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Why the Old Form thrives in my parish

On the eve of the third anniversary of Summorum Pontificum Fr Gary Dickson says it is unfair to accuse the bishops of obstructing liturgical reform

By on Thursday, 1 July 2010

Why the Old Form thrives in my parish

Three years ago, in July 2007, the Holy Father published Summorum Pontificum giving parishioners the canonical right to have their parish priest celebrate the Old Form of Mass (the Extraordinary Form) for them alongside the New or Ordinary Form. In places Summorum Pontificum is resisted, and it is important to recognise and address the causes.

Some say the obstruction comes from bishops, but this is unfair. The problem seems to lie within the Church as a whole, being an aversion to formal, God-directed worship in favour of a liturgy that entertains with cheerful hymns, is undemanding to follow and casual in celebration. This aversion harbours resistance not only to Summorum Pontificum but even to the new translation of the New Form. As the end of the three year period of assessment on how the implementation of Summorum Pontificum has gone approaches, I offer a reflection from one of the several parishes which celebrate in the Old Form every Sunday.

In scheduling the Old Form, objections came mainly from those who experienced the heady days of the Church’s surge into change after Vatican Council II and who saw change and informality as the order of the day. It is understandably hard for them to welcome back their heritage when it evokes things considered long gone and appears to undo what was established by priests they have loved. But honesty compels us to acknowledge that we all abandoned things the Council decreed we retain, while loyalty demands we recover them by authentic catechesis on both the Council and the Ordinary Form.

For example, the “full, active and conscious participation” of the people (Sacrosanctum concilium #14) is a call of the Council frequently misunderstood, for the word translated “active” is actuosis; an engagement beyond mere “activity” (actives). Indeed, external activity is but participation in the liturgical rite, and can be present without internal, conscious participation in the Mystery of Faith. Significantly, the Council began its teaching on the liturgy by stating that the Church is “present in the world as a pilgrim [and is] so constituted that in her the human is … subordinated to the divine; … action to contemplation”. The Sacred Congregation of Rites confirmed this contemplative element in 1967: “This participation is first and foremost internal” (Musicam sacram #15). Still, to externalise the internal, participation by word and gesture remains important. Sadly, the loss of focus on internal participation has resulted in the imposing of drama, dancing – even puppet shows – on to the rite. To be recovered here, then, is the core of participation; that lifting up our hearts to the Lord, and actions required by the Missal: striking the breast in the Confiteor; bowing during the Credo etc.

Undoubtedly the lay ministry of Lector (Reader) was built into the New Form so as to facilitate lay activity in the rite itself (Extraordinary ministry is not built-in; it was established for use only in exceptional circumstances), but this seems to have created a sense that unless one has a ministry one does not participate. This is clearly wrong since it would mean 95 per cent of Catholics never participate. It is necessary, then, to recover an awareness that active participation consists not in mere activity but in “raising the mind and heart” in “full, active, conscious” attention expressed by heartfelt responses, postures and singing.

Next we must acknowledge the Council’s decree that “Latin is to be retained” (Sacrosanctum concilium #36). Latin all but vanished following the Council’s permission to use the vernacular for the readings and commonly called “bidding prayers” with authorisation to extend its use, yet the Council limited that extension by decreeing: “Never the less, care must be taken to ensure the people be able to say or sing in Latin those parts of the Mass that pertain to them” (cf Sacrosanctum concilium #54). Gregorian Chant, which was to have “pride of place in liturgical services”, was also lost, yet its use was reaffirmed by Pope Paul VI in 1974 when every Bishop was sent a copy of On the minimum repertoire of Gregorian Chant. Accordingly, use of Latin – which demands a conscious, active attention the vernacular does not – must be recovered if we are to be genuinely formed by Vatican II.

Again, having the priest face the people was not mentioned by the Council but given as an option in the Ordinary Form (cf 1970 General Instruction #262). In fact, the rubrics of that Form direct the priest to alternately face the people (#133) and the altar (#134). The Congregation for Divine Worship noted that even the phrase “which is desirable whenever possible” in reference to facing the people remains an option, not an obligation. Thus for faithfulness to the Ordinary Form, the altar-facing position too needs some recovery. Practised correctly, it accounts for only a quarter of the entire Mass.

