OULD THERE BE ROOM for legitimate changes to the Missal of 1962, the last typical edition of the traditional Roman Rite of Mass or the “extraordinary form”?
Traditionalists tend to be dead-set against any changes, and understandably so. They are shell-shocked after decades of failed experimentation, backed against the wall by heavy-handed hierarchs and their modernist minions, clinging for dear life to an expression of the Roman liturgical tradition that, for all its arguable imperfections (including the ill-starred reform of Holy Week under Pius XII), is nevertheless a rock of stability in the midst of a church in chaos. Why would we dare touch this haven of sanctity, this ark of tradition, this noble embodiment of nearly two millennia of liturgical worship, especially in a time of anarchy, flux, and confusion?
Well, whatever nefarious schemes might be afoot today among the partisans of innovation in the halls of the Vatican, it is not difficult to imagine a few modest examples of the kind of organic development within the traditional Roman rite that anyone would have defended and even expected prior to the devastations visited upon this rite by Annibale Bugnini and his associates in the 1960s. Bugnini has given any and all change a bad name, but surely we have to recognize that some change is natural and normal. But precisely what sort of change?
It is always good to take obvious examples rather than obscure or controversial ones. Traditional Catholics definitely wish to venerate such modern saints as Josemaría Escrivá, Padre Pio, or Mother Teresa; and all things being equal, they would prefer to venerate them liturgically, and not merely privately. Indeed, both St. Josemaría and St. Pio celebrated the traditional Latin Mass, which was the center and secret of their priestly holiness. How difficult would it be to appoint commemorations of these saints, or even to create feasts for them with proper antiphons, readings, and prayers? Pope Pius XI did so for the feast of Christ the King, which did not exist prior to 1925 and yet has become a veritable rallying point for the traditionalist movement across the globe. In the putative feast of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, we would find the same three variable Latin prayers, the collect, secret, and postcommunion; we would find well chosen readings from Scripture, as had already been done for several feasts of more recent insertion (a simple way, incidentally, to incorporate hitherto unused passages of Sacred Scripture, yet without tearing apart the long-standing integrity of the Missal’s lections); antiphons drawn from Scripture and adapted to classic Gregorian melodies, as was done frequently throughout the Middle Ages. In short, the old Missal obviously permits of gentle expansion in its calendar and Mass texts.
And even though convincing arguments have been made that new prefaces should not be lightly introduced or needlessly multiplied, in principle the addition of some new prefaces, particularly for more solemn occasions, should not present a problem to anyone, provided their theology is sound and their linguistic form consistent with the aesthetics of the ancient rite. After all, in the old days, permission was granted to use special Gallican prefaces where and when appropriate.
Now, what do these examples have in common? They enrich by addition; they do not deform the rite as such in any way, by abbreviating, abolishing, or altering its texts. They are like an old city that is built up and built around, each new century adding streets and plazas and buildings, so that the city is richer in its population and life and culture.
All this being said, the other bad thing that could happen to the 1962 Missal is far worse than a temporary freeze in development—namely, that it would begin to be tampered with by “experts” in the manner of the Consilium’s revisions that produced, in the end, a new Missal—not merely a revision of what had come before, but something essentially new, modeled on the old Missal but in no way an edition of it. Indeed, Summorum Pontificum and Universae Ecclesiae taken together establish that, in spite of all assertions to the contrary, there must be some kind of discontinuity between the old and new missals, for otherwise there would be no logical possibility of protecting and promoting the older Roman Rite as a form distinctive unto itself.
It must be obvious that suppressing prayers or revising ceremonies at this time, when, as we have seen, liturgical experimentation and committee banality have wreaked havoc on the Catholic liturgy, could not be more foolish or more polarizing to the cause of unity and genuine renewal. What dreadful confusion, dismay, anger, and division would be precipitated by altering the 1962 Missal in any way other than merely adding to it—whether by attempting to make optional the prayers at the foot of the altar and the Last Gospel, or by removing supposedly “useless repetitions” like the threefold Domine, non sum dignus, or by simplifying the Communion Rite! Such actions would not only permanently shut down dialogue with the SSPX, but also cause further schisms and factions among Catholics who are faithful to Tradition. What is needed above all is the stability that results from unity of worship and doctrine; and of such stability, the delectable fruit is peace—peace of soul, peace in congregations, peace for the Church.
In conclusion, let me take up what may appear to be an objection to my argument, namely, the fact that Pope Benedict XVI promulgated a new Good Friday prayer for the Jews, replacing the one that was printed in the 1962 Missal. In retrospect, this change is something we should rejoice in rather than be upset about. First of all, as Fr. John Zuhlsdorf has proved, the new prayer is in fact theologically more substantive: if we look at what the prayer is asking, it says more, not less, about the conversion of the Jews and about Christ as the only Savior of mankind. But the Pope also demonstrated in this way that the 1962 Missal is not a museum piece, a prehistoric fly trapped in amber, but a reality alive and well at the heart of Holy Mother Church. It is a rite worthy of being loved and celebrated everywhere, precisely because it bears within itself the living Tradition, without diminishment or accommodation. Even as the new Missal looks and feels ever more dated with the passing of years, a true “period piece” like certain kinds of architecture, music, and clothing fashions, the ancient Missal remains youthfully refreshing, for it caters to no particular age and seeks only to glorify God. Introibo ad altare Dei, ad Deum qui laetificat iuventutem meam.