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Ratzinger, Reverence and the Epistle Babe

IS BENEDICT XVI launching a liturgical reform to restore tradition and reverence in Catholic worship? Having permitted the use of the ’62 Missal as the “Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite,” is he now trying to make New Mass itself “more traditional”?

Conservative bloggers who devote themselves following liturgical matters in the post-Vatican II Church would answer yes, and they are positively ecstatic.

Members of this group refer to themselves as a “new liturgical movement” and call for “a reform of the reform,” by which they mean a reworking of the Novus Ordo.

Recently they have started to attach great significance to the reappearance of traditional accoutrements in the various Vatican ceremonies that Benedict XVI presides over. An eye-popping jeweled miter on Ratzinger’s head, a Baroque morse (cope clasp) on his chest, or an ornate Pius XII-era throne behind him sets them buzzing in the blogsphere like little Barberini bees.

Another cause for excitement among the restorationists was the appointment of new Vatican Master of Ceremonies with conservative street cred, Mgr Marini. He replaces the JP2-era MC (also named Marini) who had started out as secretary to Bugnini, the principal creator of the New Mass. The “old” Marini favored liturgical theatrics of the “progressive” variety. The new one favors lace surplices. (!)

According to the bloggers, the way Benedict XVI celebrates the New Mass at the Vatican is proof that the great restoration has already begun. Ratzinger is giving us an example and showing us the new liturgical model. Chant is accorded “pride of place,” significant portions of the rite are in Latin, and the celebrant conducts himself a restrained and dignified fashion.

It is, we are assured, a return to tradition in the Roman Rite. Or is it?

To test this out, I decided to watch a re-broadcast of the Christmas Midnight Mass that Benedict XVI celebrated this year in St. Peter’s.

To a layman who goes to a garden-variety Novus Ordo in a standard suburban American parish or to a neo-con diocesan priest persecuted by his Ordinary, I can see how Ratzinger’s Latin-laced Midnight Mass would seem like Roman-Rite retro and the absolute apex of liturgical tradition.

But what Mgr Marini had on offer certainly didn’t bowl me over.

It was Christmas evening, and I had just returned from more than 24 hours’ worth of Christmas liturgical celebrations conducted according to the real Roman Rite: Prime, Vigil Mass, First Vespers, Matins, Solemn Pontifical Mass, Lauds, Low Masses and Second Vespers. I have not only performed most of these ceremonies for decades, but also taught seminary courses on the history and meaning of their prayers and ceremonial. I also teach another course on problems with the Novus Ordo itself.

From this perspective, Benedict XVI’s Midnight Mass was nothing more than rehash, albeit more staid, of the same old modernist assembly-supper. Here are my impressions.

Baroque Miter, Twisted Lizard…

The various pre-Vatican II liturgical furnishings are indeed now used in St. Peter’s once again. For Christmas, the high altar was decked out with a magnificent frontal, and a crucifix stood in the center. The stubby Paul VI candlesticks have been replaced with glorious old-fashioned Baroque ones — including a seventh, which in the old rite was a privilege reserved to Ordinaries. The latter will be especially thrilling for true devotees of Tridentine arcana.

Benedict XVI processed into the Basilica wearing (gasp!) a jeweled miter.

Alas, he was also carrying The Twisted Lizard. This item is a creepy modern “crucifix” staff first employed by Paul VI, and then used in Vatican ceremonies by all his successors. I consider it utterly diabolical.

Once the horde of concelebrants who preceded him had kissed the altar, Benedict incensed it and went to his presidential chair, which had been set up in front of the altar to face the people.

After the Sign of the Cross and a Pax vobis, he read a short vernacular instruction to the people. This is one of the many inventions the modernists introduced into the Mass in order to make it “instructional.” Needless to say, Pontifical Mass in the old rite contains no such thing.

An Invented Rite, an “Edited” Text…

Next, instead of the Novus Ordo equivalent of the Confiteor and the Kyrie, a hokey rite made up especially for Christmas was inserted. This consisted of an “edited” version of the proclamation of the birth of Christ that appeared in the pre-Vatican II Martyrology. Indeed, I had chanted the traditional version the previous day at the Office of Prime.

I’m sure that the restorationists thought this rite was very grand. But removing a part of the Ordinary of the Mass and dumping in a chunk of the Divine Office is pure Vatican II stuff — “needless duplications must be eliminated,” the Council told us.

The text sung at Ratzinger’s Mass, moreover, omitted the phrases from the traditional text about the number of years from Creation, the Flood, etc. Such cannot be reconciled with modernist scripture scholarship, so, tradition be damned. At least they didn’t put in Darwin…

More Invented Stuff…

Ratzinger intoned the Gloria, and presto, another invented rite was interpolated. This time, kids carrying flowers and dressed in cutesy national costumes appeared at the head of a procession, followed by a deacon carrying a Christ Child and wearing a dazzling embroidered dalmatic. The Child was placed in a little shrine, and the kids did something (I forget what) with the flowers — a nice devotional touch, to be sure, but none of it a part of the traditional liturgy.

