Sunday, 2 December 2007

Custom should rule

Over at WDTPRS, Fr Z invited comments on the following:
Fr. W said that he wished that older Rituale Romanum could be used in English, because doing a baptism entirely in Latin would be very hard for people.
I invite mostly priests, especially priests with experience of using the older form of liturgy, to post what things they would like to see clarified about Summorum Pontificum.
Unfortunately as a layman with an anti-clericalist streak I'm excluded so I'll have to post on my own blog. (I compensate for my lay disability by always wearing my biretta whilst writing posts; I fold my maniple of course on the kichen table before starting.)

My position is that no clarification is necessary; we simply have to celebrate the liturgy according to the custom as it was on the eve of the changes (and this might be different in England than in the US, for instance).

In actual fact I would say that priests, even ones who celebrate the old rite, are not necessarily the best people to ask for advice, for a number of reasons. But the main reasons are two in number:
  1. They are mainly younger priests who cannot remember the older form as it was celebrated before the Council
  2. They have a Latin fetish

In the first case, this is a problem because how the rite was actually celebrated varied according to region and what the bishops had permitted. Especially in the period 1960-1964 a number of concessions were allowed; and customs and permissions varied. Has this knowledge been lost? It is my firm belief that any priest who performs the forma extraordinaria in England should have all the freedoms and flexibility of a priest who was celebrating Mass or the other sacraments in 1964 in England. Just because you've swotted up your Fortescue and O'Connell doesn't mean you know the mind of a pre-conciliar priest. I think that is something that you would actually have to ask a pre-conciliar priest about. Or a layman with a good memory, a server or MC perhaps.

There is a great server at the FSSP chapel in Rome, an old man, who serves in a way that would surprise many. But in the traditional Roman custom. Or the story of Belloc at Westminster Cathedral standing, in the French custom, when we would kneel; and giving the verger short shrift when invited to sink to his knees.

In the second case, we have an absurd situation where, because we are sick of our dreadful ICEL translations in the new rite, we decide that the old rite is exclusively in Latin and we won't hear a word of the vernacular. The most bizarre case I have come across is where a priest was indulging a 'traditional' couple who wished to make their marriage vows in Latin. Since the vows are not made to God but to each other, (and presumably they use the vernacular at home? - or maybe they don't), and necessarily before the community, to make it in any other language than the vernacular is, I think, sheer pretension. Any sensible Catholic priest would say (in a pastoral way), (a) no, because that was never the tradition, and (b) stop being so precious.

I was married in the old rite but made my vows, of course, in the language I usually submit to my wife in!

In the case of my own marriage and the baptism of my son my concern was that I was married in the old rite but in the most sane form possible. And, low and behold, the Rituale Romanum says in its preface that the vernacular translation is authorized for public use.

Secondly, once one has read the preface, it is worth speaking to people who can remember the custom at the time (this is living tradition: reconstructing a rite from books is antiquarianism and will always fall into inauthenticity). People with memories of the 1950s and 60s can remember the priest turning round to bless the married couple in the vernacular 'May the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob be with you.' (This is, after all, directed to the couple, not to God.) And baptisms were in the vernacular, in the authorized vernacular of the Rituale, before the close of the Council. Fr W should read Gravissimum Educationis where sane traditionalism rules!

Over at WDTPRS people are haughtily saying things like, 'Latin isn't too difficult for people to understand, how patronizing!' They miss the point. Of course Mass should mostly be in Latin, but baptisms and marriages are different. They are not the worship of the whole Church offered to God the Father. They are different, and the vernacular is more appropriate; indeed, to insist on making vows in Latin is pretentious and might even carry the risk of invalidating them (or providing grounds for annulment)!

The rather puristway in which the traditional rite is being revived by enthusiasts will not impress those of the pre-Vatican II generation because they will simply say 'that's not how I remember it'. And they will be right, no matter what is written in the manuals. Because tradition, as we Catholics know, is not always written down.

And so I, a humble (as you can see!) layman, say, what is all the fuss about?

PS I suspect that among the most well informed priests are the first generation of FSSP or SSPX (I hasten to add that I am not a supporter of the latter but they will have had the old customs passed on.)


Fr Ray Blake said...

Sound stuff!
I have added you to blogroll, unless you object.

Anonymous said...

