By Mercedes B. Suleik
Business World - 3/18/09
Two Sundays ago, I had the extraordinary experience of going back to the past. I attended what is known as the Tridentine Mass, and it brought me back to the Masses I used to attend as a student in St. Theresa’s, oh those many years ago. Young people today — my daughters anyway — have never been exposed to this Mass, also known as the Latin or Roman rite, and have known only the liturgy promulgated by Pope Paul VI after Vatican Council II.
I learned about this Mass around the early part of this year, having seen a notice at St. Jerome’s Church in Alabang that a Tridentine Mass is celebrated every Sunday at 9:30 in the morning. This is not the usual time my husband and I go to Mass, and it was only really a sheer Lenten effort of will that I rose early, one Sunday, to hear Mass there as I have wished to, since I saw the notice. The term “Tridentine” is derived from the Latin word Tridentinus, which means “related to the city of Trent, Italy,” where the Council of Trent was held.
So what is the Tridentine Mass, and why is it no longer celebrated, or “offered” is the term we use today, at the same time that we no longer generally use “Mass” to refer to the Sacrifice, but rather we say, the “Liturgy of the Eucharist”? Had the Second Vatican Council abrogated the Latin Mass, which I understand was the Mass promulgated in 1570 by St. Pope Pius V according to a formula adopted in the Roman Missal, and made mandatory throughout the Western Church, and believed to be the rite “for all time”? Hence, when Pope Paul VI, after Vatican Council II (1962-1965) promulgated the present “ordinary” or normal form of the Roman Rite of the Mass, there was some consternation among the faithful, and even outright criticism and hostility.
Pope Paul VI promulgated the revised rite of the Mass with his Apostolic Constituion Missale Romanum on April 3, 1969, setting the first Sunday of Advent at the end of that year as the date on which it would enter into force. There were some significant changes from the previous edition of the Roman Missal, the most important of which, I believe, was the simplification of the liturgy, the proportion of the Bible being read at Mass being greatly increased, the introduction of a three-year cycle of readings on Sundays, and the addition of three alternative Eucharistic Prayers from the single Canon as well as the increase in the number of Prefaces. Also, most significantly, and which we have now gotten used to since 1969, the Mass today is said in the language of the people and the altar has been repositioned so that the priest celebrating the Eucharist now faces the congregation.
Of course there was confusion and a feeling akin to tectonic shifting among those who revered the old longer rite which was said in Latin, with the priest facing the altar and turning around to face the people only a few times. On the other hand, the changes were also welcomed because the old rite really provided no sense of participation among the people, and if you didn’t have a Missal (which usually had an English translation) so you could follow what was happening up there, some people simply said their devotions, such as the rosary during the Mass.
Criticism of the new rite included the comment that there was little reverence for the Mass, such as allegations that prayers and phrases clearly presenting the Mass as a Sacrifice have been substantially removed or reduced in number, that the number of genuflections and other gestures associated with reverence for the sacred elements have been reduced, that some phrases are ambiguous, and even that changes were made in order to make the Mass acceptable to non-Catholics. It has even been said that the liturgical changes and other changes that followed the Second Vatican Council had caused a loss of faith and a drop in attendance at Mass. Loss of faith is of course disputed, as both supporters and critics of the reform have their own polls to show — supporters ascribe the drop in attendance at Mass in the Western world to the decline in religiosity in the West.
My having attended the Tridentine Mass also brought me back to the time when Sunday Mass was really a day reserved for the Lord, and reverence was clear with women coming into Mass with veils (how come we don’t cover our heads anymore?), and receiving Holy Communion on one’s knees and by mouth. I realize that among the changes is receiving Communion in the hand (which I suppose is practical), but it seems to me that proper catechesis on how to do this is sadly lacking — I see communicants popping the host in their mouth and walking away even dusting off their hands; that in lining up to receive Communion to receive it standing up, some people are actually chatting on their way to the priest or lay person distributing the Host as if they were simply queuing up for tickets to a show.
However, I think that for the modern world, the reformed rite which has the congregation participating actively in the celebration of the Eucharist, is appropriate. For one, the faithful is aware of what is going on and in the current interactive environment our times are now used to, it ought to make the Sacrifice more meaningful and relevant to their lives. As long as it is not tainted with rituals and music that remove the solemnity of the Mass and attempt to copy non-Catholic practices to make it “more palatable” to a wider audience. And as long as there is sufficient teaching to ensure that proper reverence is given to the celebration of the Eucharist.
The Tridentine Mass, in all its solemnity, should be preserved. Aspirations of the faithful attached to the ancient form and the discovery by many young people and their attraction to it as a form of encounter with the Mystery of the Holy Eucharist is one good reason. For indeed, the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, has clarified and stressed in his Apostolic letter Summorum Pontificum, that the two Roman Missals are “not two rites” but twofold uses of the one and the same rite.