Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Liturgy Reflections
Celebating the old Latin Mass

by Father Jan Larson

(From the Oct. 4, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)

Father Jan Larson The pope has assured the bishops that allowing freedom to celebrate the old Latin Mass in no way diminishes the intent of Vatican II. I believe one can make a good argument that this is simply not so.

All church laws, including this new law regarding the Latin Mass, must be interpreted in light of the teachings of Vatican II. Regarding liturgical law, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy is fundamental and foundational in shaping future liturgical law, and interpreting liturgical law. And a fundamental principle in the Constitution is that any liturgical renewal is to be undertaken with the “full, conscious and active participation” of the assembly as the primary consideration.

Celebrating the Mass in an unintelligible language and with actions and gestures that cannot be comprehended directly violates the principle that full and conscious participation in the liturgy is the goal that is to be pursued before all else. Thus I think one can legitimately argue that the pope is violating the intent of Vatican II liturgical principles, even though he may be doing so for what are understandable pastoral reasons.

I, for one, would never lead this former Latin liturgy. First of all, even though I studied Latin for six years, I would not understand what I was praying. My conscience would not allow me to lead the assembly in prayer that no one could comprehend without the help of guidebooks or missalettes in English (for example, find a priest – or anyone else – who understands the prayer in today’s liturgy that says, “Refectione sancta enutritam guberna...”). Secondly, I would firmly believe I was violating the key principle of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy by deliberately impeding the full and conscious participation of the assembly, rather than encouraging and fostering their participation.

In the same breath in which the pope gives priests authority to decide to celebrate the old Latin Mass, he assures the bishops that their authority over liturgical matters is in no way lessened: “In conclusion, dear brothers, I very much wish to stress that these new norms do not in any way lessen your own authority and responsibility, either for the liturgy or for the pastoral care of your faithful... Nothing is taken away, then, from the authority of the bishop, whose role remains that of being watchful that all is done in peace and serenity...”

This is indeed a mystery. Currently the bishop is the one who determines if and when the Latin Mass may be celebrated. As of September, the pope removes the bishop’s authority, and leaves the decision in the hands of priests. And this does not lessen the bishop’s authority?

(Father Larson is a priest of and liturgical consultant for the Archdiocese of Seattle.)

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