Mixing the Forms

Author: Father Edward McNamara


Mixing the Forms

ROME, 15 FEB. 2011 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: I celebrate both forms of the Roman rite in my parish and try to keep current regarding the liturgical norms for both forms. I find it a bit disconcerting that a trend is emerging that would introduce elements of the extraordinary form into that of the ordinary form under the "what is not expressly forbidden is permitted" principle. On some blogs it seems to get presented as "what was not expressly forbidden is required." What come to mind are questions about the use of the maniple in the ordinary form and rigorist questions about the placement of the pall, and the reappearance of osculations. Having recall of the "abuses" I witnessed in the Tridentine form that collapsed priestly prayer into the careful recitation of the Words of Institution (the remainder becoming auxiliary to that moment), I wonder if we face a similar development if we are not wary of exalting "doing the red" over "praying the black"? — W.S., Allentown, Pennsylvania

A: In his motu proprio Summorum Pontificum Benedict XVI stated the following: "Art 1. The Roman Missal promulgated by Paul VI is the ordinary expression of the 'Lex orandi' (Law of prayer) of the Catholic Church of the Latin rite. Nonetheless, the Roman Missal promulgated by St. Pius V and reissued by Blessed John XXIII is to be considered as an extraordinary expression of that same 'Lex orandi,' and must be given due honor for its venerable and ancient usage. These two expressions of the Church's 'Lex orandi' will in no any way lead to a division in the Church's 'Lex credendi' (Law of belief). They are, in fact, two usages of the one Roman rite."

Therefore, we have two usages and two forms and two distinct missals for use in the same Roman rite. I believe that the only respectful attitude toward these two forms is to respect each one and follow the indications found in each missal. It is true, for example, that the new missal does not forbid the use of the maniple, but this does not mean that it may be used. Pope Paul VI's missal lists the vestments required for Mass and these are what should be used, no more and no less. The same must be said about gestures and other minor rites.

Another question refers to those who believe that some or more elements from one rite could be incorporated into the other. Thus, some propose restoring the extraordinary form's beautiful offertory prayers to the ordinary form, or unifying the two liturgical calendars and the cycles of readings. These are valid points of debate, but only the Supreme Pontiff can authorize permanent changes in either form.

A different point is the use of the extraordinary form's more-precise norms as a guide to interpret the looser indications found in the newer rite. In principle I would say that this is a valid procedure if combined with common sense in adapting to various ritual situations. They can provide a general rule of thumb without creating a canonical obligation.

We must also keep in mind that on more than a few occasions the lack of specifics in the new norms is a deliberate choice to allow for flexibility. Our reader offers the example of the pall, a stiffened linen square placed on the chalice to prevent dirt and insects falling into it. The ordinary form allows the celebrant to decide whether to use it or not according to circumstances of time and place. In the extraordinary form, when the celebrant decides to use the pall, the norms offer some guidance as to when to place and remove it, without imposing any obligation.

On several occasions I have expressed my view that the principle of "what is not expressly forbidden is permitted" is not a valid instrument of liturgical interpretation. It could also be a dangerous double-edged sword. Just as the use of the maniple is not forbidden, nor is it forbidden for a priest to paint his face and attach a false red nose to celebrate a "clown Mass." Liturgical norms cannot forbid every possibility. They are of a necessarily positive descriptive nature and are meant to be executed as written with neither additions nor subtractions.

Finally I would say that a genuine celebration cannot contrast "doing the red" and "praying the black." Liturgy is essentially a ritual action in words and gestures in which both flow into a single act of worship. The aim of a celebrant in either form of the Roman rite is to pray the red and the black. Performing the ritual gestures with reverence and decorum is as much an act of prayer as pronouncing the sacred words with the pause and aplomb of one who truly believes that the greatest mystery on earth is taking place at this very moment.

* * *

Follow-up: Mixing the Forms [3-1-2011]

In the wake of our comments on mixing the two forms of the Roman rite (see Feb. 15), an Oregon reader observed: "This is what you said in the answer with regard to mixing the two rites: 'In the extraordinary form, when the celebrant decides to use the pall, the norms offer some guidance as to when to place and remove it, without imposing any obligation.' To the best of my knowledge, the pall is not something the celebrant may decide to use or not. Another point: I don't know if it is quite right to compare the use of the maniple to face-painting. The former has a long history and face-painting does not."

Regarding the first point, I have to issue a mea culpa. This erroneous phrase escaped several editorial revisions. I was referring to the point that the old form can throw light on some norms that are not explained in detail in the new form. The expression should have read something like: "in the ordinary form, when the celebrant decides to use the pall, the norms of the extraordinary form offer some guidance ...."

Regarding the second point, I deliberately used an exaggerated comparison to underline a point of interpretation of the law. There was no intention of casting ridicule upon the use of the maniple (which is still mandatory in the extraordinary form).

Another reader, from Wichita, Kansas, asked: "In a diocese in the northern part of the U.S. a priest adds the extraordinary form rubrics to the ordinary form of the Mass. When I questioned him about it, he said that his office of worship from his diocese has given him permission to add the rubrics because he said Pope Benedict said that the extraordinary form of the Mass should influence the ordinary form. Here are some things he is doing: consecrating the host on the corporal, blessing himself with the paten, placing the paten under the corporal, placing the sacramentary on the right side of the altar, blessing himself during the Sanctus, etc. It is my understanding liturgical rubrics are universal law and cannot be added or changed except by a Vatican office or the Pope. It is also my understanding that one of the documents of Vatican II states that no one on his own authority may add or change anything in liturgy. Does a bishop or his office of worship have the authority to permit a mixing of the rites?"

The short answer is no, neither the bishop nor his liturgy office may authorize such mixing of rites.

I believe that the primary meaning of Pope Benedict's desire — that the extraordinary form influence the ordinary — is in inculcating an enhanced sense of reverence and decorum into the ordinary form.

Some aspects, usually associated with the extraordinary form, have always been permitted in the ordinary form. For example, it has always been possible to celebrate facing east, to use Latin, to use the style of chasuble typically worn before the reform, and so on.

We have already mentioned above the use of the older form as a guide in doubtful situations. As well as this, several other elements from the older form, such as some of the priest's private prayers, may still be used by the celebrant in a private capacity.

I do not believe, however, that any element can be introduced which would contradict the ordinary form's clear rubrics or even render them ungainly. For example, the missal mandates the use of the paten upon which the host is placed immediately after the consecration and which is elevated along with the chalice at the final doxology ("Through him, with him …"). For this reason it is not correct to consecrate in the manner of the extraordinary form.

Likewise, as mentioned in the original article, I believe that each form should be taken as it is, and gestures proper to one (such as blessing oneself during the Sanctus) should not be introduced into the other simply because nothing is said against it.

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