I watched the first part of the old Latin Mass (the Extraordinary Form) celebrated recently at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Lots of old fashioned vestments, the bishop wearing gloves, men with all sorts of capes and veils. But vesture is only one of the negatives so apparent in the old Latin Mass. I am familiar with this form of the Mass from seminary days in the sixties, but now the rite does appear to be a museum liturgy, a ritual of mystification rather than mystery.
I must be honest in saying that I find this rite offensive by todays’s liturgical standards. It isn’t just the endless bows, nods and genuflections, nor even the silly dancing birettas. Nor is it the bishop preaching, surrounded by vested ministers sitting undecorously on the steps, as if the basilica has run short of seating for ministers of the Mass. And to whom, exactly, are the readers proclaiming the scriptures? If it’s to the people, then this critical proclamation is in an unintelligible language. If to God, well, God already knows the readings.
I find it offensive that anyone would foster the return of a rite that is immune from the fundamental principles of good liturgy annunciated by the formal teaching of Vatican II. Why would anyone return to a rite that virtually ignores the Hebrew Bible on Sundays and feasts, that requires no homily on the scriptures, that strictly exculdes any lay ministers? The Church teaches that full participation is required by all, that our rites should be simple, short, clear, and unencumbered by useless repitions. Our rites should be within the people’s power of comprehension, and not require much explanation. The old Latin rite ignores all these fundamental principles. It is a rite that cries out for reform, just as it was crying out the day before Vatican II began.