Friday, February 28, 2020

An "Elegant" Mass

In 1965, Catholic author Evelyn Waugh was troubled by the new developments that he saw occurring in the Catholic Church as a result of the Second Vatican Council (both those that were supposed to occur, and those that were not [the latter of which, were many]). In a published letter he made an interesting comment:
"The Anglicans have an elegant and comprehensible form of service. All they lack is valid orders to make it preferable. If a completely English Mass is desired the first book of Edward VI with very few amendments, would be satisfactory. Instead we have a jumble of Greek, Latin and uncouth English."
"Uncouth English" is correct. The Novus Ordo (even the current third edition) is not what any English scholar would consider "elegant". Sometimes the wording in the Novus Ordo is so convoluted that it is hard to understand what it is talking about (which the exact opposite of what the translators intended).

What if that which Waugh suggested had actually occurred in the late 60's? What would the Catholic Church look like today? We can only speculate, but what he thought would be a good idea way back then, is precisely what has occurred in the Divine Worship Mass today. His words are almost prophetic.

Imagine with me for just a moment what the Catholic Church would have become if the vernacular form of the Mass had gone in that direction. In one sense, there would never have been a need for the Ordinariates. Anglicans who converted and became Catholic would have seen many of their traditions upheld and it is likely the case that many more would have "swam the Tiber" much earlier (!).

Think of the many catechetical errors that occurred over the last 50 years; would many (if not all) of them have been forestalled? All the liberal mumbo-jumbo-tinkering with the Mass that has happened would probably not ever have occurred. Priests would still be saying Mass ad orientem and it would thus be rare for them to try to get the people to focus on them personally (because they would be far less tempted to think the whole thing is about them). Most important of all, there would be few, if any, who would tout the idea that Vatican II was a "break with the past".

Yes, much of this post is along the lines of "probably" ideas, and "likely" statements, with very little that is definite. We cannot but guess at what could have happened. Of course, we live in this present world (the one that our Lord chose for us to live in), and not in the world of fantasy and speculation. Thus, we are only able to deal with what is real; but we can learn from the speculations of what might have been; even Jesus spoke of the "what if?" factor (cf. Matthew 11:20-24, et. al.).

Our Lord's intent with explaining the hypothetical "what if" factor appears to have been to spur His listeners on to penitence and greater faithfulness. Hence, for us to consider the hypothetical situation of a different form of the Novus Ordo being given after Vatican II, should motivate us to have a greater appreciation for what we have been given. In other words, the opportunity was missed 50 years ago, and yet our Lord apparently still wanted us to have an "elegant and comprehensible" form of the Mass, for that is what we have now in the Divine Worship Mass.

As someone who almost majored in English in college (just a couple classes shy), I have a passion for well spoken language. The "old English" that appears in the Divine Worship form of the Mass is quite elegant, and perfectly understandable. There is something significant about having the words of the Mass be in a form that we do not currently use for common speech. It takes the Mass to a level that is distinct from what is used on a daily basis and lifts it above--exactly what is possible in the Traditional Latin Mass (sadly, however, many who attend it do not understand it at all, so it is "elegant" but not always "comprehensible"!).

We who attend the Divine Worship Mass regularly (whether members of the Ordinariate or not) have a great treasure that is unlike anything the Church ever experienced before. Let us be thankful for what has been given to us and never doubt that God's timing is better than ours. For those who have never experienced the Divine Worship Mass, I encourage you to do so. As Evelyn Waugh acknowledged, it is truly "elegant".