I want to emphasize that the following are my initial reactions and observations. My first impressions are favorable, but the matter is complex and will need time for pondering and digesting. The first thing I would counsel is therefore patience. No one needs to panic that this is a “Trojan Horse” that threatens to destroy the integrity of the Vetus Ordo. The decrees look, to me, carefully thought through, and I know for a fact that they were drafted only after extensive consultation with individuals and organizations representing the interests of traditional Catholics.

1) Thirteen years after Pope Benedict XVI mentioned (in 2007) that the old missal might be expanded by new prefaces and new saints’ feasts, the CDF has now announced the way in which this can occur. The provisions bend over backwards to avoid stomping on anything already in the MR1962 general calendar. The principle of commemorations is generously applied (that is, no saint or feast or vigil will ever get “dropped,” and a lengthy list of 3rd-class feasts are declared inviolable). Put simply: no saint is removed from the calendar or bumped out by any other saint.

2) The celebration of saints canonized post-1960 is altogether optional: the Vatican is not requiring but permitting (e.g.) St. Maximilian Kolbe, St. Padre Pio, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, or St. Elizabeth of the Trinity to be celebrated or commemorated on their appointed feastdays. We have to bear in mind that a very great number of saints canonized after 1960 lived, in fact, decades or centuries before the liturgical reform and are equally saints of the Tridentine Mass as any of the saints currently honored in the old general calendar. Indeed, Padre Pio, as a recent book details, was vehemently opposed to the liturgical reform as it played out in the 1960s until his death in 1968. We should bear in mind that the calendar of the traditional Roman rite is extremely “saint-friendly” and has always heartily accumulated feasts and commemorations, in contrast to the tradition-scorning mentality reflected in the general calendar for the Novus Ordo rolled out by Paul VI in 1969, from which over 300 saints (!) had been removed. Our attitude should be the opposite. We might echo the famous ad campaign: “Got Saints?”

(Admittedly, the thought of a well-meaning young priest who knows no better commemorating “St. Paul VI” at the TLM is enough to make my viscera twist and my flesh crawl, but I find it hard to imagine that any well-informed priest who has the “pulse” of a traditional congregation would even consider offering a TLM in honor of controversial saints of more recent times, let alone actually do it.)

3) Seven new prefaces have been added, but of these, three are neo-Gallican prefaces already contained in many editions of the MR1962, with their use now being unrestricted (oddly, the proper preface for Advent is not listed, yet it would remain permissible under the prior conditions), while the other four are based on ancient sources and have been redacted to harmonize with the other Tridentine prefaces in their phraseology. The texts of these four prefaces have not yet been released.

For people who are asking “Do we really need new Prefaces in the TLM?,” my answer is twofold. (a) We don’t NEED them, strictly speaking… but the Roman rite has had varying numbers of prefaces over the centuries, and seven more beautiful prefaces is not going to shatter the “Romanitas” of the Roman rite. (b) Why don’t we look, for a change, on the positive side? Here, for example, is the newly-approved (but several centuries old) Preface of the Most Blessed Sacrament. It is magnificent!

It is truly meet and just, right and for our salvation, that we should at all times and in all places give thanks unto Thee, O holy Lord, almighty Father, eternal God, through Christ our Lord: Who, having abolished the empty shadows of animal victims, hath rendered acceptable for us in sacrifice His own Body and Blood: that in every place may be offered to Thy Name that clean oblation, which alone hath been pleasing to Thee. Therefore, in this Mystery of inscrutable wisdom and immense charity, that which once accomplished all on the Cross ceaseth not its wonderful operation, He Himself offering, He Himself the Victim. And He inviteth us, being constituted one victim with Him, to that Sacred Banquet, in which He Himself is received as our food, the memory of His Passion is recalled, our minds are filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given unto us. And therefore with the Angels and Archangels, with the Thrones and Dominions, and with all the hosts of the heavenly army, we sing a hymn to Thy glory, evermore saying:…

This preface is thick with allusions to the Old Testament, New Testament, and even St. Thomas Aquinas’s O Sacrum Convivium. It blows away anything in the Novus Ordo. It gives us another feather in our cap: the richest liturgy in the Western world just got richer. Personally, I can’t wait till our local FSSP priest uses this on Corpus Christi or at a votive Mass of the Blessed Sacrament.

