Models for the Emerging Church: Promises and Threats

Models for the Emerging Church: Promises and Threats
William C. Graham

I don’t get this business with the Tridentine Mass. I should get it. I was in ninth grade at Cathedral High School when the first English translations were introduced. As a boy, I learned the Latin responses to the prayers at the foot of the altar and the other parts proper to the altar server. I could sing the proper parts of the Mass with our St. Rose of Lima School schola, as well as the ordinary parts, and I could pronounce Latin far better than I ever understood it.

I have but rarely presided at the liturgy in Latin. A couple times, as a pastor, I worked to convince parishioners that we should celebrate at least one Mass on Pentecost Sunday in the lingua antiqua and sing the Missa de Angelis, Mass VIII. Afterward, even daily-Mass Catholics would say, “Well that was a nice enough look at a museum piece, but I don’t need to do that again.”

Still, I recently scheduled Mass in Latin for students at the college where I teach. They should know, or at least experience, that part of the tradition. At least that’s what I told them. One of the most rigorously orthodox of our students said sweetly, succinctly, and accurately the morning after: “It was nice to be in touch with our tradition and to experience the Mass as did our grandparents, but there was a layer of meaning entirely absent.” Her own experience was a far better teacher than any explanation I might have offered.

Catholic folks born in the 1950s often assert that they know Latin. Few actually know it. Some will say, “I speak Latin.” Or “My mother speaks Latin.” Then they greet me: “Dominus vobiscum.” I may be large, but I do not take the plural.

I recently attended the wedding of a delightful and delightfully traditional young couple who wanted part of their wedding liturgy sung in Latin. They did not recognize that the setting they employed for the Sanctus and Agnus Dei was from the Requiem. Mentioning this to another traditional young guest there, I was asked, “What, exactly, is a Requiem?”

Praying in Latin is not easy. Neither fond nostalgia for an era one never knew nor spending a couple semesters in Rome and ordering spaghetti carbonara in Italian gives one the ability to pronounce or understand the complexities of an ancient language one has never studied. One of my colleagues, a Latin professor, went one day to a local celebration of the Eucharist according to the extraordinary rite, the rite we usually refer to as Tridentine. Coming back to campus, shaking his head, the professor sad sadly, “I don’t know what that was, but it was not Latin.”

So what are the issues involved in restoring the Tridentine liturgy? Lisa Takeuchi Cullen (“I Confess, I Want Latin,” Time [June 30, 2007]) wants “to experience the joy of communion without the anguish of our modern-day differences.” She thinks that in the Tridentine Mass, when the priest has his “back to the congregation and [is] speaking in a dead language,” she will be spared homilies based on the priest’s “Netflix queue.” Good luck to her with all that. Even back in the day, the homily or sermon was not in Latin. Ms. Cullen could seek out a parish that celebrates the liturgy in another language unknown to her — Vietnamese, maybe, or Tagalog or Eritrean. She could then get what she seeks: “an hour-long meditation in the community of the faithful, reaffirming ancient beliefs in familiar but inscrutable chant.” She opines, “I’m not so sure that isn’t what the Apostles intended.” There is scant evidence to suggest that the apostles were big into inscrutability. Perhaps her opinion reveals a different desire: to decide herself what the apostles intended rather than trust the church in magisterial authority to interpret and mediate both Scripture and Tradition with the wisdom of the ages.

The church, in the wisdom of the ages, prompts us to pray in languages we understand. Those who sentimentalize another reality should not seek to press it on others among the people of God.

But, Can We Keep Paul V’s Missal?
In an earlier [article], I pointed out that the folks who were most surprised by Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to loosen restrictions on the celebration of the Tridentine Mass (the extraordinary rite) may have been those of us just old enough to remember chanting the Requiem and the Missa de Angelis back in the glory days of booming, burgeoning Catholic schools. While we may sometimes celebrate the Novus Ordo in Latin when in Rome, or at home on Pentecost for old times’ sake, we tend to agree that there is a layer of meaning entirely missing when the church at prayer employs the lingua antiqua.

