I have often attended Mass in different countries, in different languages that I could not understand very well. I knew more or less what the priest was talking about, but the details were lost on me. Still, it proved an interesting learning experience. As a kind of passive sounding board, I was forcefully struck by how verbal, monotonous, and homogeneous the Novus Ordo Mass can be. The entire thing, from start to finish, was an almost uninterrupted flow of verbiage. This new Mass devalues silence and overvalues sound – in particular, talk, the word of men – not the more elusive Word of God. The ‘Liturgy of the Word’ far exceeds in proportion and dignity the Liturgy of the Eucharist: long homilies, people lining up to read poorly composed prayers of the faithful, no hope of meditation, far too much recitation and moving around, ugly hymns and hardly any silence.
To complete the picture, however, I was also blessed to be able to attend many Tridentine Masses around the world, and the experience was exactly the opposite: the prayers – oh, sublime sanity and simplicity! – were ever the same, regardless of the priest’s native language; there was a sense of homecoming, warm welcome, consolation; the ceremonies were not embarrassing parades of ego and sentimentality but ritual reenactments of the sacrifice of Calvary at which I, a lowly sinner, could assist with all the attentiveness of my soul, in the company of Holy Mary, St. John, and the whole company of angels and saints.
The Mass of All Times exhibits the paradox of a liturgy with more text but less verbosity than its modern counterpart. By the books it has more prayers, there is more verbal substance to it, and yet, without a doubt, the overall impression is one of less wordiness, less ‘textiness’ than is felt to be the case with the new Mass. The explanation of this paradox is easy enough. As is the case with all traditional liturgies, regardless of rite, there are many prayers that the priest recites silently or semi-silently while other things are happening or being sung. By contrast, the Novus Ordo, with the rationalism so characteristic of its novelties, stipulates that nearly everything must be spoken out loud, and what is worse, proclaimed to all the world – which can make the whole thing seem like a pious harangue, especially in a church with artificial amplification or a chatty celebrant or both.
The prayers and ceremonies of the Traditional Mass are, in the best and fullest sense of the word, a natural response to the transcendent mystery of the Incarnation – that is why this Mass is such a perfect vehicle for the supernatural grace that presupposes nature even as it surpasses it. The liturgy developed organically out of revelation and the graced human response to it, which is why, given due exposure and effort, everyone can understand the Ancient Rite, but no one can fathom it. The Novus Ordo, on the other hand, is an aesthetic-intellectual construct of the worst sort – its aesthetics are as shapelessly ugly as most modern churches, and its ‘accessible content’, precisely on account of its verbosity and cerebrality, is boring and superficial. Everyone can understand it – and see through it: Is this really all there is to the “mystery of faith” at the heart of the universe?
I truly believe that the Mass of All Times is the only realistic hope for the future of the Western Liturgy – indeed it is a condition for the very survival of Catholicism. Emboldened by Pope Benedict’s legislation, blessed by rapid growth in adherents, the traditionalist movement is taking its rightful place at the vanguard of true reform and renewal, which consists above all in a jealous love for the Lord’s house, the place where His glory dwells (ps 69:9, John 2:17, ps 26:8), and fidelity to our glorious inheritance, our birthright in Christ Jesus.