Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Is this Ordinary Form 'the Traditional Mass'?

Elizabeth Harrington
Elizabeth Harrington, Education Officer at the Diocese of Brisbane, shot to (in)fame a short while ago by demanding that Communion on the Tongue be banned, because it is unhygenic and, er, emphasises Christ's divinity. She is an EMHC, it appears, and hadn't been taught how to distribute on the tongue properly. (Where does one start?)

Now she recounts, with evident self-satisfaction, the extremely rude response she made when asked, on the phone, where the 'Traditional Mass' was celebrated in the diocese. (She says 'I couldn’t help myself'. Are we supposed to giggle indulgently?) Instead of giving the poor man the information he wanted, she decided to make fun of him, and is so proud of the job she did she's published it on the 'Liturgy Brisbane' website. Her response consists of a series of contentious or downright absurd claims which deserve far more ridicule than the use of a well-established term like 'the Traditional Mass'.

Here's the central argument.

The current Order of Mass incorporates a far richer array of traditional worship texts than the Missal of 1962. For example, Eucharistic Prayer II, which is included in the current Missal but not in the Tridentine rite, is based on a model prayer for bishops presiding at Mass composed by Hippolytus in 215. Apart from some changes made to adapt it for use in the Roman rite today, the second Eucharistic Prayer in the current Missal is the one used by Hippolytus nearly 1800 years ago. Very many of the Prefaces added to the Missal after Vatican II were also drawn from the early tradition of the Roman Church. I call that “traditional”!

First off, Harrington appears to think that 'traditional worship texts' are texts used at some point in the past in the Church's worship. But there is a problem with that idea, which goes by the name of 'Archaeologism'. Pope Pius XII condemned this in his great 1947 encyclical on the liturgy, Mediator Dei:

Just as obviously unwise and mistaken is the zeal of one who in matters liturgical would go back to the rites and usage of antiquity, discarding the new patterns introduced by disposition of divine Providence to meet the changes of circumstances and situation.

Lifting some liturgical fossil out of dusty tomes not opened for more than a millenium may be justified from time to time, but the systematic policy of preferring what is preserved in those tomes to what has been handed on to us by the previous generation is not 'tradition', it is archaeologism. Tradition means 'handing on': what father teaches son, and son hands on, with care and reverence, to grandson. As St Paul says, echoing the language of the rabbinic tradition of which he was the product, 'What I have received, I have passed on.' (see I Cor 11.23 and 15.3). The spirit which says 'I'll pass on to others what I, in my great wisdom, have fished out of a vast pool of texts and practices plucked from any moment in the history of the Church, plus some I made up myself', is the polar opposite of a traditional spirit.

Now that is what Harrington says the Ordinary Form is like, but the example she gives, of the Anaphora (Eucharistic Prayer) of Hippolytus really fails her. I just love this caveat:

'Apart from some changes made to adapt it for use in the Roman rite today.'

Right. So we are talking about some minor tweaks, are we? No. But don't take my word for it: as I have blogged before, you can read the words of the architect of the reform, the man himself, Annibale Bugnini:

'The aim was to produce an anaphora that is short and very simple in its ideas. The anaphora of Hippolytus was therefore taken as a model. But, although many thoughts and expressions are derived from Hippolytus, Eucharistic Prayer II is not, as it were, a new edition of his prayer. It was not possible to retain the structure of his anaphora because it does not have a Sanctus or a consecratory epiclesis before the account of institution or a commemoration of the saints or intercessions. All these developed after Hippolytus and could not now be omitted in a Roman anaphora. In addition, various ideas and expressions in the anaphora of Hippolytus are archaic or difficult to understand and could not be taken over into a contemporary anaphora.' 

In reality, Eucharistic Prayer II derives more of its text from the Roman Canon than it does from anything supposedly written by Hippolytus. Perhaps we should be grateful, because since the 1960s increasing doubts have been expressed about this text: as Fr Hunwicke remarks 

'But, everyone now agrees, it is not by Hippolytus, nor was it a very early liturgy of the Roman Church. And Professor Paul Bradshaw has shown good reason the think that it is not nearly as early as had been assumed.'