My earlier caution, I think, bears repeating. The priests I know who intuit a pastoral need for the old rite did not grow up with it. Because the Mass in any language can and should be celebrated with reverence, the need for the old rite seems unclear. Those who celebrate it cannot, on Monday morning, gather at the water cooler with other Catholics and a variety of other Christians and discuss the Scriptures they heard the day before; Trent’s missal is different from today’s lectionary, with fewer Scripture pericopes and scant attention to the Old Testament.

When the Tridentine crowd prays on Good Friday for “the perfidious Jew,” the rest of us know with certainty that God will hear what we ask, but we trust that he will give us what we truly need. This will surely not include perfidy, either among Catholics or Jews. A caution is in order here, however. We cannot be sure of the accuracy of all the translations of the Mass; prudence would dictate, I think, that those who seek to pray in Latin use only the Latin text, eschewing all other translations in an effort to avoid that which may be unseemly, inaccurate, or irreverent. But I digress.

The point is that we should not regard as Cafeteria Catholics those who seek to reclaim the 1950s. Instead, we should see them as a model for the emerging church. In fact, recent reports suggesting that Benedict granted permission not just for the Tridentine liturgy but other rites — the Ambrosian, for example, celebrated in Milan (“Motu proprio allows use of several old rites,” The Tablet [June 6, 2009]: 31) — is surely an early announcement of hope for those priests or parishes who have felt some anxiety about the coming translation of the liturgical prayers. Clearly, the precedent seems to be set: those who may not approve of the new translation will be under no obligation to use it but can instead either petition for or presume permission to continue using the present books. Maybe I am incorrect. Let’s break into discussion groups on this idea, with both our canonists and liturgists as guides.

Together in the big tent that is the church, may we continue with faithfulness and good humor (and in all the languages of humankind) the church’s unbroken tradition of coming “together to celebrate the paschal mystery: … giving thanks ‘to God for his inexpressible gift’ (2 Cor 9:15) in Christ Jesus, ‘in praise of his glory’ (Eph 1:12), through the power of the Holy Spirit” (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 6).

Rev. William C. Graham, a priest of the diocese of Duluth in Minnesota, directs The Braegelman Program in Catholic Studies at the College of St. Scholastica. His latest books include A Catholic Handbook: Essentials for the 21st Century (Paulist) and Clothed in Christ: Toward a Spirituality for Lay Ministers (Twenty-Third Publications).

This article originally appeared in the February 2011 issue of Ministry & Liturgy, a publication of Resource Publications, Inc. It is reprinted here with their kind permission.


  1. “When the Tridentine crowd prays on Good Friday for ‘the perfidious Jew,'”

    Which is not in the 1962 Missal anyway, and certainly not in the prayer composed by Pope Benedict XVI in 2008.

  2. I recently attended the wedding of a delightful and delightfully traditional young couple who wanted part of their wedding liturgy sung in Latin. They did not recognize that the setting they employed for the Sanctus and Agnus Dei was from the Requiem. Mentioning this to another traditional young guest there, I was asked, “What, exactly, is a Requiem?”

    So he’s pointing out that Mass XVIII and the Requiem Agnus Dei use the same melody? (I presume they didn’t actually use the 1962 Requiem words). This is, I take it, supposed to be a humorous incongruity? Look at the Requiem aeternam gradual from the 1962 Requiem Mass and compare it to the very similar Uxor tua gradual from the 1962 Nuptial Mass. They are variations on the same music.

    In fact, prior to the 1960 code of rubrics (which raised the class of the Nuptial Mass, adding a Gloria), Mass XVIII wouldn’t have been an inappropriate choice for a sung nuptial Mass it seems to me (though such a thing was a rare bird).

    1. WCG: They did not recognize that the setting they employed for the Sanctus and Agnus Dei was from the Requiem.

      SJH: So he’s pointing out that Mass XVIII and the Requiem Agnus Dei use the same melody?

      Not only that, but the Sanctus and Agnus Dei from Mass XVIII are specifically the chants chosen by Pope Paul VI for Jubilate Deo, the “minimum repertoire of Gregorian chant.”