Hi Gravi,(Couldn't see your real name displayed)

I came across your blog while out blogwandering. I love the pretty pictures and illustrations. However, all the entries seem to focus on religious issues, ie, Communion on the tongue or hand, the right way to light candles or smell tests for incence.
I wonder what are your views away from the pedantic? What about life outside legalism?
I mean, are you following Jesus' Great Commission? (Mark 16: 15-18)Is your parish having to install more seats to accommodate converts? Are you raising the dead, healing the sick and preaching the Good News to the masses?
Or are you lost in the love of legalism?



Jamie said...

Gravissimum Educationis- where sane traditionalism rules!

Great stuff! Question- what about the rosary? Someone asked me about praying it in Latin (in a group) the other day and I said that it struck me as rather untraditional and a little OTT. Am I wrong?

Ottaviani said...

I believe that where it is beneficial to a congregation, then dialogue masses can be allowed if that was the custom for that country e.g. France and Germany. I do not believe in importing customs from other European countries into here, for the sake of it.

I was godfather to a daughter of a well-known blogger this year at the Birmingham Oratory. The baptism was in the old rite but with vernacular concessions, where this was duly allowed by the Archbishop of Birmingham in the late 1950s.

The Holy Office said...


I thought I'd replied to this but obviously not!

I agree with you. Popular, non-liturgical devotions like the rosary should be in the vernacular.

The only exception is where there is an international group (who are used to Latin) where Latin would be the best common language of prayer.

Do these people think that Latin is always the best and the vernacular is always a concession to liberalism?! Heavens.

To think so is to insult popular piety, which is entirely separate from the liturgy. For example, I'm all for guitars in popular piety; but not exactly a fan of guitars in Church and in the liturgy.

These 'traditionalists' are becoming increasingly untraditional.

Anonymous said...

"Give us back exactly what was done just before the traditional liturgy was done away with !" -- Yea, give us back those precious weeks before the French revolution and la Terreur...

Such a naive idea... The 50s as a kind of New Apostolical Norma... The 50s and 60s were times of liturgical decay. This is the very reason why liturgical tradition was done away with in the West. Of course, it did not happen overnight ; thus, the many reforms of the 50s and 60s were permeated with principles alien to tradtional liturgy, be it Western or Eastern.

If you ever were to get what you want, i.e. the 60s back, and for instance the dialogue Mass imposed überalles, that horrid modern invention, you´d have a new liturgical upheaval a few decades later. It´s that simple. For the same principles always give the same results. And the traditional liturgy is not conciliable with the principles of the 50s and 60s. Father Bryan Houghton wrote very profoundly on the subject of what was wrong with the liturgy in the years preceding the last coucil. I suggest you read it : "Priest Rejected".

Thanks Heaven dom Guéranger was what you´d call a purist and antiquarianist ! Athough i´d say you´re the purist -- of quite a different brand, though.

I almost forgot : I was married entirely in Latin. And my three children were christianed entirely in Latin. The ordinary layman does not necessarily want what you want.

Jon Kjölstad, Sweden

Miguel José Ernst-Sandoval said...

Merry Christmas to you!

I'm using my tim off from work to catch up with things, blogs included. Very good point in this post! Many people these days pick up books and assume that that's the way things were. In the same way that we Catholics do not take a 'sola scriptura' approach to our religion, we should not take a 'sola libro' approach to liturgics. Asking people who not only remember, but are well-versed enough to know what they are talking about, is also important. I'm very thankful that I've had some good teachers regarding the liturgy.

Fr Justin said...

I think I broadly agree with you, but juxta modum.
On 7.7.7., I took (early) advantage of the Motu Proprio to celebrate a baptism in the traditional rite, and did so in the vernacular version in the Ritual you allude to. There were special reasons; the child's mother had committed suicide a short time before, and the traditional rite actually presumes that the mother is not present, but still recovering from the birth. I think there can be good pastoral reasons to use the vernacular with the trad. rites, among which may well be accustoming people to those traditional rites. As an interim measure, I would welcome the chance to even offer the Extraordinary Mass partly in the vernacular, to accustom people to it, slowly making the change to Latin as their understanding grew.
On another point; it was actually customary in some countries to recite the rosary in Latin. Never, however, in England.
p.s. I, too was at St Andrews, in the early 1980s.