4) It took thirteen years to reach these decisions, and now that the decrees are published, the possibilities are repeatedly noted to be optional. This is how liturgical reform should be done: as Gregory DiPippo likes to say, “run the flag up the flagpole and see who salutes; if no one salutes, take it down.” This is a far cry from the slap-dash draconian imposition of the Novus Ordo under Paul VI. In fact, one might say the decrees represent a gentle encouragement for organic development: “Here are possibilities; use as they may be helpful,” and takes away the reproach that the MR1962 is frozen in pack ice.

From this point of view, the new provisions fit well with the worldwide movement to recover the pre-55 Holy Week and other glories of the old rite that were damaged under Pope Pius XII. We are looking at a living liturgy, not something that exists only in books printed in a certain arbitrary year, reflecting the mentality of the liturgical reformers of that period.

5) The decree about saints subtly notes that, on the one hand, it is to be left to the discretion of superiors (not to the celebrant on the spur of the moment) which provisions will be utilized; and on the other hand, that the traditional Roman rite has seen optional sanctoral and devotional Masses in the past: “throughout the post-tridentine period, and up till the rubrical reform carried out by Pope St. Pius X, the calendar included no less that twenty-five such so-called ad libitum feasts.”

Although it is quite true to say that one of the great boasts of the traditional liturgy is its stability, fixity, constancy, and predictability, it is also true that there have always been minor options at the discretion or choice of the celebrant. Some Commons feature alternative readings. Some saints can be either celebrated in full or mentioned as commemorations in a repeated Sunday formulary. Customs exist for the use of votive Masses, but as the very name implies, “votive” is a free-will offering; no one needs to say this or that Votive Mass on a given feria.

However, such small options fit into a larger pattern: once the priest commits himself to a given Mass, everything is spelled out ahead of time; there is no room for “pastoral adaptations,” for a “do-it-yourself” liturgy built up from modular blocks. In this respect, the new decrees do nothing to modify the strengths of the traditional Mass, nor do they bring it in any way closer to the Novus Ordo.

6) One of the most remarkable elements of Cum Sanctissima is buried, in a sense, in the fine print. In 1960, a decision was made to privilege the Lenten ferias to such an extent that the feasts of even very significant saints, e.g., St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Gregory the Great, St. Benedict of Nursia, the Archangel Gabriel, and St. Leo the Great, were reduced to mere commemorations, which meant, as Gregory DiPippo notes, “to all intents and purposes [they were] abolished from the General Calendar.” The new decree now states that the feasts of more outstanding saints during Lent (the saints, namely, that the decree lists, giving reasons for its list) can trump the Lenten feria, which would instead be commemorated. In this way, Cum Sanctissima is a document that unmodernizes the Tridentine rite, freeing it from a heavy-handed prejudice of the Liturgical Movement.

7) I have argued strenuously that liturgical rites develop to a perfection of form and content that renders further major development nugatory, and rules out entirely the legitimacy of the kind of soup-to-nuts renovation that produced the Novus Ordo. But minor additions have always been a part of the history of liturgical rites, and always will be. Additions are far different from ideologically-motivated expurgations, abbreviations, or rewritings. I concur with several commentators who have pointed out that today’s announcement effectively stifles any critic whose objection to the TLM is that it is “frozen in time.” Not only is it not so frozen, but every year that passes has witnessed more and more of the full heritage of the Tridentine rite recovered, as the pre-55 Holy Week is reclaimed, as chasubles are folded on days of penance, as the great Pentecost vigil reappears, and so forth. What we are seeing, and thanks be to God for it, is a living liturgy that is truly traditional, sloughing off the undesirable modernizations that paved the way for Paul VI’s revolutionary Novus Ordo — a period piece that now appears more dated by far than the timeless yet intensely present Mass of the Ages.

In conclusion: all this will need further reflection, to be sure, but I appreciate the modesty, discretion, and care that went into the decrees and provisions.

Categories: Vatican Watch