      (Enter clever joke that Paul VI chose chants from the Requiem Mass to be in the “minimum repertoire”, ironically sounding the death knell for Gregorian chant.)

    2. I think he’s trying to say that people who want Latin or traditional liturgy are ignorant – a common idea expressed by those who think there’s something wrong with wanting anything traditional.

      Also, the Mass setting he was talking about is usually the only one found in the hymnals of the major publishers, and is usually the only one you can expect any typical choir to be remotely familiar with.

    3. Samuel, came here to post this! I remember the first time I stumbled about the graduals! That said (I know you probably know, but for the benefit of all), the ’74 Graduale Romanum made the Uxa tua the second option for the gradual in the OF, presumably because Uxa tua was a neo-Gregorian Solesmes composition. That said, it is one of the most beautiful texts in the psalms, and one that (in its OF responsorial psalm form, too) is used far too infrequently at nuptial Masses. It was wonderful to have it on OT-33A this past week!

      Also, very interesting that the 1962 raised the class of the nuptial Mass (therefore adding a Gloria), which was then changed when “classes” because “feasts” or “solemnities”…again eliminating the Gloria in the 1970 missal. Here we are again with the 2002 MR finally translated, and we get the Gloria back! I’m pretty sure I’m the only person I know who is fascinated by that, but…

  3. Just can’t pass on this – more “mockery and inaccuracy” – taken from a post yesterday about Newt Gringrich.

    Words, Mere Words: Vox Clara Speaks Well. But Are They Smart?


    If Vox Clara’s career in liturgy proves anything, it is that they will never be caught saying “Oops.” VC is currently rising to frontrunner status in the Curia largely because they’re willing to talk about liturgy at any time, is ready to do so with some measure of political facility, and has sufficient self-regard to exploit every opportunity to demonstrate their rhetorical command. They have managed to leverage the liturgy debates to their benefit by acting like a professor before an unprepared lecture hall of students, condescending to the bishops by treating every question as a logic exercise. And so, however improbably, their connections have earned the status of an important credential to the Pope.
    But if VC has amply proven its political talents, they have also demonstrated their limitations. The Curia should not mistake their communication skills with evidence of real knowledge, or even of good reasoning. VC may be a master of political intrigue—its ability to make bookish references and formulate long sentences demonstrate as much—but that does not mean they know what they are talking about.
    VC’s patterns of speech are largely analytically acute, and sometimes aesthetically interesting, but substantively, they are very often lacking. Language is supposed to be a package that carries substance, but VC is sometimes so pleased with its uninterrupted stream of words, that they mistake it for an actual flow of ideas. This, sadly, is an affliction endemic in the curia, where too many spend too long trying to score points in petty intellectual fights; the further the substance of the debate recedes, the faster the self-satisfaction of the participants grows.

