The More Perfect Form of the Roman Rite
In a recent article discussing the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, the always insightful Dr. Peter Kwasniewski made the following observation about the traditional liturgy:
“There’s a peacefulness and naturalness that come from knowing what you’re going to get or what you’re supposed to do. As a layman, there is nothing more consoling and conducive to prayer than showing up at a traditional Latin Mass and simply being able to rely on the sameness of everything that will happen, from start to finish — everything for the glory of God and the sanctification of the people, even in the humblest conditions…(it) all works, everything comes together with a blessed inevitability, and one can surrender to the Mass, to prayer, to the Lord. It is a recipe for sanity and sanctity in a world that is characterized by escalating insanity and unholiness.”
Finding blessed inevitability and surrendering to the Mass is what many find most attractive about the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. Time tested over centuries, fifteen centuries in the case of the Canon, the Latin Mass is simply a more perfect way to worship. Whether one assists at the most beautiful of High Masses, or at the most humble of Low Masses, a palpable sense of the sacred and eternal is evident in every reverent moment and movement.
It is most likely the case, however, that the majority of the faithful who attend the traditional Latin Mass were first introduced to their faith through the Novus Ordo, what is now called (since Summorum Pontificum) the Ordinary Form of the Mass. Unfortunately, these same Catholics have often spent years subjected to intentionally profane liturgies that are commonly devoid of reverence and beauty.
In his seminal work, The Spirit of the Liturgy, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger candidly addressed this liturgical reality experienced by most:
“In the Old Testament there is a series of very impressive testimonies to the truth that the liturgy is not a matter of ‘what you please.’ Nowhere is this more dramatically evident than in the narrative of the golden calf…
This apostasy, which outwardly is scarcely perceptible, has two causes. First there is a violation of the prohibition against images. The people cannot cope with the invisible, remote, and mysterious God. They want to bring him down into their own world, into what they can see and understand. Worship is no longer going up to God, but drawing God into one’s own world…Man is using God, and in reality, even if it is not outwardly discernible, he is placing himself above God.”
This anthropocentric liturgy is identifiable in parish after parish, and diocese after diocese, by the very manner in which churches have been designed in the post-conciliar era. Often now a Presider’s chair sits in place of the tabernacle; Our Lord instead relegated off to the side, sometimes even removed from the sanctuary altogether. The choir, or the “praise and worship” band, is now commonly situated upfront, so that the altar (no doubt a table) has to share our divided attention with secular instruments such as drums and guitars. Religious art and Catholic statuary serve no purpose, and therefore have no place, in these architectural expressions of the modern iconoclasts.
Ratzinger concludes his critique by soundly condemning what he calls “an apostasy in sacral disguise”:
“The worship of the golden calf is a self-generated cult…Worship becomes a feast that the community gives itself, a festival of self-affirmation. Instead of being worship of God, it becomes a circle closed in on itself: eating, drinking, and making merry. The dance around the golden calf is an image of this self-seeking worship. It is a kind of banal self-gratification…
Ultimately, it is no longer concerned with God but with giving oneself a nice little alternative world, manufactured from one’s own resources. Then liturgy really does become pointless, just fooling around. Or still worse, it becomes an apostasy from the living God, an apostasy in sacral disguise. All that is left in the end is frustration, a feeling of emptiness. There is no experience of that liberation which always takes place when man encounters the living God.”
This ultimately identifies what pushes so many away from the Ordinary Form to the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. A liturgy that is “pointless” as Cardinal Ratzinger called it, is not a liturgy that attracts. Understanding the reality of what the Novus Ordo is for most, it then becomes perfectly understandable as to why 80-95% of Catholics in Western Europe and the Americas no longer attend Mass regularly. It also becomes clear why those who have discovered the liturgical richness of the traditional Latin Mass become such proponents of it. As Peter Kwasniewski observed:
“As a layman, there is nothing more consoling and conducive to prayer than showing up at a traditional Latin Mass and simply being able to rely on the sameness of everything that will happen, from start to finish — everything for the glory of God and the sanctification of the people, even in the humblest conditions…”
Those who defend the Ordinary Form most vociferously against criticism will often explain that their parish is blessed with a solid, traditional, priest who offers a “truly reverent” Novus Ordo Mass. The truth is that the very need to even provide such a qualifying statement largely makes the case for the superiority of the Extraordinary Form. In The Heresy of Formlessness, Martin Mosebach noted that the “liturgy’s death knell is sounded once it requires a holy and good priest to perform it.” Sadly, that is the case with the Novus Ordo and I don’t believe many would dispute it.