Rorate Caeli

Extraordinary and Ordinary: The Expected and the Unexpected

Father Richard G. Cipolla

The unexpected is often not the norm in the practice of the Catholic faith.  One of the great strengths and evidence of the truth of the Catholic faith is its "ordinariness".  The Catholic faith lives and sustains its people in everyday life in "ordinary" ways:  by prayers, often memorized, by assisting at Mass, by doing one's best to obey the precepts of the Church and living a life that is "ordinarily" Catholic.  But the extraordinary is also an important part of the Catholic faith and the experience of that faith.  The lives of the Saints in their details are obvious examples of the extraordinary that breaks through the ordinary of the practice of Catholic life.

But there are times when the extraordinary breaks through even for those of us who are not saints, at times that we do not expect this, and almost in spite of ourselves and our preoccupations.  Last Saturday, as I entered the sacristy to celebrate the Traditional Mass, I assumed that we would be using the Missa Brevior, the shorter form of the Mass for Ember Saturday in the Octave of Pentecost.  I assumed this because we were not ordaining priests on this day, which  was the traditional day for ordinations, nor was this a "conventual Mass" in the strict sense.  I was informed that we were using the  "ordinary" from of this Mass with its several Old Testament readings, its several collects, its several Alleluias.  My first instinct--and this shows how deep the corruption of the meaning of the Liturgy truly is even among those who profess to love the Tradition--was to question whether this was good "pastorally" for our people assembled for this Mass.  There was no question that I personally preferred the "ordinary" form of this Mass, as long as it was.  But I did not trust that the people could "take this", the number of readings, the Alleuias, the length of the Mass.  But I agreed that we would offer this Sung Mass in the "ordinary" form of the "extraordinary form" , despite having only one server (very faithful) for this Mass.

Two things happened.  The first concerns me personally.  As I sang the Mass, I was astounded at its beauty:  the Old Testament readings:  the repetition of the prophet Joel's "dreaming dreams", the readings from the books of the Law about the festival of the "first fruits" fifty days after Passover, and the role of the priest in this offering of thanksgiving; the deep theme of thanksgiving for the goodness of God and his favor to his people; then the marvelous reading from Daniel about the miracle of the fiery furnace, the reaching down of God to save his people in what looks to be a hopeless situation; the Epistle from Romans: that Peace that is the fruit of being justified by faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior; the Gospel:  the healing of Peter's mother-in-law, itself a sign of the reality of the person of Jesus Christ. But then the point of the gospel:  the crowds want more, but Jesus retires and tells them that he has a mission to preach the kingdom of God to other towns and other places.  And each reading preceded by a prayer to God that the Holy Spirit will be a reality in the Church and among her people, and a brief but beautiful and powerful Alleluia after each reading pushing us along in this wonderful contemplation of the meaning of Pentecost.  By the time of the reading of Daniel, my heart was deeply touched, and I realized not only how foolish I had been in worrying over the long "ordinary form". But I also realized once again, as I have in so many moments in my priesthood, not only how much we have lost in the brutal Bugnini butchering of the rite of the Mass, but also the tragedy of the failure of nerve, failure of courage of the original Liturgical Movement.

While I was taking off my vestments in the sacristy after that Mass, a woman asked to see me and waited outside the door.  I was still deep in thought about what I had experienced at the Mass, when she entered to speak to me.  She is a real woman of the Church, at home in both forms of the Roman Rite, who actually attends more Novus Ordo Masses than Traditional Masses.  This is what she said: "Father, I had to tell you this.  That Mass was so beautiful that it made me cry."  And she left me standing there, as I thanked God for this unexpected confirmation of what I had experienced and what I have been given to know.

The original purpose of the Liturgical Movement of the 19th and 20th century was to educate--in the best sense of this word--Catholics in the meaning and richness of the Liturgy as given.  It was to open up to the Catholic faithful the riches of the Liturgy, which had been obscured by legalism and "rote-ism".  And at the very time that the Catholic faithful in so many parts of the Western world were taking their places among those best educated, those with jobs with great responsibility, when even public office at the highest levels became possible for Catholics:  those in charge lost their nerve, and rather than taking on the heavy but do-able task of educating both priests and laity in the glory of the Catholic Liturgy, they decided to take the much easier, and shallower, path of inventing a new Liturgy that would require no education at all, that would require no effort on the part of the priests and laity at all.  What they did in the name of aggiornamento was to lock the liturgical rites of the Church in the 1960s, and that is what we are burdened with now.  It is notable that the theatrical performances of "Hair" scheduled to open in San Francisco just recently had to be canceled for lack of interest.  Only those in their 60s and 70s have any interest in that peculiar and yet deeply anti-Traditional wind that swept through the Western world at the time of the Second Vatican Council.

Saying this does not trash the Second Vatican Council nor the Novus Ordo Mass that is a product of a particular time and place. That the Novus Ordo Mass is the "ordinary form" of the Mass that the overwhelming majority of Catholics experience every Sunday cannot call into question the validity of that Mass or the reception of grace in Holy Communion.  God can do all sorts of "extraordinary" things.  He is not limited in any way.  But we are in a situation in which most of the Church, and this includes Popes, bishops, priests, as well as laity, have no idea what we have lost.  Pope Francis gave an adress recently deploring the "loss of memory" of Europe, the loss of memory of their culture based upon the Christian faith.  But surely, this loss of memory cannot be separated from the deliberate evacuation of that deep and intrinsic source and place of memory that is the Traditional Roman Mass.

[Image source: FSSP - Wigratzbad seminary, visit to Ottobeuren Abbey]