Having talked about the ‘new normal’ last week, I said that I might talk through some ‘new normal’ things about Holy Mass this week. The first thing I want to do is to draw a line between the older liturgy (sometimes called the Latin Mass or Extraordinary Form) and the new Mass which was written in the 60s. I have no interest in debating liturgy etc., frankly I can’t be bothered. Blood, sweat and tears have gone into that, and my life on earth is too short. What I want to do again, is to show how the ‘new normal’ is not new at all, but rather that the things that we have been doing for the past decades have been a ‘blip’ in the practice of the Church. You see, the Old Mass developed through centuries. It knew plague and disaster. It had changed so that the Priest and the People were kept safe while at the same time the Mass could continue to be offered.
What are the things which have been banned in the new rite? The sign of peace (always optional in the new rite, but not a part of the older liturgy); receiving the Precious Blood (only the Priest receives this in the Latin Mass); people doing readings and bidding prayers (I have no idea why our Bishops say that bidding prayers are dangerous, but there you go - but these things do not exist in the older Mass); the length of Mass (we are instructed that the older forms of the said Mass should not be too long); speaking while administering the Sacred Host on an eye level (the Old Rite has the person kneeling, so there is no exchange of breath); the cleaning of the hands by the Priest (in the Latin Mass we have prayers when we thoroughly wash our hands before we come out, then more to say at the offertory - and guess what, they take about 20 seconds!, and then the Priest touches nothing with the two fingers with which he will administer the sacred host - which is why we keep those fingers together while saying Mass); we can no longer speak words of consecration over hosts which are exposed on the altar and which the people will consume (we usually give communion from the Tabernacle in the Old Rite - a practice that was scorned when I was training to be a Priest, but which, guess what, is now best practice!).
In fact the only thing that you will find at variance with the ancient practices, and what the bishops are now imposing, is communion in the hand versus communion on the tongue, and I’m afraid that is more to do with ideology than health - I touch a higher percentage of hands than I do tongues when I administer Holy Communion, and since the virus lives on surfaces, I do not lick the door handles and pews when I come into Church, but I do touch them!
So… a lot of what we ended up with in the past years after the New Mass was written in the 60s were quasi Protestant practices, dressed up as ‘early Church’ but which came from a history, tradition and context which was not Catholic. It was fine for the Methodists all to receive the wine in little cups, because it was only ever wine - that is their theology. Communion in the hand has to be at odds with our belief that ever particle of the Sacred Host is the Body and Blood, soul and divinity of Christ, and I pop it onto an unclean palm, and if any drops off, well, they drop off. If you don’t believe that It is God, and the Protestant communities don’t, then there is no harm in it. In ‘simplifying’ the liturgy not only did we get rid of the layers of symbolic meaning, we also got rid of the centuries of development which gave rise to it. And that development included plague and disease. Of course Mass is safe! If it’s done in safe way. The Old Mass is safe because that’s how it adapted, the new one isn’t because it never existed in a time of disease, and as soon as one comes along all of those things which are its hallmarks have to be banned - the new normal starts to look like the old one.
The new normal reached behind the stuff that we have been doing, to an older liturgy which breathed plague air, and survived, which looked on the sick infectious with disease, and kept going, and which was offered in the midst of pandemics and infestations, and which kept everyone safe.
Perhaps we can learn from this, to think twice before we dismiss what the development of the ages has given to us.