N A FAMOUS “Garfield the Cat” meme clip, the judge sentences a duck to 999,999 years in prison. The duck responds: “At least I didn’t get life!” But lawyers spoil the fun by explaining that a 999,999 year sentence is technically much worse. Sometimes “life” doesn’t mean “life.” The point I’m trying to make is: When it comes to language, usage rules. One learns this by studying a foreign language. We may complain that certain phrases “don’t make sense,” but it doesn’t matter … usage rules. In English, a single word can mean different things. Some words have meanings which directly contradict each other, such as “cleave” or “sanction.”
Was This Name Banned? I don’t believe God wants mankind to spend hours fretting over nomenclature. Nevertheless, over the last few months, many have asked whether Pope Francis has banned the term “Extraordinary Form.” Specifically, people are asking whether Traditionis Custodes (TRCU) has outlawed the use of the phrase “Extraordinary Form.” Below are my thoughts.
Sooner Or Later: The question is bound to arise—so let’s handle it forthwith: “Does the pope have the authority to police our language?” Clearly he does not. Fulton J. Sheen often talked about how people confuse impeccable with infallible. The pope is not impeccable; and he only speaks infallibly under certain circumstances. And Fulton J. Sheen reminded us: “Many a pontiff goes through life without making one single infallible decision … not one.” Nor is the pope’s authority unlimited. Indeed, Father Leslie Audoen Rumble of RADIO REPLIES had a whole section dealing with how Catholics—under certain circumstances—are morally free to take up arms against the pope! (Remember that throughout history the pope has been a temporal leader as well.) To sum up: I’m not aware of any attempt by Pope Francis to forbid using the term “Extraordinary Form”—and even if he tried, the pope doesn’t have the authority to police the world’s languages.
Getting Technical: If we want to get technical, TRCU nowhere bans the term “Extraordinary Form.” As a matter of fact, the document itself uses the term “Extraordinary Form” more than once. It is true that TRCU does refer to the Novus Ordo as the “sole expression of the Roman Rite,” but nobody has been able to explain what this means—and we have already touched upon this mess. To cite one example: The current chairman of the USCCB liturgical committee (Bishop Lopes) apparently does not offer “the sole expression” of the Roman Rite! Even the most recent high-level document from the Vatican—Praedicate Evangelium (03/19/2022)—explicitly referred to the 1962 Missal as the “Extraordinary Form.” Trying to get technical ends up being quite a silly path to go down.
Being Consistent: How far do we wish to take matters? It is undeniable that Pope Francis has made contradictory statements in the past, especially regarding matters of morality. This is very sad—and there’s no need to repeat what is already known by everyone. No Catholic is expected to “reconcile” contradictory statements: period. Whether we like it or not, popes sometimes make terrible mistakes. If you doubt that, search Google for “Cadaver Synod”. Clearly papal sycophants existed in those times, too—such as the deacon who supplied the “voice” of the corpse on trial. Just the other day, Pope Francis said there’s no such thing as a just war—and yet, even as he was speaking these words, he was surrounded by armed guards! Everyone knows that Catholic teaching embraces the possibility of a just war; e.g. my grandfather bravely fought the Nazi armies in WWII. I ask again: How far do we wish to take matters? Should we go to bed at night in a cold sweat because POPE WHOMEVER made a foolish statement about XYZ? Of course not! We should pray and do penance that God will guide our pope. (Indeed, if bishops, priests, and popes were automatically impeccable, there would be no need to pray for them!)
Getting Serious: So what is the correct term for the 1962 Missal? To arrive at an answer, it is necessary to clarify what makes a “rite” or “use” or “form.” Educated people realize the 1962 Missal is a “transitional” Missal. Many aspects of it would be unrecognizable by Catholics 100 years ago such as: reception of Communion during Mass; the Last Gospel always being the first Chapter of Saint John; the Celebrant not quietly repeating the Epistle and Gospel at the Altar, and so forth. I am not opposed to the phrase “Mass of the Ages,” but we should realize many aspects were not present 1,000 years ago (e.g. the Offertory prayers). Contrariwise, many former traditions have disappeared (e.g. the Offertory and Communion verses). We must also realize how the Mass is experienced has undergone tremendous changes over the centuries. Joe Smith might attend a Low Mass in Paris in the 1920s, when organ music covered the entire ceremony (including the Consecration). Joe Smith might attend a Low Mass in Kansas in the 1930s, when vernacular hymns covered the entire ceremony (including the Gospel and Creed). Joe Smith might attend an orchestral Mass in Germany in the 1890s. Joe Smith might attend a dialogue Mass in the 1950s. Joe Smith might attend a 12-tone Mass composed by Ernst Krenek in the 1940s. In all of these scenarios, Joe Smith’s experience would be radically different.