The Gloria was then sung. The congregation sang bits of the Mass of the Angels in Latin, while the choir chimed in with a fancy musical setting that sounded like a toothpaste commercial. (Really.) At the end, Benedict chanted the Collect in Latin.

Inert at the Chair…

Next came the New Mass’s Liturgy of the Word, during which (unlike the traditional rite) the presider sits mute and inert at his chair. (Others have taken over the jobs he used to do.) All of it was conducted, as required, facing the people, because these bits of the Novus Ordo are supposed to be particularly instructional.

A layman in a suit appeared at the lectern, and proclaimed the First Reading in Spanish.

His place was then taken by a cantor in an alb, who led the congregation in singing the Responsorial Psalm, alternating with them in a hammy voice for the verses. The Responsorial that appears in the Novus Ordo is another post-Vatican II innovation that did not exist in the traditional rite.

And Subbing for the Subdeacon…

Then, to proclaim the Second Reading, there appeared not the Apostolic Subdeacon of days gone by, but that distinguished liturgical functionary who now adorns every post-Vatican II “Papal Mass”: the Epistle Babe

The Epistle Babe this year was young, American and good-looking enough to more than merit her title. There, before the high altar of the greatest church in Christendom, in a basilica packed with prelates of every description, she giggled and smiled her way through a positively perky rendition of the Epistle in English.

Great performance, honey! Glad you’re onboard as the Holy Father and the lace-surpliced Mgr Marini restore our sense of the sacred…

A Missed Opportunity?

Then came the chanting of an Alleluia and the Gospel procession, conducted in a fashion that more or less resembled the traditional rite. The deacon, vested in another dalmatic that would send “reform of the reform” bloggers into a swoon, chanted the Gospel magnificently in Latin.

One element of pre-Vatican II liturgical tradition, however, was overlooked here. When the deacon sings the Gospel in the traditional rite, the book is held open for him by the sacred minister who proclaimed the Epistle. In the new rite, of course, this would be the Epistle Babe…

After the Gospel, Benedict delivered his homily. This had a good, clever opening, but eventually meandered around to offering the obligatory grain of incense to ecology. (His pal, the Archbishop of Canterbury, did the same.)

Line Up at the Lectern…

The congregation then chanted the Credo. According to the new rules, it’s never supposed to be sung by the choir alone, so bye-bye Palestrina.

Then came another made-up part of the Novus Ordo: The Prayer of the Faithful.

Ratzinger read the Introduction — another didactic “instruction” — and a gaggle of lay men and women lined up at the lectern. Each delivered one trendy petition in his or her native language.

This is a hokey bit of theatre, invented to make for “relevant” liturgy, and in this context, to demonstrate that “the Church is universal.” Making the latter point, of course, required no such theatrics when Catholics everywhere used Latin, period.

I advise restorationists to spare me the canard that the Prayer of the Faithful is a restoration of an ancient practice. Litanies were led by deacons in the primitive Church, not divvied up and parceled out to women.

And as for trendy petitions, I’d like to sneak into one of these Prayer of the Faithful conga lines and lay on Marini and Ratzinger a real text used by the primitive Church at this point in the liturgy:

“Let the heretic now depart! Let the Jew now depart! Let the pagan now depart!”

More Cutesy Stuff…

The Offertory Procession, another bit of didactic and empty post-Vatican II symbolism followed. The cutesy kids in costumes appeared with the “gifts” they had gotten from Benedict’s sacristan thirty seconds earlier, and presented them to Benedict. Remember how one of the characteristics of the liturgical reform was supposed to be “authenticity”? An uncomfortable moment occurred when the tots didn’t want to leave; the Laced One eventually stepped up and shooed them off.

The Preparation of the Gifts was standard, stripped down, Novus Ordo version.

Ratzinger, however, recited prayers to himself as he circled the altar. Now, the Paul VI Missal abolished the old prayers, and prescribed that the incensation be done in silence. I suspect, therefore, that the restorationist bloggers are now desperately searching for Latin-speaking lip readers in hopes of discovering that, yes, it was indeed the incensation prayers from the Tridentine Missal (!!) that the Benedict was using…

On the down side, Mgr Marini missed yet another opportunity here to restore a Tridentine practice. Before the Offertory incensation in the old rite, the subdeacon has a humeral veil placed over his shoulders, receives the paten and goes to stand at the foot of the steps, there to hold the paten at eye level.

Perhaps this job, too, could have been handed over to the Epistle Babe… another “overflow” from the Extraordinary Rite!

The whole congregation responded in Latin to the Orate Fratres. In both its origins and in the Tridentine rite, however, this prayer was recited in a low voice exclusively by the clergy at the altar.

