Tuesday 27 October 2015

Mad Trad--Spiked! N is for Novus Ordo

Hello! It is once again Traddy Tuesday, the day I chat about traditional Catholic beliefs and devotions. This post is later than usual for I spent the morning in traditional housekeeping, the hoover being a natural and organic development upon the carpet sweeper.

Today I shall post up the last of my Mad Trad columns, which I believe I posted before to show you what could get you fired from Catholic newspapers back in 2011. However I think the column was doomed when my cheerful piece about John XXIII's love of Latin came out. (By the by, I wonder if it is true that Saint John cried "Stop the Council! Stop the Council!" on his deathbed.)

I know people who simply can no longer bring themselves to attend the Novus Ordo. If they can't find an FSSP (Fraternity of the Priests of Saint Peter) or ICK (Institute of Christ the King) church or chapel, they go to the  SSPX (Society of Saint Pius X) for Sunday Mass.

I have never been to an SSPX Mass myself; when I was growing up adults talked about the SSPX with a contempt they did not express for Protestants, Jews, Sikhs or any other religious community. Today I find this pious disgust bizarre. Are we really supposed to admire all religious groups except the one closest to us, one that is, in fact, in communion with us and would have been indistinguishable from (the rest of) us in 1962? All the same, I have not been to an SSPX Mass, and if I cannot get to a Traditional Latin Mass permitted by the local Ordinary, I go an Ordinary Form Mass.

If I seem utterly fascinated by the differences between the Usus Antiquor and the Novus Ordo, it is partly because when I was a child in the 1970s, I had no idea that that Mass I went to on Sundays, Holy Days of Obligation and  First Fridays was much different from the Mass the saints all knew. It was as if all memory of the Old Mass had been buried under the floor and the carpet firmly nailed down.

Well, enough about me. Here is my spiked column, which is also about me. To get past me, I recommend reading accounts of Catholic adults who were attached to the Mass they had always known and suddenly couldn't get to anymore. I highly recommend Dom Alcuin Read's "A Bitter Trial" for Evelyn Waugh's take on the replacement of the Vetus Antiquor for the Novus Ordo.

When the Ordinary Form isn't Ordinary

On the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, I did something I don’t do often: I went to the Ordinary Form of the Mass. It was a Friday evening Mass in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana. The Basilica was two-thirds full of students. I’m not sure what impressed me more: that Notre Dame has its own basilica or that so many of its students chose to go to Mass on a Friday evening.

The Basilica was built in the 19th century and modelled in part on the Gesù, the mother church of the Society of Jesus in Rome, built by Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola in 1568. The Basilica has been renovated three times, most recently to clean it up and to restore such art and artifacts (like the confessionals) banished in the 1960s. In keeping with contemporary sensibilities, it has been repainted and gilded and is once more a truly beautiful church. I gazed at the gorgeous Gothic revival ceiling and tried not to feel weird about my bare head.

When you get into the habit of going only to the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, you grow attached to customs that seem odd in the Ordinary Form and find customs attached to the Ordinary Form newly odd. Like many women, I choose to wear a mantilla during the Extraordinary Form and not during the Ordinary Form, where it might distract and even annoy people. (That said, there were girls in the Basilica wearing mantillas.) But if I don’t wear anything on my head in church, my head now feels cold and funny.

Other Ordinary Form customs that seem odd are—bear with me here—laypeople reading the readings and laypeople handling the sacred vessels. In the Extraordinary Form only clergy read the readings and only clergy handle the sacred vessels, so when a woman’s speaking voice breaks the silence or a woman opens the doors of the tabernacle, it does seem decidedly odd after months of attending the Extraordinary Form.

That said, I went to the Ordinary Form of the Mass almost every week for over 38 years, so this Mass felt like an old home, a home whose traditions I know like the back of my hand, and I made the customary reach for the hymn book when the organ rang out overhead. The congregation stood, and the sanctuary party, which included retired bishop John D’Arcy, processed to the altar.

