The Catholic blogosphere recently erupted with rumors about the eradication of the traditional Latin Mass. Although no evidence suggests the abrogation of the “Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite” by papal fiat, some changes to the 2007 norms which universally granted its use are likely. National Catholic Reporter journalist Michael Sean Winters once hypothesized that liberalizing the use of the traditional Latin Mass would divide Catholics by creating a kind of liturgical twilight zone for right-wing fringe groups. The Church would be better off without its implementation, he opined.
Fears over ideological divisiveness are not without merit, especially in light of the vitriol spewed by internet trolls under the guise of Catholic orthodoxy. But increased interest in the traditional Latin Mass, especially among young people, has actually generated a deeper appreciation for many elements of the “Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite” as articulated by the Second Vatican Council. The Council fathers envisioned an organic continuity between the old and new Masses.
The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, for instance, favors the use of Gregorian chant above other kinds of sacred music as “proper to the Roman Liturgy” (SC 116). The Council also requires that the Latin language be preserved, and that steps should be taken so that the faithful may sing together in Latin the ordinary parts of the Mass (SC 36, 54). In addition to Mass celebrated “versus populum” (towards the people), the current General Instruction of the Roman Missal provides for the celebration of Mass “ad orientem” (to the East) when it instructs the celebrant to “face the people.”
Growing interest in the traditional Latin Mass may well serve as a kind of meeting point to heal the ideological divisions critics like Winters rightly abhor. The ancient rubrics not only offer a bridge to transcendent and sublime worship; they also require a preservation of the Church’s liturgical patrimony, which the Council itself favors. Perhaps, then, the widespread celebration of the traditional Latin Mass might not be a rejection of the Council, but a novel embrace of it.