Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Traditional Catholicism and the Novus Ordo Mass

What is tradition? Here are some definitions from Merriam-Webster:

a :  an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior (as a religious       practice or a social custom)
b :  a belief or story or a body of beliefs or stories relating to the past that are commonly accepted as historical though not verifiable
:  the handing down of information, beliefs, and customs by word of mouth or by example from one generation to another without written instruction
:  cultural continuity in social attitudes, customs, and institutions
:  characteristic manner, method, or style <in the best liberal tradition> 

There is a new group on Facebook called "Novus Ordo Traditionalists".  Isn't that a contradiction in terms? Didn't Vatican II and the new form of the Roman Rite do away with traditional Catholicism?  That is precisely what you would think if you spent enough time searching the internet for just one good word about the Novus Ordo Mass.  But about all you get is a barrage of venom from "traditionalists" and sedevacantists.  Haters, consider your label officially hijacked! 

As a convert from Protestant Christianity, I fell in love with the Catholic Mass.  I didn't know there was a Tridentine Mass in Latin at all, except for my RCIA director mentioning that someone she knew drove an hour on Sundays to go to one, and she couldn't imagine why.  But I knew nothing about the debates on the subject; I just thought the Mass was beautiful.  I had found the fullness of the Christian religion.  I now knew what had been missing (the Real Presence in the Eucharist), and I was finally home. 

The How-To Book of the Mass by Michael Dubruiel provided the catalyst for creating the Novus Ordo Traditionalists group.  This inspirational guide through the Novus Ordo Mass features where to find the prayers of the Mass in Scripture and shows how the parts of the Mass trace back to practices of the early Church.  I got this book as a Confirmation gift.  I hadn't read it much, because I thought that I already knew all about the Mass.  Alas, there is always more to learn.  Grumblings over various aspects of the Mass were threatening my faith, and this book was the shot in the arm I needed to more deeply understand and be filled with the graces of the Mass. 

I hadn't realized that all of the prayers and responses of the Mass are based on the Bible.  And check out what St. Cyril of Jerusalem wrote about receiving the Eucharist in A.D. 350:

"In approaching, therefore, do not come up with your wrists apart or with your fingers spread, but make of your left hand a throne for the right, since you are about to receive into it a King. And having hallowed your palm, receive the Body of Christ, saying over it the amen. Then, after cautiously sanctifying your eyes by the touch of the Holy Body, partake, being careful lest you lose anything of it."

So in the 4th century Catholic Church, Communion was received in the hand! It is not a less reverent way of receiving than on the tongue, and it certainly isn't less traditional. Here's the thing, peeps. We have big "T" and small "t" traditions in the Church. Tradition with a capital letter refers to the deposit of Faith handed down from the apostles of Jesus, both the oral and the written teachings. In matters of faith and morals, Tradition does not change. Tradition includes belief in the Holy Trinity, the Incarnation, the transubstantiation of the Eucharist, and the four Marian dogmas. It includes the Church's stance on abortion, artificial birth control, marriage, and the priesthood. The seven sacraments of the Church represent Tradition that is permanent. The canon of the Bible is Tradition. These things will never change.

At the same time, the Church has changeable traditions. Notice the lower case letter there. Receiving the Eucharist either in the hand or on the tongue is a small "t" tradition. The use of Latin in the Mass is a long-standing tradition. A newer tradition is the praying of the Mass in the vernacular (and in fact, it was originally prayed in the local languages). In the Novus Ordo, the priest faces the congregation, whereas in the Traditional Latin Mass, the priest and the congregation face the same direction. Only boys could be altar servers at one time, but now girls can too. Women no longer have to wear head coverings at Mass, though they can if they feel called to this devotion. Gregorian chant is the traditional music used in the Tridentine Mass. Other types of music, such as traditional hymns that the congregation can sing in English, are used in the Novus Ordo. 

Those Catholics who attend the NO Mass can be every bit as traditional as those who attend the TLM. Traditional Catholics are loyal to the Magisterium of the Church. We believe what the Church teaches and trust in her authority. We appreciate traditional practices such as the Rosary, novenas, devotions to saints, the wearing of medals and scapulars, May crownings, processionals, the use of incense and bells, etc...  There is no such thing as the "Vatican II Church" in opposition to the pre-conciliar Church.  The Church is the Church is the Church. That's not to say that there are never liturgical abuses or that everyone receives perfect catechesis.  But let's erase this petty line in the sand.

As we move forward, I advocate for focusing on the continuity of Church Tradition.  The Church isn't perfect.  She never was.  She has from the beginning been full of sinners; she wouldn't exist otherwise.  But she is full of saints too.  We are all joined with God, the Virgin Mary, the communion of saints, and the angels in the Mass, in both the Tridentine and Novus Ordo forms.  Both are valid.  Both are good.  Either way, what we experience is literally a meeting of Heaven and Earth. 


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