The Mass was solemn and reverent. The cantor sang too high for easy following, but she certainly had a beautiful voice. The altar servers were unobtrusive. Bishop D’Arcy preached on the Gospel, the feast day and St. Edith Stein, in whose honour Notre Dame was having a conference. The students hung on to his every word, and I could sense how much they love him. Mass was very moving. The one thing that bothered me was the lack of a communion rail.

There should not be a war between the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms of the Mass. I know that there are traditionalists who deplore the Ordinary Form—the “Nervous Ordo”—for its imperfect paraphrase of original prayers, for its “three hymn sandwich” and for its inexplicable and unofficial innovations. However, when it is celebrated in a reverent spirit, without a cast of thousands thronging around the sanctuary, with due respect for beauty—the beauty of music, the beauty of art, the beauty of the English language—and trust in the words actually written down on the page, the Ordinary Form is “charged with the grandeur of God.”

But countless Catholics have been scandalized by the Ordinary Form of the Mass done badly. I won’t go into detail—since 1970 Catholics have written ad nauseum about liturgical abuses—but I think it worthwhile to note the empty pews in our churches and wonder if rushed and informal, jokey, innovative and “creative” liturgies might not have something to do with them.

Of course it is important to create a sense of community in our parishes, but Mass should not be merely a community-building enterprise. It is a memorial of Christ’s passion, it is the paschal sacrifice, it is the sacrament of redemption. It must be treated with reverence, so that our children learn to reverence it and not put it away with other things of childhood.

To solve the problem of the communion rail, I decided to do what the girls in the mantillas did. And, to tell you the truth, I don’t remember what that was. But whatever it was, I had the sense afterwards of having attended a beautiful Mass amongst the reverent young people who are the future of the Church.  

Speaking of the future of the Church, how about that Synod, eh? 

There were 74 people at  the Edinburgh FSSP Extraordinary Form of the Mass this Sunday, a big number for us. I spoke to a newcomer whose third visit this was; he found us through the internet and already has a shiny new Baronius missal . It didn't occur to me to ask what had triggered his search for us, but let me see. Three weeks ago from this Sunday...25-21 = 4 October. One week later, he was with us. Hmm....


  1. Hi Seraphic, what's your viewpoint on attending SSPX Masses? Can the faithful attend in good conscience? I would certainly prefer to attend a beautiful, reverent SSPX Mass instead of the local NO with kindergarten music and women distributing the Eucharist. Such NO services always leave me feeling either depressed, furious or both, instead of edified and closer to God. Presumably since the excommunication was lifted there is no barrier to attending SSPX Mass?

  2. Moan, groan. There seems to be a lot of fighting about this on the internet. I think if there is no NO around, then you can go to the SSPX. But after that there seems to be a a lot of disagreement.

    Unless the Ordinary of the diocese in which I lived gave me (or everyone in the diocese) permission to attend an SSPX Mass, I myself would not go. I suppose you could write to your bishop for permission. If you know nothing about him, do a quick internet search for information about him to see how best to word your letter.

  3. Heather in Toronto28 October 2015 at 14:59

    I think perhaps the difference in attitude towards the SSPX comes because the overwhelming majority of people who belong to other religions and Christian confessions do so because that has been their family or cultural heritage for generations, or the dear pious Baptist lady down the street was what attracted them to Christianity and so naturally they became Baptist, or their evangelical friend brought them to a concert/revival, or whatever. In other words the separation isn't generally PERSONAL. Even in sects that have anti-Catholicism written into their doctrine, the original divisive issues weren't within living memory and therefore aren't personal.

    It also may be related to the deep seated horror of anything smelling of anti-Semitism in Enlightened (or at least embarrassed by its complicity) Post-War Western Civilization. While of course anti-Semitism isn't actually inherent to the SSPX or traddery in general, and that particular notoriously anti-Semitic bishop was eventually kicked out, the fact that he remained in a high profile position for so long made for an unpleasant assocation and no doubt attracted a number of people who held similar views.

