

    I guess I see it more in terms of which elements make up the substance of the mass and which are accidents.

    “every time you go to mass on Sunday, you are practicing something that the Vatican does not really approve of”

    Actually, it does. Vernacular translations must be approved, and they have been (though the English one needs some work). However, what most people don’t realize is that the fathers of V2 didn’t intend for everything to be in vernacular, in all places, or at all times. The readings, for instance, should be in the vernacular, but there’s no reason why the ordinary can’t be in Latin (as it is at the Oratory on Sundays at 11AM). There are great benefits to having a common liturgical language throughout the Church, but I digress.

    Posted 10 Jul 2007 at 8:24 pm
  4. Wren wrote:

    The media never fails to amaze me in how they can miss so much. They do not see that their own bias clouds their view. The recent stories on the CDF and Motu proprio are two glaring examples. How sad that the media reports more on what it believes about the Catholic Church than it reports on what the Church says about herself or even just the facts.

    Why is it that when a reporter wants to ask a “typical” Catholic something about the Church they inevitably find the most fringe lunatic in a parish.

    Posted 11 Jul 2007 at 10:57 am
  5. Bird Watcher wrote:

    Funky, good post; the stories we tell ourselves tend to be more satisfying than the truth (until the truth becomes the story we tell ourselves, always better). Anyhoo… I thought you’d be interested:

    1) The Vatican News Service press commentary on the MP has it that the “extraordinary use” was also silent on celebrant orientation (towards the bottom).

    Funky, good post; the stories we tell ourselves tend to be more satisfying than the truth (until the truth becomes the story we tell ourselves, always better). Anyhoo… I thought you’d be interested:

    1) The Vatican News Service press commentary on the MP has it that the “extraordinary use” was also silent on celebrant orientation (towards the bottom).

    2) Dialogue Masses apparently had difficulty catching on in the past for whatever reason; an author suggests one main one is the unison problem of spoken non-vernacular. Don’t know what people’s experience of this is, but it sounds believable, unless we’re talking about the very limited context of interested persons that the MP seems to have been released for; could also suggest the importance of more singing a la the Eastern traditions.

    3) Your “no limit” interpretation may bump up against some other interpretations, notably those of your diocesan officials, who, I’ve heard, have instructed that the only “parish” to qualify (pending further clarification before HC day) for the public celebrations noted in Art. 5 of the MP is your already-present Latin Mass community. Don’t know the reason, but it appears that the “attachment to previous liturgical tradition” may be narrowly interpreted so as to create a kind of “limit”.


    Posted 11 Jul 2007 at 12:03 pm
  6. Funky Dung wrote:

    “the “extraordinary use” was also silent on celebrant orientation

    Perhaps, but I think the rubrics mention a lot of turning around, which means facing ad orientem was assumed. Early versions of the new mass had similar, but I believe any mention of turning has since been removed.

    “the unison problem of spoken non-vernacular…suggest the importance of more singing a la the Eastern traditions”

    The mass is better when sung anyway. Just ask St. Augustine. 😉 The Oratory has done antiphonal chant and it wasn’t hard for the congregation to pick it up.

    “Don’t know the reason, but it appears that the “attachment to previous liturgical tradition” may be narrowly interpreted so as to create a kind of “limit”.

    AFAIK, allowing only 1 or 2 Tridentine mass communities is ostensibly a pastoral decision independent of which people have rightful aspirations and which don’t. A diocesan official claims, and has mislead some priests to believe, that the indult was not meant for young people and that those who grew up after the liturgical reforms should be actively discouraged from belonging to Tridentine mass communities. Ecclesia Dei has clearly stated that their are no limits on who may rightfully aspire to partake of the indult. Regardless of rightful aspiration, though, bishops are free to apply the indult as they see fit for the pastoral care of there diocese.

    Posted 11 Jul 2007 at 12:15 pm
  7. Jerry wrote:

    Amen to Bird-watcher on the reference to the Eastern use. In the first half of the twentieth century, a Pope made a provision where the congregation would sing parts of the Tridentine Mass that were ordinarily reserved to the altar servers. That would be worth revisiting.

    An annoying habit of priests seems to be the temptation to motor through much of the Latin as if they were in a competition to test fluency or something. I noticed that at a Latin Novus Ordo I went to in Baltimore some time ago. I was very excited by it, but was bemused to see that many of the apparent bad habits of the Tridentine Rite carried over. It’s not like I can’t understand Latin, but yikes, let’s pace ourselves and enunciate! God help the congregants who have no Latin background. It’d be a muddle, and I’d sooner go to a vernacular Mass or a Byzantine Divine Liturgy where I’m not always flipping through a book wondering where the devil I am.

    Which gets down to my caveat that using the 1962 Missal requires some forethough and not just a desire to return to the 1950s or whatever. Let’s learn from what drove people towards to the Novus Ordo in the first place. Earlier modifications of the Latin Rite (like that “dialogic” option) and the Byzantine Rite practices should give us great insight into doing so.

    Posted 15 Jul 2007 at 2:57 pm
  8. Tom Smith wrote:

    Eric, you state that the old Mass may now be said with the new lectionary. I guess you get it from this:

    “Art. 6. In Masses celebrated in the presence of the people in accordance with the Missal of Bl. John XXIII, the readings may be given in the vernacular, using editions recognised by the Apostolic See.”

    This is a misread — the old Mass uses a totally different system of readings. Whether or not Pope Benedict intends the word “readings” to include just Epistle and Gospel is unclear, but that seems to be the case. In any event, though, the readings from the T-Mass are set up quite differently from those in the Novus Ordo Mass — the new Mass uses a three-year cycle, whereas the old uses a one-year. As well, the old Mass has two readings (though myriad other scriptural propers) and the new three. Also, the readings for the old and new Masses are often completely different for identical feasts, ferias etc. The T-Mass readings also tend to be substantially longer than those from the new rite.

    Finally, and most importantly, the old Mass readings are taken from the inherited (Sixto-Clementine) Vulgate text, whereas the new Mass takes readings from the neo-Vulgate.

    Posted 29 Aug 2007 at 2:03 am

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