Acknowledging that things frequently cited as contrary to Vatican II are in fact decreed by the Council (Latin) and directed by the Missal it generated (the altar-facing priest) their more regular use should be promoted in order to make genuine our claim of being faithful to Vatican II and eliminate misinformed resistance to the Old Form and the new translation. How then did our parish facilitate reception of the Extraordinary Form in a pastoral way?

We began by educating the parish in the actual decrees of Vatican II, the rubrics of the New Missal and the reasoning behind them. Once aware of what the Council and Missal actually said, most were well disposed toward implementing the Council and New Missal in a more authentic manner.

Secondly, when celebrating the Old Form, several pastoral supports are utilised.
First, the readings are – as proposed and recommended by Vatican II – proclaimed in the vernacular with use of a free-standing microphone. Since God is speaking to the people at this point it makes sense that they be able to understand without difficulty.
We also sing three vernacular hymns: at the Entrance, Offertory and Recessional as permitted pre-Vatican II (cf De Musica sacra et sacra liturgia #14, Sacred Congregation of Rites, 1958). This allows for continuation of both the characteristic silence of the Old Form and the verbal contribution of the people in a manner to which they have become accustomed.

We also supply missalettes with the people’s responses highlighted so as to enable participation in the rite itself. Missalettes for children are picture booklets showing the varying positions of the priest and servers at specific points, enabling the children – and adults new to this Form – to more easily follow the rite.

Finally, we ensure that those who wish to receive on the hand may continue to do so in accord with current canonical rights and obligations. Receiving in the hand while kneeling poses no problem, while those who cannot kneel make the required act of reverence by receiving on the tongue.

There are some who still resist solemnity in celebration; the use of Latin and the altar-facing priest. Yet these unintended losses in the New Form are not difficult to recover: if we can lose them overnight after centuries of use we can recover them after only decades of loss. Such recovery is not “going backwards”, or doing a U-turn, since the Ordinary Form will continue in use. Rather, it is a halting of the train to retrieve what has fallen from the carriage before our continuance. Many folk seem unable to grasp the distinction.

It is important to say that attendance at our Extraordinary Form accounts for a third of our weekly Mass numbers. Some who said they would never attend do so occasionally, and with decreasing prejudice. Further, the parish is not divided by differing liturgical preferences – friendships and working relationships remaining unaffected. Finally, as with the Ordinary Form counterparts, those who attend the Extraordinary Form display great devotion to Christ in the Eucharist and personal prayer; a concern for social justice by running coffee mornings to support SPUC, Aid to the Church in Need and Let The Children Live, and engage in collaborative ministry as catechists, extraordinary ministers, Legion of Mary and finance committee members.

I believe we can no longer refuse the Extraordinary Form and for two main reasons. First, because the Church declared it to be sacred, and while the Church has all authority to forbid what is evil she has no authority to forbid what is sacred; her authority is “to build up rather than destroy” (1 Cor 13:10). Second, this Form is the rightful heritage of future generations; one to which we have no moral right to deny them access. Use of the Extraordinary Form is then a matter of recognising and promoting the holy, and an act of justice towards future generations.

Fr Gary Dickson is parish priest and Sacred Heart and English Martyrs, Thornley, Co Durham

  • J.M. Zarembo

    Fr. Dickson, thank you for this excellent article.

    In closing, you remark that “[...] this Form is the rightful heritage of future generations; one to which we have no moral right to deny them access.” Certainly, the Extraordinary Form is part of our rich Catholic heritage that all Catholics of every rite should cherish. Still, our liturgical heritage must be celebrated responsibly. Your ability to cross-pollinate the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms testifies to the enrichment that the older form sheds on the new. Our Holy Father has called for this exchange of riches and your parish testifies to this ability.

    Our responsibilities do not end after the final blessing, however. Listening to the concerns of fellow Roman Catholics, other Christians, and other religions is often difficult for a sometimes beleaguered community. A few in the Extraordinary Form community would rather calcify the rite and ignore those with legitimate concerns and critiques. Your openness to change reflects the way forward. Any characterization of the Extraordinary Form as an “organic rite” must permit the more ancient usage room to breathe and grow anew.

