ON 16 July 2021, Pope Francis published motu proprio the document Traditionis Custodes. He was writing to bishops worldwide, regulating the celebration of Mass according to the Usus antiquior, the older Use. Since the Usus recentior, the more recent Use, is almost always celebrated in the vernacular, the Usus antiquior – as revised by Pope St John XXIII in 1962 – is almost always referred to as ‘the Latin Mass’. In the first few days there has been an intense interest in this letter. Since its regulations were to be implemented with immediate effect, much comment was pastoral and practical. Some comment, from surprisingly highly-placed sources, was very critical. There was discussion too about how and whether this new document contradicted the apostolic letter of Pope Benedict XVI, Summorum Pontificum (2007), which had extended to all priests of the Latin Church the right to celebrate the Extraordinary Form (Pope Benedict’s term for the 1962 Mass).
Leaving aside these mostly canonical, ecclesial, and pastoral matters – all of which have received substantial attention – our remarks here are confined to liturgical matters, and to very specific ones. Cardinal Sarah, speaking to the Sacra Liturgica conference in 2016, suggested that, from Advent Sunday that year, all priests should plan to celebrate Mass ad orientem, that is, facing East. Another suggestion of his was that certain features of the Usus antiquior, which had been incorporated into the Divine Worship liturgy of the Personal Ordinariates might re-emerge in a fourth edition of the Roman Missal. He had in mind in particular the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar, the traditional Offertory prayers, and the Last Gospel at the end of Mass. Other features of the Divine Worship liturgy that could be re-visited might include the ‘-gesima Sundays’ before Lent, the restored Pentecost Octave, and the re-scheduled Ember Days. We do know that the Pope countermanded the ad orientem instruction and we also know that Cardinal Sarah’s time as Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship was not extended but we do not know – but can guess – to what extent his thinking reflected that of the Congregation. With the Pope’s intervention, the movement known as ‘Reform of the Reform’ lost any sense of official endorsement. The hope for the ‘Reform of the Reform’ had been boosted by Summorum Pontificum because Pope Benedict had specifically asked that the two Forms – Ordinary and Extraordinary – should inform each other, leading to their mutual flourishing and interdependence. Cardinal Sarah’s celebration of the Ordinary Form at the London Oratory, in Latin and with great beauty and splendour, had bookmarked how comely such a celebration should seek to be.
Two particular observations might be made about the future of the Latin Rite at this juncture. One is that its vernacular expression in Divine Worship: The Missal is not affected. However traditional the mode of celebration, and however many echoes of the Extraordinary Form it may contain, it is not the Usus antiquior and it is mandated and regulated by the Holy See. Its incorporation of traditional Anglican material from the liturgical books is entirely in accordance with the provision of Anglicanorum coetibus (2009). The second observation is that, though the ‘Reform of the Reform’ may have run into difficulties a few years ago, the curtailing of the celebration of the Usus Antiquior could be an opportunity for a reset. Particularly in view of the recent regulations surrounding the celebration of Mass in St Peter’s Basilica, there may be a risk of the Mass concelebrated in Italian replacing the Latin Mass as a norm. Italian is a lovely language but it is a regional one not a universal one and concelebration may be particularly apt for occasions on which priests and people wish to join in mass celebrated by their bishop (or pope, or abbot) but, in other circumstances, it is less than ideal. The liturgy, like the Church, is semper reformanda and I reflected on this very thing as, this morning, I prayed the awkward Prayer over the Offerings for St Bridget’s Day. Why awkward? God apparently was ‘pleased to create in St Bridget the New Man’ and we were offering a ‘sacrifice of conciliation’. The language of the vernacular may be specialised but these examples would mystify most. My hope is that those who love the Latin liturgy – especially the young – will turn to the Novus Ordo, the Ordinary Form, with its opportunities for combining vernacular lections and Latin prayers, Gregorian chant and traditional polyphony, and – as Cardinal Sarah indicated – the ad orientem position. What is much more important than the direction in which you face – God is immanent as well as transcendent – is judging the aesthetic properly. Buildings are sacred too and they have to be used congruently.
23rd July 2021 St Bridget