Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The Novus Ordo at 40

In ancient days, the Greeks considered the age of forty to be the pinnacle of a man’s prowess and achievement. During the Golden Age of Athenian civilization in the fifth century BC, the philosophers reckoned their predecessor Thales to have been born in 625 BC* — simply by counting back forty years from the date of his greatest achievement, namely the prediction of a total solar eclipse visible from his home city of Miletus (Asia Minor) in the year 585 BC. There is no evidence that Thales was in fact forty years old in 585 BC; but to the Greeks, this did not really matter. If he were not forty at that time, then at least he ought to have been.

As of this November 30th, Pope Paul VI’s Novus Ordo Missae is now forty years old. Is it, like Thales, at the pinnacle of its accomplishments?

If those accomplishments include the liturgical presentation Catholic eucharistic theology in an ambiguous fashion, the alienation of the majority of the Catholic faithful, the triumph of a spirit of experimental mediocrity, the apotheosis of the spirit of Modern ManTM, the replacement of stability with flux and chaos and the triumph of bad taste, then yes, the modern rite is indeed at its zenith. Or should that be nadir?

But if it was intended to deepen the faith of the Church, to promote greater comprehension of the liturgical action among the faithful, to increase devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and to woo our separated brethren as well as the lapsed back into our churches... oh dear.

I know what you’re thinking. Typical tree-hugging hippie liturgy complete with goof-ballery and stealth priestesses. But take another look. It is not in fact a Novus Ordo Mass; it is a wiccan wedding, or “hand-fasting” as I believe the heathens call it. The reason I have chosen such an image to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of the imposition of Bugnini’s liturgy is that there is not much to separate them, at least in terms of appearances; the mode of celebration of the now not-so-New Mass is not infrequently so casual, informal and horizontal in its ethos as to be superficially indistinguishable from protestant and even pagan ceremonies. Moreover, the spirit of liturgical experimentation which accompanied the imposition of the New Mass back in 1969 invited many flaky Aquarian celebrants readily to admit into the rite New Age elements and other ungodly words and ceremonies. Forty years on and Christ’s faithful are still waiting even for an adequate translation of the rite!

Can the Novus Ordo be fixed? Melancholicus rather doubts it. Well-meaning efforts are currently underway to patch the wretched thing up, but it was broken in its very inception, so there is in fact no optimal condition to which the rite may be restored. Melancholicus here prophesies that as time passes, those trying to repair what it beyond repair will recognize the futility of the task, and the New Mass instead will come, little by little, to resemble its Tridentine/Gregorian predecessor until the two become indistinguishable, and there is once again a single form of the Roman rite.

*For obvious reasons the ancient Greeks did not use the AD/BC dating system, much less the newfangled CE/BCE dates beloved of modern cultural revolutionaries. Melancholicus has simply taken the liberty of expressing the ancient chronology in a system familiar to his readers.

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