Too hard on the Pauline Missal?

A friend writes, “I just feel that many who prefer the older form are too hard on the Pauline Missal, and the clerics who promulgated it.”

That may be true, though I do always try to make clear that my problem is not with the Pauline Missal itself but with the new attitude towards the liturgy which was ushered in simultaneously with it.

Recently I came across the saying that “rather than conforming the liturgy to ourselves, we need to conform ourselves to the liturgy”. (I would give credit to the author but I can’t remember where I read it!) In reflecting on this in recent days I have become more and more convinced that it sums up all the post-Vatican II problems with the liturgy, and indeed in the Church as a whole.

The introduction of the new mass was accompanied by the idea that the liturgy can, and indeed should, be conformed to suit ourselves. Nobody said that straight out, instead they said the liturgy needs to be updated in order to appeal to people in modern society. We need to make it more accessible and relevant to modern man. Thereby we will attract people (who are put off by the old mass) to the Church and encourage those who have left to return.

The old liturgy (they said) is too distant, mysterious, elitist and sexist. So we’ll make it cozier, down-to-earth, democratic, and inclusive — which is really what is meant by saying that the new mass is more “welcoming”.

Suppose we grant that this is something that needed to be done in our day: That our society needs a more democratic and inclusive mass in order to make people feel welcome. But if we change the mass to meet this need, does this not imply our assent to a general principle: that the mass needs to be changed in order to meet whatever “needs” exist in the time and place in which it happens to be celebrated?

Supposing this is the case, where do we draw the line? Should the mass be changed to suit each nation, but not each province (or state) within each nation? Or should it indeed be changed to suit each province, or even each city in each province — nay the needs of each individual parish? For that matter why not the needs of each family, or each individual? Maybe every one of us needs to have a mass that meets his own particular needs.

So the principle is introduced but is neither defined nor limited in any objective way. Thus it leads to the conclusion that the mass is the subjective creation of each of us, meeting us where we’re at in order to meet our subjectively perceived needs — not something objective, given to us by God, requiring us to meet it where it’s at, which is really meeting God where God is at.

If lex orandi, lex credendi (“the law of prayer is the law of belief”) is true, there are serious consequences with this attitude. For if the “law of prayer” (the mass) is that it ought to be tailored to meet the needs of individuals in varying times and places, then the law of belief is the same, and therefore beliefs too ought to be tailored to meet our needs, rather than we conforming ourselves to beliefs which exist objectively and are taught us by an authoritative Church.

If anyone doubts that this follows logically, nevertheless we have seen it carried out in reality, in the post-Vatican II phenomenon of the Cafeteria Catholic. Cafeteria Catholicism is not just a matter of individuals deciding to pick and choose what to believe, it has been encouraged by the teachings of theologians, priests (who were taught it in seminaries), religious, diocesan newspapers, and even some bishops.

Thus the changes to the mass were accompanied by, and in my view were a result of, this widespread and general attitude that our faith is about *us* and needs to be changed to suit *us*. It’s *that* attitude that I object to, and I am critical of the new mass, and those who implemented it, to the extent that I believe it is a product of that attitude and promotes it.

If the new mass were a direct product of Vatican II, its final form deliberated and officially approved by the Council, probably I would be more sanguine about it and more willing to attribute its final form to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (to which I attribute the form of the Traditional Latin Mass). But since the mass wasn’t revised until after Vatican II was concluded, and went way beyond what the texts of the Council specifically authorized, I am a bit more skeptical: I can’t help viewing it as the product mainly of committees made up of persons of a certain ideological, philosophical and theological bent, and a Pope who somehow let himself be persuaded to accept and approve it. Doubtless the Holy Spirit was involved in the process, preventing it from being even worse. But I can’t help doubting whether the end product was entirely what the Holy Spirit would have willed.

My friend writes, “the Holy Spirit would [not have] allow[ed] such a state of affairs, were there no good to come of it”. I can understand that opinion, and agree that in the end we might realize a net gain, some decades down the line. But even this might not persuade me that the new mass was what the Holy Spirit willed, since the earthly Church has allowed itself to be dragged into a lot of things over the centuries which in the end were shown to have been the result of mistake or even evil intent, even when the Holy Spirit did eventually bring some good out of it.

I will grant that some revision of the mass, as expressed in the documents of Vatican II, was the will of the Holy Spirit. But I submit that it was intended as a limited and extremely cautious revision, eliminating and restoring certain specified things, and allowing a limited use of the vernacular. I strongly doubt that the wholesale re-vamping and perpetually ongoing revision, which have actually resulted, were in accord with His will.

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