Academic journal article Sacred Music

The Hermeneutic of Continuity: The Proper Chants of the Mass as the Liaison between the Two Forms of the Roman Mass

Academic journal article Sacred Music

The Hermeneutic of Continuity: The Proper Chants of the Mass as the Liaison between the Two Forms of the Roman Mass

Article excerpt

This paper was first presented in French at the conference Recontres Gregoriennes (April 1-3, 2011), which had as its theme "Chant Gregorien, acte liturgique: du cloitre a la cite." It was first published in the proceedings of this conference and is reprinted here, in a slightly revised edition, with permission.


The promulgation of Pope Benedict XVI's Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum in 2007 brought into the open a debate that had been hiding in the shadows for nearly forty years: that of the relationship between the 1569 Mass of Pius V, the so-called Tridentine or, more frequently, traditional Mass, and the 1969 Mass of Paul VI, the so-called Novus ordo missae or, typically, the post-Vatican-II Mass. (1)

Pope John XXIII's desire to let into the church a "gust of fresh air" (2) and his characterization of the Second Vatican Council as "a work of renewal and bringing [the church] up to date" (3) unwittingly launched a spirit in and after the council that believed that updating the church would require changes in its very nature.

Monsignor Gherardini eloquently sums up this spirit, describing

  provisions that were made ... with formulations and positions which
  were shocking in their innovative force (in some cases even
  explosive and invasive) and shocking in their audacity which
  proposed them even as profoundly evangelical ideas, notwithstanding
  the lack of evidence ... for their biblical foundation and vital
  connection with the acquired doctrinal patrimony of the Church. (4)

Not the least among these changes were the changes in the Mass (ordo missae), which was revised in the context of a drive to rid the church of a "tradition" that was interpreted as a craving for power and triumphalism. (5) The revised Mass placed the church on a modernized, generic platform, "ambiguously characterized by the notion of 'gathering,' and steeped in an atmosphere so secular as to despoil the homo Dei of his sacredness. The priest was fashioned as a president, a simple functionary. " (6) The Mass was stripped of anything that was deemed as a holdover from an antiquated church that had been characterized by clericalism, juridicalism, and triumphalism. (7)

Amidst this revolution in the church, there were a few who, rather courageously, raised the issue of the necessity, in an apostolic church, that the Mass adhere to the tradition of the church and who, further, dared to ask the question of whether or not the Novus ordo missae truly adhered to that tradition. Perhaps the best known of these was Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, whose opposition to many of the changes in the church after the Second Vatican Council led, among other things, to the granting of an "indult" by Pope John Paul II in 1984, by which bishops could authorize the use of the traditional Mass. (8) Ultimately, however, Archbishop Lefebvre's challenges to the sweeping changes in Catholicism resulted in his excommunication in 1988. One could argue about the specific reasons for the archbishop's excommunication. However, it would be hard to argue about the world's interpretation of it: that opposition to the post-Vatican II changes in the church was unacceptable and that such opposition could lead to the most serious of consequences.

Curiously, after Archbishop Lefebvre's excommunication Pope John Paul II did establish several societies in full communion with Rome but still devoted to the traditional Mass and to the traditional, or pre-Vatican-II, ways in which the Catholic Church viewed herself and conducted herself in the world. (9)

However, aside from these not insignificant events, until Pope Benedict's Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum of 2007, the activities of traditionally oriented Catholics and the questions they have raised about contemporary Catholicism have been, for the last four decades, largely swept aside by both the church hierarchy and the vast majority of the declining population of Catholics in the pews. …

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