SACRED THEN AND SACRED NOW: The Return of the Old Latin Mass
by Thomas E. Woods Jr
(Roman Catholic Books, 2008, 123pp, $38.00. Available from Freedom Publishing)
A recently published book by Thomas E. Woods Jr, Sacred Then and Sacred Now, with the sub-title The Return of The Old Latin Mass, is timely given the release in 2007 of Benedict XVI's Apostolic Letter, Summorum Pontificum, authorising unrestricted use of the Roman liturgy as it was celebrated prior to the changes that followed Vatican II.
Woods examines differences between what Benedict called the Ordinary form of the Roman Rite (Novus Ordo) and the Extraordinary form (Missal of 1962) and considers some of the issues that have arisen in regard to the Old Latin Mass.
Among other things, the author refers to the excessive so-called creativity that has taken place in the Novus Ordo over the years since Vatican II. This has led to the striking differences that one experiences when attending Masses in various parishes. Such creativity has also contributed to all kinds of de-sacralisation, including 'clown' Masses, the removal of statues and the destruction of high altars.
The Old Latin Mass does not allow for such 'creativity,' and a further difference is that Holy Communion is always received kneeling and on the tongue (although these practices were not ended by Vatican II).
Before he became Pope, Benedict XVI wrote: 'The man who learns to believe learns also to kneel, and a faith or a liturgy no longer familiar with kneeling would be sick at the core.'
As for Communion on the tongue, when Bishop Juan Rodolfo Laise of San Luis, Argentina, forbade Communion in the hand, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith informed him that he had acted in conformity with the law by maintaining the 'immutable tradition of distributing Holy Communion in the mouth.'
The common objections to the traditional form of the Roman Rite that the author addresses are:
1. Mass in Latin is difficult to understand;
2. no one understood the Mass in the old days;
3. the old Mass prevents the active participation of the laity; and
4. in the old Mass the priest turns his back on the people.
In reply, Woods points to the fact that the faithful, before Vatican II, frequently used Latin-English Missals, contradicting the first three objections. The use of Missals can and should be encouraged today with the Novus Ordo Mass.
In addition, active participation (No. 3 above) must be understood as primarily internal. This applies also to the Novus Ordo. The Latin word used by the Second Vatican Council is 'actuosa', not 'activa.' Perhaps a more accurate translation would be 'actual' rather than 'active.'
As for objection No. 4, it is not a matter of the priest turning his back on the congregation, but rather his leading them in prayer with himself and the people facing the Lord together. This, in fact, is a very ancient custom: it became the practice in the early Church when both priest and people faced 'ad orientem' (literally 'towards the east').
A further objection one often hears is the mistaken claim that the Old Mass was first introduced in the 16th century by the Council of Trent. On the contrary, it can be traced back, in its essentials, to the time of Pope St Gregory the Great (died 604).
There is much else in Sacred Then and Sacred Now that counters the many errors and misunderstandings that have arisen over the different forms of the Roman Rite of Mass. q
Fr Martin Durham is a retired priest of the Diocese of Rockhampton, Queensland.