Friday, April 25, 2008

The Old and the New

When I was chatting (in real time, not online) with a fellow priest recently, we started talking about the parishioners from a church that we both had served in. When we started talking about the antics the altar boys used to have, we both realised that those altar ‘boys’ were already men. Those whom we had known as ‘boys’ in primary school were grown up. I had even known those who are about the get married!!

Thus, I present this picture of an old tree taken by Petr Kratochvil and posted in the Public Domain Pictures website. As my friend and I were thinking of old times, we realised that we were getting old. Doesn’t that old tree look regal and grand. Unless there is disease involved, most old people look regal. They may get frailer with age but there is this awe I feel when I meet a really grand old person. Of course, I am not at that ‘grand’ state yet. In fact, an older priest may tell me that, being in my mid-forties, I am still young. However, compared to my nephews and niece who are still in their one-digit ages, I am old. I have not grown taller (although I am still advancing horizontally, if not vertically) but hopefully I am growing wiser.

I have been listening to recordings of talks given by Monsignor Charles Pope, a priest in America. He’s a powerful preacher. I don’t think that I will ever be able to preach like he does. Anyway, he shared that he is getting closer to the Lord with age. I hope this is something I can say as I grow older as well. Although he is about my age, he has been a priest for a longer time. In fact, he is very familiar with the Tridentine Mass. I chanced upon a movie of him celebrating the Tridentine Mass. The beginning of the clip says, “the issue is NOT that the Mass is said in Latin or the Vernacular. It is a matter that the new and old Mass are totally different Rites of Mass.” I would rephrase this a little: The issue is NOT the language of the Mass; both rites, old and new, are rites of the same Mass, the one instituted by Christ at the last supper.

The New Order of the Mass that was promulgated in the 1970s can be celebrated in Latin. However, the Tridentine Rite cannot be celebrated in the vernacular. Both rites give us the Eucharistic Sacrament. Priests can celebrate both rites in a proper and solemn way. They can abuse both rites by celebrating it without proper respect. I suppose the difference is that the old rite is so restrictive that a slight deviation of the distance between hands during prayers was considered a mortal sin (i.e. the priest is liable to go to hell if he dies without going for confession). The new rite does not have that severe a restriction but it is still a grave sin for a priest to celebrate Mass without due solemnity and respect. There have been many differing views of the values of the old and new rite. However, all Catholics can have a preference regarding their attendance but not regarding the acceptance of their validity. Catholics are obliged to accept both rites as valid rites. I heard once that a young man, preferring the Tridentine rite, considered ‘puking’ at the new rite. I felt sad. We don’t pick what we should believe and what we shouldn’t. We believe that the Lord is guiding his Church and whatever the Church teaches is what the Lord teaches. Truth is not something imposed or a set of rules. This is what Pope Benedict XVI referred to in his speech to seminarians and young people at St. Joseph’s seminary in the United States (the emphasis is mine):

Have you noticed how often the call for freedom is made without ever referring to the truth of the human person? Some today argue that respect for freedom of the individual makes it wrong to seek truth, including the truth about what is good. In some circles to speak of truth is seen as controversial or divisive, and consequently best kept in the private sphere. And in truth’s place – or better said its absence – an idea has spread which, in giving value to everything indiscriminately, claims to assure freedom and to liberate conscience. This we call relativism. But what purpose has a “freedom” which, in disregarding truth, pursues what is false or wrong? How many young people have been offered a hand which in the name of freedom or experience has led them to addiction, to moral or intellectual confusion, to hurt, to a loss of self-respect, even to despair and so tragically and sadly to the taking of their own life? Dear friends, truth is not an imposition. Nor is it simply a set of rules. It is a discovery of the One who never fails us; the One whom we can always trust. In seeking truth we come to live by belief because ultimately truth is a person: Jesus Christ. That is why authentic freedom is not an opting out. It is an opting in; nothing less than letting go of self and allowing oneself to be drawn into Christ’s very being for others.

We might feel that the Tridentine Mass allows us a better atmosphere for prayer but that is not any reason to reject the new rite. There are others who might pray better in the vernacular than in Latin and so prefer the new rite in the vernacular. For those, like me, who have known only the new rite, it would be wicked to ridicule those who prefer the old rite by labelling their preference as faddish. The Lord allows different rites to exist. The Eastern Rite Churches have different rites for celebrating Mass; yet we do not reject them. So why should we start to reject what the Church has taught to be valid?

Enough ranting! Let me not forget the movie I mentioned. Here it is below. Enjoy.


dOm^tHe^dOnKeY said...

wah chim !! dun understand what you are trying to get here...

Norman said...

I suppose the difference is that the old rite is so restrictive that a slight deviation of the distance between hands during prayers was considered a mortal sin

Dear Fr, good blog post but just a little clarification from you. Did you say this having actually read the rubrics of the old rite? or did it come just from what you've heard about it?

Norman said...

Dear Fr, I just want to say that I wholeheartedly agree with you when you said "For those, like me, who have known only the new rite, it would be wicked to ridicule those who prefer the old rite by labelling their preference as faddish. The Lord allows different rites to exist." I look forward to the time when the two rites can co-exist together peacefully and without prejudice from both sides in the archdiocese of singapore.

Fr. Kenson Koh said...

to Norman

I cannot say that I have read the rubrics of the 1962 missal. However, I have been told by a few saintly old MEP priests (most of them are already departed from us) that not obeying the rubrics was considered a mortal sin. At the same time, I've been told, the rubrics of the missal are very meticulous in the description of what must be done. Thus, the rubrics describe the way the hands need to be held, any deviation from that would tantamount to disobedience to the rubrics and thus a mortal sin would be committed.

The rubrics in the ordinary rite aren't as detailed as the 1962 rite. There is more flexibility that the 1962 rite. However, there are still specific items that has to be obeyed. For example:

The priest next shows the faithful the Eucharistic Bread, holding it above the paten or above the
chalice, and invites them to the banquet of Christ. Along with the faithful, he then makes an act
of humility using the prescribed words taken from the Gospels. (GIRM 2003, n. 84)

From what I understand from the little Latin that I have, the 1920 rubrics indicate that the Eucharistic Bread is to be held by the right hand at this juncture just before communion. Here, the Eucharistic Bread is shown, but it does not explain by the right or the left hand.