The Tridentine Mass: A God-And-I Liturgy

Contrary to the advice and concerns of the world's bishops, the pope has restored the Tridentine Latin Rite. It is being done, the pope explains, to make reconciliation easier with conservative groups. But it certainly does not make reconciliation easier with countless women who are now pointedly excluded from the Eucharist celebration entirely : certainly in its God language, even in its pronouns. Nor does it seem to care about reconciliation with Jews who find themselves in the Tridentine Good Friday Rite again as "blind" and objects for conversion. It's difficult not to wonder if reconciliation is really what it's all about.

But why the concerns? If some people prefer a Latin Mass to an English Mass, why not have it? The answer depends on what you think the Mass has to do with articulating the essence of Christian faith. For instance, the Latin Mass in which the priest celebrates the Eucharist with his back to the people, in a foreign language : much of it said silently or at best whispered : makes the congregation, the laity, observers of the rite rather than participants in the rite. The celebrant alone becomes the focal point of the process, the special human being, the one for whom God is a kind of private preserve.

The symbol of a lone celebrant, removed from and independent of the congregation, is clear: ordinary people have no access to God! They are entirely dependent on a special caste of males to contact God for them. They are "not worthy" to receive the host, or as the Liturgy says now, even to have Jesus "come under my roof." The Eucharist in such a setting is certainly not a celebration of the entire baptized community. It privatizes the life of the Spirit. The Tridentine Mass is a "God-and-I" Liturgy.

Vatican II Liturgy, on the other hand, invites people to the Table, steeps a person in community, in social concern, in the hard, cold, clear reality of the present moment. The people and presider pray the Mass together, in a common language with a common theme. They interact with each other. They "sing a new church into being" : non-sexist, inclusive, centered together in the Jesus who walked the dusty roads of Galilee curing the sick, raising the dead, talking to women and inviting the Christian community to do the same.

Vatican II Liturgy grapples with life from the point of view of the distance between life as we experience it and life as the Gospel defines it for us. It plunges itself into the varied challenges of everyday life. It carries within it a theology of transformation; it does not seek to create heaven on earth. It does not attempt to transcend the present; it seeks to transform it. It helps create a sense of community where oftentimes there is none.

Of course there is power and beauty in both liturgical traditions, but make no mistake: they present us with two vastly different churches. The choice between the two brings us to a fork in the road: one path more open, more ecumenical, more communal, more earthbound than the other. The question is which liturgy is more likely to create the world Jesus models and of which we dream? There are many questions ahead about what's really best for the church. The Fathers of Vatican II knew the implications of these two vastly different Eucharist styles then and bishops around the world know it still. But their concerns are being ignored. Now it's up the laity to decide which church they really want, and why. The choice may well determine the nature of the church for years to come.

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