To be fair, Fr Hunwicke offers some concession to critics of this hasty summary of the state of scholarly play here, but the point is that the overwhelming scholarly consensus, that this anaphora was the most exciting and authentic Latin Eucharistic Prayer ever, no longer exists. 

Harrington's other example of archaeologism in the Ordinary Form - which, remember, she thinks is a good thing - is the Prefaces. Again, however, there is a lot less to this than meets the eye. The vast majority of the Prefaces found in the 1970 Missal are either new compositions or heavily re-written. There is, in fact, a strong tendency to take inspiration from the Greek liturgical tradition over the Latin one, despite the vast number of ancient Latin Prefaces which can be found in dusty old volumes. All this is explained in the FIUV Position Paper on Prefaces.

Other things which have been claimed, historically, to represent a more 'traditional' / archaeological aspect in the Ordinary Form over the Extraordinary form have also been addressed in these papers, notably:

Celebration 'facing the people'

Reception of Communion 'in the hand' 

You can see the whole set of papers here, and buy the first dozen hard copy from Lulu from the link in the sidebar.

A priest learning the EF under the guidance of Fr Thomas Crean OP (left)
The point of these papers, and of this post, is not to attack the Ordinary Form, but to defend the Extraordinary Form against attacks like those of Elizabeth Harrington. The OF is what it is: whether we like it or not, it was created by a committee, taking inspiration from a wide range of sources, but always willing to compose afresh or radically to change older texts. It makes perfect sense to call the Extraordinary Form 'the Traditional Mass', because that is what it is: for us in the West, it is what our predecessors handed on to us, and it is essentially what their predecessors handed on to them, the changes to it for the most part incidental, even unintended, but subtly adapting it to the needs of the time as the centuries (not days or weeks) passed. This tradition can be criticised, but it is senseless to say it wasn't a tradition. 

As a footnote, I'd draw attention again to my correspondence on calling the EF the 'Traditional Masss' in the Catholic Herald.


  1. Anonymous5:01 pm

    Some servant of the Church she is! Service with snideness. I weep. How does she still have her job?

  2. I seem to be one of the few in my church not taking the Eucharist in the hand. I don't care.

  3. It is fortunate that men have made floors, since there is at least a reasonable stopping point for our jaws when when we read astounding statements by an appointed lay minister of the Church whinging about the dangers of "over-emphasis on Christ’s divinity." As if such a thing were even possible! ““I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

    In light of such attitudes, the rest of Ms. Harrington's more recent statements don't surprise, even if they depress. At every point she reveals herself to be a perfect disciple of Archbp. Bugnini, right down to the naked contempt for nearly all of the history and theology of the Roman Rite, ever ready to use dubious archaeological excuses to justify ecclesiastial embrace of modern attitudes and prejudices. This would be bad enough; but her contempt is dished out to people, not just rites or ideas.

    I hope that her correspondent was ultimately able to find a less vicious and more helpful source to find the answers for his worship needs.

  4. Clearly, Arthur Koestler's observation that everything which is wrong with communism can be deduced from the sheer ugliness of its women applies not just to communism, but to the defence of Novus Ordo communion in the hand. I mean, look at her.

    1. No wonder young people are turning to the Traditional Latin Mass.

    2. There are plenty of ugly women who attend the so-called ''traditional Latin Mass,'' don't you worry! In fact, quite a lot of people who attend the TLM are clinically insane. I am autistic and have a good store of my own problems but I don't come close!

    3. I think it's best (and charitable) not to focus on physical appearance. Few of us are models.

      What's ugly about Ms. Harrington is her contempt toward her fellow Catholics, and disdain for her own Church's tradition. Her only provocation here was an innocent inquiry for the time and location of a celebration of a licit, authorized form of the Roman Rite. And it was her response that was ugly.

  5. This lady seems to have as little understanding of Christian charity as she does of Tradition.

  6. The problem with the Roman Rite is the centuries worth of ill-informed pieties floating about like oil; Corpus Christi, Christ the King, Sacred Hearts, Immaculate Conceptions, etc, so Pius XII can go hang with his accusations of ''Archaeologism.'' It's all pretty much over, actually. Why not just give up? Even the ''traditional'' Holy Week is rather modern, having no visible connexion to the liturgical ethos of our Catholic fathers before Pius V.

