One excellent illustration of the profound differences between the Ordinary and Extraordinary forms of Mass can be seen in how each incorporates the greatest text or word of all: the divinely inspired Scriptures.
In the Traditional liturgy, Sacred Scripture is omnipresent in memorable lines, short enough to be remembered, pondered, and woven into one’s prayer life: the Introit, the Gradual and Alleluia, the Offertory, the Communion … the Word of God is prayed and prayed deeply in the Mass of All Times, as befits a rite bequeathed to us by a monastic culture of lectio divina. In the best of circumstances the Word of God is sung, with tones exquisitely matching the poetry of the Latin language.
In this valley of tears (which we moderns, looking for more stress, have turned into a valley of speedy highways and instant emails), what are the texts we would take the trouble to slow down for and sing? As St. Augustine said: “Only the lover can sing”. We sing words we are in love with, or rather, words that remind us of the one we are in love with. Whenever the Epistle or the Gospel is chanted in the Extraordinary Mass , it makes my heart race – it is a love song, a song of the human heart caught up in romance with the Eternal Word.
In the new liturgy, by contrast, the Bible is nearly always merely read out, usually by people who could not declaim a text if their lives depended on it. There is no love affair – it is a sedate meeting where a certain amount of business has to be gone through, and I reckon not one in ten people could tell you, after Mass, what any of the readings were about.
Contrary to official propaganda, the Ordinary Form also offers the faithful less Scripture, qualitatively speaking, as the almost universal abandonment of the ‘Propers’ of the Mass and their replacement by hymns demonstrates.
The Epistle and Gospel of the Extraordinary Mass are always shorter, pithier, more directly relevant to the feast itself, and in this way, more pedagogically effective. This Mass lends itself to scriptural preaching and meditation, whereas ironically the new one does not, in spite of the supposedly greater ‘banquet’ of Scripture offered to the faithful. The old liturgy is literally saturated with Scripture, not only in the proper Antiphons and Prayers but in the unchanging prayers as well, and for this reason it is much more potent in the scriptural formation of the worshiping soul. But note that it is successful just by being what it is, a liturgy thick and rich and full of religion; it does not seek, rationalistically, to be a sort of Bible study.
For example, even though the Gospel of the Mass is reached in five to ten minutes in both the Extraordinary form (when recited) and the Ordinary one, with the former one feels as though one has been prepared for it: one’s soul has been tilled by Psalm 42, by the Confiteor, by the exchange Ostende nobis, by the ascent of the altar with its two beautiful prayers, and by the multi-faceted Collect that says so much in so few words. In the ordinary form, however, this portion is rapid and disjointed: sign of the Cross, greeting, Kyrie (often without a Confiteor, which has, in any case, been severely crippled), and lightweight Collect. There is little sense of a natural motion, an organic whole – it’s more like going through an agenda … then, wham, the reading – always done by a layman, usually a woman, who is dressed so as to be obviously non-ministerial, as if to represent that the readings are not part of the rational worship that has its pinnacle in the offering to God of the Word made flesh through the ministry of the priesthood.
There’s no way out: the Word of God is woven into the fabric of the ancient liturgy, bone of its bone, flesh of its flesh.