Wednesday, 16 February 2011

What is the ''Old Rite''?

A reader posed this cogent question in my last post. It seems apposite, though I sometimes wonder whether I should start bashing my head against the wall when trying to remonstrate with adherents of the '62 books; that what they take for Tradition is in fact a lie made up by a team of scholars who mistook innovation for pastoral expediency - that is if you put that much faith in them in the first place. I tend to view anyone who mercilessly pulls down the Tradition of the Church as an Orc in the service of the Dark Tower, but that's just me.

The short answer is that the term ''Old Rite'' is generic and rather arbitrary. I don't imagine for a second that there was a ''golden year'' for the Roman Rite, where what came before was not ''developed'' enough in the organic sense, and what came after was innovation and ruin. There is no such year, nor is going back to a fixed year expedient in the pastoral or liturgical sense. It is actually Protestant, and serves merely to place Tradition in permanent regression or stasis. I tend to view the Council of Trent and subsequent Papal dealings with Liturgy in a similar sort of ''protestant'' sense. Trent froze the Tradition of the Church, where before there was imagination and variegation at local level. What came after was sterility and centralization. The idea, propounded by the encyclical (heralded by Traddies as a perfect synthesis of Liturgy) Mediator Dei, that one man, however exalted his office, has the sole right of regulating, approving, ratifying, even abolishing the liturgical texts, is very alien to the Tradition of the Church, set apart as an entity independent of the Papacy. Yes ancient popes such as St Leo composed Collects, and these are praiseworthy, but ancient popes didn't take it upon themselves to radically change the liturgical rites. This is the yardstick of Tradition. The question posed by some adherents of the '62 books: ''If the liturgical books of 1962 aren't the 'Old Rite,' what is?'' is altogether stupid. Do they imagine that there is a single Old Rite and a single New Rite? If so, then the 1970 Missal is an ''old rite'' just as much as the '62 books; taking into account the manifold changes to the Novus Ordo since 1970 (the abolition of the Subdiaconate being noteworthy). There is no dichotomy between old and new, and I rather think that people who seek to make such a dichotomy know little about Liturgy or Tradition. There is Tradition, understood as received orthopraxis faithfully passed on from one generation in the Church to the next under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, and innovation; and just because something has the semblance of tradition does not make it so - to paraphrase the Lord Himself; a whited sepulchre, all clean and fair without, but within full of dead men's bones and all corruption.

To me the ''Old Rite'' would be, as Waugh suggested, the liturgical rites as they existed during the reign of Pius IX (and at that, certainly before the 1850s) - or at least the ''ethos'' of the Old Rite; for authenticity I would also take into account the Urban VIII hymnody and the Gregorian Kalendar. What Pius X and Pius XII did to the Liturgy were the greatest reforms of the Roman Rite in the history of the Church up to the 20th century. Therefore the '62 books are not the Old Rite by any stretch of the imagination.

As I said in the previous post: How can you accustom people to Tradition if what you provide them with is little older than (and in many cases is inferior to anyway!) the stuff you're trying to extricate them from?


  1. Why stop with the 1850’s-ish liturgies as "Old Rite"? Does even the 1570 MR properly preserve this supposed "Old Rite" or is it merely the imposition of the Roman Curial usage which was a simplification of the proper Roman Rite as used in Rome? The same applies to the Office, if we go back far enough, we see that the books codified after Trent aren't the same as what was done centuries before. No one can honestly say they know for sure what the original practices were. This, of course, was one of the points in favor of the NO made by some of its proponents in that it was a "restoration" of the ancient liturgy as it supposedly had existed before medieval and Tridentine accretions were tacked on to it. As such, the differences between the books from Pius IX’s time and John XXIII’s time are really not as drastic as you make them out to be. It should be easy to see why the ’62 books are considered “Old Rite” while the ’70 books are not.

    Liturgy has and does change, that is simply a fact. The last flourish of the decentralized view was neo-Gallican France, and it seems that this is an excellent example of why Pius V saw it fit to put the kibosh on a continuing proliferation of local usages-they are arbitrary and often made up with an aim to be different rather than to really preserve anything worthwhile. Besides, if you are so sure that the Pope doesn’t know about liturgy, why would a bishop? It might have been able to be said a thousand years ago, but bishops these days are anything but liturgists (in the proper sense) Certainly today trying to “decentralize” would be an utter disaster.

