OR the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance, he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”
Robert Jastrow (1925 – 2008), God and the Astronomer (1978)
In many American settings today, Catholics have been urged not to physically shake hands while “passing the peace” in order to prevent the spread of disease.
While I was visiting Oregon recently where there is yet no obligation-fulfilling TEM (or any regular TEM in the state, alas) this happened and was announced from the pulpit at daily Mass. This article shows another recent example.
But in many Ordinariate parishes the peace is not passed in the first place, because, although many Episcopalian congregations do pass the Peace in a way reminiscent of a Meet-and-Greet social on a cruise ship, it is not part of our local traditions in many Ordinariate parishes.
Beyond its not being part of our (local) Patrimony (I cannot be too too general since some diversity does exist here in parishes I have attended), the common American mode of passing the peace represents, for many traditionalists, such a disruption of the most solemn part of the Mass that it were better to omit it entirely even if our Missal allows it. It is not a contamination of biological hygiene but of spiritual hygiene for many.
This common omission is representative of a difference between the Old Latin Mass of which the 1962 Missal of John XXIII is the extant representative along with the common mode of celebration of the Traditional English Mass (according to Divine Worship the Missal) and on the other hand the common mode of celebrating the modern 1970 Mass of Pope Paul and subsequent iterations.
While I was visiting Salem, Oregon, I had the opportunity to attend a Chesterton Society meeting promoting one of the two Catholic Classical Schools in the area (such is the abject failure of the US public school system in the area that both St. John Bosco High School in Keizer and a Chesterton Academy in Mt Angel both operate relatively nearby one another).
The speaker that evening was a Dominican priest of Holy Rosary Parish in Portland. After I told him I was a member of the American Traditional English Ordinariate, he made a pertinent observation before his talk on the work of John Senior and its application to education as we kibitzed over hors d’oeuvres, liquor and cigars provided by our generous hosts. I did not and do not recommend indulging in the latter, by the way.
Father performs a weekly ancient Dominican Rite Mass at Holy Rosary Parish, which is of course in Latin. Though a strong resemblance exists between the TLM of 1962 and the Dominican Rite Mass, one of the key differences is the way the celebrant and his assistants interact. While the TLM resembles in many ways a surgeon performing an operation with the surgical assistant and technicians performing important but non-essential roles to speed his progress, the Dominican Rite resembles a surgery with two or more surgeons, since the assistants each play important roles and are integral to the performance of the Mass, which cannot be performed without them (This was also true of the Sarum Rite Mass, abrogated by Trent, perhaps representing a certain lateralising force in England epitomised by the signing of the Magna Carta by a beleaguered King John in the Middle Ages as compared with other Monarchies on the continent) whereas a priest may say the TLM unaided or even in a hotel room without congregation, and represented according to Father’s theory the absolute monarchies that were the ideal of the Middle Ages, where the king holds the fullness of governmental power in his person, utilising ministers only for convenience whose actions he may over-ride.
So intricate are the interactions and choreography of its action that the Dominican Rite came to be known in the Middle Ages informally as “the Dance”, and the celebrant and his assistants work together in such a way so that the failure of one to do his actions correctly disrupts the performance of everyone else. So in the monastery and the rest of its communal life.
The New Mass of 1970 and its descendants are similarly lateralized, and in the most common performance the priest faces the people. More elaborate celebrations might even involve the often-maligned liturgical dancers which epitomise this conception of “congregational participation” in the Mass.
Father observed in our conversation that the form of the Liturgy must inevitably reflect the ethos and trends in social relations and politics in the larger society.
Thus both the Dominican Society of the middle ages compared with the rest of Society and Western Society of the Twentieth Century represented a movement toward democratisation and relative equality compared with what came before. In the monastery life is lived communally and all important decisions are made together as a community. Their Mass reflects this trend.
The Twentieth Century saw the complete self-implosion of Western Civilisation in the first World War (1914 – 1918), which resulted in several of the historical monarchies being replaced by more lateralised democracies. Again in the Second World War, the age of demagogues like FDR (our only 3-full term President, dying in his fourth term, who neutered the Supreme Court by threatening to pack it if they didn’t go along with his Constitutionally dubious policies), Churchill, Mussolini, Stalin and of course, Hitler. After that War proved a second time the inability of Great Men to solve the World’s problems, who could be surprised if people desired a more democratic, less centralised government? This too seems to be represented in the Mass that followed. In a typical Novus Ordo, priest faces the people since he does not lead them before God so much as guide them through a common sacrifice to God (Often priests ad lib “our sacrifice” rather than the written “your sacrifice and mine” in English language celebrations). Altar rails no longer separate the people from the Holy of Holies; the entire parish is become the sanctuary, and the tabernacle is decentralised as well, placed in another place. I’m sure you can mentally supply other examples of lateralisation for a new democratic age.
But in the current era, we have returned to hierarchy, which is reflected in the Mass of Pope Francis, Divine Worship: The Missal. Donald Trump the billionaire celebrity opposes a congress of septigenarians and octogenarians, while Putin and President Xi Jinping, the leaders of the world’s other two superpowers, are dictators in all but name with no term limits and no sign that they will be replaced any time soon.
Economically, the middle class is being reduced as technology, increasingly powerful global corporations and regulatory bodies eliminate and reduce the real payment for the work of artisans, service industry jobs and middle managers, and economic migration from the Middle East pushes down wages in Western countries.
Hierarchy and Order (whether just or unjust in the Western political sphere) have returned, which is (according to Father’s theory) why they find expression in Divine Worship, the latest Mass approved by the CDF and CDW: although the rubrical orientation is that of the 1970 Missal, the differences all point to a return to hierarchy. The language is hieratic, representing an elevation from the everyday. The prayers are ancient, preserved from the translation of Cranmer the revolutionary reformer. The law is read in many places representing the Order of God man is called to obey. The blessing from the priest represented by the reading of the Gospel of John at the end of the Mass is returned. In practice, rails and even rood screens are back, where feasible. Priests face East typically, except when addressing the people on God’s behalf. Tabernacles are cenralised again, robes are more elaborate, and incense hails divinity nigh while also cloaking the action in mystery obscuring the view of the congregant. And as we observed at first, the congregants, focused upon the mystery about to place, are either much more subdued or skip the passing of peace altogether.
Does this make one or the other better? Not necessarily. I’m sure none of us would put down on the Dominican Rite Mass because it is lateralised compared with the TLM. For me, with an orientation toward hierarchy engrained in me from my earliest days as a young chorister at St Luke’s, this sociological perspective helps me understand my Novus Ordo-brethren without despising them. It’s what they grew up with, not only literally but also in terms of its representation of the Zeitgeist of the latter half of the Twentieth Century.
As we continue into an increasingly hierarchical and class-riven world, with more dictator-like leadership less responsive to the will of the people, and an increasingly cold and hostile physical climate (according to some of the latest models of solar physicist Valentina Zharkova and other climate scientists whose models have proven predictive), we may expect future iterations of the Novus Ordo to follow Divine Worship (as the change from “and also with you” to “and with your spirit” does) in emphasising the sovereignty of God, His mystery and Order, even at the expense of a more convivial, freer and less organised Love-Feast atmosphere, that persists in most Novus Ordo celebrations and even in some celebrations of the Mass of Pope Francis, Divine Worship: The Missal today.