N THE CONTEXT OF the Novus Ordo, there are so many options, so many permitted ways of doing things, so many modules that can be fitted together this way or that way, it can be very difficult to achieve coherence―especially in regard to compromise Masses where different “sensibilities” must be included in the liturgical planning and are therefore discernible in the resulting concoction.
But why take one traditional feature and reject another? Why take one modern feature and reject another? Have we lost our instinct for consistency?
The traditional practices form a coherent whole; they developed organically together, like a plant or animal maturing over time to become more and more itself. The reform, whether you consider it well-movitated or ill-motivated, was, in any case, inorganic; in the same way modern science views nature as a machine or mechanism, modern liturgists viewed public worship as a human construct with interchangeable pieces. It is not a whole that is greater than its parts so much as a mere sum of parts. And once you begin to change this or that part, you might as well change all of them. If the whole does not command a fundamental reverence, why would one stop here or there?
That is why the inherent tendency of the postconciliar liturgy has been towards jettisoning one traditional feature or element after another. Brass candlesticks are locked away, to be replaced by stumps on square pillars; solid altars or altars with antependiums are replaced by tables; beautiful vestments are thrown away or locked away, and polyester drapery takes their place; noble music from the ages of faith is forgotten in the strumming of guitars or the plinking of pianos.
The program that Pope Benedict XVI put before the entire People of God is the “hermeneutic of continuity”: the Church must live her life in continuity with all she has been in the past, with her full Tradition, and not as if everything started over after Vatican II. Wherever the Church is limping along in a state of discontinuity and rupture, she must make heroic efforts to find her way back to a vital connection with her own identity, history, and heritage.
POPE BENEDICT XVI KNEW that the sacred liturgy is the heart of the Church’s life, the most exact and expressive symbol of her faith, and the vehicle through which the faithful are always being catechized by word and sign. Hence this great Pope began to demonstrate what continuity can and should look like by the way he himself celebrated the sacred liturgy, and by continually pointing us to the Church’s past inheritance as well as her present rules and norms. He restored the traditional altar arrangement of candles and crucifix, he brought back the beautiful vestments so long locked away, he restored grand processions with cope and cross, he ensured that the music was truly reverent and sacred, suggestive of divine majesty and the loftiness of the immortal soul.
The tradition of the Church, the beauty of her rituals and art, is not something to be ashamed of or embarrassed about. Pope Benedict was the voice in the desert, proclaiming that we need to restore and rediscover these things―our identity, our very survival, our mission in this world, depend on it. People have been badly miseducated, and they have a right to the truth. Indeed, we have a right to our Tradition and a duty to embrace it.
The only non-arbitrary way to approach the liturgy is to celebrate it not only with total fidelity to the rubrics, but also in a spirit of maximal continuity with the Roman liturgical heritage that preceded it for almost 2,000 years. To do less than this is to endorse, at some level or to some extent, that ideology of rupture that has gripped and wounded the church over the past 50 years. Once we discover that certain changes were unnecessary and unmandated, that they occurred because of experimental theories fused with a desire for novelty, the only consistent and principled thing to do is to reject these changes and return to the tradition of the Fathers, with the humble repentance of prodigal sons.
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