Rorate Caeli

On Submission to Forms: On the Putative Equality of the “Two Forms” of the Roman Rite

Rorate is pleased to publish this guest article by a senior at a Catholic college.

On Submission to Forms: On the Putative Equality of the “Two Forms” of the Roman Rite

Anthony Jones

In recent days, both Bishop Strickland and Bishop Barron have seen fit to address the Liturgical Question, namely, the uneasy coexistence of “Ordinary” and “Extraordinary” forms of the Roman rite. Bishop Strickland praises the traditional Mass, which he learned in order to offer it for the first time on the feast of Corpus Christi, while Bishop Barron seems to say “it’s fine if you like it, but let’s remember that John Paul II and Mother Teresa got holy from the Novus Ordo”—as if to say, it’s not a big deal, like a preference for chocolate over vanilla ice cream.

The letter Pope Benedict XVI addressed to all the bishops of the world in conjunction with the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum—it is sometimes called Con Grande Fiducia—appears to have the following thesis: “There is no contradiction between the two editions of the Roman Missal...the two Forms of the usage of the Roman Rite can be mutually enriching.”

When I first read Summorum Pontificum some years ago, I was attracted by the accommodating spirit of equality in which it was written. In my mind, the motu proprio lifted the traditional Latin Mass out of obscure irrelevancy and placed it on an equal liturgical footing with the Novus Ordo. Since at the time I was unfamiliar with the former, this statement of equality made me feel like I had been granted permission to explore what most of the older parishioners at my home parish thought should be left in the past. My subsequent experience with the TLM caused my thinking to develop, and reading Alexis de Tocqueville clinched certain points for me.

At the start of Volume II of Democracy in America, Tocqueville reflects on the religious impulses of the Americans. He notes that democracy enflames a people with a leveling force that does not stop at social classes or political leaders. Rather, it applies itself to religion as well. In some ways, Christianity is particularly suited to this principle of equality, since Galatians 3:28 expresses that “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” For the ambitious man of modern enlightenment, however, this principle must be applied to every aspect of the Christian life, especially its pinnacle: the liturgy.

Consider this quotation from Tocqueville depicting the democratic man’s disenchantment with sacraments:

Men who live in these times suffer [representational] figures with impatience; symbols appear to them to be puerile artifices that are used to veil or adorn for their eyes truths it would be more natural to show to them altogether naked and in broad daylight; the sight of ceremonies leaves them cold, and they are naturally brought to attach only a secondary importance to the details of worship. (421)

What a sad description, yet how accurately it applies to so many malformed Catholics today—and, from what I’ve gleaned, to the postconciliar reformers as well. In sum, Tocqueville writes, “Nothing revolts the human mind more in times of equality than the idea of submitting to forms” (421).

Unfortunately, this sentiment has not retreated since it was penned. Instead, it has infiltrated the highest echelons of the Catholic Church. Does it not come to mind while rereading the letter by Benedict XVI to his brother bishops? A “twofold use of one and the same rite” is a concept altogether novel in the history of the Church. It is the language of political diplomacy: it attempts to placate both camps of the liturgical divide by raising white flags on behalf of both. With Tocqueville, we may say that it is a refusal to submit to forms, or more precisely, any particular form. In the spirit of the Motu Proprio, forms are like men: all are created equal. The Pope tries to reinforce this hermeneutic of absolute equality by insisting: “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.” Indeed, this is how the liturgy is meant to proceed, with the same organic development enjoyed by theology—yet it is impossible to recognize this claim in the actual proceedings and results of the Consilium.

Two Forms
As many are discovering each passing year, a deeper experience and study of the classical Roman rite in comparison with the Novus Ordo challenge Benedict’s claim, pointing toward contradiction and rupture hidden under the guise of growth and progress. In his article “The Byzantine Liturgy, the Traditional Latin Mass, and the Novus Ordo—Two Brothers and a Stranger,” Dr. Kwasniewski summarizes ten areas of rupture between the Novus Ordo on the one hand and the traditional Latin Mass and Byzantine Divine Liturgy on the other, which bear such striking resemblances in their adherence to tradition. As far as Benedict’s claim of continuity between the two forms of the Latin Rite, I quote the following passage from the article:

