Why I’m not a fan of the ‘Usus Antiquior’

elevationoftheeucharist_ql2xIt invites division.

I say this as someone who has long been very sympathetic to the “reform of the reform” movement.  I’ve studied the books by Ratzinger and Crouan, Gamber and NicholsLang and Reid.  Most of those authors’ books are on my bookshelf, marked up with my highlighter marker.  I stop by the NLM blog almost daily, WDTPRS less often but occasionally.  I interviewed Alcuin Reid for an article marking the hundredth anniversary of the birth of the liturgical movement that will be published soon in Our Sunday Visitor, because I thought his viewpoint would be a worthwhile one (I was right).  I get the criticisms.

I just don’t think the introduction of the 1962 rite as the “usus antiquior,” available for broad use, is the answer.  I think the division mentioned here will grow.  Most people are not liturgical scholars who can understand and articulate all of the fine distinctions and nuances of the relationship between the “old use” and the “new use.”  They’ll see the separation, and sense that a choice for the old is a choice against the new. 

“But,” I can imagine the objection, “the history of the Church is full of the use of various rites in various times and places.  Many rites are in use around the world today.  Are you suggesting that the very existence of all of them ‘invites division’?” 

No.  Those cases are all different.  As far as I know, the situation that we find ourselves in now, with Summorum Pontificum (so why, by the way, is this not available on the Vatican website in English? am I missing something?), is a rather unique one — two specific “uses” approved for use by people of the same rite.  I know there have been other “uses,” but as I understand it (and admittedly, I’m no expert) these were local variations of the Roman rite that developed during the Middle Ages.  Two uses were never used side by side in the same locality. 

Another (pseudo-) objection I imagine being raised: “Oh, well, there’s no division now is there?  What with all the anger and resentment by those who long for a return to the Eucharist celebrated with dignity and splendor, and the utter goofiness that is tolerated and promoted in so many parishes and dioceses.  What could possibly be worse than what we have now?”

And my answer to that is, if my wife and I are having major problems, the answer is not to buy a set of two double beds.  No, we need to work on it, talk about it, even if that’s hard and takes a while.

I think it would have been a better idea for Pope Benedict to focus on reforming the way we all celebrate Mass.  That might have simply meant continuing to form the Catholic people, particularly priests, to celebrate the liturgy with respect, reverence, dignity, awe, etc., and to reject abuses and irreverence.  This has been the approach up to now.  I think it’s fair to say it was John Paul II’s approach (traditionalists insert snide comment here about indigenous dances at papal masses).  Many have noted that this was working, and in my opinion, quite well.  Much of the goofiness that was commonplace 25 years ago is still around, but more on the fringes, and in my view, destined to go the way of the dinosaurs.  I mean, have you met any seminarians lately?  These guys are duro — often moreso than I’m comfortable with, but let me tell you, Piero Marini they ain’t. 

He might also have gone so far as to introduce significant changes that he sees fit, perhaps reversing some of the innovations that were introduced following the Council.  Back to Latin?  Altars facing east?  One Eucharistic prayer rather than 13?  He’s the Pope, after all, he could do it. 

I think any of that would be better than what we have, which amounts to the beginnings of division into two camps.  The best that we can hope for, in my opinion, is that one camp will remain small, but that its existence will be salt in the leaven of liturgical reform in the Roman rite as it’s celebrated by the rest of us.  In that regard, I wish the usus antiquior movement well; I hope it makes a big splash in the wider Church.  I just think that splash could have been brought on in ways other than the Summorum Pontificum approach.

I should note, credit is due in some of these thoughts to the work of John Baldovin, whose book Reforming the Liturgy is helpful and interesting.  He also has a good article, “Reflections on Summorum Pontificum,” in the March 2009 issue of Worship.

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