Thoughts of TLM Priest

Thoughts on the Old Rite of Mass

Thoughts on the Old Rite of Mass by a Priest

Apropos 19/20.

(The following observations were made by a holy Catholic priest a convert
from Anglicanism. He accepts that the Novus Ordo Mass is a valid Mass, and holds the
opinion that it is not heretical.)

The Novus Ordo of Pope Paul VI is much loved by many people. Many priests who know both
rites far prefer the new. Nevertheless, for the unwary, I think, it may have unsuspected
dangers. Little by little it may allow them to have an understanding of the faith more
Protestant than Catholic.

Protestantism, after all, is only Catholicism with some of the bones taken out. Remove
our teaching on Purgatory and the papacy, on Our Lady and the Holy Eucharist. and what are
we left with? A very respectable Protestantism.

And a danger is that if we fail to recognise it as such we may well think Protestantism
more pleasing than our own faith. Why? Because we have a fallen nature, and a Protestant
lifestyle makes life easier for us, It makes fewer demands on our faith. It enables us to
live lower down the mountain of God. Contraception and divorce, for instance, can find
their place in a devout Protestants life. A good Protestant does not have to make the
total submission of intellect and will that God requires of His rational creatures,
"the obedience of faith" St Paul speaks of

An added danger for cradle Catholics is that, with perhaps centuries of Catholic
ancestry behind them, it does not occur to then, that they could possibly lose their
faith. And so they, can graduallv come to have a totally Protestant understanding of our
religion and still be convinced they are true Catholics. They are unaware that the
doctrines they have so easily grasped and so happily embraced are Protestant doctrines.
And of course if they are priests they can have an almost messianic zeal in trying to
convert their fellow-priests and the laity to their point of view.

Losing the faith is no more self-evident than losing a baby. A woman may not realise
what has happened till the heart-break of a still-birth, and not till someone finds they
no longer believe in God may they realise they must have lost the faith.

The trouble is that people with only a book knowledge of Protestantism can fail to
recognise it when they see it. During World War II, I remember we were given lectures on
poison gas. We were told that phosgene smelled like a field of rotting cabbages. If
I’d been caught in such a gas attack, I doubt if I would have thought, "Ah!
Rotting cabbages! It must be a phosgene gas attack." I’d only have realised what it
was and started putting on my gas mask when my throat started burning. On the other hand,
if ever I’d once been caught in such an attack for the rest of my life I’m sure
that at the very first whiff of phosgene I’d have realised, "This is

Having therefore been reared as an Anglican, perhaps I know more of its attractions and
of its dangers and can better recognise its symptoms than can those who have always been
Catholics and have only a book knowledge of Protestant theology and worship.

People who have never before smelled phosgene would at first perhaps think it a
pleasantly sweet smell, Catholics with only a theoretical knowledge of Protestantism might
well think, "This is very attractive. Why was it all made to look so difficult
before? This is easy to understad and easy to live with."

But let me get back to the Mass. The rubrics in the old rite were detailed and
demanding, with many genuflections, many signs of the cross, many kissings of the altar.
It is as though the holiness of the old rite is a built-in feature of the rite itself.
Those genuflections were not without their value. Each genuflection expressed and
reinforced the faith of the priest. And they served to reinforce the faith of the laity
too, espeoially if they noticed how much each genuflection cost their old and rheumaticky

Another less obvious difference between Catholic and Protestant liturgy is that
Catholic liturgy is sacramental. Christ operates personally in each of the sacraments, and
in the sacramental sacrifice of the Mass He is always the principal Celebrant, Protestant
liturgy, on the other hand, is non-sacramental. ‘ex opere Operantis’, as they say, not ‘ex
opere operate’, that is, depending on the good dispositions of the worshipper rather than
on the built-in efficacy of the sacrament.

When I was an Anglican our liturgy was very reverent, very devout and correct, and was
carried out with great decorum. But it depended on the piety of the celebrant. There was
no sense of anything objectively happening on the altar table – for the very good reason,
of course, that nothing did happen on the altar table.

But for us, the whole attraction of the Mass is what happens on the altar: the fact
that Christ our Lord, at the bidding of one of His priests, takes the place of the bread
and wine, and asks us to offer ourselves together with Him to the Father in the one,
perftct Sacrifice. As St Robert Bellarmine put it, the Mass is the sacrifice in which the
entire Church, in union with her Divine Head, offers herself to the Father.

Protestant liturgy, in the absence of the Divine Sacrifice, offers God the sacrifice of
praise, the sacrifice of a humble and contrite heart, the offering of devout hymns, of an
inspiring sermon – but it is no substitute for the Sacrifice that God has asked us to
offer in memory of Him.

Then again, the new rite with its many options allows the celebrant to move the style
of the liturgy in a Protestant direction. I was in Australia a few years ago during Holy
Week. To begin with. I went to the church of the parish where I was staying. The liturgy
there was so charismatic that I asked where I could find something more solemn and suited
to Holy Week, and I was directed to a parish which had a reputation for its devout

Here, the liturgy was indeed carried out with great reverence. The choir, mostly women,
was in splendid choir dress, and the English chant, of both priest and people, was very
fine indeed. But I couldn’t help thinking, "Really, this is very much like what
happens every Sunday in Worcester Cathedral".

That is to say, the more correctly our new liturgy is carried out, the more it can
outwardly resemble good Protestant liturgy.

