Fr. Pasley on the Distinctive Voices of the Ordinary Form of the Mass

Over at the Chant Café, Fr. Robert Pasley, the chaplain of the Church Music Association of America, has a written a lengthy addition to our conversation about the ways in which the forms of the Mass may enrich one another.

Having received permission to reprint his work here on Pray Tell, I tried to insert his observations but WordPress limits the number of characters; hence this post. If this is not your cup of tea, just ignore it. But I am pursuing these questions as part of my larger desire to create respectful dialogue.

Does the Ordinary Form have its own distinctive voice or voices?
Fr. Robert C Pasley, KCHS
Chaplain CMAA

I would like to add to the discussion raised by Jeffrey Tucker about the distinctive voice of the OF. It doesn’t, in my opinion have a voice, but many voices.

Paul Ford said, “This CMAA Colloquium was the perfect venue for experiencing the reform of the reform at its most exemplary.” While I agree that it was exemplary and I thank him for the compliment, I don’t agree that we are engaged in the reform of the reform or that we tried to enrich the OF by adding EF elements to it.

Ad Orientem worship is not foreign to the OF according to the books. As a matter of fact we all know that Ad Populum was never mentioned by VII. It spread on its own, flying on the wings of the “Spirit of Vatican II.” Either GIRM #299 in the new Missal was translated incorrectly by accident or someone injected their agenda on purpose. It does not say that Ad Populum is preferred, but it says the following, “Altare maius exstruatur a pariete seiunctum, ut facile circumiri et in eo celebratio versus populum peragi possit, quod expedit ubicumque possibile sit.” Which, thanks to Fr Z, the literal translation means, “The main altar should be built separated from the wall, which is useful wherever it is possible, so that it can be easily walked around and a celebration toward the people can be carried out.” By celebrating the OF Ad Orientem we are not reforming anything. We are not imposing EF customs on the OF. We are simply doing what the book not only allows, but seems to suggest as the first option.

From my previous post one can gather that I question this translation and I do not believe that ad orientem is the first option for OF Mass.

Using Latin is not part of the reform of the reform. It is called for in the OF.

Not extending the Sign of Peace is not reform, or influence from the EF, it is an option granted to the priest to use, or not use, at his own discretion.

The present indicative in GIRM 82, “There follows the Rite of Peace . . . ” means “must be done.” The “if appropriate” of  GIRM 154, “Then the Priest, with hands extended, says aloud the prayer Domine Iesu Christe, qui dixisti (Lord Jesus Christ, who said to your Apostles) and when it is concluded, extending and then joining his hands, he announces the greeting of peace, facing the people and saying, The peace of the Lord be with you always. The people reply, And with your spirit. After this, if appropriate, the Priest adds, Let us offer each other the sign of peace” (my emphasis), applies only to the adding of Let us offer each other the sign of peace.

Using beautiful Roman style vestments in the OF is not imposing the EF. All legitimate historical vestments can be used in either Form. You can use modern vestments, with all the proper parts, for the EF and you can use old vestments in the OF. As a matter of fact, even though the maniple and biretta are no longer required for the OF, there is nothing forbidding a priest from using them. The Canons of St Peter’s Basilica wear the biretta at the sung Mass on Sundays at the Altar of the Chair.

Finally, the omission of the Prayer of the faithful during weekday Masses seems to raise the hackles of many a person. This is also not a throwback to the EF. Many times the intercessions are so wordy and so long, they are easily tuned out. They can actually become more prominent and meaningful by using them less. The rubric says they are desirable. It doesn’t say mandatory. If the daily intercessions are so essential, then why not just say they are mandatory.

The rubric in GIRM 69 says they are desirable and usual[ly]. I agree with you that the universal prayer is poorly understood and implemented. I’m working to improve both. As Georges Bernanos famoulsy said, “the Church has need not of critics, but of artists . . . In the great crises of poetry what matters is not to denounce bad poets, nor worse still to hang them, but to write beautiful verses, to reopen the sacred sources. The Church has need not of reformers, but of saints.”

As long as I have been a member of the CMAA our policy has been to try to celebrate the Sacred Liturgy as close to what Sacrosanctum Concilium seems to want and what the rubrics of the OF Missal seem to prefer. This applies to rubrics, music, ars celebrandi, and spirituality. The problem is the word “seems.”

The word “seems” is the crux of the matter, the place where the many voices of the OF appear. Michael Davies wrote a book called “Liturgical Time Bombs.” In it he described the various places in Sacrosanctum Concilium where imprecise language opened the way for innovations that many could never have imagined. In my opinion, one of the most egregious problems of the OF is the multitude of options and suggestions. This flexibility has opened the way for a Pandora’s box of experimentation and ultimately a complete disregard, by many, for following any rules. I hate to say this, but one could believe that the rubrics and rules that keep the OF close to the tradition were placed as the first option to keep the peace and not shock too much. The other options or loopholes were included so that in time the Rites could develop in ways that would never have been accepted at first. After all, I think it was Fr. Gelineau who said that the Roman Rite was dead. Under Archbishop Marini’s guidance, during the Papacy of Pope John Paul II, I don’t think I ever heard a Gradual or Gregorian Alleluia at a Papal Mass. At times, even the Vatican didn’t seem to be following the precedence set down in the Liturgical books, especially in regard to music.

