My wife and I were both born about ten years after Vatican II ended, so although we've both been active Catholics since birth, we're "new" in the sense that our entire experience of the Church has been post-conciliar.
My family was not "traditionalist" in the sense that it has come to be used. But it was certainly traditional in many ways. On Sundays we said grace before meals in Latin, and learned some traditional Latin hymns, though we seldom heard them that way at church. We said a decade of the rosary before bed, kneeling before the statue of Christ the King in our living room. And we grew up on stories of the saints and the Ignatius Press Faith and Life books. (My mother attempted the Baltimore Catechism with us, but for me at least it was too late. I was in ninth grade and rebelled at the need to memorize short answers for things I figured I could explain myself. So I was told to go read Father Harden's catechism instead. The New Catechism of the Catholic Church had not yet been published.)
I grew up on the Los Angeles Archdiocese. This may perhaps only be my sense of memory, but it seems to me that perhaps liturgical insanity came a bit later there than in some other parts of the country -- perhaps under Manning with the memory of McIntyre still in the air the full storm force held off for a bit, or perhaps this is only youthful memory. The first parish I remember was the cast-cement-gothic St. Augustine's in Culver City, where incense was still standard at Sunday "high mass" -- though so were guitars, if memory serves. Altar rails were still in use in some parishes that we visited.
Nevertheless, I was probably in my early teens by the time I first attended a mass in Latin, and although I knew that Vatican II had opened up the mass to common celebration in the vernacular and celebration ad populum, I didn't realize till much later that there were much of any other non-cosmetic differences between the 'old mass' and the new. I had, of course, looked at my parent's Latin missals from before the council, and we had a copy of the Latin order of the mass for the 1970 missal, which I'd also looked over as I started to learn Latin. But I certainly hadn't been exposed to the kind of "this is a total break" rhetoric that one hears in some traditionalist circles.
Despite my lack of experience with such things, I was consistently interesting in going to Latin mass (according to the new or old missal) for two reasons:
First, one of the most compelling things for me about Catholicism has always been its history, the fact that not only or beliefs but our liturgy stretch back, by small incremental changes, all the way to the times of the apostles. Since Latin was the primary language of liturgy in the West for a little over 1500 years, and many of the key phrases in the mass have (to my understanding) remained the same throughout that time, I wanted to experience a mass that tied directly through spoken work with those unnumbered other masses celebrated throughout the Western World over the last millenia and a half.
Second, one of the things I think most other inhabitants of modern suburban parishes will agree they have found lacking is a strong ritual sense in the liturgy. It's certainly not impossible to find this in the novus ordo. A number of parishes I've been to have done this well, and some indeed brilliantly. (I've never seen a mass as transcendent as the Easter vigil we went to at the Brompton Oratory. Truly two+ hours of heaven on earth.) However, since the new missal is more sparing in its rubrics, it's easy for a minimalist celebrant to produce a very bland liturgy. Whereas, at least on paper (and according to its devotees) the old mass seemed to require a great deal of ritual gesture as a matter of course.
For both of these reasons, I had been interested in seeking out the mass according to the old missal. I did eventually manage to find several opportunities to go to Latin masses according to the new missal, by which I was very impressed. So I kind of assumed that the Tridentine mass would be even more so.
I've now been able to go to several masses according to the old missal -- all of them low masses (though I hope to be able to go to a high mass for the Assumption this week.) My reactions are not entirely what I expected.
What had drawn me most to the idea of the old mass was the text, the attraction of hearing the same words (or pretty close to them, depending on the time period) that have been spoken in most Catholic churches in the West for a thousand years and more. I've still retained enough Latin from being a Classics major in college that I can follow the mass pretty well in Latin, and so I had in my mind listening reverently as the ancient words of the Church were intoned. I was thus rather chagrined to discover what some have called the "blessed mumble" -- a quietsuperhighspeedallwordsruntogether method of pronouncing Latin that resembled (and perhaps was the inspiration for) the eight second Hail Mary that allowed my Irish grandmother to come close to getting rope burn with her rosary.
The other disappointment I found in attending a real old mass, as opposed to reading it and looking at pictures, is that the ritual gestures which seemed so clear and powerful in photographs and on the missal page were in real life often done in a small enough way (and, obviously, facing ad orientem) that they were difficult to see. Perhaps some of this is because all of the Tridentine masses that I've been able to attend have been celebrated by very old priests. If father is sufficiently bent to start with, it can be a little hard to tell from half-way back in a crowded church if he's standing, bowing or genuflecting.
This is not, however, meant to be a "why I don't like the Tridentine mass" post. (And if anyone finds the touches of humor in the above paragraphs offensive, I hope they'll take it in the "family in-joke" spirit in which it was meant.)
Although we've been fortunate to find a lot more reverence brought into the vernacular liturgy of our parish with the arrival of our new associate pastor (fresh out of seminary), I remain drawn to the Latin language, and to the old mass -- at least in concept. And this has been much more actively on my mind the last few weeks since the publication of Summorum Pontificorum. It seems to me that Benedict XVI was not merely (as some people have suggested) tossing a sop to those who are locked on the idea of celebrating nothing but the 1962 missal. He said that the missals should be mutually enriching, and thus I'm sure that there are things that we need in the old missal. Some of them, I'm pretty sure I know what they are, since they're things that have always attracted me to the old mass. But at the same time, I find myself wondering if there are things which the old mass pretty clearly needs to learn from the new.
The old missal is full of beautiful, ancient phrases, and it seems a shame that the standard mode of reciting them makes it difficult to follow them clearly. I have read a number of people insisting that the silent canon is an important and ancient element of the mass. I'm certainly not enough of an expert to speak to that, but even if this is so, I wish the rest of the mass were routinely spoken clearly and at a more solemn pace. Although in the vernacular new missal we sometimes have problems with priests adding their own editorial comments to the words of the mass, I do very much appreciate the fact that the words are all there and clearly audible. Yes, one can always read the words out of the missal, but in a sense this strikes me as rather unhistorical. I can't imagine that missals were all that common for the laity before 1700 or so. Come of that, literacy wasn't all that common among most of the laity before 1700 or so. In all seriousness, the vision of the laity all quietly kneeling, reading along is something that only became widely possible within the last 200 years, and in many parts of the world, even more recently. I assume that before that people either simply followed other devotions (I've read that saying the rosary and other prayers during mass was fairly common in some places and times) or just watched. The most spiritually healthy, I'm sure, were deep in meditation. But most probably weren't.
Also, it seems to me that the 'dialog mass' was headed very much in the right direction, and I wish that (in its fullest form) it was simply the standard option for the old missal these days. Parts of the mass are clearly written in responsory form, and I assume that the practice of having only the server speak for the people was basically an artifact of the congregation not being sufficiently literate to read along and speak their parts. This is clearly no longer a problem in the modern world, and in that sense it seems much more appropriate to have the whole congregation make the responses than to continue using the server as a stand-in out of habit.
Of course, I'm not a liturgical expert, and no one is asking me for my advice on how to revise the missal. But then, from what I understand speaking clearly in those parts of the mass other than the canon and the secret (and perhaps at least speaking the canon in an audibly low voice? is that going too far?) and using the most full form of the dialog options is not an abuse according to the old missal. It just doesn't seem to be how people tend to do things.
In this sense, I have some hopes that if some younger priests (and you don't have to be all that young to have never celebrated mass prior to 1970) begin learning the old missal because of the motu proprio, perhaps some of the best aspects of the new form (the full dialog form, the clear speech, the visible gestures) will make their way back into the celebration of the old missal.
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