I am neither as smart nor as quick as others in the blog-o-sphere, many of whom are reacting quite swiftly to the recent publication of Benedict XVI's motu proprio allowing wider use of the Extraordinary Rite of the Roman Mass FKA the Tridentine or "Old" Mass.
I'm not quite sure I know what to say. However, I have wondered why liturgy is so darned important, and even more why it is charged with sooooo much emotion on all sides.
I think the answer can be expressed in four words (Latin) or seven (English): lex orandi, lex credendi or the law of prayer is the law of belief. Most Christians, Eastern, Western or other flavors, will never crack a book of theology, some will never even study the Bible on their own. Most (if they are fortunate) will never have to wade through volumes of systematic or historical theology.
Reading theology is sometimes (even for those of us with a 35 year history of it) a little like memorizing the periodic table of elements. You have to do it, but it really doesn't change the elements to call salt NaCl or gold Au. Salt is still salt on the table and gold will ever be gold, glittering in my girl's ear or on her hand.
However, every Christian, without exception, will at some point worship God. If repeated enough times in one's life this worship becomes part of the warp and woof of one's existence. I grew up a Missouri Synod Lutheran, and have pages 5 and 15 stenciled onto my soul right next to that bit of catechism-ic doggerel.... "this is most certainly true." Only true Missouri-sinners will understand these references. But, what the hey? It shows how obtuse and idiosyncratic our theological constructs and our worship can be.
Back on track.... worship doesn't just in-form our theology, worship forms it. So, any time one makes an alteration (major or minor) in "how we do things around here" that alteration has consquences for how we relate to God. The more liturgical a church is, the more that this is true.
Hence the high emotion around this past weekend's announcement.
And now for my own preliminary observations about the motu proprio.
I was pleased with how even-handed it all was.... it was not really backtracking to before Vatican II but simply stating the organic unity which exists along the developmental line from the Tridentine era rite to our own vernacular Paul VI rite. Each rite has its strengths, but the insistent drumbeat of this particular decree is that both- hear this all camps- BOTH- are expressions of the one Mass of antiquity which goes on being offered each day by good and holy priests around this beleaguered world of ours.
Second, the option of whether or not to have the earlier Mass form now moves from the chancery and the rectory out to the pew. If people ask for it, the Church has a duty to provide it. Good idea.
I live in a diocese with many hundred thousands of Catholic (and not so Catholic) souls. Yet, there is only one small parish which has a weekly Tridentine Mass. I go occasionally, and this Mass is not packed with people on a regular basis... at least not during the times I have been there. But I personally respect the decision being made to offer this Mass more widely. I think we owe it to the traditionalists. But we also owe it to ourselves as Church.
Here's why (last observation). I believe (and have admitted as much here) that there is an appalling lack of reverence and respect and mystery in many of our celebrations of the liturgy. If the Tridentine Mass is as good as its proponents say, then over time I believe we will see a migratory effect. Maybe not much at first, but perhaps eventually this form of Mass will find a limited but powerful place in our Church again. Think Apple versus PC... 10% market share but rocking the world.
A second (and I believe even more far reaching) effect will be to strengthen and deepen the celebration of New Order Masses. Call me a romantic, but I believe that the mere presence of the Tridentine Mass will help highlight the things I love about a well-said Mass- reverence, quiet, focus, mystery, respect for tradition. That's what I hear many of my younger (less than 40 year old) counterparts asking for. No disrespect intended... but I just don't hear younger folk crying out for more guitars, social justice seminars or communal penance services.
So, look for more in this space about this change as information becomes available. Meanwhile, I am going off to Sparta WI again tomorrow to celebrate the Feast of our Holy Father St. Benedict with my brothers at Our Lady of Spring Bank Abbey.
They do a really great new order Mass in Latin and most of the day's offices, with the exception of Vigils are in our Mother's tongue also. I say that because it is true.... I was born a human and baptized a Lutheran but became a Roman Catholic Christian by choice. So, how could I pass up an opportunity to worship in a language and mode which has blessed many hundreds of generations before me?