    As for the Roman Canon, the only thing in its favour is its antiquity. It's a garbled mess, ruined by the interruption of two elevations which weren't even present in the rite in the first Millenium.

    Yes Tradition does mean, as you have eloquently explained, that which comes down from father to son (I like to call it a silver chain, in deference to both Thomas Aquinas and his Catena Aurea and to Tolkien, who, like me, preferred silver), handed down and on in an endless connexion from past to present and so on, but if what we have received is mingled with abuse, excess and superstition, and consequently the worth inherent to that Tradition is compromised, what do you do then?

    I cannot attend a celebration of Roman Rite Mass and not think of a once glorious Tradition that was slowly ruined by centuries of tampering at the Papal level (I do not place with underlings like Bugnini; who was Bugnini but a servant or emissary?), neglect and so many popular and ill-informed pieties having so much influence and endorsed, not condemned, by Rome.

    In other words, the West has failed.

    1. Hello Patrick,

      These "pieties" also happen to be formally promulgated dogmas of the Church. If they're mistaken, the entire Roman Catholic Church must be given up as a bad job. The position you're advocating here is essentially a Protestant one.

      We can go back and forth over the dangers of papal ultramontanism in changing the liturgy. But most tangible positive actions you can point to derive from the 20th century, beginning with St. Pius X's reform of the Breviary. Before that, papal power was mainly deployed to preserve (even if to the point of killing organic development) rather than change. If the elevation of the host was unknown in the Roman Rite until the high medieval period (and evidence on this is relatively tenuous), it was not papal power that made the change, but development from below. According to Fortescue, the first juridical institution of it came from Eudes de Sully, Bishop of Paris - not a Pope.

      The West may have failed, but only in spite of the Church, not because of it.

  7. This is a topic I hesitate to take up but since Ms Harrington has raised it, and as it is likely to be further discussed, well here goes.

    If the mouth is opened reasonably well and the Host is laid top edge down on the tongue, then the problem of hygiene simply does not occur.

    There are possible problems of hygiene however concerning the chalice. Given what we now know about the universal presence of mouth bacteria, the concept of up to 50 people drinking from one chalice is inherently unhygienic. The use a cloth or purificator after each reception, reduces but does not eliminate bacterial, viral, or other DNA material. In times of communal epidemics, whether bacterial or viral, reception from the chalice should be absolutely forbidden.

    Intinction, carefully carried out by a trained person, not by casual lay distributers, would be acceptable and, I dare say, exceptions could be made for a Nuptial Mass.

    One further point. We are all concerned about particles of the Sacred Host being abused because of reception by hand, but there is a risk that the fingers of the person holding and wiping the chalice, particularly when many are receiving, may have some of the consecrated wine on them. I have never seen any distributers take the necessary precautions to deal with this eventuality.

  8. So, EP II isn't the prayer of Hippolytus, which was never in fact an anaphora, and wasn't written by Hippolytus anyway. It's the EP of choice for those priests who have preached for too long and want to get the rest of the Mass over with as quickly as possible. EP III is an example of one man's idea of what an anaphora should be (unlike the Roman Canon which fails on all counts). Whenever I hear it I think of Fr Cipriano Vaggagini earnestly banging it out on his typewriter sometime in the 1960s.

    1. The word "choice" takes us to the heart of the matter, which isn't the question of the authenticity of the EPs. ii. to iv. but the question of their reason for being there in the first place. Can something so central to the liturgy as the Eucharistic Prayer really be treated as an option chosen at the preference of the individual celebrant? Is there any precedence in the history of Catholic worship for this? Can a liturgy that allows the individual celebrant to pick an choose so much of its text on their own initiative be recognized as the worship of the Church?

  9. @Athelstane...she's still an objectively ugly old trout, no matter how you dress it up...and has anyone noticed the resemblance between Ms Harrington and Abp Bugnini... just sayin'

  10. Anonymous6:40 am

    If you want to call her an old trout to her "face" just go to the Brisbane Liturgy commission homepage.But for her it will confirm all she thinks of we traditionalist/Traditional catholics.