    There is one simple, pragmatic fact that must not be overlooked-the “best” is the enemy of the good enough. What do we do when you shoot (in an armchair manner, mind you) for such unattainable goals, we either go crazy living in Dreamland or get very bitter and jaded. Either way, nothing happens anyway no matter how much one rages against the Status Quo.

    The practically universal usage of the '62 books in Trad circles (aside from some scattered usage of Order and Diocesan missals and some spotty use of older editions, etc.) was more of a political decision than anything else. It was an attempt to form a unified front, to be able to present to Rome some sort of concrete and unified proposal. It was certainly not adopted because any of the liturgists and theologians in the Traddy camp studied it and came to the conclusion that this particular missal was the creme de la creme of liturgical books. No one is going to take seriously a gaggle of loosely affiliated people saying things like Group A wants the use of the '62 books, Monastery B wants their own old order books with option to use the pre-51 Roman books, Group C wants to be able to use the pre-1911 breviary and missal, Father D and E want to be able to use the pre-55 Holy Week but are OK w/ the '62 books, etc. etc. It seems the '62 books were basically seen as good enough for the time being, something you could rally the troops to.

  2. cont...

    Now that there is a foothold, there has been more discussion about the ’62 books and the undesirability of the changes introduced especially in the ‘50s (or, the ‘10s w/ the Office). We have to start somewhere, and I for one would much rather have the ’62 liturgies available than have to put up with the NO, even knowing how deficient the ’62 books really are.

  3. If I might ask for clarification on one or two points...

    "Yes ancient popes such as St Leo composed Collects, and these are praiseworthy,"

    How is that different to the actions of Urban VIII, whom you excoriate for doing something very similar?

    "but ancient popes didn't take it upon themselves to radically change the liturgical rites."

    So how would you describe Gregory the Great's changes to the Roman liturgy? Personally, I'd call those a 'radical change'.

    "(the abolition of the Subdiaconate being noteworthy)"

    Is this not only really noteworthy insofar as the diaconate itself was resurrected?

    I think the point of using 1962 as an accustoming is precisely that it isn't that much older (if one accepts this line of argument). It's far enough away to seem very different to those of us who only know the 1970 Missal*, but not so far as to represent something which has passed out of living memory.

    In much of the Church, even those traditional elements in the '62 Missal will seem alien by comparison to the '70 Missal. The use of Latin, ad orientem, and so on hve all but passed out of the Church in some places.

    If (and I stress, if) the idea of Sum. Pont. was to present a bridge back to the past, then '62 seems to me to be ideal precisely because it is not so far different. Nevertheless, it remains different enough.

    *Personally, I don't believe calling it a 'novus ordo' is very honest, given, as you say, the reforms of PX and PXII, and the 62, 65, and 67 changes.

  4. Andrew - While I agree that liturgy does change, it is, of course, also formulated - like the Dominican Rite. Which, so far as I understand, is pretty similar to the 1570 MR, isn't it? (Please correct me, if I'm wrong.)

    Good point on the bishops, too.

  5. The man can illuminate with a minimum of ad hominems...

    Thanks for this. Definitely good thought to chew on.

  6. The Dominican Rite (usage) is somewhat similar to the Roman Rite, and not necessarily just the 1570 MR. It seems that it is a sort of synthesis between the localized "Gallican" usages and the Roman Rite of the time.

    Basically, it was formulated (which would be a good word for it) so that the Friars would have a common liturgy no matter where they were from. When they got together before the formal Dominican Rite was adopted, they would be using whatever liturgy was in that locale and everyone else would have been somewhat used to whatever particulars in the areas they came from.

    So, in essence, the early Master General and Chapters "formulated" (a good word for it) a distinctive Dominican Usage. They displayed a "centralizing" effect on the liturgical life of their Order-for the good, I would say.

    Such centralizing tendencies are inevitable, and really nothing "bad" either. At one time, it made perfect sense to deal with all matters liturgical at the local level. One cannot appeal to Rome for all sorts of rubrical questions and the like when such an appeal would take forever. When people become more mobile, countries get bigger, etc. etc. it is natural that local usages are going to just simply go extinct or be actively replaced by a more dominant usage/rite.