Going to parish liturgies this summer and comparing them with my experiences from previous summers, I came across a few practices which seem to harken back to the Tridentine Mass. While I would be the first to acknowledge that some practices from the now Extraordinary Form should be brought back, others should be left to fade from the Church’s collective memory.
The first thing I have noticed over the past few summers is the increased usage of a special chalice and paten for the priest’s, and only the priest’s, communion. I support the idea of a large chalice for the celebrant that is then used for communion to the faithful because it seems to highlight symbolically the fact that we all share in the one bread and the one cup even when there are a number of cups on the altar. In this way, a large chalice for the celebrant acts as a central symbol. However, the idea of the priest, concelebrants, and deacons communing from a distinct chalice which is not then used to communion the faithful leads to a separatist ecclesiology. The priest has his chalice, usually the ornate one, and the rest of the faithful have their chalices which are typically quite plain.
Along the same lines, the second thing that I have begun to see is the shrinking size of the bowl of the celebrant’s chalice. Instead of a wide bowl, some of the chalices today appear to be modeled on fluted champagne glasses. This seems to be a recovery of the chalices so common in the baroque period that had bowls which were quite small and were only intended for the priest’s communion. This yet again seems to harken back to an ecclesiology which is highly clerical and rejects the trend since the Council for all of the faithful to consume of both species.
The third thing that I took note of was the length of time the consecrated species were “shown” to the people after the consecration. During some of these “showings” one could have recited several Hail Marys. I find the length of time spent on these troubling and reminiscent of the age in which the faithful only communed ocularly. What is even more concerning, however, is the height and attention given to these “showings” in comparison to the elevation at the doxology. The English translation of the Third Typical Edition of the Roman Missal in the rubrics after the consecration of the bread states that the priest “shows (ostendit) the consecrated host to the people” (§89). Similarly, it says that the priest “shows (ostendit) the chalice to the people” (§90). At the doxology the rubrics are markedly different. They state that the priest “takes the chalice and the paten with the host and, raising (elevans) both, he says…” (§98). Thus, the “showings” of the bread and wine should not be equated with the “raising” of the paten and chalice at the doxology. The first two, properly speaking, are not elevations. The trend toward making them more pronounced than the elevation at the doxology is a failure to take seriously the importance of the whole Eucharistic Prayer of which the doxology is the apogee.
Finally, there appears to be a trend toward purifying the vessels at the altar, perhaps in light of Rome’s refusal to grant an extension to the indult allowing sacristans to purify the vessels. While purifying the vessels at the altar is the norm, according to the GIRM §163 “it is also permitted, especially if there are several vessels to be purified, to leave them suitably covered on a corporal, either at the altar or at the credence table, and to purify them immediately after Mass following the dismissal of the people.” This is also reaffirmed in §183 of the GIRM. Purifying the vessels during Mass often disrupts the flow of the liturgy and unnecessarily lengthens it. In some places, the purification of the vessels at the altar seems to be overly accentuated and perhaps given undue symbolism. The purification of the vessels is a practical act and should not be overemphasized. For this reason, I think it would be more desirable for it to be performed after Mass. However, if it must be done in Mass then it should be done reverently, but swiftly.
We as a Church must constantly think through how even the smallest details of our liturgies project a specific ecclesiology. Then we must gauge whether the ecclesiology being articulated is congruous with the Church’s self-understanding. Those practices, no matter how small, which are incompatible with the Church’s broader self-understanding should cease. As we struggle with the tension between the Extraordinary Form and the Mass of Paul VI, and the recovery of certain pre-Vatican II practices, we must use the ecclesiology of the Second Vatican Council as our referee and guide. We must be careful to insure that our liturgical life and ecclesial self-understanding remain in harmony with one another.