Setting the traditional rite of the Mass in the context of the Church today
THE CEREMONIES OF THE ROMAN RITE DESCRIBED
by Adrian Fortescue, J.B. O'Connell & Alcuin Reid OSB
(Revised Edition, 2003, St Michael's Abbey Press, 493pp, hardback, $75.00 Available from AD Books)
Reviewing "Fortescue-O'Connell" is almost like being asked to evaluate the Bible, such is the status of this most authoritative liturgical manual for celebrating the pre-conciliar liturgy. Dom Alcuin Reid of St Michael's Abbey, Farnborough, is to be thanked for his painstaking work in producing the most recent of the 14 editions that have appeared since 1917. Having just prepared a new edition of my own guide to the ceremonies of the Post-Vatican II Rite, I can empathise with the problems anyone encounters in undertaking this kind of technical work.
What Dom Alcuin has achieved is first of all making available an accurate guide for those who use the indult of Pope John Paul II to celebrate Mass according to the last edition of the pre-Vatican II Missale Romanum, authorised in 1962 by Blessed John XXIII.
But this Australian editor has achieved something more. He has set the old rubrics and laws in the framework of the current Code of Canon Law (1983). The result is much common sense that rises above a traditionalist fantasy world always gazing into the past. This book sets the traditional rite in the context of the Church of today, affirming that the old rite can be a living liturgy, not some resuscitated museum piece.
Nevertheless, I confess to remaining unconverted by the traditional rite. I find its complexity quite daunting, even if it emerged from the Middle Ages reformed and standardised by St Pius V in 1570. While it may be less organic, the provisions and possibilities of the post-Vatican II reform still make more sense to me in a parish context.
But anyone who reads this classical guide should come to understand why some Catholics are so attached to a noble form of the Mass. After all, this was the rite that prompted Cardinal Newman to remark that the Mass was the closest thing to heaven on earth. The challenge to us all today is to celebrate every Catholic liturgy, Western or Eastern, with such a sense of the wondrous and divine mystery of the altar.
Monsignor Peter J. Elliott EV is parish priest of East Malvern and Episcopal Vicar for Religious Education, Melbourne Archdiocese.