In but not of

When I and others attack the Novus Ordo, we are hardly attacking the people who attend the Mass in that very “ordinary” form, the great majority of whom have no other choice for the fulfilment of their Sunday obligations. Nor am I (for perhaps I should speak for myself alone) “commenting” (by word or by posture) on the devotional practices of anyone. For the private spiritual world of each soul not my own, nor intimately related, is beyond my knowledge and judgement; beyond the possibility of my finite knowledge.

I mention this because I get mail from the offended, from time to time, and little indications beyond that. Half a century into the liturgical “reforms,” we have Catholics now fifty years of age and older who have never known any form of prayer not designed for them by Bugnini and his comrades — his colleagues, enablers, and successors. If they have stuck it out — if they have continued to witness Our Lord as Catholics — they are by now fully identified with that ’sixties Mass and its inflections.

Pride can come into this, as it has when criticism of the Novus Ordo is taken as a personal affront; and the Old Mass, with all the centuries of music and art, teaching and sanctity built upon it, is rejected as “a thing of the past, irrelevant to the people of today.” The New Mass has in that case become part of a personal “identity” more ethnic than religious. The Mass of the Ages, whose organic development filled all the centuries prior to Bugnini, must then necessarily seem strange, foreign, and arbitrary; the work of some dictatorship long since rejected and overthrown.

For here is the principal criticism of the Novus Ordo: that it turned the priest around, away from the ancient liturgical East; that it focused the congregation on responses to him, as a kind of cheerleader; depreciating the Sanctuary. That it made the priest less His servant, than ours. (“Democracy!”)

The Mass is where we go to meet the living Christ; to meet Christ our King, and be restored by Him — not by our own efforts. We go there not to act but be acted upon, by Christ through His priests, duly appointed. We are guests in His house, not He in ours. Entering, we are commanded to leave our sins at the door; to purify ourselves through Confession. We are not standing on our own ground; we are honoured even to be admitted into this Holy Chamber. We are there by the invitation of Our Lord.

But the innovations were consistently directed to making it “all about us” instead — to raising the second of the two “greatest” Commandments above the first. It was from the beginning an act of terrible vanity, and as I have insisted elsewhere, and many others have insisted, the practice of taking Communion in the hand bespeaks the horror of it. We think we can manipulate Christ; that we can handle Him, and make Him over. As moderns, we think we can assert our “rights.”

We have no rights. We have only Christ’s promise.

One may say that the doctrine is unchanged; that it is only expressed a little differently; that the doctrine stands even if the practice leans consistently away from it. But here an invisible division opens in the human heart. We cannot say one thing and do another. Lex orandi, lex credendi — today, tomorrow, and forever. Our worship and our belief must be all of one piece, not in two pieces.

Since the 1960s, we have lived in the constant reassurance of the Church that even the invraisemblable (Louis Bouyer’s term; the English “weird” does it no justice) Eucharistic Prayer II is somehow intrinsically Catholic. It was made valid by formal recognition; to fully appreciate the farce behind the composition of this flippant and unworthy prayer, patched together quite literally overnight in the most unedifying circumstances, one might refer to the book I flagged yesterday. Yet there it still is today, right at the centre of the Mass — this irreverent, throwaway text; and all the other banalities gathered in its train.

There I go again. …

God loves obedience, and God must surely understand the difficult position in which all faithful Catholics were placed by the liturgical desecrations of the 1960s (and the inadequate attempts to improve them in the more recent “reform of the reform”). The obedience must first be to Christ, however. In a time when the Church is in chaos, the humble Christian must be on his guard — not only against spiritual flippancy, but the casual preaching of heresies by poorly educated clergy, who may or may not mean well. We must be “wise as serpents, harmless as doves,” as much by fate as by any choosing.

If I have teased any reader who is annoyed with my tone into exploring these matters, in order to defend his own position, I think it is for the best. That in itself will help him to escape the suffocating effects of the Novus Ordo, which has done so much to empty our churches, and turn once-obedient Catholics away. Which has done so much to persuade the majority of nominal Catholics that things like contraception, abortion, sodomy, euthanasia, could possibly be “okay.” For they sense that the Church is not serious; that the Sacrifice of the Mass must be, instead, some Sunday morning counselling session, to make us feel better about ourselves.

Rather than abandon them, we should challenge Catholics of good will but weak faith. We should put before them exactly what the Church has always taught, and still demands: fidelity unto death. The more they can learn about her, the better acquainted they become with historical time, the less glib her people will be — in this cause which transcends the grave. She is older than we are; vastly older. And she will live, vastly, after we are dead. To pray with the whole Church is to pray with her in all ages, and all places, and in a time passing beyond time, beyond worlds.

One may be devout, as many are, not only in harmony with ancient ritual and sacrament, but even in the face of their destruction. This is more difficult, however. My argument is only that the Church, today, should make it easier for Christians to seek union with Our Lord, not more difficult. Which means: easier, when necessary, to become martyrs.

Where the Old Mass is restored, the Church is recovering, and again growing, both in numbers and in depth. Where the New Mass is retained, she continues to perish. I invite any reader who doubts this to explore the matter, and test the truth of this proposition.

Yet for as long as it survives, the New Mass is of course valid, and where it is the only Mass available, the Sunday obligation continues to pertain, along with the call to holiness that extends far beyond that simple obligation. For we are commanded to do the best with what we have; thus even with the fragments of a broken tradition ever to build and rebuild, by our human action within a house not made with hands.