I don’t believe the options are there so that “the Rites could develop in ways that would never have been accepted at first.” But I do agree that “[a]t times, even the Vatican didn’t seem to be following the precedence set down in the Liturgical books, especially in regard to music.” Father Joseph Gelineau, S.J., did say in Demain La Liturgie (Paris, 1976, 9): “To tell the truth, it is a different liturgy of the Mass. This needs to be said without ambiguity: the Roman Rite as we knew it no longer exists. It has been destroyed.” But the operative words are “as we knew it.”

I would like to conclude where I began. I don’t think there is one voice for the OF. I don’t even think there are two or three voices for the OF. The problem is that there are so many voices even within the celebration of the OF, it can often seem like the expression of two different religions. This occurs even without throwing the EF into the mix. The CMAA, under the guidance of our predecessors, especially Msgr. Schuler, has always practiced the hermeneutic of continuity. We do our best to keep that continuity with our Tradition and traditions alive. As for the EF influencing the OF or vice versa, that is a challenge for another day and for people at a much higher pay grade. I once heard a very kind and yet determined Traditionalist say, “better the Old Mass in English facing the people than the New Mass in Latin facing the altar.” Whether one agrees or not, it is a very thought provoking statement. It shows that mutual enrichment is much deeper than the style of vestment a priest might wear and it has a long way to go.

Thanks, Father, for keeping the conversation going and for trying “to reopen the sacred sources.”


  1. I appreciate Fr. Pasley’s efforts to demonstrate openness to the voices of the Roman Rite as revised under the authority of the council and Pope Paul VI. I think he exaggerates the pandora’s box motif with regard to legitimate options. This represents an understanding of tradition which asserts that the ideal is no variations save those for the propers and the readings and special rubrics for special feasts. That conviction led to an “ars celebrandi” of the Tridentine Rite which, to be charitable, was most often less than inspiring or edifying. All that seemed to count was that it was celebrated validly. The Bishops of VII and afterwards knew very well that this venerable rite had become petrified and needed reforms. The reform it needed most was to arrange it in such a way to make manifest that Holy Mass, as the Church’s living sacrifice of praise, was being offered by Christ present in the church’s ministers and in his priestly people.
    Pope Benedict seems to believe that since the old rite was not abrogated and it is as valid as it ever was, why not let priests just use it if they choose. The private mass was raised nearly from the dead thus challenging important principals of the reform. Yes, there are circumstances that permit an OF Mass without a congregation, but I can tell you that having done it once, it was strange. It is as far away from the norm as one can imagine. But not with the EF. I’ve heard of priests who love to offer an EF private Mass. Again the old attitude that “Mass is Mass” stretches the principals of the reform.
    The places in the OF where variants are foreseen make sense if you believe that the God who is being worshipped is not just “out there” but right here in our midst as well. They also make sense if you reject the notion that Christ cannot lead the worship employing features of the priest’s personality. Jesus had a personality that led him to say all kinds of things, not all of which would qualify as pious. I’m glad for the opportunity to have the conversation.

    1. @Jack Feehily – comment #1:
      “The private mass was raised nearly from the dead thus challenging important principals of the reform…”

      What principles of the reform did it challenge? Perhaps it is better to suggest that the mass w/o a congregation challenged some peoples ideals of what the reform should have been. I’ve never understood that view because the decrees of Trent continue in Vatican II.

      …the old attitude that “Mass is Mass” stretches the principals of the reform.” How so?

  2. Dr. Ford, I’d be very grateful if you’d expand on your point here:

    “… the Roman Rite as we knew it no longer exists. It has been destroyed.” But the operative words are “as we knew it.”

    I’ve been reading Laszlo Dobszay and at least part of the quotation from Fr. Gelineau succinctly sums up one of Dobszay’s main theses: that there is a historic Roman liturgy, fixed in its essentials from at least the 9th century until 1970, which manifested itself in many ways: the various uses of the mendicant orders, the regional uses like Sarum, and Lyons, the Benedictine office, and then of course the Tridentine forms — but, that the postconciliar liturgy (Hours and Mass) are not in fact manifestations of this historic Roman liturgy, except in a narrow legal sense.

    At the same time Dobszay is not a huge fan of the Tridentine form — as manifestations of the Roman liturgy go, he thinks it fairly impoverished. In his view it needed reform badly but was instead left by the wayside in favor of something largely unrooted in the tradition.

    Your qualification above — drawing attention to Fr. Gelineau’s “as we knew it” — suggests that you would disagree with Dobszay. Do you think that, on the contrary, the 1970 liturgies (missal and hours) kept what was essential and are at least capable of successfully handing on the ancient Roman liturgical tradition (setting aside abuses, etc.)?

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