    Linguists have long known not to be distracted by the decorative aspects of language, and that profound substance can often be found in unexpected packages; indeed, they are trained to find it there. A classic study, performed by the University of Pennsylvania’s William Labov back in the 1960s, shows that to be the case. Labov showed that in Philadelphia’s inner city, those speaking the roughest “Ebonics” were often reasoning more deeply than more educated, middle-class black neighbors.
    Here’s a male teenager asked whether he believes in heaven:
    Like some people say if you’re good, your spirit goin’ t’heaven … ‘n’ if you bad, your spirit goin’ to hell. Your spirit goin’ to hell anyway, good or bad. ‘Cause, you see, doesn’ nobody really know that it’s a God, y’know, ‘cause I mean I have seen black gods, pink gods, white gods, all color gods, and don’t nobody know it’s really a God. An’ when they be sayin’ if you good, you goin’ t’heaven, ‘cause you ain’t goin’ to no heaven — ‘cause it ain’t no heaven for you to go to!
    On the surface that hardly sounds like what we call sober reasoning. However, Labov laid out the clear formal lines of logic expressed in this slangy, nonstandard vehicle of speech:
    1. Everyone has a different idea of what God is like.
    2. Therefore nobody knows that God really exists.
    3. If there is heaven, it was made by God.
    4. If God doesn’t exist, he couldn’t have made heaven.
    5. Therefore heaven does not exist.
    6. Therefore you can’t go to heaven.
    Compare this to the more bourgeois person asked whether there is such a thing as witchcraft:
    “I do feel that in certain cultures there is such a thing as witchcraft, or some sort of science of witchcraft; I don’t think that it’s just a matter of believing hard enough that there is such a thing as witchcraft. I do believe that there is such a thing that a person can put himself in a state of mind, or that something could be given to them to intoxicate them in a certain – to a certain frame of mind – that – that could actually be considered witchcraft.”
    A teacher would have no problem with the phraseology; we all see the basic confidence in self-expression. But technically this guy didn’t say a thing of use. Is there witchcraft or not? What is it that “could be considered witchcraft”? Smooth talking and smooth thinking reveal themselves to be hardly the same thing.
    So it is with VC. Take a close look at what they’re saying, and you’ll find that it’s using artfully constructed rhetoric to cloak ideas that are simply wrong. What evidence is there of burgeoning communities in the world of people who grow up speaking only Latin, or do not speak English well enough to function beyond asking someone to fill it up with regular?
    For a group with vaunted political intrigue credentials, this is an embarrassment. If VC is intent on brandishing its power, might not they be expected to have done some basic research—or at least show basic respect for research—on the subjects they talk about? But there is a basic misunderstanding at work here: Scholarship is not about the production of words, but about the search for knowledge on the basis of evidence. VC seems to have interpreted their political connections rather as a way primarily to burnish their own ego—to confuse supporters into following thie, rather than to clarify matters of importance.
    They are obviously well-practiced at this sort of scholarly and linguistic malpractice. So as the new translation gets ready to be implemented, we should keep in mind that sometimes the pomp and circumstance of scholarly language is little more than a cynical game of bait and switch.”

  4. Bill, that has to be the longest combox post evah! Did you beat the word count mechanism, seriously?
    Very good illustrations. Reminded me of a music literature class example of a seminal musicque concrete construct composition of a street kid’s clipped, recorded utterance “come out ta show dem” that was then sequenced and layered to take the form of a minimalist, legitimate artistic composition.
    So, after all that construct, the punch line is still about power politics and “bait and switch?” Okay, but the ride was fun while it lasted. Hope no one from the Isles was perturbed by the loop the loops in the rollercoaster.

  5. The greatest reform of the post Vatican II Mass is the allowance of the vernacular and the richness of the missal in terms of prayers, prefaces and additional Masses and the lectionary. There is only a small percentage of Catholics who go to the the EF Mass on a regular basis and a bit larger percentage who like to go occasionally and to have its option. Those who prefer the EF Mass prefer what they believe to be rubrics, direction of prayer, limitations on styles of music and content and choreography that allow the Mass from their perspective to “look” more reverent to them. I suppose the Latin adds to that, but I do not think that the Latin is primary in their desire for this Mass otherwise they’d ask for the OF Mass in Latin.
    Certainly the reformed lectionary and the fact that other Christian denominations use it is a wonderful result of the reform of the Mass.
    The one area where I would tend to agree with those who prefer the EF Mass and it perceived more reverent portrayal of the Mass concerns the rubrics and the choreography of this Mass as well as the direction of the prayer and the position of the priest. I feel also that celebrating the EF Mass has made me more conscious of being more intentional with the relaxed rubrics of the OF Mass and striving to be as reverent as I can be in celebrating it.
    Eventually I would like to see the 1962 missal only for those who are truly attached to it, so therefore limited. I would much prefer an “EF Order of the new Missal” with perhaps the Roman Canon the only option for this order of it, but allowing all the other prayers, prefaces and Masses, calendar but with the revised lectionary and its current “rubrics” of how to proclaim the Scriptures, where and by whom. This option as with the normal way of celebrating the OF Mass could be in Latin, the vernacular or a combination of both and left to the discretion of the priest and those who desire it.

  6. Fr. Allan – not going to go around and around with you. But your point does violence to ecclesiology, sacramental theology, and organic development. It begins a process that has unintended consequences (which is why the bishops pleaded with JPII not to do this). It set a precedence and undoes liturgical tradition. Unlike others, we may have 21 rites in the western church but this indult and now permission goes well beyond a rite – we have a rite….now in two forms; makes no sense.

