Miraculous Mass of St. Martin of Tours (15th century)
Or Why I Fell in Love with the Ordinariate Form of the Mass
Have you ever heard someone say, “I just don’t get anything out of Mass.”? Or, perhaps, you’ve said that yourself on one or more occasion.
Upon pondering this sentiment (and acknowledging that the motives behind it may vary widely among those who have expressed it), I’ve come to understand that a person’s feeling that something is lacking at Mass may have as much to do with the liturgy itself as with the person.
[EARLY DISCLAIMER: Nothing in this blog posting is intended to:
- Condemn Vatican II, its reforms, or the order of the Mass that was formulated by its documents.
- Paint those who attend one form of the Mass as “holier” or “better Catholics” than those who attend another form, or vice versa.
- Recruit people away from the Diocesan parishes at which they are actively registered to a parish of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter.
This blog posting is merely one Catholic’s observations of the merits of the Ordinariate Form of the Mass.]
Being a “cradle Catholic” who was born following the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council, I spent the first 47 years of my life attending the “Ordinary Form” or “Novus Ordo” (New Order) Mass at various parishes wherever I happened to be living. I must admit that during late high school and college, I had even attended “rock ‘n’ roll” Masses from time to time.
Although raised in and thoroughly immersed in the Church, like most Catholics (or, perhaps, it’s just human nature not to venture out beyond one’s immediate surroundings), I was entirely unaware of other Rites of the Catholic Church throughout my childhood and early adulthood. That was until my early 30’s. At that time, there sprang up a small parish in our city that used the Extraordinary (“Traditional Latin Mass” or Tridentine) Form. LuAnn and I attended it once, and found it interesting but also found the language to be a formidable challenge.
A few years later, we learned of a Byzantine Rite church within the geographical boundaries of our Diocese. Fascinated that the congregation observing this ancient liturgy was in union with the Catholic Church, I just had to drag the family to experience it. That led to finding parishes of other Rites in union with the Church: Greek Melkite, Syro Malabar, and Maronite. I found it especially moving to attend these churches on various Holy Days such as Holy Thursday or Good Friday.
But, while I had always enjoyed “sampling” these other liturgies from time to time, none of them felt like “home.” Then, in 2014, on a whim, we visited a newly formed Parish of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter whose pastor was the high school history teacher of one of our sons. This was my first experience with the “Anglican Use” or “Ordinariate Form” Mass.
Although the gathering space was a nondescript classroom (in fact, quite ugly), I was immediately struck by the beauty of the liturgy. Having read the Vatican II document Sacrosanctum Concilium years before, I had for years felt that the reforms intended by the Council had not been implemented well. I had, in fact, had multiple discussions (er, debates?) with various priests over the years in which I contended that the most faithful implementation of the reforms would have been to essentially translate the Tridentine liturgy into the local vernacular (English in our case) while retaining the reverence and the various liturgical sacramentals (incense, bells, etc. – the “smells and bells”). This is exactly what we found in the Ordinariate Form.
But, how did it come to be that a grafting of a shoot of the Anglican Church onto the trunk of the Catholic Church would, in my view, become the fulfillment of the Second Vatican Council? As it happens, the Church of England, despite its many faults, implemented a reform very similar to that called for by Sacrosanctum Concilium nearly five hundred years before Vatican II. Painting the history (which is long, complex, and complicated) with a very broad brush, Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury under King Henry VIII, essentially took the ancient Sarum Rite Mass (which traces its origin to the time of William the Conqueror (and similar in many ways to the Tridentine Mass), and translated it into English. During the 19th century, it also underwent a revival of sorts during the Catholic-minded Oxford Movement within the Anglican Church. Keeping with the arboreal theme, by the 20th century, this led to a liturgy which is rooted in the ancient Catholic soil but mostly vernacular (English), and therefore, very accessible for us common English speakers – just what the Second Vatican Council intended!
Truth be told, I must give credit where credit is due for the arboreal analogy. Archbishop Joseph Di Noia O.P., Under-Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, said in 2015 that the Ordinariate Form is:
“a prudent grafting of proven Anglican shoots on the rooted, living trunk of the Roman Rite to promote new and healthier growth.”
Now that the Anglican liturgy has been “Catholicized” by way of Pope Benedict’s 2009 Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus and subsequent work by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (correcting any theologically errant prayers or rubrics), the Church has received a beautiful vernacular alternative to the Ordinary Form of the Mass. Such a priceless gift!
To paraphrase Bishop Steven Lopes, Bishop of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter, from a lecture he gave in June 2017:
“The beautiful expression of these prayers, the rich tapestry of the English language they preserve, even the emphasis on transcendence in worship is … [a] pastoral contribution to the vitality of Catholic life…. the Ordinariate liturgy is a great treasure.”
Why is this important? Simply, the ancient saying of the Church “Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi” (attributed to Prosper of Aquitaine, a disciple of Saint Augustine of Hippo) which, in modern English, would most simply mean “How we pray influences how we believe.” In other words, our liturgy forms our beliefs! (Not to negate personal responsibility, but, if you believe that you’re “not getting anything out of Mass,” the root of the emptiness you’re feeling very well may stem from the liturgy itself.)
Some have added to Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, “Lex Vivendi” which makes the saying roughly “How we pray influences how we believe which influences how we live.” I would go a step further, and add “Lex Morietur” (if my feeble Latin serves) which brings it to its, literally, final conclusion: “How we pray influences how we believe which influences how we live which determines how we die.”
Saint John Vianney confirms this in his Sermon for the Last Sunday after Pentecost:
“As a rule, one dies as one has lived. This is one of the great truths which has been confirmed many times by Scripture and the holy fathers. If you have lived like good Christians, you will be sure to die like good Christians; but, when you live un-Christian-like, your death will be of the same kind.”
Understanding this, shouldn’t we do all that we can to seek out, participate in, and support the most reverent and transcendent Catholic liturgy we can find? This is why I fell in love with the Ordinariate Form of the Mass.
Well, enough of the history, and on to a point-by-point comparison of the Ordinariate Form to the Ordinary Form… next time….
In the meantime, let us pray for each other, for our priests, and for the Church as a whole for proper discernment in the liturgy in which we participate that it will be reverent, transcendent, and formative.