  • Pingback: A priest explains: “Why the Old Form thrives in my parish” | CatInfor.com

  • David O'Neill

    What a deep & clear exposition, thank you Father Gary. There is little doubt in my mind that perhaps the biggest stumbling block to the re-introduction of the EF (alongside the OF) is sometimes the lack of goodwill existing between the supporters of either form. My only 'bone of contention' with you might be in the reception of Communion yet here, again, lack of goodwill & understanding rears it's head. Personally, I have to say that I have never received Communion in the hand, from a layperson or under both species. I explain this by saying that my hands or not worthy (unconsecrated) to touch the Body of Christ, the same reasoning applies to reception from a layperson & it was (& still is) taught that under either species of Communion one receives the Body, Blood, Soul & DIVINITY(!) of God so taking under both species tends to show that we don't believe this fact.
    Keep flying the flag, Father & God Bless
    David O'Neill

  • http://defend-us-in-battle.blogspot.com Defend Us In Battle

    Thank you for this article. I think it is important for some TLM regulars to read. As someone who is fond of the EF but understands the role of the EF in regards to the NO within the great life of the Church, I would argue that our biggest problem is finding a harmony between the two “camps” of faithful.

    It is fair to say that many that are attracted to the EF were marginalized in thought and practice prior to the Motu Proprio. The EF gives them an opportunity not only to feel “fed” in a spiritual and liturgical way, but also to “bring them back” into the greater community of the parish. That being said, it then rests upon us, to understand that the Mass and Liturgy is not “FOR US” and that we should keep our hearts open to how the Church proclaims that it should occur.

    The Church wins when acceptance and understanding of PROPER celebration of both forms occur, and the community overall is strengthened, enlivened and united. Until unity and understanding occur, we as faithful still have work to do.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Matthew-Markovich/1252137194 Matthew Markovich

    Very good and very positive A clear explanation of a few of the areas where the Latin Rite went wrong..I pray more priests embrace this return to 'Sacred Space' in all the parishes. Thank you Father Dickson.

  • Pingback: The "Catholic Herald" on the EF: a useful contribution | CATHOLICISM PURE

  • Sick of the Hypocrisy

    Typically obtuse and academic response to what is a clear and simple decision. The use of politically correct language is an abomination when a simple phrase will suffice. For too long the clergy have indulged themselves in language that is at once two faced and obstructive. Please no more of this nonsense. Christianity is a simple faith. Live it simply. Say what you mean but also mean, to the very depth of your soul ,what you say. The flowery pontificating style of many clergy, for affect rather than information is saccharine to the taste and detracts from the gist of what is being offered. There is a progressive and sometimes Fascist faction within the Church. We all recognize it, but it remains the 'elephant in the chapel'.

    Enough of this nonsense. Enough of the mealy mouthed obfuscation. Spit it our man for God's sake! Let the progressive leftist within the Body of the Church do whatever rings their bell , be it bongos and guitars, or shared worship with Satanic Islamists, Taoists and Wiccans , all in the spirit of community non-judgemental understanding you understand. The road to Fascism is the uncompromising non-judgemental acceptance relative religiosity that eventually leads to the belief in nothing in particular and theism. At which point those believers in nothing will believe in anything, including fascist progressive secularism.

    Enough of this. If you are a progressive and social justice is your thing be in. You fail to recognize that social justice has socialist roots planted in the late nineteenth century. No matter, cling to your bankrupt liberation theological underpinnings and have a puppet show on me. You cheapen that which you fail to understand and harden your heart against, for academic, political or philosophical reasons. Just remember that your fractured creed is not universal and the Spirit moves to lift the 'Old Form' (in your quite quaint way of expressing yourself) Mass. Get used to us. We aren't going away and grow stronger every year as the Spirit guides us. We'll prey for the progressives as they may yet find their way out of the thicket of man focused worship.