A few years ago too I was in the West Indies, not having been there for over 30 years.
In the 1960’s the liturgy was carried out very much like anywhere else in the world.
But now in 1993 the liturgy did not seem to be Catholic at all, It seemed to be the
liturgy of another religion.

As I sat in my president’s chair, and heard the enthusiastic singing, the
hand-clapping, the guitars and the tambourines, as I saw the congregation swaying to and
fin as they sang, with lay ministers walking right in front of Our Lord in the tabernacle
without so much as a nod in His direction, and as I heard them refer to the Precious Blood
as "wine", I remembered Dom Gueranger’s dictum, "To change peoples
religion, you need do no more than change their books of worship".

I do try to understand the point of view of people who like this sort of Mass. They say
it allows them "participation in the liturgy". But what do they understand by

Who of the redeemed has best offered this holy Sacrifice? Who participated most
perfectly? Surely it was our Blessed Lady on Calvary! No creature has ever offered the
Divine Victim to the Father better than she did on that day. And what was she doing?
Shaking hands with the centurion? The only people who shook hands on Calvary were the
Pharisees, they reckoned they had done a good job. Our Lady stood there in silence, her
heart united with the Heart of her Son, offering Him to the Father and herself in union
with Him, Her participation was perfect, and it was a participation of the heart, of the
will. In this, as in all else, she is our model.

And if we now ask ourselves at which rite Our Lady would feel more at home: a Mass in
the old rite, at which she could take her place with the devout and silent layfolk and do
exactly what she once did on Calvary, only now without the heartache? or a Novus Ordo Mass
in which she would need to "participate" with enthusiasm? surely, we have only
to ask the question to know the answer.

… given the tendency of our fallen human nature to go for what is easier, our
liturgy, in the hands of the ill-instructed or unwary, will often tend to a Protestant
interpretation. And a protestantised liturgy may well incline Catholics towards a
Protestant understanding of their faith. I know Catholic priests who are now Protestant
pastors and do not seem to be aware that they have lost anything

There is a further danger in the new rite that sometimes makes me anxious: it can blur
the sacramental distinction between the priest and the laity.

We priests may well be less holy less learned, less articulate than our parishioners,
but we are priests and they are not. God has set us apart for His service. Our vestments,
the communion rail, and the sanctuary itself all spoke of our unique vocation.

But now, with no communion rail, with the sanctuary being common ground for all, and
with the laity giving out Holy Communion – all this is a far cry from the traditional
practice in the Church. The story is told of St Ambrose that the Emperor Theodosius,
having brought his offering to the altar during Mass, remained within the rails of the
sanctuary. St Ambrose asked if he wanted anything. The Emperor said that he stayed to
assist at the Holy Mysteries and to communicate. Ambrose replied "My lord, it is
lawful for none but the sacred ministers to remain within the sanctuary. Be pleased
therefore to go out and stand with the rest. The purple robe makes princes, but not
priests." Theodosius apologised and answered that he thought the custom was the same
at Milan as at Constantinople, where his place was in the sanctuary; and after having
thanked the bishop for his instruction he went and took his place among the laity. He
would say that Ambrose was the only bishop he knew who was worthy of the name.

… Why did God allow Nebuchadnezzar to destroy Jerusalem and the Temple, so that for
seventy years there was no true sacrifice offered anywhere? He allowed it because He was
angry with most of the Jews and their priests -as you can read for yourself in Jeremiah
and Malachi and other prophets. They were not worthy to be counted as His People. But
Daniel did not give way to depression. He knew just why all this had happened. He fasted
and prayed to the Lord: "We have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and
rebelled, turning aside from thy commandments and ordinances". Daniel did not blame
Nebuchadnezzar for the destruction of the Temple. He knew that it was God Himself who had
used Nebuchadnezzar to chastise His People for their sins and bring them to a better frame
of mind.

We do not have many Daniels around nowadays. Nevertheless, well before the Council
someone told me that he reckoned contraception had already virtually lost Europe to the
faith. And in the decades before Vatican II it could well have been that among us clergy
there was too much worldliness and high living, too little mortification and zeal for

And again. in those days before the Council. did Catholics really love the Mass their
ancestors had died for? Perhaps not. In 1956 I was in a very Catholic town in north-west
England. The man I was speaking with told me that on Sundays people tended to go to where
they could get a short Mass. I said. "I can’t believe it!" He tapped the
telephone with his finger. "I could ring half a dozen men and ask then, ‘Where can I
get the quickest Mass here on Sundays?’ and they’d tell me straight away." What
would Daniel have said to that?

Over the past three decades we have witnessed a vast and tragic tailing-away from the
practice of the faith, in some places almost a mass apostasy. Maybe once more God’s
winnowing-fan is in His hand, separating wheat from chaff

This is something He has done before. Only eight persons survived the Flood. Only two
of the men who left Egypt with Moses actually entered the Promised Land, From the
Babylonian exile only a remnant returned to rebuild the holy city. After the first wave of
converts, few Jews entered the Church. In the sixth century, all Asia Minor and north
Africa were Christian. In the 14th century, all Scandinavia and Germany were Catholic. It
is as though God looks on His Church and sees that some people are there more from
convenience than personal conviction, more from social convention than real faith in Him.
And He allows a Mohammed or a Luther to act as His winnowing-fan. (…)

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