Saturday 18 September 2010

Nostalgia (posted 20/02/2010)

As defined by my Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary, 'nostalgia' is a sentimental longing for past times.  It is also a constant accusation levelled against those who love the Old Latin Mass.  We are accused of loving the bells and smells, the fancy vestments, we are simply play-acting.  We ought to get a life and join the rest of the world in the twenty-first century!
Up to a point, that is probably true -- I do love the bells and smells and the fancy vestments.  The big question is why do we have such things and what do they do for the Mass.  Put simply, the Mass is aimed at Almighty God, and not at the congregation (or audience), and so nothing is seen to be too good for the service of God.  In past times, this led our forebears to spend prodigious amounts of treasure and effort in building cathedrals and beautiful churches and decking them out with mosaics and wall-paintings where the congregation could be transported upwards to the presence of God, and so they would be led to identify themselves with the priest who in and with Jesus Christ offered the sacrifice of Calvary on the altar in their presence.
But this is not all.  It is the rite of the Mass itself, which is so ancient and takes us back to the time of the Apostles.  Everyone knows that the Tridentine Mass somehow came from the Council of Trent, which ended in 1563; the Roman Missal of Pope Pius V was issued in 1570.  But it would a mistake to think that this Missal was a new invention.  Michael Davies, the great apologist for the Old Mass, when writing about the Missal of Pius V, usually wrote that on the desk in front of him while he was writing lay a missal printed in about 1470, which differed in only the smallest degree from the missal of Pius V; in other words Pius V did not create a new Mass in 1570, he merely took the Mass as it existed at the time and removed some of the accretions which had been added on to it in the past hundred years.  And the Mass of 1470 can be traced by scholars way back to the fourth century.  It is true that some parts of the mass were added during those intervening centuries, but what is absolutely certain is that the Roman Canon (Eucharistic Prayer Number One) was unchanged from the sixth century and was slightly modified in the fourth or fifth century (some prayers which had been on one side of the Consecration were shifted to the other side).  Before that, there is uncertainty about precise details of the Mass, most likely because the Church was often under threat from the Roman Emperors.
Father Adrian Fortescue, who died in 1923, in his book The Mass A Study of the Roman Liturgy, sums up the early centuries of the Mass like this:  "Our Canon is untouched, and all the scheme of the Mass. Our Missal is still that of Pius V. We may be very thankful that his Commission was so scrupulous to keep or restore the old Roman tradition.  Essentially the Missal of Pius V is the Gregorian Sacramentary (791 AD); that again is formed from the Gelasian book (VIIth century), which depends on the Leonine collection (Vth century).  We find the prayers of our Canon in the treatise de Sacramentis and allusions to it in the IVth century.  So our Mass goes back, without essential change to the age when it first developed out of the oldest liturgy of all.  It is still redolent of that liturgy, of the days when Caesar ruled the world and thought he could stamp out the faith of Christ, when our fathers met together before dawn and 'sang a hymn to Christ as to a god' ((Letter of Pliny the Younger).  The final result of our enquiry ... is that there is not in Christendom another rite so venerable as ours."  He then adds in a footnote: "The prejudice that imagines that everything Eastern must be old is a mistake.  No Eastern rite now used is so archaic as the Roman Mass".
Our Mass is not in the same category as the groups of men and women who dress up as Roundheads and Cavaliers and re-enact battles of the XVII century.
What we have in the Traditional Latin Mass is not so much a sentimental attachment to the past but a love of a celebration and sacrifice which joins us today to very beginnings of the Christian faith, when the Apostles and St Paul adapted the Jewish synagogue service and added to it the specific elements of Christian worship.  It is ancient, and has sustained the faith of countless generations of faithful Catholics, of numberless saints and martyrs down the ages.  It is ours to cherish and, thanks to Benedict XVI, it is never going away.

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