One of the oddnesses of the modern Roman liturgy is that some of its de facto ordinary procedures and practices for celebration are actually exceptions, substitutions, or non-essentials. Thus, these aspects are not fair targets for unqualified criticism. For example:
- Benedict XVI is oft-quoted (from The Spirit of the Liturgy) on the theological and ecclesiological problems of the Mass offered versus populum. Many agree with him. However, though this option for celebration may seem to the casual observer to be one of the distinctive marks of the Mass of Paul VI, and is treated by many priests as a sacred and unalterable religious duty, it is neither essential nor normative. In fact, in the newer form of Mass, the priest is required to turn and face the people fewer times than in the older form. Thus, it is not fair to criticize the Novus Ordo based on troubles attendant on the offering of Mass "facing the people."
- Analogously, though it may also seem that Mass offered in local languages is an instrinsic mark of the newer form of Mass, this is also an option rather than a norm. Sacrosanctum concilium 36 clearly affirms that the Latin remains the ordinary language of the Roman rite. Thus, it is also unfair to base criticisms on the use of the vernacular.
- Much criticism, and some of it justified, has been made against contemporary Catholic music that has grown up alongside the newer form of Mass. For most of us, the ordinary procedure for arriving at music for Mass is to contoct the 'four song sandwich' that will match the readings or suit our theme. This custom is taken for granted so much of the time that we forget that it is a matter of exception and substitution. The ordinary way of music-ing the Roman liturgy is to sing the actual texts of the Mass as they are found in the Missal and the Gradual, rather than substituting them for songs and metrical hymns. For this purpose, Gregorian chants allegedly retain their "pride of place," at least according to Sacrosanctum concilium 116. Therefore, it is not exactly fair to criticize the modern Roman liturgy based on some of the bad music with which it has become associated, for this association is neither essential nor normative.
- The introduction of proper formularies for each day of the Advent and Easter seasons helps to genuinely privilege these liturgical times.
- The reformed lectionary succeeds in its effort to provide a "richer fare" from the table of God's word; the reformed cycles provide a greater comprehensiveness and diversity through both Sundays and weekdays. This reform affirms the foundational place of proclaimed Sacred Scripture in the liturgy.
- The new Eucharistic Prayers which we have in addition to the venerable Roman Canon demonstrate that the Roman Missal is not Roman in the narrow sense, but in the most catholic and ecumenical sense. If the clergy of the Roman rite have abused this diversity by marginalizing the Roman Canon, this is not the fault of the reform. (Indeed, when I took the 'how to say Mass' course in studies, we were taught to despise the Roman Canon.) I suggest to them that they begin to pray the Canon, perhaps according to my plan for the minimum use of Eucharistic Prayer I.
In conclusion, by way of all this I just want to say that in the midst of all of this criticism of the Mass of Paul VI, we should keep in mind that it does have certain virtues to recommend it, and that much of the criticism leveled against it is based in non-essentials and imaginary norms.