How the ordinary form of the Mass can “enrich” the extraordinary form

In Summorum Pontificum, Pope Benedict hoped the celebration of the extraordinary and ordinary forms of the Mass would be “mutually enriching.” So what healthier elements of the ordinary form might benefit the extraordinary?

In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI issued his motu proprio Summorum Pontificum (SP), in which he gave broader scope to the earlier permissions of Pope John Paul II regarding the celebration of Holy Mass according to the Missale Romanum of 1962. In the Pope’s accompanying letter to the bishops of the Catholic world, he expressed the conviction that the availability of the older rite (now to be called the “extraordinary form”) would be “mutually enriching” for the extraordinary form and for the “ordinary” form of the Mass. It would appear that the Pontiff was looking toward an organic process, whereby a “new and improved” form of the Roman Mass would result. Many priests and liturgists have identified various elements of the extraordinary form (EF) which would be helpful in shoring up the “sacrality” of the ordinary form (OF). When the conversation turns to how the OF could provide a positive influence on the EF, it is not uncommon to hear serious doubts raised that this could be the case. That response puts me in mind of the famous rhetorical (and probably sarcastic) question of Tertullian when pressed to consider the value of philosophy to theology: “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?”

Since the promulgation of SP, when I celebrate according to the EF, thoughts about useful adaptations surface. I suspect that many of these thoughts of mine were likewise in the minds of the Fathers of Vatican II, whose very first document was their Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium (SC). That document provided a theological framework for liturgical renewal, born of the liturgical movement spanning almost a century in the lead-up to Vatican II. In addition to the theological basis, the bishops also identified areas where modification and development were needed; it should be noted that SC obtained near-unanimous approval (including that of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre). To be sure, much of what emerged in 1970 (and beyond) was not in the least envisioned by the Council Fathers.

With all that said, how might the EF benefit from some of the healthier aspects of the OF?

Adoption of the revised lectionary

Many people do not realize that prior to Vatican II, not only did we have only a one-year Sunday cycle of readings, but we did not have any lectionary for weekdays at all! As a result, either the Sunday readings were repeated or those from the “commons” of the saints were employed. Hence, SC clearly calls for an expansion of the lectionary, putting it in the context of providing the People of God with a greater exposure to the Word of God.

The proclamation of most of the New Testament and vast segments of the Old Testament in the current lectionary is one of the most positive achievements of the post-conciliar liturgical reform—so much so that most mainline Protestant denominations have adopted our lectionary.

Incorporation of additional Mass formularies

The Missal of 1970 (and subsequent editions) contains a rich collection of euchological texts, culled from the vast liturgical storehouse of the Church. Many of the orations have pedigrees dating to the fourth century. Pope Benedict in SP actually suggested the possibility of integrating those prayers into the 1962 Missal, highlighting in particular the array of beautiful prefaces that comprise the OF Missal (in contrast to the very limited number in the EF Missal).

Expand possibilities for solemnity

The EF has clearly defined categories for the celebration of Mass: Low Mass, Missa Cantata, Solemn Mass. The normative form is the Solemn Mass, wherein a full complement of ministers functions, along with incense and chant. The Low Mass (which, in the United States, unfortunately, was the most familiar and common liturgical experience) had none of those components. The Missa Cantata is an attempt to have at least some of the solemnity, even without all the desired ministers.

The OF does not have such mutually exclusive categories, thus allowing for as much solemnity to be incorporated as possible. And so, even at a daily Mass with a single priest-celebrant, one can chant any and all the prayers and use incense. Regrettably, that opening is not taken advantage of very often—even on Sundays. However, it would be a good element to add to the liturgical menu of the EF.

Elimination of duplicate recitations

In sung Masses of the EF, the celebrant is required to recite quietly texts which are chanted by the choir and/or congregation (e.g., Introit, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus). In the celebration of Holy Mass, the priest moves in and out of various modes: at times, he prays as one of the faithful; at other times, he prays in persona Christi Capitis (“in the person of Christ the Head”). When he operates in the former mode, there is no theological reason for him not to pray the text in union with the whole assembly. Those who attend the EF will know the awkwardness of the current rubrical practice, especially when a text calls for a gesture on the part of the priest (e.g., the Sign of the Cross to end the Gloria or the genuflection during the Credo) which is not “in sync” with what is being sung because the schola/congregation have not gotten there yet.