    With regard for the question of attending an SSPX Mass, if there is no licit EF, and no sufficiently reverent OF for my taste, then my next choice would be a Byzantine or other eastern Catholic liturgy, which tend to be reverent and devoid of silliness and are fully in communion with Rome. If not then I would just close my eyes and offer up the silliness (which is something I have had to do on occasion although thankfully not at my own parish).

  4. Yes, and nobody gets offended by the Eastern Catholic liturgies. Even progressive theology schools in Germany will host them, so westerns can ooh and ahh at the "Other", I suppose. Good suggestion.

  5. I’ve been really lucky so far with the Masses that I’ve attended. When I settle in a place, I choose a parish that has a reverent Mass; in my last city, the Opus Dei’s NO Mass far exceeded the local TLM, but that’s the Work for you. Besides them, no one but a picky bishop or a visiting cardinal can whip a parish into shape so fast. :) I can really understand that secure feeling when you know the Mass is in good hands at your parish, at least!

    I recently moved, however, and my luck ran out. Now I live in the Middle East, and the Mass here is quite irreverent. Not with ugly music or a huge amount of improvisations (although that could be the case as well, since it’s all, you know, in Arabic); just people running off right after the missa est or not kneeling during the Consecration. I think it’s partly because the faith is a community thing here, and people are poorly catechized. Lots of practicing, no faith or knowledge. Sort of like it was in northwestern Europe before Vatican II; no wonder the Church went down like a house of cards.

    I observe that with the TLM you can’t go wrong nearly as easily, especially since the laity will know better and be up in arms. We NO parishioners are not as aware, and even if we see a problem, we don’t tend to say anything. I prefer not to talk to my priest, let alone come up to him at coffee and ask, By the way, why no altar rail?* (And just forget about writing to the bishop!)

    How do you feel about the laity objecting to liturgical abuse? As in, personally or by letter, to the priest or bishop in question. I have a feeling that’s the only thing that will help—like you said, Catholics have been complaining about liturgical abuses forever, and I have yet to see anything come of it but bad feelings all around.

    I can’t believe you were fired for this article, by the way. It seems pretty innocuous to me. The only problem I have with it is that I don’t see the point of your story. What were you trying to say?

    *This is a hypothetical situation. Of course we have an altar rail. In my old town. Here, I don’t think anyone knows what an altar rail is.


  6. First time commenting, by the way! I really enjoy your blog, but commenting is scary. <3


  7. I wasn't really fired for this article. As I said, the writing was already on the wall. It was just the first article they wouldn't take. Naturally it provided an example of things they didn't like, e.g. that I would find it odd to see a woman in the sanctuary. The point of the article was to show how the NO and EF are quite different, and what a shock it must have been to get used to the NO. However, I pointed out, too, that the NO can be done reverently.

    Father Z encourages people to report liturgical abuse, but I have never bothered with that. I just write about it in an archdiocesan newspaper, naming no names. As I live across the ocean from the archdiocese 11 month of the year, people don't get that mad at me.

    I'm glad you enjoy my blog, but I'm sorry your liturgical luck has run out. That said, Middle Eastern Christians have a lot to worry about. Instead of fretting about your neighbours standing for the Consecration--which may be the local practice and is a respectful option (unlike sitting)--and taking off right after the missa est, pray for each one of them, that they may live to a ripe old age, and that ISIS does not wipe out Christianity from the entire Middle East. I'm not sure about where you are, but in quite a number of Middle Eastern countries, Christians have put up with harrassment, marginalization and violence for generations.I can imagine circumstances where I would take off after the missa est, too.

  8. Don't worry, we all pray our eyeballs out for our brothers and sisters--but I'm in a place that's quite safe, for now. Not more dangerous than certain parts of Europe, I bet, though you can get to the war zones by bus from here. Anyway, it doesn't seem like anyone leaves early for safety reasons. If Mass was dangerous to attend, they wouldn't ring the bells so loud!



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