The bishops should welcome the Pope's motu proprio
It is depressing to hear reports that Cardinal Cormac MurphyO'Connor has written to the Vatican on behalf of the Bishops of England and Wales arguing against greater freedom for the celebration of the Old Roman Rite of Mass in this country. The bishops generally regard "diversity" as a very good thing; why, then are they against a diversification that the Pope himself strongly favours, and seems almost certain to authorise in the form of a motu proprio?
It is time for some fresh thinking on the subject of the pre-Vatican H Latin Mass. Perhaps the first thing we need to do is stop using the phrase "Tridentine" all the time. It is true that the 16thcentury Rite of St Pius X was influenced by the Council of Trent. But Trent did little more than remove late-medieval padding from the missal. And the revisions to the Roman Rite continued right up until 1962.
Something else we need to stop saying is that, in the Old Rite, the priest says Mass "with his back to the people". That is a loaded phrase that gives entirely the wrong impression. During the Canon of the Old Roman Rite, the priest and people face the same way, eastwards towards the rising sun of Christ. This is a gesture of profound symbolism that many liturgists would like to see incorporated into the New Rite.
The Traditional Rite is not a ceremony that, by historical accident, the Church adopted for four centuries. It is the Mass, and therefore timeless. Likewise, the New Rite is not a product of the 1960s. It is the Mass, and also timeless.
We live in an age in which most Catholics are more comfortable with hearing most of the Mass in their own language: we see no problem with that, and welcome Pope Benedict's suggestion that, at the main Sunday Mass in most parishes. the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and Agnus Dei should be said in Greek and Latin, while the rest is in the vernacular. Also, the dignified celebration . of the New Rite in Latin can be appropriate and inspiring.
What we must get away from is the notion that the Old Rite (or Classical Rite, as more and more people are calling it) is somehow exotic — a forbidden pleasure enjoyed by people whose preference for it is an indication of general weirdness. This is the unspoken prejudice of many bishops of England and Wales, and it is increasingly unjustified. Although some traditionalists have undoubtedly behaved in a rather sour and disrespectful manner in the past, such rudeness is increasingly rare.
Many liberal Catholics will privately admit that they misread Joseph Ratzinger: that the caricature of him as an intolerant reactionary was inaccurate. Likewise, liberals need to understand that their image of Catholics who prefer the Old Rite is a caricature: support for traditional liturgy has broadened and deepened in recent years. The Pope's motu proprio is the right response to this change; the bishops should welcome it when it appears.
The next St Francis of Assisi
Next time you wander through the streets of your home town on a Saturday evening, weaving between drunken and brawling louts, bear this thought in mind: that young man sprawling on pavement might just be the next St Francis of Assisi.
In his masterful speech to young people in Assisi last Sunday, Benedict XVI presented the saint as an early medieval prototype of the British yob. Francis, the Pope explained, was a cheerfully dissolute young man who hung around Assisi day and night, scandalising the town's upright citizens with his carousing.
Like British yobs who spend hundreds of pounds on the latest trainers, Francis bought the most expensive clothes in order to maintain his position as one of the best-dressed young men in Assisi. No doubt his friends would have sniggered if someone had told them then that Francis would be associated forever in history with poverty and asceticism.
The Pope reminded his audience that Francis did not become a saint overnight. His spiritual awakening was slow and difficult, and he experienced plenty of disappointments on the way. If the wayward Francis could find truth and purpose in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, Benedict XVI told the young people, then so could anybody.
We should never write off our young people — both inside and outside the Church. Each of them has the potential to be one of the greatest saints of all time. Even if, for now, they might be content to spend their weekends marauding down the high street.