We are convinced that the Tridentine Latin Mass is superior to the new vernacular Mass. Martin Mosebach, in his new book, The Heresy of Formlessness, writes that the New Mass is generally formless: no sanctus bells, no incense, no Gregorian chant, no chapel veils, etc. His book is personal. His liturgical stories go back and forth through the centuries. It's meant for the liturgist. (A more practical book is The Reform of the Roman Liturgy by Msgr. Klaus Gamber (Roman Catholic Books).
Mosebach's book is published by Ignatius Press -- let's give credit where it's due. It has a Foreword by the Editor-in-Chief of Ignatius Press, Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J., who says: "There has been a lively debate...between those who, like Mosebach, advocate a return to the preconciliar liturgy [the Tridentine Latin Mass] and those who, like myself, the Adoremus Society [which advocates the "reform of the reform" for the New Mass], and -- I think I can assert this with confidence -- Pope Benedict XVI, advocate a rereading and restructuring of the liturgical renewal intended by the Second Vatican Council...." But there is no indication that Pope Benedict, as yet, is "advocating a rereading and restructuring of the liturgical renewal." Take it from Russell Shaw (Our Sunday Visitor, June 24): "Correcting the mistakes and abuses [in the new vernacular Mass].... Pope Benedict often has expressed concern relating to the Novus Ordo (New Order) Mass, but has left it alone so far."
In Andrew Rabel's interview with Fr. Fessio (Inside the Vatican, Aug.-Sept. 2006), Rabel poses this question: "In the past year, particularly with the Synod on the Eucharist, and the imminent publication of the post-synodal apostolic exhortation, a lot of attention and discussion has been given to the area of liturgy.... Is this a fruition of the ideals you set forth when you started Adoremus, and what are we in fact likely to see happen in this very vexed area?" Fr. Fessio answers: "I cannot believe that he [the Pope] will not take steps to move in the direction of a real renewal of the liturgy.... I believe this post-synodal exhortation will be a significant document."
Pope Benedict's post-synodal apostolic exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis ("The Sacrament of Charity"), issued on March 13, 2007, is a non-binding resolution for the new vernacular Mass. According to The Catholic World Report (May), whose Publisher is Fr. Fessio, Sacramentum Caritatis is "not a liturgical directive" and "did not propose any concrete liturgical reforms." It will have no real effect. So much for Fr. Fessio's belief that it would be "a real renewal of the liturgy."
Fr. Fessio, in his Foreword in Mosebach's book, says: "It is possible to make this profound reality [the reform of the reform] visible by celebrating the Novus Ordo Mass in ways that make the continuity with tradition much more obvious. The Novus Ordo permits that Mass be celebrated with all its parts, or the canon and ordinary parts, in Latin. It permits Mass to be celebrated ad orientem (facing the Lord)...incense may be used and sacred polyphony sung; altar boys, bells, paten, communion rails where people may kneel if they choose.... [All this is] permitted, but too rarely experienced. [Yes, indeed.] We at Ignatius Press are proponents of the reform of the reform, not of the restoration of the preconciliar form of the liturgy [the Tridentine Latin Mass]."
In Brian Mershon's interview with Fr. Fessio (The Wanderer, Dec. 7, 2006), Mershon poses this question: "Please clarify for our readers your personal view on the Traditional Latin Mass. Would you offer it if it is freed up by the Pope [with the publication of a motu proprio]...?" Fr. Fessio answers: "I don't like calling it the ‘Traditional Latin Mass' because I think the way I celebrate the Novus Ordo Mass is traditional. I've been thinking about trying to introduce a new label: the Vetus [Old] Ordo. I have objections to both the Novus Ordo and the Vetus Ordo as they are at present.... So I have always preferred the lonely moderate position of celebrating the Novus Ordo in the most traditional manner." The New Order Mass has been around for some 38 years. The Traditional Mass has been around for some 1,500 years, and is still going on. It goes without saying that what is rightly designated as "New Order" cannot be properly called "traditional." That's what's known as an oxymoron.
In Mershon's interview, Fr. Fessio also says: "Unfortunately for traditionalists.... those who love tradition [including the Tridentine Rite] are at a disadvantage." Really? The motu proprio (liberating the Tridentine Rite) is a fact. Fr. Fessio was flaunting his friendship with Pope Benedict (see our New Oxford Note, Jul.-Aug. 2005, pp. 13-14, 16). Fr. Fessio's "reform of the reform" has been disregarded thus far by Benedict. Fessio's "lonely moderate position" has been neglected -- apparently, too few are asking for it.
In Andrew Rabel's interview with Fr. Fessio (Inside the Vatican, Aug.-Sept. 2006), Rabel asks: "Are we likely to see a universal indult [motu proprio] granted to the celebration of the Tridentine liturgy...?" Fr. Fessio answers: "That is not an area that has been in the forefront of Pope Benedict's writings.... But now after it has been prohibited for so many years, I am not sure what the Holy Father will do."
Pope Benedict's motu proprio (written by the Pope on his own initiative and addressed to the entire Church) was issued on July 7, 2007, freeing up the Tridentine Latin Mass, allowing it to be celebrated by parish priests without permission from their bishop. We are overjoyed. In fact, on Sunday, July 8, at the indult Tridentine Latin Mass at St. Margaret Mary Church in Oakland, Calif., after the Mass we sang the Te Deum (Hymn of Thanksgiving), and the church was packed -- as it usually is.
In Pope Benedict's letter to bishops that accompanied his motu proprio, he says that "it was presumed that requests" for the Tridentine Rite "would be limited to the older generation," but "it has clearly been demonstrated that young persons too have discovered this liturgical form, felt its attraction and found in it a form of encounter with the Mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist, particularly suited to them."
Perhaps the "reform of the reform" will be instituted. But as of now, the "reform of the reform" is going nowhere.[Dale Vree is Editor of the New Oxford Review. The present article, "'The Reform of the Reform' Is Going Nowhere -- At Least Not Yet," was originally published as an editorial in the New Oxford Review (September 2007), pp. 14-16, and is reproduced her by kind permission of New Oxford Review, 1069 Kains Ave., Berkeley, CA 94706.]