I do not often get to assist at a Holy Sacrifice of the Mass celebrated in the Extraordinary Form. The last time I was able to do so was on December 12, 2013, when I happened upon St. Jude Catholic Church in Pharr, Texas, and the Oratorians celebrated a beautiful one for the Solemnity of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Prior to that, the last time I assisted at the Mass in the Extraordinary Form was on January 29, 2011, at Our Lady of Walsingham Anglican-Use Parish's Lady Chapel. A dear friend of mine, an Oratorian, celebrated that Mass.
Even though my experiences with this form of the Roman Rite have been few and far between, I have sensed a profound sense of the divine and of the sacred the times that I have assisted at this liturgy. The beauty, the nobility and the ars celebrandi led me into a deeper, prayerful experience of the Mass, something that I have been trying to recapture when I have assisted at the Ordinary Form of the Mass.
I suspect that this sense of the divine is what is attracting faithful of all ages to the Extraordinary Form. Along with the fact that we are praying the same form of the Mass that our ancestors in the Faith prayed down through the centuries, there is that strong sense of continuity. There is that sense that we are praying as the complete Church: the Church Triumphant (the saints in heaven) and the Church Suffering (the souls in purgatory) join the Church Militant (those of us who remain on Earth), offering praise, worship and thanksgiving to God, while we make supplications to His Divine Majesty. It is not some mere feel-good experience where we celebrate the "community". We are focused on one thing as we turn towards the Lord.
When I read what Pope Francis said the Czech bishops about the Mass in the Extraordinary Form during their Ad Limina visit, his words left me scratching my head.
As reported by our friends at Rorate Caeli:
[Abp. Jan Graubner speaks:] When we were discussing those who are fond of the ancient liturgy and wish to return to it, it was evident that the Pope speaks with great affection, attention, and sensitivity for all in order not to hurt anyone. However, he made a quite strong statement when he said that he understands when the old generation returns to what it experienced, but that he cannot understand the younger generation wishing to return to it. "When I search more thoroughly - the Pope said - I find that it is rather a kind of fashion [in Czech: 'móda', Italian 'moda']. And if it is a fashion, therefore it is a matter that does not need that much attention. It is just necessary to show some patience and kindness to people who are addicted to a certain fashion. But I consider greatly important to go deep into things, because if we do not go deep, no liturgical form, this or that one, can save us."
Now, a dear priest friend of mine also seems to be at a loss as to why folks want to return to this Mass. I explained to him that maybe, like me, they are tired of a lot of the hootenanny that goes on in the Ordinary Form of the Mass. There is no "meet and greet" right before the Mass. There is a prayerful sense of reverence before the Mass and after the liturgy ends. I found that the Extraordinary Form of the Mass makes me focus on the liturgy, itself, helping me to enter deeper into the mystery by uniting myself in prayer with the celebrant. In both of my experiences, I saw, from the corner of my eye, the faithful following the prayers through their hand missals, seemingly intent on their focus of the sacred mysteries unfolding before them.
For me the Holy Father's words perplexed me. In his previous homilies, he talked about the importance of the sacred nature of the Mass. However, in these latest remarks, he does not seem to think that this applies to the Mass in the Extraordinary Form, and seems to consign it to a return to nostalgia.
This was certainly not the intent of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI when he issued Summorum Pontificum. As Benedict wrote in the accompanying letter to the Motu Propio:
As for the use of the 1962 Missal as a Forma extraordinaria of the liturgy of the Mass, I would like to draw attention to the fact that this Missal was never juridically abrogated and, consequently, in principle, was always permitted. At the time of the introduction of the new Missal, it did not seem necessary to issue specific norms for the possible use of the earlier Missal. Probably it was thought that it would be a matter of a few individual cases which would be resolved, case by case, on the local level. Afterwards, however, it soon became apparent that a good number of people remained strongly attached to this usage of the Roman Rite, which had been familiar to them from childhood. This was especially the case in countries where the liturgical movement had provided many people with a notable liturgical formation and a deep, personal familiarity with the earlier Form of the liturgical celebration. We all know that, in the movement led by Archbishop Lefebvre, fidelity to the old Missal became an external mark of identity; the reasons for the break which arose over this, however, were at a deeper level. Many people who clearly accepted the binding character of the Second Vatican Council, and were faithful to the Pope and the Bishops, nonetheless also desired to recover the form of the sacred liturgy that was dear to them. This occurred above all because in many places celebrations were not faithful to the prescriptions of the new Missal, but the latter actually was understood as authorizing or even requiring creativity, which frequently led to deformations of the liturgy which were hard to bear. I am speaking from experience, since I too lived through that period with all its hopes and its confusion. And I have seen how arbitrary deformations of the liturgy caused deep pain to individuals totally rooted in the faith of the Church.