Nomenclature Solutions: I go back to what I said earlier: When it comes to language, usage rules. I have no problem with any of the following names: Traditional Latin Mass; 1962 Missal; Missale Vetustum; Latin Mass; Tridentine Mass; Mass of the Ages; Missal of Pius V; Missal of John XXIII; Missale Antiquius; Ordo Antiquus; Missale Pristinum; Usus Antiquior; Extraordinary Form. Some people prefer “Missale Vetustum” (a poetic word usually not used for people) because it means something like longstanding AND current, whereas the word “vetus” can sometimes have a slightly negative connotation. When it comes to the “Ordinary Form,” I’ve heard people call it: Pauline Mass, Novus Ordo, and Missale Recens. Those who celebrate the OF don’t usually like the term Novus Ordo, although it was used by the reformers themselves. Many people refer to the “New Mass,” although it’s already half a century old. Some priests hate the phrase “Extraordinary Form” because a rite that’s been around for 1,500 years should not be considered “extraordinary”—and I do understand such a position. But even the phrase “Traditional Latin Mass” has problems.1
Jeff’s Solution: How should we refer to the different forms of Mass? We don’t want to use nomenclature which is cumbersome. We don’t want to say things like: “I’m talking about the Missal which was an outgrowth of the Commissio Piana but which went way beyond what Vatican II actually called for.” Nor should we say things like: “I’m talking about the Missal which is generally similar to what was promulgated by Pope Pius V after the Council of Trent, but which in turn was based upon the Missal of 1474.” Probably the best solution was taken by the Saint Jean de Brébeuf Hymnal; it says “for both forms of the Roman Rite.” Pope Benedict XVI was not doing anything radical when he referred to “two forms” of the Roman Rite; he was simply describing the situation. Of course scholars can “get into the weeds” on this—and it seems like Father Thomas Kocik did precisely that in his book Reform of the Reform? (2003). Sometimes “official” names just don’t catch on. An example would be in the 1950s when people like Monsignor Frederick McManus tried to replace “Palm Sunday” with “Second Passion Sunday.” But that name just never caught on.
Indisputably Wrong: This is not to pretend our choice of language makes no difference. Some names are indisputably wrong. In an article on Catholic Family News, author Louis Tofari asserted that the “proper and official title” which must be used is Missa Romanus. I don’t want to be offensive (Mr. Tofari is an intelligent and kind gentleman), but that’s just wrong. “Missa Romanus” makes no sense in Latin. Another indisputably wrong term is “unreformed Mass.” This term is used by people attempting to disparage the Missale Vetustum—but by using it, they unwittingly demonstrate tremendous ignorance of liturgical history.
Not Debatable: Some things are not open to debate. For instance, serving the EF is 100x more fun than serving the OF for a young boy. Altar boys at the EF get to do all kinds of fun stuff: say prayers, kneel, kiss hands, hold vestments, bow to the floor, ring the bells, and so forth. At the Vatican itself—until the recent restrictions of TRCU—there were Italian Altar boys assigned to serve the Masses said by visiting priests. Because the EF is so much more fun to serve, the boys would always beg the priests to offer the Missale Vetustum. But for these Altar boys, the EF was something new. (That is to say, it was new to them.) So they would beg the priest: “Can we please have the new Mass?” But they were talking about the Missale Vetustum … how’s that for fancy nomenclature?
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 For example, the OF can be said in Latin, using very traditional options. On the other hand, some of the EF elements—especially those promulgated in the 1961 Code of Rubrics—are not very “traditional.” And this is certainly true of the 1962 Holy Week.