Friday, June 29, 2007

The two strands of tradition

This blog has been about 2 weeks in formulation, which is why I have been relatively silent as of late.

Given that there is reference in the blogosphere to the "traditional" Mass versus the modern Mass, I wanted to say something about really how "traditional" is the Tridentine Mass and how "traditional" is the Novus Ordo Mass as in different documents both Masses claim to be the authentic conduit of tradition. The first question is "what is tradition?".

The Oxford Dictionary defines tradition as "the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation". However, tradition particularly in a sacred context, also evolves. Like a large building the edifice goes up layer by layer from the foundations, but is always supported by the foundations.

The liturgy has been an evolving process and the early liturgy we only have surviving fragments, namely St Paul, then St Justin Martyr, and then the full development of the Mass culminating in the reforms of Pope St Gregory the Great (6th cent AD). Both supporters of tradition and the fathers of the reform in the 1960s agreed that this is the starting point (the template).

I then did a step by step summary of the elements of the Mass, and the furnishings of the sanctuary to compare to see what is the most authentic tradition. This has not been presented here as it is too detailed.

The Tridentine Mass has the elements of the Gregorian Mass as its core but heavily overlaid with prayers that developed between the 11th and 14th centuries. The Novus Ordo sought to simplify back to the Gregorian template, as well as introduce some new prayers which could be used in place of the tradtional. On the basis of general customs it can be said that the two Masses form different interpretations of the one tradition. IT IS THE SAME MASS. In this one tradition there are two streams or strands:
  1. a re-creation of the general Mass form of the first Millenium (with some modern add-ons) known as the Novus Ordo Mass (or the Mass of Paul VI)

  2. the continual flow of tradition from the first millenium through the second millenium culminating in the Tridentine Mass (or the Mass of John XXIII).

The photos that I took in Rome last year show the two strands as they exist in architecture. The first is of St John Lateran which although heavily renovated in the 17th century, has maintained the older tradition into the 20th century, with its strict basilica layout and free-standing Altar under a spectacular ciborium from the 14th century.

The second, is a photograph of the interior of what I call a "Counter-Reformation" church, Santa Maria della Vittoria, with the Altar arrangement generally consistent with that desired by the reforms after the Council of Trent for a parish church (not a cathedral church but more about that later).

To date, the Latin Church has only been "breathing with one lung", as one of these strands has been suppressed. Note the table Altar in front of the High Altar as a retrofit of the church to shift it from one strand of tradtion to the other. (This was a reasonably good retrofit, compared to some Italian churches, that I saw where a wooden "picnic table" has been set up in front of the main Altar).

The forthcoming Motu Proprio corrects this situation so that we can now enjoy the full tradition, PLUS the church is better secured to its foundations and sub-structures. Two strands may be necessary at this stage because the Church has such a rich tradition that one set of elements or themes cannot be contained in the one Mass.

However, I believe that there are some serious elements missing from the Novus Ordo Mass which have impacted on the manner in which it has been celebrated:
  • Veneration of the Altar and the Sanctuary at the start of Mass is excessively abbreviated in a Mass without solemnity (which gets the Mass started the wrong way, particulalry when it is replaced by a mini-sermon)

  • There is a general lack of knowledge on the ars celebranda and ceremonial resulting in inappropriate people stepping in and giving direction without any knowledge of the tradition.

Furnishings as interpreted in the reform (not the reform itself) has led to a number of problems

  • The location of the chair as the priest’s “throne” (not previously done in any tradition - thrones were reserved to bishops), emphasising the celebrant as "presider"

  • Tabernacle location is up to a personal decision leading to a poorly designed church, lack of focus and poor behaviours in church

  • Lack of Altar rails (an ancient tradition mentioned by Eusebius and Augustine) leads to sanctuary being perceived as common space and encouraging unauthorised access (exacerbated by the presence of lay readers and EMHCs, particularly EMHC’s being in sanctuary for excessive lengths of time).

  • Problems with badly designed Altars which are of a size, shape and location that emphasises the celebrant, and the community meal.
These issues need to be tackled in any reform of the Mass of Paul VI to make truly fit for the worship of Our Lord.


mike said...

The second image doesn't display in my browser. I'm using Firefox

I can view the image by using the direct link to it:

I was composing a post on Bernini's Ecstasy of St Teresa, and came across your blog post.

I didn't see an email address for you, so I post this comment instead.

mike said...

Well, now it is displaying. Please ignore my previous comment.