Summorum Pontificum & the 'Old Mass'

Liturgy captivates me. In a recent lecture at the Greg, I heard it described as the ‘prima teologia’—the first theology. When I thought about this, it really seemed quite true. Oftentimes ‘theology’ is consigned to the realms of universities and, particularly in my case, seminaries, as something to be taken up only by intellectuals and future-priests. Not so, I tell you…

On the contrary, theology is something accessible and necessary to us all, if we hope to grow in our relationship with our Creator. As the ‘first theology,’ the liturgy of the Holy Mass does much to help us understand the mysteries of the Catholic faith, all in a way that draws us closer to the mystery of our salvation: the Incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ, present in every Mass for the last 2,000 years. Although the form of Mass we often experience nowadays is rather new (called the Novus Ordo in Latin, or the ‘new order’ of the Mass), the substance of the Mass is still the same; i.e. Jesus is still present in the Eucharist, and the same grace is provided by God to his Church. No matter the underlying substance of the Mass, though, the outer appearance or form still attracts most of the attention; as human beings, we are drawn by visible and audible beauty to the deeper beauty of the invisible God. For this reason, the fullness of the Church’s tradition of liturgy must be appreciated, since it all serves in appealing to the different senses and different states of humanity throughout history.

This reality was precisely the driving force behind Pope Benedict XVI’s (rather) recent document, entitled Summorum Pontificum. In this document, the Holy Father calls for the broader practice of the ‘old Mass,’ or the Tridentine Mass—that which was celebrated for the 500 years before Vatican II. In his writing, the pope specifically calls attention to the fact that the Tridentine Mass—which he calls the “extraordinary form” of the Mass—is still completely lawful and ought to be held in very high esteem in the eyes of the faithful. On the contrary, the Novus Ordo—which he denotes as the “ordinary form” of Mass—still remains the norm.

This ‘wedding’ of the two forms, so to speak, really draws much consideration to the idea of both forms being of one and the same substance; again, Jesus is truly and fully present in each. The Holy Father’s acclaim for the ‘extraordinary form’ of the Mass also brings to light the fact that there is still much beauty and goodness to be found in this older form. Although the liturgical reforms of Vatican II provided quite an extreme shift in liturgical styles, the older form of celebrating the Mass deserves much respect. With the wider use of the ‘extraordinary form’ of Mass allowed by Summorum Pontificum, we can also expect have many more chances to pray at this Mass and appreciate its beauty first-hand. I would recommend anyone who has never been to a Tridentine Mass to try and go; it will be a memorable experience and—with a heart open to the Holy Spirit—hopefully a prayerful and beautiful one as well.

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    # by Deb Hoover - November 14, 2007 at 11:49 PM

    Interesting reflection...the same could be said about some adult retreats...I heard someone call them "spiritual kindergarten"

    D. Hoover, B.G.

    Andy, what is your email address? I sent an you a message to the pj email address.

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    # by Anonymous - November 14, 2007 at 11:51 PM

    Sorry Andy,
    Left a comment under the wrong blog entry. Should be with the youth rally one. I am not experienced with blogging!

  3. gravatar

    # by Andrew Haines - November 15, 2007 at 2:27 AM


    No problem with the comment.. I'm just glad that people are actually reading this!

    My email here is I will talk with you soon...hope all is well.