If someone objects at this point that the Novus Ordo can be celebrated in a way that is “in continuity” with the preceding Roman tradition (and therefore in a manner not dissimilar to the Divine Liturgy), my response is simple. Several of the ten principles summarized above are not embodied at all by the Novus Ordo—and this by design; while the remaining principles might be acted on—or then again, they might not, depending on who the “presider” is. In short, they are possible but not necessary. This fact, in and of itself, already demonstrates the profoundly anti-traditional character of the Novus Ordo, which depends for its very coherence with tradition on the free decisions of its celebrant, rather than relying on adherence to a fixed rule. Thus, the Novus Ordo could be offered in a quasi-traditional way, whereas the Byzantine and Tridentine liturgies must be offered in a traditional way—there is no choice in the matter.
          In that one difference alone, we can see the almost infinite gap that separates the modern Roman Rite from any historic rite of Christianity, Eastern or Western. Its lack of doctrinal, moral, rubrical, and ceremonial density, its modular-linear-rationalist structure, and its “optionitis” separate it in essence from the sphere of sacred culture that the Roman usus antiquior and the Byzantine Divine Liturgy inhabit in common. One might adapt to this situation the words of Abraham in the parable of Dives and Lazarus: “Between us and you, there is fixed a great chasm, so that they who would pass from hence to you, cannot, nor from thence come hither” (Lk 16:26).
          …To return to the beginning: Byzantine Catholics who love their own liturgical tradition will do well to expose themselves to the Western liturgical tradition as preserved and handed down in the usus antiquior, and—precisely out of love for what is common to East and West—to avoid the neo-Roman liturgy, with its mingling of inconsistent antiquarianism and modern novelties, its cognitive dissonance and rupture with Christian tradition. It is nothing less than a counter-sign to both the Greek and Latin traditions, contradicting age-old dogmatic and moral truths that the liturgy has always shown forth and inculcated in the faithful. Roman and Byzantine Catholics know themselves to be safe, in good hands, when attending one another’s authentic rites; but neither can feel safe attending the Novus Ordo.

This is a sweeping repudiation of the notion of equality between the forms. The article itself expounds on the repudiation by providing examples. Dr. Kwasniewski’s lecture “Beyond ‘Smells and Bells’: Why We Need the Objective Content of the Usus Antiquior” carries this analysis further.

Another phrase in Benedict’s letter stood out to me. He says, “the two Forms of the usage of the Roman Rite can be mutually enriching.” This, too, is a statement that flows from the spirit of equality, since equal things can benefit each other without one feeling encroached upon by the superiority of the other. It reminds me of Pope John Paul II’s insistence that “the Church must breathe with her two lungs,” referring specifically to the Churches of the East and West. Summorum Pontificum, in any case, is not dealing with two lungs. The double form of the Roman rite is more like a biological anomaly of two left lungs vying for liturgical normativity where there should naturally be only one. In another article asking, “Where Can “Mutual Enrichment” Really Take Us?,” Dr. Kwasnieski answers:

Pope Benedict XVI arranged that the Novus Ordo and the usus antiquior should co-exist in order that “mutual enrichment” might occur—presumably a sort of cross-pollination of the one by the other. If one looks at Ratzinger’s papal example and reads his works, and if one looks to such figures as Cardinal Ranjith, Cardinal Canizares, Cardinal Burke, and now Cardinal Sarah, it seems that 90% of the enrichment will go in one direction, namely, from the usus antiquior to the Novus Ordo, since the former possesses great riches of which the latter stands in desperate need. It is like St. Martin of Tours cutting off a piece of his ample cloak to cover a naked shivering beggar. As for the 10% where the older form could learn from the younger one, we may safely say it concerns just the sort of things that would have happened slowly, were it not for the bungling of a certain committee.
          All this being the case, the result is plain: while the Novus Ordo and the usus antiquior are currently co-existing, they are a challenge to one another, and they could not not be. If the Novus Ordo world does not learn to assimilate the lessons that the usus antiquior can teach it, we are on a crash course to Armageddon. Either the philosophy of Summorum Pontificum will bridge the enormous abyss between the two forms by bringing the modern Roman Rite into a more obvious harmony with the preceding liturgical heritage, or we will see over time a dramatic intensification of our internecine conflicts. I say this not in a pessimistic spirit but as one who believes that having two supposedly equal forms of the same rite is a recipe for radical instability UNLESS there can be a genuine and profound rapprochement between these forms.

From what I can tell, Dr. Kwasniewski would not express himself this way anymore, since he has rejected the notion of a “reform of the reform.” Perhaps he has seen the necessity of that quality Tocqueville identified as the characteristic mark of Catholicism, which he believed would draw the democratic man toward Rome:

Equality disposes men to want to judge for themselves; but on the other hand, it gives them the taste for and idea of a single social power that is simple and the same for all... Several of the doctrines and usages of the Roman Church astonish them; but they feel a secret admiration for its government, and its great unity attracts them. (424, emphasis added)

Summorum Pontificum is a step toward reclaiming that unity in its highest manifestation by inviting the Faithful to follow the example of a growing contingent of “young persons” who seek unity in the traditional Latin Mass, who “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”—an observation of Pope Benedict’s that the past 13 years have increasingly verified.

For his courage in acknowledging the perennial value of an unbroken liturgical tradition, this pope deserves our thanks. At the same time, we must guard against the liturgical division it perpetuates by its language of diplomatic equality. Though distressing, Benedict XVI’s attempt to deny real contradiction between the forms exemplifies an understandable but erroneous grasping for a unity understood as pluralistic coexistence and for a peace understood as absence of conflict rather than tranquility of order. As Tocqueville perceived:

It is one of the most familiar weaknesses of the human intellect to want to reconcile contrary principles and to buy peace at the expense of logic. (425)

May Our Lady lead us on a path toward true unity and peace by steeping us in the richness of liturgical tradition—not simply by offering a momentary “glance at the past,” but by fixing our gaze on the timeless One at the center of all worship and tradition, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (Rev 1:8).