The date of July 7th, 2007 will be remembered with gratitude by all those who treasure the Traditional Mass. Not only is it likely that the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum will bring back into the fold many who have been rightly distressed and grieved by the shocking abuses which have taken place in the Sacred Liturgy since Vatican II (e.g. "Halloween" Masses), but also because it contains treasures of spirituality which have been buried. In spite of the fact that the "Tridentine" Mass never was, and could not be abrogated, some bishops, in the early 1970s, declared that those attending the "old" Mass on Sunday were not fulfilling their Sunday obligation.
When in January 1980, I had the priviledge of having a private audience with John Paul II, I drew this fact to his attention, and mentioned that, shortly before his death, my husband said to me, "I believe that to prohibit a holy traidition is morally illegitimate." John Paul was silent for a moment and then said, "Your husband is definitely one of the very great ethical thinkers of the twentieth century." Later, the Holy Father granted an indult to priests wishing to celebrate in the "old" rite, but permission had to be obtained from the local bishop. In spite of the pope's explicit request that bishops be "generous" in granting this request, many of them were deaf to his plea. Nevertheless, the sacred Tridentine Mass refused to die.
Cardinal Ratzinger, whose magnificent book on the liturgy, testifies to his profound understanding of its importance for man's religious life, clearly indicated that he regretted some of the changes that had taken place since 1969, many of which could not claim to be requested by Vatican II.
As head of the Congregation of the Faith, Cardinal Ratzinger became aware that the de facto prohibition of the "Tridentine" Mass had nefarious effects. When I was once again granted the incredible privilege of having a private audience iwth another pope, Benedict XVI, I repeated to him what I had said to John Paul II twenty seven years earlier. He told me that the Motu Proprio would be released in May 2007. (Apparently problems of translation delayed somewhat this ardently awaited proclamation.)
His Holiness was clearly aware that the legitimate wishes of innumerable faithful had been totally disregarded. He also knew that the congregations faithful to the "old" rite were flourishing, whereas many religious orders and seminaries had great difficulties recruiting young men for the priesthood.
Let us mention one parish whose story deserves to be told. In the early nineties, Saint John Cantius in Chicago was a moribund parish; at best, some fifty parishioners showed up for Mass on Sundays. Clearly it seemed to be doomed. But one dedicated priest, Father Frank Phillips, offered to take charge of it. He first introduced the Novus Ordo in Latin, the traditional language of the Church. Then he re-introduced the traditional Mass. Almost miraculously, more and more parishioners attended Mass on Sundays. A couple of times, I was privileged to go to Saint John Cantius on a Sunday. There is a low Tridentine Mass at 7 AM, then 12 PM. To my joy I witnessed that the Church was packed with young couples with children. The Parish of Saint John Cantius has literally "risen from the dead." The Institute of Christ the King is enjoying a similar success; it now has a house in Africa, several in Europe, and six in the United States, with more int he wings. More and more young men are responding to a call to the priesthood. The [Priestly] Fraternity of Saint Peter also deserves to be mentioned.
The Tridentine Mass is uniquely God-centered and is a perfect formulation of our faith: lex orandi, lex credendi. It is bathed in sacredness and
young people long for it.
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The question is: why is the "old" Mass attracting so many young people who are definitely not suffering from what some bishops call "a sentimental attachment to the past"? May I venture to answer? What is attracting them is that the Tridentine Mass is uniquely God-centered and is a perfect formulation of our faith: lex orandi, lex credendi. It is bathed in sacredness and young people long for it; they have been deprived of this blessed atmosphere since their youth. One feels the awesomeness of this form of worship: God's house is experienced as a locus terribilis. It is truly the "house of the Lord," where we should take off our sandals and adore. Moreover, its liturgy is rich in symbolisms so important in religious life. Many of these symbols ahve been eliminated in the Novus Ordo. In the Tridentine Mass, the priest begins Mass at the foot of the altar. The symbolism is clear: before ascending the steps leading to the altar (where the Divine Sacrifice will be offered), he has to purify himself by reciting the magnificent 42nd Psalm: Introibo ad altare Dei.
After this purification, he dares to ascend to the altar (now a table), facing east together with his whole congregation. Once again, the symbolism is luminous: Christ is the Sol Justitiae. (Malachy, 3-20). The sun rises from the East and it is proper and just that His people should therefore look up to the East. This is a long standing tradition which has been arbitrarily abolished. That this is regrettable has been clearly formulated in Cardinal Ratzinger's book: The Spirit of the Liturgy. He writes: "The common turning toward the East was not a 'celebration toward the wall'; it did not mean that the priest 'had his back to the people'; the priest himself was not regarded as so important. For just as the congregation in the synagogue looked together toward Jerusalem, so in the Christian liturgy the congregation looked together 'toward the Lord'" (p. 80).
The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass -- a non-bloody repetition of the Sacrifice of Christ on Calvary -- takes place on the altar, the traditional place where in the Old Testament sacrifices were offered to God, replaced and fulfilled in the New Testament by the One Sacrifice of the One and only True Priest: Christ.
Today, the priest faces the congregation. Not only has a deep symbolism been lost, but moreover, this fact can tempt some priests to assume that "they should be performing," and unwittingly attract attention to themselves. The Tridentine Mass is vertical in the deepest sense of this term: totally God-centered. The individual personality of the priest is totally inimportant. He is no acting in persona Christi.