Restoration of Offertory Procession and Prayer of the Faithful

Both of these rituals were specifically identified by SC as elements to be restored. The emphasis here is on “restored”; unlike some other rites introduced into the post-Vatican II liturgy, these two have a venerable tradition to them. Indeed, the intercessory prayers of the Good Friday liturgy are a witness to the antiquity of the Prayer of the Faithful. Justin Martyr is an even more ancient witness to the offertory procession.

Re-order the dismissal rite

The EF dismissal rite is anti-climactic, inasmuch as the priest dismisses the congregation and then bestows the blessing, followed by the Last Gospel. The OF has a more logical conclusion, in that the “Ite, missa est” is truly the last word. Perhaps the Last Gospel could be retained as an optional text, given its historical value.

Move the “fractio”

In the OF, the “breaking of the bread” occurs during the Agnus Dei, which is the quintessential hymn to the “Lamb who was slain.” The action and the text for this rite in the EF do not correspond to each other as well.

Make clear that the homily is a true part of the Sacred Liturgy

Removing the maniple and donning the biretta during the homily (along with the opening and closing Sign of the Cross) declare that the homily does not form part of the Mass; indeed, that is an “interrupter.” On the contrary, the homily is an essential part of the Sacred Liturgy. Furthermore, if it is not such, then any baptized Christian should be able to deliver it!

Maintain the integrity of the Sanctus

When polyphonic Masses are sung, it is not unusual for the Benedictus to be separated from the rest of the Sanctus, being sung after the Consecration. This is an obvious accommodation to the problem of a musical offering that so overshadows the liturgy itself that it cannot be performed without creating an undue delay in the celebration. If a musical composition would have that effect, it certainly comes under the condemnation of Pope Pius X’s Tra le Sollecitudini. Beyond that, if it is being used as a “filler” for the silence after the Consecration, it flies in the face of the whole rationale for an inaudible Canon, evoking a deeper sense of mystery.

Adopt the rubrics of the OF for the Communion Rite

If the Pater Noster is the prayer of the family of the Church to her heavenly Father, why should not the entire congregation pray it together? Of course, Pope Benedict’s norms in SP already allow for that, however, I have rarely seen the option taken. It would also make sense to have the other prayers of the Communion Rite recited audibly or chanted aloud (as in the OF), with the priest’s private preparation prayers done sotto voce (again, as in the OF).

Face the people when addressing the people; face God when addressing God.

We have used this formula to justify celebrating Mass ad orientem in the OF, that is, to face liturgical east from the Liturgy of the Eucharist forward. The converse is also true: when proclaiming the Scripture readings, face those to whom those texts are addressed. Whatever the historical origins of facing east for the Epistle and facing north for the Gospel at Solemn Mass, they are not truly communicative of the significance of the rite being celebrated.

Unite the calendars of the OF and EF

For the EF to be unable to commemorate the saints canonized since 1962 is an impoverishment—a point also raised by Pope Benedict in SP. Certain calendar changes were good (e.g., making the Solemnity of Christ the King the last Sunday of the liturgical year), while others were destructive of long-standing traditions (e.g., Epiphany, Ascension). Regardless of what one thinks of either calendar (and no calendar will ever be perfect), operating with a dual-calendar system bespeaks division, the very antithesis of what good liturgy should be.

Modify the rubrics

SC calls for the modification of signs and symbols that are duplicative or arcane. One thinks immediately of the multiple Signs of the Cross during the Canon. Just as the OF admits of a certain laxity, the EF can lean toward an unhealthy rigidity or rubricism. In medio stat virtus! (“Virtue stands in the middle”).

Rename the two principal parts of the Mass

To continue to call the first part of the Mass the “Mass of the Catechumens” is a form of the antiquarianism pilloried by Pope Pius XII in Mediator Dei. We have not been dismissing catechumens (or penitents) for centuries (except in silly parishes where baptized Christians preparing for reception into full communion are “dismissed”). The post-conciliar nomenclature is quite accurate: Liturgy of the Word/Liturgy of the Eucharist.

These are my recommendations for “mutual enrichment” as gifts of the ordinary form to the extraordinary form. I hope this helps answer the contemporary liturgical version of Tertullian’s question.

About Peter M.J. Stravinskas 27 Articles
Reverend Peter M.J. Stravinskas is the editor of the The Catholic Response, and the author of over 500 articles for numerous Catholic publications, as well as several books, including The Catholic Church and the Bible and Understanding the Sacraments.