There have been a great many letters and articles in the NOR dealing with the crisis in Catholic worship. One recent correspondent, Fr. Andre J. Meluskey (letters, Jul.-Aug. 2004), compares the state of our liturgy to the action of a pendulum. I know whereof he speaks, for I have swung to and fro in my liturgical affections. I have had grotesque “Kumbaya” moments — as when I attended a cursillo Mass and was glared at by a woman when I hesitated to hold her hand during the Our Father — that have sent me reeling in a Tridentine-or-bust mode. And conversely, there have been times, watching the unruly children in the public housing project across the street from the Boston indult church, when I have believed that our bordello-cum-mall of a society is truly missionary territory, and that only a vernacular Mass will do. Is there a way to halt the proverbial pendulum and have a Roman Rite that is both timeless and new?
I submit, first, that the Tridentine Rite should be available — unadulterated — to all interested Catholics, without need of an indult. When those of a modern bent are allowed to practice yoga and the enneagram at local parishes, it is absurd that anyone should have to petition the chancery in order to assist at the Mass of the Ages. To require episcopal permission for the ancient liturgy is to suggest that the “old” Mass is somehow disturbing, like an exorcism.
In a spirit of fraternal correction, I offer the “reform of the reform” party a few suggestions.
THE SANCTUARY: We desperately need to have the Tabernacle back where it belongs, in the middle of the sanctuary on the high altar. A cultural anthropologist from another planet, upon seeing the “presider’s chair” in the middle of the average sanctuary, would think that the priest himself was the object of worship. It is especially disconcerting to see lay ministers and other congregants genuflect or bow to a Tabernacle-free sanctuary. Unless a relic is embedded in the altar table, homage in such a case is being paid to a table or a chair.
And let us restore the altar rail. Our extraterrestrial ethnologist, witnessing the manner in which Communion is usually distributed, would interpret the event to be a mere breadline.
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