Genuflecting has traditionally been viewed as a visible expression of adoration. It plays much less of a rule in the Novus Ordo, even though Josef Cardinal Ratzinger had written in the book just cited above "... bending the knee before the presence of the living God is something we cannot abandon." (The Spirit of the Liturgy, Ignatius, p. 191.) Moreover, for no legitimate reason, altar rails have been removed. (Unless I am mistaken, this was not ordered by Vatican II.) This was not only a costly venture, but it also prevented people from adopting a posture that many of us feel to be the only adequate "body language" when approaching the Eucharist. Now the faithful are supposed to receive their Lord and Savior standing.
Many repetitions in liturgical prayers have been abolished; they were viewed as "unnecessary." That repetitions have a
profound meaning is ignored.
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Many repetitions in liturgical prayers have been abolished; they were viewed as "unnecessary." That repetitions have a profound meaning is ignored. Granted that repeating a piece of neutral information is meaningless and boring, words such as "Lord have mercy<' cannot be repeated often enough. A wife once complained to me that her husband never said to her that he loved her. In a roundabout way, I tried to make him understand that she would appreciate hearing these sweet words, to which he answered, "I told her so when I asked her to marry me. She therefore knowls it. Why should I repeat it?" He was missing the point. The key words in a deep human relationship are, "I love you," "Thank you" and "Forgive me." Marriages in which these wors are never uttered are doomed.
Prior to Vatican II, women entering church wore a veil, whereas men took off their hats. Feminists interpreted this as a clear sign of discrimination. Now women go bare-headed like men. By allowing this change, according to the feminists, the Church is "slowly" trying to correct her ill-treatment of the female sex. But once again, a profound symbolism has been eliminated. Not only are we now disregarding a recommendation of Saint Paul, but we no longer understand its deep meaning. Because Mary, the Woman par excellence, was privileged to carry the Savior of the world in her sacred womb, and sacredness calls for veiling, women wearing a veil were reminded that their bodies have the very same structure as the one of the Theotokos. Mary has given life to the Savior; women are also "mothers of life" and this implies a unique closeness between them and the One who is the Life of the world. To be veiled indicated clearly the sacredness of the female body, and once again, this sublime message has been lost.
That girls are now allowed to serve on the altar is a manifestation of the same tendency to confuse the role of men and women in Holy Church. Women, under the nefarious influence of feminism totally forget that receptivity is their special charisma (for Mary said: "... be it done to me ...") and an essential feature of religious life. In our secularized world, only "doing" is appreciated. Silence, receptivity, contemplation are "inefficient."
Another reason why the Traiditonal Mass has such a posserful attraction is that it incorporates what Plato calls: "the colden chord of tradition." In a society where marriage and the family are breaking down, in which innumerable people are "uprooted," in which the "deprivation syndrome" is endemic, the awareness of participating in religious celebration that goes back for centuries, that has been the spiritual food of innumerable, cherished saints, is a powerful incentive to "feeling at home," in a deeply spiritual sense. One feels embedded in the "Communion of Saints" and experiences that saints living centiries ago are our spiritual contemporaries. Our poor prayers are joined to those of beloved saints and carried by them to God. It is such a consolation to those of us who daily feel the imperfection of their praise of God. The Traditional Mass has a note of "eternal youth" (... qui laetificat juventutem meam ...); this is why it could not die.
There is no doubt that Pope Paul VI, whose deepest wish was to achieve reconcilication with Protestants during his pontificate, was, in modifying the liturgy, making a gesture of good will toward our "separated brothers" by replacing the altar by a table (the Eucharist is now viewed primarily as a meal), and thereby weakening the sacrificial dimension of the Mass.
My husband's nephew, Dieter Sattler was named German Ambassador at the Holy See in 1966 during Pope Paul's pontificate. He repeatedly invited my husband and myself to be his guests at the German embassy. This is why we had the privilege of being close to the Pope, when He proclaimed his "Credo."
Because Mary, the Woman par excellence, was privileged to carry the Savior of the world in her sacred womb, and sacredness calls for veiling, women wearing a veil were reminded that their bodies have the very same structure as the one of the Theotokos. Mary has given life to the Savior; women are also "mothers of life" and this implies a unique closeness between them and the One who is the Life of the world. To be veiled indicated clearly the sacredness of the female body, and once again,
this sublime message has been lost.
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Dieter told us that one day, Paul VI had assembled the whole diplomatic corps in the Vatican and told them that reconciliation with the Protestants was a cherished aim of his Pontificate. For this reason, several Protestant periti were invited to assist at the debates concerning the liturgy. They were denied the right to vote, but we were told that the changes that were about to be introduced met with their approval. It is now rare that in Catholic parish bulletins the word "Mass" is used: it is usually replaced by "Eucharistic Celebration."
Another concern of traditional Catholics is that several prayers of the Tridentine Mass, have been omitted: mostly those mentioning the Blessed Virgin Mary (whom Protestants do not honor), and also intercessory prayers to the saints. To a Protestant, there should be no "intermediary" between God and the individual faithful.
The omission of several key symbols, the omission of several prayers has been wrongly interpreted by "ultra" traditionalists as invalidating the Holy Sacrifice. This was a most regrettable error that my husband rejected from the very beginning. But Pope Benedict XVI, in his loving concern for all his sheep, has now granted them (and all of us) the gift of a treasure that has been the liturgical glory of the Holy Roman Catholic Church for centuries. For this reason, we should pray a Te Deum, and all say in unison: Grazie, Benedetto XVI!
[Alice von Hildebrand, wife of famed philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand, is an internationally known philosopher and author of numerous books, most recently The Privilege of Being a Woman. The present article, "Grazie, Benedetto XVI," was originally published in Latin Mass: A Journal of Catholic Culture and Tradition (Advent/Christmas 2007), pp. 32-34, and is reprinted here by permission of Latin Mass Magazine, 391 E. Virginia Terrace, Santa Paula, CA 93060.]