  • Jan C

    Fr Dickson this is an excellent article. The only thing I find surprising is that you give communion on the hand at EF Mass while our priest, who celebrates Mass both in the OF and the EF, has said he is unable to distribute communion on the hand at the EF Mass as the rubrics don't allow for it and everyone accepts that. I think that if you start introducing novelties into the Mass we will have the same problem that has come about with the Novus Ordo. The Holy Father has set the example in that he will only distribute to those who kneel and receive on the tongue and communion on the hand is after all only an indult which may well be taken away. But thank you for what you are doing.

  • Petrus

    Scriptura ista stullta est. Sed in “English” lingua, et non in Latine proclamavit–pessime, pessime est!,

  • Mamasnookems

    The only Holy Father is God in heaven, not the pope and we shouldn't be calling priest “father” either, they are not my father and i only have one on earth which is my dad and the ultimate Father in Heaven! We should only confess our sins to God and not man, ANY man! Just God, trust in His Son Jesus Christ for your salvation and believe that you are forgiven when you confess your sins to God, no man can ever forgive your sins. Read the bible, Jesus loves you all.

  • Mel

    Thank you, Fr Gary Dickson. This is a helpful article people of my generation (I was born as Paul VI died) who weren't brought up with the Latin Mass. We have to discover it for ourselves so that we can understand our own faith as widely as possible and educate our own children fully in the faith. This isn't easy and we have to struggle to educate ourselves first in some areas since older generations can be reluctant to help.

    I found this post amusing; less so the flagrant disregard for the teachings of our Holy Fathers:

    “If you are a progressive and social justice is your thing be in. You fail to recognize that social justice has socialist roots planted in the late nineteenth century. No matter, cling to your bankrupt liberation theological underpinnings and have a puppet show on me.”

    Catholic Social Teaching (which I'm pretty sure isn't communist) is long established in orthodox Catholicism. It is to be read, as I understand it, in the light of continuity.

    http://www.osjspm.org/social_teaching_documents.aspx (There are some summaries here, too.)

    Rerum Novarum Leo XIII (from 1891!)

    Gaudium et Spes John XXIII

    Populorum Progressio Paul VI

    Solicitudo Rei Socialis http://www.osjspm.org/majordoc_soclicitudo_rei_socialis_official_text.aspx

    John Paul II

    Caritas in veritatae http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/encyclicals/documents/hf_ben-xvi_enc_20090629_caritas-in-veritate_en.html Benedict XVI

    Sick of the Hypocrisy, please, please don't dismiss the Vatican's teachings as a “fractured creed”; read them!

  • Et Expecto

    Well all I can say is, where I live the Bishop has been instrumental in stopping ANY Extraordinary form Masses in the Diocese.

  • Paul_mather1

    In my Archdiocese the Archbishop's council of priests voted 15 or 16 to 1 against having any Mass in the extraordinary form available. PM

  • Marysia

    While the old form mass undoubtedly has an elevated solemnity it is not a form that encorages participation and understanding of the unfolding of the mass. Let us not forget that this form of mass is not necessarily what God wanted but was how the “Church” interpreted and decided on the structure over the many centuries of the form of how the mass should be celebrated. It has little relevance for many of today’s Catholics, resulting in being an observer rather than a participant of this great celebration. We have seen in history many instances of the fallibility and humanity of the Pope. Mel, do you speak fluent Latin in order to be able to understand what is happening in the mass and if you have children, do they? Sick of the Hypocrisy has it right when he says “Christianity is a simple faith. Live it simply.” Not all catholics have the mental acuity to appreciate the extraordinary form. Would you deny these simple souls then the joy of the understanding of what is unfolding before them? Of less concern I would say is how you celebrate the mass and your actions following the celebration in whatever form. And that whatever your stance you should make people feel that their celebration of the mass in inappropriate. That is no way what God ever wanted in his followers. In my own view a regular attendee of the mass of any type does not a catholic/christian make and is not what pleases God but how we live our lives in relation to a few simple precepts – love God, and love thy neighbour as we do ourselves, for by these two simple precepts we fulfill the majority of what God & Jesus want of us.

  • Dio

    hundreds of generations befor 1970 had NO trouble understanding the mass of the ages – why should you? It was the mass most of the peasants of Europe knew and loved, my Grandparents among them. They surely knew a thing or two about christianity and catholicism, that today´s christians don´t.

  • Dio

    Get thee hence, protestant heretic, lol.