Friday, April 03, 2009

Letter in The Tablet

The appalling attack on Fr Tin Finnigan by The Tablet a few weeks ago has sparked a sustained discussion in the letters pages, at first about Fr Finnigan but now about the traditional Mass in general. I highlighted one excellent letter, from Richard Duncan; I myself responded to a letter in the last issue. They cut my letter a little; here's the uncut version.


Professor Orsy SJ (Letters, 28 March) makes the interesting point, from his own experience at the Second Vatican Council, that no-one imagined the mooted ‘reform of the liturgy’ would create a ‘new rite’ which would exist alongside the continuing use of the ‘old’. He concludes that the 1970 Missal should have been understood to have simply replaced earlier ones as new editions usually replace older ones.

This assumption would indeed have been reasonable to people involved in the Council itself, which gave a strictly limited mandate to the reform, stating ‘there must be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them; and care must be taken that any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing.’ (Sacrosanctam Concilium 23).

What actually happened was rather different, and liturgical scholars, both those critical and those favourable of the reform, recognise the 1970 Missal as something substantially new. There is no precedent in the history of the Roman liturgy for a long-established Rite to be forbidden by legislative fiat. There is also no precedent for what comes to the same thing, a reform of an ancient rite which changes it substantially and replaces it. It therefore becomes an open question whether Paul VI intended to forbid the use of previous editions of the Missal or not.

A commission of Cardinals in 1986 concluded that he had not; Pope Benedict’s Motu Proprio makes this conclusion the clear law of the Church. Professor Orsy claims that there is no precedent for two Rites existing side by side. But as he admits there have been many regional ‘rites’ (or ‘uses’), and many rites/uses of particular religious congregations.

The fact is that in the past dioceses were quite untroubled by the presence within them of Domincans, Premonstatensians, or Cistercians, with their distinct Missals. This pluralism opened up to ordinary Catholics multiple expressions of the Church’s great liturgical tradition. It is to be hoped that the spread of the Roman Rite’s usus antiquior will do the same thing.


Joseph Shaw,
Chairman of the Latin Mass Society

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