Lots of Latin, Loudly…

The Prayer over the Gifts (formerly the Secret), the Preface, the Eucharistic Prayer (the Canon), Our Father, Libera Nos, Pax Prayer, Communion Prayers, etc., were all chanted or recited aloud in Latin.

The Eucharistic Prayer was No. 1, which the restorationists think of as “the old Roman Canon.” In fact, the modernists changed the text in 1969 to bring what they called the Institution Narrative (formerly, the Consecration) into line with the other Eucharistic Prayers they had cooked up. They popped an “acclamation” into the Canon after the Institution Narrative.

Restorationists and most laymen hear all this Latin recited aloud, and think it’s the sound of Benedict XVI turning back clock to the old rite. My perspective, needless to say, is quite a bit different.

All these prayers are recited aloud because of the new theology of the liturgy embodied by the Novus Ordo. The old liturgy, said Father Martin Patino (a member of Study Group 10, that actually formulated the new Ordinary itself) was theocentric (God-centered); the new rite, he said, was anthropocentric (man-centered) instead.

In the old rite under the old theology, it didn’t matter whether the faithful heard all the prayers or not. God did. In the new rite, based on a new theology, hearing everything matters. You’re being “instructed,” and it centers on you, man!

Hence, Benedict must chirp out every last word so you can hear it, even if it is in Latin. If he wanted to be traditional, he’d turn the microphones off after the Preface and shut up.

Some Official Inventions…

Also not traditional and a Vatican II invention: concelebration. Parts of the text of the Canon are assigned to different concelebrants, who then bark them out on cue. The idea, I supposed, is to be egalitarian (all just priests here, folks!) and to engage the interest of the congregation, which is being instructed by long blocks of text recited aloud at them.

Another weird feature was the procedure for consecrating hosts at a service in which everyone (or nearly, it seems) receives communion. The ciboria were not placed on the altar. Instead crowds of priests wearing stoles and holding ciboria stood several yards away from the altar on either side at the bottom of the steps.

The balance of the rite was a standard by-the-book Novus Ordo: Luther’s “for thine is the kingdom” after the Libera Nos, the non-hierarchical Sign of Peace, the priest’s and people’s communion lumped together, and the rest. That those who perform these protestant assembly-supper rituals should now be considered “traditional” because they conduct them in Latin shows how far the Roman Liturgy and the understanding thereof has fallen.

Two other general comments are in order.

First, in the traditional rite, a priest or a bishop is the anonymous functionary. He’s supposed to keep his eyes lowered when he’s moving, sitting, or turned in the direction of the congregation.

Like JP2, Ratzinger has no custody of the eyes. Given the character of the New Mass — man-centered — I suppose that this is not particularly surprising.

Second, though the restorationists had expressed their enthusiasm over the appointment of a new Vatican music director, the choir at the Midnight Mass was horrible. The boys and men have a rough and raw sound that comes through in every piece.

The organist wasn’t much better. Once Ratzinger departed, Twisted Lizard in hand, the organist slowly trudged through Widor’s F-Major Toccata, an old warhorse that’s meant to be played brilliantly at a breakneck speed.

The bottom line on the whole production: The same old New Mass with a few new old trimmings. Neo-Tridentine? A restoration of tradition? You’re kidding yourself.

But Seriously…

Now, I’ve had quite a bit of fun thus far — an inordinate amount, some steely-eyed Dominican moral theologian might insist — at the expense of the reform-of-the-reform and restorationist enthusiasts.

Underneath it all, however, my point is a serious one: the Mass of Paul VI cannot be “redeemed” by tacking onto it various externals from the traditional rite. It is incongruous and absurd to do so because, as Paul VI’s Secretary of State, Mgr Benelli, remarked during the controversy with Archbishop Lefebvre in the 1970s, the old Mass represents “another ecclesiology.”

That ecclesiology was hierarchical. Vatican II swept it away, and substituted the fuzzy ecclesiology of Church as “sacrament,” “mystery,” “communion” and “People of God.”

The New Mass is a product of that new, ecumenical ecclesiology, and indeed a whole new theology. To get excited when the rite is dressed up with lace, embroidered dalmatics and the seventh candlestick is to fall into the trap of High Church let’s-pretend. The old doctrine is gone.

Besides, by permitting the Motu Mass, Ratzinger will now let you play that game with most of the old tea set anyway.

Whether you opt for the “Ordinary” or the “Extraordinary” Rite, though, one rubric still remains non-negotiable: You must adhere to Vatican II and the ecumenical One-World church it created.

But as long as clerics still cling to the myth that Vatican II was a “new springtime” that needs nothing more than to be interpreted correctly, the downward spiral will continue in the Conciliar Church, and no amount of ritual frippery, whether ordinary or extraordinary, will stop it.

So, as far as I’m concerned, the only Vatican ceremony worth getting excited over in the future will be the one in which the MCs get out all the copies of the Vatican II documents they can find, pile ‘em high in St. Peter’s Square and douse the lot of them with gasoline.

Who’d light the match? I’d even let the Epistle Babe do it…