    1. While I can’t say I feel your pain, I do think that two things are are happening simultaneously in the Liturgy, a tightening up and a relaxation. We’re going to have multiple forms of the Liturgy, in fact we have already in the OF if you visit from parish to parish and country to country, and we now have the Anglican Use Rite and maybe one day the Lutheran-use. Who knows? But things are fluid not rigid in this regard.

      1. Two more examples that don’t hold up – if they do set these up, they should put a time limit on them with an expiration date. As you can tell, not overly persuaded with this whole anglican/lutheran alternate rite stuff – would much rather see a broader and more comprehensive approach to Christian Unity (which existed until this pope) as outlined and implemented by Vatican II.

      2. JP – you need to study church history; papal pronouncements are a dime a dozen; the next pope may completely pronounce something totally different. One should focus on councils; not specific papal pronouncements esp. if they contradict concilar statements and directives.

      3. Bill, I certainly do need to study Church history more, I agree.

        But I’ve now transitioned from papal pronouncements to the Vatican Decree Unitiatis Redintegratio. It says, in part:

        “All in the Church must preserve unity in essentials. But let all, according to the gifts they have received enjoy a proper freedom, in their various forms of spiritual life and discipline, in their different liturgical rites, and even in their theological elaborations of revealed truth. In all things let charity prevail. If they are true to this course of action, they will be giving ever better expression to the authentic catholicity and apostolicity of the Church.” (UR 4)

        “We […] need to acquire a more adequate understanding of the respective doctrines of our separated brethren, their history, their spiritual and liturgical life, their religious psychology and general background.” (UR 9)

        Is there somewhere else in the documents of Vatican II that the possible liturgical future of other groups of Christians coming into full communion with the Catholic Church is laid out in more detail? As I said in my earlier comment, this talk of respect for and freedom in liturgical matters seems to point towards a multiplicity of liturgical forms.

        But I could be misunderstanding the issue, as seen from your perspective.

    2. Our present situation of ‘two forms, but one rite’ is a classical example of ‘squaring the circle’.

      When thinking or reading about it, it reminds me of the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland: “When I was your age I always did it (believe impossible things) for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” Louis Carroll

    3. So then, if Pope Benedict decided tomorrow that there would only be one form of the Roman Rite — the Ordinary Form — what ground would there be to stand on for those who desire the current English translation of the Mass instead of the new one?

      1. Bill, I don’t find that response particularly helpful. I was asking a serious question:

        If the permission for the E.F. Missal is used as grounds for a potential permission for continued use of the current translation of the O.F. Missal (see here), what would happen if the E.F. permission were taken away?

        What if the one Roman rite had only one form, instead of this novelty we are now experiencing, what justification would be used for two translations of a Missal co-existing?

    4. “But your point does violence to ecclesiology, sacramental theology, and organic development. It begins a process that has unintended consequences (which is why the bishops pleaded with JPII not to do this). It set a precedence and undoes liturgical tradition.”

      I find your statements intriguing. I’m not sure I understand. Could you elaborate?

      Regarding our Roman rite having two forms – it’s not unprecedented. Doesn’t the Byzantine Rite use the Liturgies of St John Chrysostom, St Basil and St James? I know it’s not an exact parallel, but close enough maybe?

      1. Tony – good question. I am not expert or even knowledgable on the three liturgies you cite. Would suggest that there is still one rite so see your example as apples to oranges but we have folks who know much more and, like you, would be intrigued if this is a way forward??

  7. “Doesn’t the Byzantine Rite use the Liturgies of St John Chrysostom, St Basil and St James?”

    Not only that, but there are numerous variations within the family of Byzantine Rite uses. The current situation of the Byzantine Rite is similar to the state of the Roman Rite prior to the Council of Trent, albeit not as chaotic. There is a plethora of variant usages even within the same Patriarchate and there are differences in texts and rubrics among the different Orthodox and Greek Catholic jurisdictions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.