Monday, January 30, 2023

The Pope's Reductive Structuralism

[Jan. 30, 2023] When he issued Traditiones Custodes, Pope Francis argued that the Traditional Latin Mass was no longer needed because its constituive elements had all passed in to the Novus Ordo. Ergo, anyone who values the traditional rite should celebrate the new, for the heart of the old rite has been translated into the new. Pope Francis said in his accompanying letter to Traditiones Custodes that "all the elements of the [traditional] Roman rite" can be found in the Novus Ordo.This is simply not the case, however. The research of Matthew Hazell has demonstrated that only 13% of the prayers of the Traditional Latin Mass survived the Consilium's hack job unchanged—a full 53% of the content from the historic rite was simply jettisoned; another 34% was subject to editing. Only a tiny slice made it unmolested into the New Rite. 

In what sense, then, can "all" the elements of the Traditional Roman Rite be present in the Novus Ordo? For that matter, what is an "element" of a rite according to Francis? In the same letter the pope says that "the Roman Canon...constitutes one of [the historic rite's] more distinctive elements." He is right, of course—the Roman Canon is probably the most distinctive element of the Traditional Latin Mass. But as Dr. Kwasniewski has demonstrated, not even the Roman Canon made it into the Novus Ordo without alteration; even the formulas of the consecration were altered, ostensibly to make them fit Scriptural narratives more closely (see The Once and Future Roman Rite, pg. 251-255).

The implication, here, is that Pope Francis does not view the liturgy as primarily consisting of an objective content; rather, he considers it structurally. He considers the liturgy to consist more of its "parts" and not so much the content of each part. The old Mass has a procession, the new Mass has a procession; the old Mass has the Kyrie and Gloria, the new Mass has the Kyrie and Gloria; both Masses have a homily, the Creed, offertory prayers, and the Roman Canon (even though the Novus Ordo also contains a wad of freely invented new, um, Eucharistic Prayers, for every occasion); the people receive Communion in both rites, there is a dismissal blessing in both rites. The pope compares the structural components of the two Masses and sees them as basically equivalent.

This is a very reductionist view of the liturgy. Such a structural view might be appropriate for a mass produced item, something that came off an assembly line where uniformity across products was guaranteed by structural consistency alone. But it is hardly suitable for an organic ritual like the Mass, where the distinguishing features of the rite are found in the particular content—the specific prayers and ritual gestures of the ceremony.

Lest you think the content doesn't matter, think if the shoes was on the other foot. We are all familiar with the Jewish food blessing prayer the Hamotzi, which says, "Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu, melekh ha'olam, hamotzi lehem min ha'aretz" ("Blessed are You, LORD our God, King of the universe, Who brings forth bread from the earth.") Could we rewrite this prayer from scratch and claim it was still the Hamotzi just because it was said before meals? Would Jews accept it as such? Would anyone buy it if we had a committee rewrite the Divine Liturgy and then asserted it was the still the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom? Such fabrications would not be bought by the Jews or the Eastern rites; it is only in the Roman Rite we are expected to buy such arguments.

Pope Francis essentially views the liturgy like a house; the specific content of the house is not all that important—what each room holds, what has been accunulated over the years. For him, what matters is the structure, that it has four walls, a roof, and some rooms. The house is reduced to its outer form; the liturgy is reduced to its most fundamental structure. This reduction allows one to admit wild diversity in the liturgy while maintaining that we are talking about the "same rite"—the way we could say two houses with similar floor plans are "basically the same house."

Of course, this view falls apart once we consider the content. Two houses might share a common structure, but going inside and perusing the content and living conditions in each house and its very different families will divest of any notion that these houses are identical. And any investigation of the content of the New Mass relative to the Traditional Latin Mass will make it clear that the Novus Ordo is not substantially similar to the Traditional Latin Mass. 

The comparison even fails on a structural level once we dig down beyond the bare minimum: while the new and old Masses share the elements mentioned above, there are many they do not share—the responsorial psalm, the "prayers of the people," the prayers at the foot of the altar, and the Last Gospel all come to mind. The structural comparison only works if our parameters are dumbed down to the lowest common denominator. It is as if I were to give a man a deer and tell him it was a horse because they both have four legs and run. This same point was observed by none other than Fr. Joseph Gelineau S.J., a member of the Concilium responsible for crafting the Novus Ordo. Using the same imagery of a building, Fr. Gelineau gloated:

“Let those who like myself have known and sung a Latin-Gregorian High Mass remember it if they can. Let them compare it with the Mass that we now have. Not only the words, the melodies, and some of the gestures are different. To tell the truth, it is a different liturgy of the Mass. This needs to be said without ambiguity: the Roman rite as we knew it no longer exists [le rite romain tel que nous l’avons connu n’existe plus]. It has been destroyed. [Il est détruit.] Some walls of the former edifice have fallen while others have changed their appearance, to the extent that it appears today either as a ruin or the partial substructure of a different building." (Joseph Gelineau, Demain la liturgie: Essai sur l’évolution des assemblées chrétiennes [Paris: Cerf, 1976], 9-10)

The Novus Ordo is a valid Mass with valid sacraments just like a structure with four walls and a roof is a house. But the question is not whether the Novus Ordo is valid, but whether it preserves the heritage of the Roman Rite. The answer is unambiguously no. And this is not merely my opinion; none other than Paul VI called the Novus Ordo "the liturgical innovation of the new rite of the Mass." Pope Benedict's attempt to reframe the old and new rites as two "forms" of the same Mass was legal legerdemain conjured up in an attempt to regularize the historical anomaly of having two competing rites each claiming to be the Roman rite. But this sort of accomodation was rejected by the architect of the Novus Ordo, who unabashedly called it a "new rite." We, too, should imitate Paul VI in this regard. 


Unknown said...

It seems to me that any claim about the Novus and the Vetus Masses being the same rite rests on what makes a rite.
A question I've had for a while is how the Novus Mass ought to be compared to the Mass of other rites. With this structural view of rites, how is the Novus not just as much the Ambrosian, Dominican, Sarum, or even eastern rites?
We know the Vetus is not these other rites, but why?

Boniface said...


Good questions.

First, there are certain things all historic rites hold in common:

1) Organic,incremental development on the principle of tradition
2) Mystery; there is a certain opacity to the rite that speaks to its transcendent object
3) Elevated mode of speech (e.g., "high language")
4) Ritual stability (fully developed,fixed, articulated rites)
5) Denisty (substantial amount of dogamtic, moral, and mystical content)
6) Clerical preparation; prolonged and repeated preparation by the priest before the rite begins
7) Gospel integrity, meaning no "difficult" aspects of the Gospel message are omitted
8) Hierarchy, demonstrating clearly defined roles for the priest, deacon, subdeacon, acolytes, etc.
9) Parallelism, meaning different things happen simultaneously, often with clergy and laity on different "tracks"
10) Separation, physical separation of the sanctuary from the nave

These characteristics are shared by all historic rites of the East and West but are not found in the Novus Ordo, or at least they have been substantially weakened.

As to what sets the TLM apart specifically from other rites, what makes the histroic Roman rite itself:

1) The Roman Canon
2) Use of Latin
3) Gregorian chant
4) its Lectionary
5) its Calendar
6) its Offertory
7) the ad orientem stance
8) its specific parallelism
9) the separate Communion of the priest

The first six are specific to the Roman rite, while the latter three are found in all historic rites, but all nine of these taken together identify the Roman rite.