It’s mystifying to watch online shouting matches between Catholics about the ordinary form and the extraordinary form of the Mass. “Picking sides,” after all, makes no sense in Catholicism.
The whole point of Pope Benedict’s new instruction on the “correct interpretation and proper application” of his 2007 motu proprio letter Summorum Pontificum, which facilitated wider use of the traditional Latin Mass, is that there are no “sides.” Both forms are the patrimony of all. But the past looms large and heavy over us. The fragmentation of Catholic liturgical sensibility is a direct result of the silliness of the 1960s and 1970s, because its roots are in the greatest societal problem of that epoch: accepting authority.
Should we complain about the abuses in Novus Ordo Masses nowadays? Yes, and rightly so, because some priests and liturgists assume a power that isn’t theirs.
Do the same complaints apply to the now hardly mentioned liturgical abuses of the pre-Vatican II Church, like Masses said at warp speed in barely recognizable Latin? Yes, and rightly so, because only lip service was being paid to the wishes of the Church.
Are those who deny the validity of the Mass in English wrong or studiously avoid it as less “sacred” wrong? Yes, because the Church’s authority in prescribing it — just as it has formed, reformed and re-reformed its liturgy for almost 2,000 years — isn’t being acknowledged, and because the perfect sacrifice of the Lamb re-presented under any form authorized by the authority of the Church is just as sacred as any other. Any Church leader who dawdles and splits hairs in permitting local celebrations of the Mass’ extraordinary form as authorized by Pope Benedict has an authority problem, too.
“Do this in memory of me.” Christ’s authority is at the core of the Mass — any time we’re squabbling over the Mass, we’re missing the entire point.
The liturgy is meant to shape us in Christ’s image by his command; we’re not supposed to shape our liturgy in the image we prefer. That’s, in one of Pope Benedict’s favorite expressions, the “performative” aspect of the liturgy. We are at its service, and not vice versa.
Why? Because it’s about something far greater than us. God gathers together his people in the Eucharist; in the words of the Catechism, “by the Eucharistic celebration we already unite ourselves with the heavenly liturgy and anticipate eternal life, when God will be all in all” (1326).
That heavenly unity isn’t based on taste. In heaven, there are no “sides.” True unity — God’s will for his Church — comes only through accepting and embracing the authority of the One whom we are not worthy to receive, but who has only to say a word and we shall be healed.