söndag 20 november 2011

Traditional Latin Mass is the future

From next week, for a trial period, our local parish priest has decided to say an Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) every Sunday. This is partly a response to the growing attendance at the weekly Friday evening TLM, and partly as a result of experience with using this liturgy on other occasions. The surprise has been that it is more accessible and inclusive than the 1970 Mass in any of its forms. This is not an experience confined to the local parish, as I have noticed it elsewhere. The future of the Catholic church is with the TLM, accompanied of course by other practices such as regular prayer by the laity and regular confession.

The main benefits are, first and foremost, that it is perceived as more prayerful. There are extended and well-defined periods of silence, but it is a silence in which something is happening. With the priest facing in the same direction as the rest of the congregation, there is a stronger sense that everyone is taking part in the action, which is less dominated by the celebrant. The priest finds it less distracting. The sacred mysteries are shielded from the full view of the congregation just as they are in an Orthodox liturgy where the altar is situated behind the iconostasis. The servers have an easier task as everything is carefully prescribed and it is necessary only to learn what has to be done and when.

The use of Latin is inclusive. Language is a great divider, separating both nations and social groups within nations. Latin cuts across all these divisions, since it has long since ceased to be the property of any particular nation. The TLM also has the advantage that the choir is singing during the long recitation of the prayers of consecration, which are best followed silently in the missal in whatever language one chooses.

Paradoxically, this growing realisation of the quality and accessibility of the TLM comes at an unfortunate time, because the new, and much improved English translation of the 1970 (Novus Ordo, NO) Mass has just been brought into use. One wonders now what its long-term future is? Its main value may in the end be for catechesis.

A further question raised is this. What is the legality of introducing TLM practices into an NO celebration? What if all the NO rubrics were followed but the prayers were to be said in English? What if the prayers at the foot of the altar and the Last Gospel were recited? What if the Canon of the Mass was said silently, either in Latin or the vernacular? These things are not provided for in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), which stipulates how thing should be done, but on the other hand, celebration of the NO mass is still very much according to the way the particular priest chooses to do it. Would it then be wrong for a priest to adopt TLM prayers and rubrics in an NO Mass?

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