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An All-New ‘New Liturgical Movement’?

The liturgy has become a polarizing force in the Church — rather than the great unifier it is meant to be. The release of Universae Ecclesiae, the Vatican’s instruction on the proper implementation of Summorum Pontificum, proves that Pope Benedict XVI is not unfamiliar with the animosity and defensiveness that plague contemporary liturgical discourse. One can glimpse its intensity in the letters section of our May issue (see the entries under the header “Liturgical Reform & the ‘Protes­tantization’ of Catholic Liturgy”). There is, it seems, increasing entrenchment on both sides of the liturgical divide that separates New Mass and Latin Mass absolutists; reconciliation is a long way off.

A deeper reading of these two documents gives one reason to believe that Benedict’s long-range goal isn’t simply to recover a neglected liturgical treasure from the past and prop it up alongside the monolithic New Mass. That he has returned over and again to the theme of the “mutual enrichment” of the two forms of the Mass, in which each shores up the deficiencies of the other, hints that there might be something more to his maneuvering than meets the eye.

We have long been skeptical of the notion that the two Masses could have any significant, beneficial influence on each other, if only due to the hostility that devotees of one Mass feel toward the other. Their attitudes and expectations are too disparate for there to be much crossover appeal. You’re either for the old Mass and against the new, or for the new Mass and against the old. Anyone who attempts a balanced position, who dares to straddle the divide by expressing appreciation for both forms of the Mass, risks having his motives questioned and his integrity impugned by one or even both camps.

But the Pope isn’t so skeptical. He is determined, it seems, to will into an ecclesial reality the mutual enrichment of the two Masses. If, by a working of the Holy Spirit, his vision of a mutually enriched Roman rite someday comes to fruition, then what? Well, then we might be looking at an altogether new Mass, a third form that blends the best of both the ordinary and extraordinary forms.

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