January 25, 2008

Letters to the Editor

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Reader shares thoughts on absolutizing the Mass

It is with considerable reticence that I plunge into the maelstrom concerning the Tridentine Mass.

But I think some clarification can be brought to the issue with an examination of one’s “below-the-iceberg” sensibility concerning the value and inevitability of change. 

To the traditionalist who favors the Latin Mass out of an aesthetic or devotional preference, I (and the Church) don’t have any qualms since the maxim “to each his own” is operant. 

However, I would take issue with the perspective that rejects the Novus Ordo Mass as a violation or denigration of the Mass based on absolutizing the Tridentine rite. The sub-iceberg premise that begs scrutiny is one’s understanding of what should and should not be absolutized.

That the Church changes is uncontested by history. The native tongue for Jesus was Aramaic. The principal source of the Old Testament for the early Church was the Greek Septuagint. The liturgical language of the Church for the first few centuries was Greek. The New Testament was written in Greek. Latin was a later vernacular adaptation for the liturgy. 

Various rites, such as the Ambrosian and Mozarabic rites of the Mass, were validly celebrated along with the supposedly universal Roman Rite of Pope Pius V.  The Roman Rite itself has undergone changes over the centuries.

Although Vatican Council II promoted inculturation, adaptation of liturgy to culture, oftentimes controversial, has prevailed throughout Church history.

All of these events, and many others, speak to the processes of change and renewal in the Church.

The Church is a living, maturing organism and not a fossilized relic. As Cardinal Newman has expressed, “to live is to change, to be perfect is to change often.”

This is not to infer that there are no absolutes, but rather that there are beliefs and practices that are knowingly subject to change.

With changes, aberrations in orthodoxy and in orthoproxy will undoubtedly afflict the Church, and so prudent discretion is required to safeguard the central core of Catholic faith and practice.

In this regard, distinctions need to be understood between Tradition (with a capital T) and tradition (with a small t), between authoritative and infallibly sanctioned teachings, and authoritative but not infallibly sanctioned teachings as well as an appreciation for the development of doctrine. 

Does not our sub-iceberg assumption concerning the absolute character of the Mass liturgy need to be chiseled away?

- Ben Cerimele, Greenwood

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