At 24 hours distance and still very much in reflection upon my latest celebration of the Vetus Ordo, I want to share some thoughts on an issue that has been somewhat primary in my mind and heart for the better part of a year and that being so in kind of intensive fashion, and honestly not without a certain urgency. The issue is that of reverence in the liturgy, especially as good Catholics, both priests and people, would address it in terms of the Novus Ordo.
Yesterday’s Pontifical High Mass at the faldstool was special for me for a number of reasons. It was my first Vetus Ordo Pontifical in my home diocese of Sioux Falls. The parish church of St. Mary’s at Salem, though I never had relatives in the town, was always a landmark in the countryside for me as a small child going up by car with my folks to the grandparents’ farm not far away, just up in the next county and where in the neighborhood back then any number of Dad’s uncles also had their farms (today only a memory, but St. Mary’s still marks the route!). Here too as in my other Vetus Ordo experiences in Switzerland, I felt very much carried by the liturgy and by the seminarians and young people, who with their parish priest had so diligently prepared this First Saturday Votive Mass of the Immaculate Heart of Mary with commemoration of St. Dominic.
Reverence in worship as something urgently necessary to claim for the Novus Ordo and that to the mind generally of people of good will? Yes, I think this topic is one which resonates most everywhere in the English speaking world and far beyond. I was asked to address that very topic in conjunction with priestly spirituality for the secular clergy in a conference I gave last March in Knock, Ireland. That is sort of where I began formulating the notion that exhorting to reverence as such is a no-starter, in the sense that it evidently must not be inherent in the Novus Ordo and, hence, must be striven for albeit in vain.
Perhaps we should define reverence. It could be lots of things, among which that sense of awe accompanying a clear awareness of the presence of the Almighty. In a classical sense, it is a or the habit of the Vetus Ordo. It, reverence, somehow does not seem second nature to the Novus Ordo. I think I can say that, because if you have never encountered liturgical abuse or just plain banality with the Novus Ordo, you can find it documented aplenty on YouTube. DISCLAIMER: I am not denying that back at the time of the Council, before, during and after, that I never witnessed a priest irreverent in the celebration of the Mass of the Ages, because I did. Exhorting to reverence, keeping an eye on rowdy altar boys is all part of the package, perhaps since forever. It is just that it is more of an incongruity or shock if encountered in the Vetus Ordo. Irreverence in the context of the Vetus Ordo is simply an indefensible enormity. When the puppets and dancers come out, you just don’t have that leverage in crying outrage in a Novus Ordo context.
Let us however leave abuse situations aside and argue from the structure and the gestures, which for the Vetus Ordo are beautifully deliberate and pondered. Now, you might say: “Archbishop! The Vetus Ordo is not your routine. It’s the novelty of it all for you! If you were daily celebrating the Vetus Ordo and for years, you’d become dulled to its signs and gestures as well!” Perhaps, but I guess for now I would like to risk it over the Novus Ordo situation which only seems to come close to saving itself in a parish where the priest is willing to give his life’s blood to get the Novus Ordo right and train his people up to be a part of this effort. He’s always working at a structural and conceptual disadvantage, though. For example, the Roman Canon/First Eucharistic Prayer is just not the same between the two forms; the Novus Ordo form has been hampered in various ways. This then in part is what underlies my insistence that we need a liturgical restoration, a reset, in order to reclaim the possibility for the organic development of our priceless heritage. We need to get back to the work of God and relegate catechism to the classroom on another day and time of the week.
It is fair enough to say that you cannot program a sense of the presence of God through words and gestures. Then again, programming or automating the thing is not the point, but rather banishing the arbitrary and the discursive in favor of what is always and everywhere good, true and beautiful. At this point in time, the greatest single impediment to a liturgical restoration would be resignation on the part of most priests and people to our 50+ year vernacular patrimony. Out of a sense that it is what we’ve got and we have no choice but to keep filing away at it in hopes of achieving something better, people balk at the very idea of abandoning the familiar for something they have the impression was jettisoned. We’re bound to a notion of progress or an evolutive paradigm which denies that something better which is our millennial patrimony, still very much there and vibrant, even if relegated to certain outposts and to the enthusiasm of a young, practicing Catholic minority.
I live in hope of the restoration in matters liturgical and yoke it to a renewal of Catholic family life.
PROPERANTES ADVENTUM DIEI DEI