Pope John Paul II thus felt obliged to provide, in his Motu Proprio Ecclesia Dei (2 July 1988), guidelines for the use of the 1962 Missal; that document, however, did not contain detailed prescriptions but appealed in a general way to the generous response of Bishops towards the “legitimate aspirations” of those members of the faithful who requested this usage of the Roman Rite. At the time, the Pope primarily wanted to assist the Society of Saint Pius X to recover full unity with the Successor of Peter, and sought to heal a wound experienced ever more painfully. Unfortunately this reconciliation has not yet come about. Nonetheless, a number of communities have gratefully made use of the possibilities provided by the Motu Proprio. On the other hand, difficulties remain concerning the use of the 1962 Missal outside of these groups, because of the lack of precise juridical norms, particularly because Bishops, in such cases, frequently feared that the authority of the Council would be called into question. Immediately after the Second Vatican Council it was presumed that requests for the use of the 1962 Missal would be limited to the older generation which had grown up with it, but in the meantime 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. Thus the need has arisen for a clearer juridical regulation which had not been foreseen at the time of the 1988 Motu Proprio. The present Norms are also meant to free Bishops from constantly having to evaluate anew how they are to respond to various situations.
In the second place, the fear was expressed in discussions about the awaited Motu Proprio, that the possibility of a wider use of the 1962 Missal would lead to disarray or even divisions within parish communities. This fear also strikes me as quite unfounded. The use of the old Missal presupposes a certain degree of liturgical formation and some knowledge of the Latin language; neither of these is found very often. Already from these concrete presuppositions, it is clearly seen that the new Missal will certainly remain the ordinary Form of the Roman Rite, not only on account of the juridical norms, but also because of the actual situation of the communities of the faithful.
It is true that there have been exaggerations and at times social aspects unduly linked to the attitude of the faithful attached to the ancient Latin liturgical tradition. Your charity and pastoral prudence will be an incentive and guide for improving these. For that matter, the two Forms of the usage of the Roman Rite can be mutually enriching: new Saints and some of the new Prefaces can and should be inserted in the old Missal. The “Ecclesia Dei” Commission, in contact with various bodies devoted to the usus antiquior, will study the practical possibilities in this regard. The celebration of the Mass according to the Missal of Paul VI will be able to demonstrate, more powerfully than has been the case hitherto, the sacrality which attracts many people to the former usage. The most sure guarantee that the Missal of Paul VI can unite parish communities and be loved by them consists in its being celebrated with great reverence in harmony with the liturgical directives. This will bring out the spiritual richness and the theological depth of this Missal.
I now come to the positive reason which motivated my decision to issue this Motu Proprio updating that of 1988. It is a matter of coming to an interior reconciliation in the heart of the Church. Looking back over the past, to the divisions which in the course of the centuries have rent the Body of Christ, one continually has the impression that, at critical moments when divisions were coming about, not enough was done by the Church’s leaders to maintain or regain reconciliation and unity. One has the impression that omissions on the part of the Church have had their share of blame for the fact that these divisions were able to harden. This glance at the past imposes an obligation on us today: to make every effort to enable for all those who truly desire unity to remain in that unity or to attain it anew. I think of a sentence in the Second Letter to the Corinthians, where Paul writes: “Our mouth is open to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. In return … widen your hearts also!” (2 Cor 6:11-13). Paul was certainly speaking in another context, but his exhortation can and must touch us too, precisely on this subject. Let us generously open our hearts and make room for everything that the faith itself allows.
There is no contradiction between the two editions of the Roman Missal. In the history of the liturgy there is growth and progress, but no rupture. What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful. It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place. Needless to say, in order to experience full communion, the priests of the communities adhering to the former usage cannot, as a matter of principle, exclude celebrating according to the new books. The total exclusion of the new rite would not in fact be consistent with the recognition of its value and holiness.
As the Pope Emeritus wrote, there is certainly room for mutual enrichment. He was certainly the embodiment of that in the manner he publicly celebrated the Ordinary Form of the Mass when he was Pope. To a certain degree, Pope Francis seems to be carrying that on, even though the vestments may not seem as majestic. Nonetheless, with all due respect to the Holy Father, it seems to me that this is a mischaracterization and a misunderstanding of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. The Extraordinary Form is neither fashionable nor nostalgic; it is a timeless expression of the Church's highest form of prayer. I am grateful to Pope Emeritus Benedict and the Oratorians for exposing me to this beautiful form of the Mass.