April 11, 2008

Extraordinary Form and Postmodernism

I got some positive feedback on my post a little while ago in which I wondered if I should familiarize myself with what's now called the "extraordinary form" of the Roman Rite, just in case I'm ever called upon to celebrate it according to the new norms of Summorum pontificum.

So today I picked up the a "new" edition 1962 hand missal. It's the very handsome and well-bound one published by Baronius Press.

As I was looking through it while coming home on the bus, a funny thought struck me. This business of issuing fairly general permission to celebrate Mass according to the Missal of John XXIII--i.e., mutatis mutandis, the Missal of Pius V, the so-called Tridentine Mass--this seems like an affirmation of traditionalism, conservatism, and restorationism, but it's not.

Holy and devout pontiffs from Gregory the Great and Pius V and down to our own time have worked hard to unify the Roman liturgy. This was the point of publishing Missals in the first place; to ensure that the liturgy was prayed properly and in the same way in all the local churches.

For a Pope to now come out and say, well, there are multiple forms of the same Roman Rite, that's a very postmodern thing to say, really. To acknowledge a pluriformity of expression of the same liturgy, a manifold expression or lex orandi of the one lex credendi--this is actually a daring step into the flexibility of postmodern thinking.

Just think: what will happen if John Paul XI comes out one day and renews the whole of the liturgy again? What we will have then? An ordinary form of the Roman Rite, an extraordinary form, and an extra-extraordinary form?

Perhaps I'm making my argument too strongly, as I was often accused of in philosophy. Or perhaps not. In any case, the missal I bought is very nice and I look forward to using it to assist at an extraordinary form Mass somewhere.


Anonymous said...

Father, I am gratified that you are exploring the extraordinary form of the Roman rite. You point out, as have other commentators, that the extraordinary form is a part of the fabric of continuity in the liturgy of the Roman rite. In the nihilistic and narcisstic age in which we live, the continuity of the liturgy reminds us of the mystery of redemption and the great gift that Jesus Christ gave is in the Eucharist, passed from generation to generation through the liturgy of the Church. Please let your blog readers know when you assist, or celebrate, a mass in the extraordinary rite so we can experience this journey with you. Thanks for your inspirational and "real-world" postings. Looking forward to many more posts!

Garpu the Fork said...

My gut-level reaction to hearing about last summer's motu proprio was that some were being rewarded for disobedience, and all the bloggers who rejoiced in what they were referring to as the destruction of Vatican II didn't help my opinion any. But I think you're onto something with the connection of postmodernism...

(And as a public transit rider, I have to admit that buses are great places for interesting thoughts.)

ben in denver said...


To discuss the expanded permission for the celebration of the Mass of Trent as postmodernism--that is something I never expected to hear!

At least we can take some comfort in the fact that there is a great deal of storm and stress when it comes down to definitions of postmodernism, and that clearly there are those who will argue vociferously against the proposition that postmoderism is a variant modernism.

It must be in this sense that any postmodern reference to any liturgy, either ordinary or extraordinary must be understood.
There is nothing modern about either one of them. Both speak to the permanent and the eternal and the particularities of first century Israel.

Having thus stated clearly that I believe that the mass has essentially nothing to do with modernism and postmodernisms derived from modernism since it is a philosophy unequivocally condemned by the magisterium, there are a few things I could say about pluriformity in the Roman Rite.

1. What was perhaps the most significant portion of Summorum Pontificum was the acknowldgement in Article I that the mass according to the Missal of John XXIII had never been abrogated. This coheres with a sentiment articulated in the Motu Proprio Ecclesia Dei, issued in 1988 by Pope John Paul II wherein he labled the desire for the older form of the liturgy as a "rightful aspiration" of the faithful.

2. The missal of Pual VI, with the 4 Eucharistic Prayers, is already pluriform.

3. It might be argued that even the Missal of Bl. John XXIII, with options for Low Mass, High Mass, Missa Cantata, and Pontifical Mass is in some sense pluriform.

4. Post modernism is typified by a blending of forms and styles and a construction of the new through an assemblage of odd and various parts. What Summorum Pontificum does is something more radical, in the fuller sense of the word. It proposes to expose the liturgical root of the Roman Rite, whole and entire as a lived experience of the faithful. If this were postmodern, one might expect a mixing of the old and the new, even of the eastern with the western. Indeed there is some of that in the ordinary form, but none is allowed in the extraordinary form. Summorum Pontificum brings the Extraordinary Form back into the liturgical dialogue of the west without changing its essence, it remains a premodern form. One might even see this whole project as one of attempting to bring the Ordinary Form into better conformity with the traditions of the Roman Rite, thus weeding out some innovations and rendering the whole rite LESS postmodern.