Sunday 22 April 2012

More on Cardinal Heenan and the Mass

In his thoughtful (as always) comments on my previous post, Part Time Pilgrim raises two questions:
1. I accept the OF gives more prominence to scripture than the EF (I think this is a Good Thing) but does it give more prominence to scripture than to the Eucharistic prayer?

2. How exactly does the OF throw doubt on the doctrine of the Real Presence?
He then adds:
Now it may be that I need to experience more EF masses to understand what he is getting at (although I am uneasy about the idea of liturgical tourism). Having attended OF masses for the last 40 years and still having a firm faith in the real presence I still don't "get it".
I propose to answer these, in a somewhat circuitous way, over this post and one or two more.
I am not attempting to convince PTP or anyone else, but to explain how I see it.

So before addressing these questions directly (this is not evasion: I will get around to them) I want to put them, and my response to them, into a context.

At the time of the unprecedented liturgical changes (never before had the Mass been re-written by a committee of experts) there were dichotomous views expressed about the probable consequences. 

On the one hand, advocates of the changes declared that they would reinvigorate the Church’s worship and thus faith, and also increase the likelihood of full-scale reunion with our separated brethren in various denominations.

On the other hand, there were those, including Cardinal Heenan, who thought they would have an adverse effect on the practice of the faith, and ultimately on the faith itself of many people.

It seems clear to me that what Cardinal Heenan feared is much closer to what we have experienced since the changes than what the liturgical experts expected.  

It is also interesting to note that where we are experiencing some reunion with separated brethren en masse, in the Ordinariate, the newer form of liturgy of the Church is not something they find appealing...

I am not claiming post hoc, propter hoc, with regard to the changes in the liturgy and the collapse of Catholic understanding and practice in the intervening decades, but I think the issue at least worthy of exploration.

So turning to PTP’s questions, I will have a go at No.1 here and return to No. 2 and his additional comments in a subsequent post.

It is hard to do a precise comparison of the time given to scripture, and the time given to the Eucharistic Prayer, because both are variable.  When the readings are long, and the EP2 is used, for example, then it seems likely that the readings may take considerably longer than the Eucharistic Prayer.  Certainly on the most solemn feasts, (consider the Easter Vigil...) Scripture is given far more time.

But prominence isn’t just about length of time; I think the impression which the Cardinal gained needs to be understood in the context of the change he had just experienced.

Formerly, the reading of Scripture at Mass had been done at the altar (the lesson or epistle being read on the right hand side, the Gospel being read on the left hand side).  Thus the readings were primarily addressed to God as part of the preparation for the re-presentation of the Sacrifice of Calvary.

The Lesson or Epistle was by way of saying: remember what You did for us, or promised us, of old; and the Gospel: remember what Your Son did and said...

That was why it didn’t matter, in a sense, whether the people could understand the Latin (though of course, in practice, people had missals with translations, and frequently the readings were subsequently read out in the vernacular for the edification of the people - but that was secondary.)

In the New Mass, the readings were suddenly proclaimed to the people from the ambo in a more didactic (and thus less prayerful) mode.

That shifted the whole balance of the Mass, it seems to me, from being all about the build-up to the Sacrifice, to being a Mass in two halves: the Word, then the Eucharist.  In that way, the Scripture readings had far more prominence than heretofore, and one can easily see why the Cardinal thought they were more prominent than the Eucharistic Prayer.

Of course, one could argue that the new approach is better.  But that is not the issue I wish to highlight at this stage (though I do have a view, as you would imagine). But I think that the first thing it to try to understand what Cardinal Heenan was getting at, and I hope that I may have cast some light on that.

(Incidentally, the rest of the EF Mass is saturated in Scripture, in a way the OF is not - but that is another issue for another day...)


Simon Platt makes a very important contribution in the comment below: I think I have been arguing from a misunderstanding, though my points remain sound, I think, in the light of his explanation.


Simon Platt said...

I think PTP has made a misinterpretation, and that some of your commentators on the previous point have it right, although I don't think they have picked up that particular misinterpretation I have in mind.

The cardinal is quoted as regretting the reduced emphasis on "Eucharistic prayer", not "the Eucharistic prayer". I don't think he meant the Canon; I think (perhaps one older than I, or a scholar of recent liturgical history, can confirm or refute this) that the phrase "the Eucharistic prayer" would not have been widely used in 1967. Of course, the great majority of modern Masses in the new form do precisely reduce its emphasis, through use of the abbreviated option. But what I think the cardinal had in mind was the obscuring of sacrificial theology in the new form of Mass, throughout but particularly from the offertory. I think that the fact that this was a deliberate aim of the "reformers", precisely to make the Mass more acceptable to protestants, has been demonstrated.

Ben Trovato said...


Thanks - I think you are quite right, and I had made the same error.

Patricius said...

Perhaps the point that Cardinal Heenan was trying to make may be expressed in musical terms. The old Low Mass might be characterised as "legato" by contrast with which the new rite appeared more "staccato". Visually, and perhaps aurally too, there was a simple well-established flowing rhythm to the old Low Mass, by comparison with which, the new rite involved more people moving about- for readings, for instance, and more changes of posture on the part of the congregation. There was, I recall, some bemusement at the latter! The abrupt, or as I would say, staccato quality of the visual and physical character of the new mass of itself would seem less conducive to prayer."The trouble with the new mass," as someone said to me, "is that it is so hard to say a prayer." We were "all shook up" as Elvis might have put it!

Part-time Pilgrim said...

I think the error is entirely mine and is more an error of terminology than a serious misunderstanding of the issue. I expect Simon is right about the term "The Eucharistic Prayer" not being in common use in 1967. Ben did quote the Cardinal correctly in the previous post and I did misquote it in my question.

However the idea behind the question is valid even though it should have been expressed more exactly and Ben has addressed it in this post. Reading it gives me a better idea of where the Cardinal was coming from.

"Protestenatized" and "feminised" are terms applied to the OF by people who don't like it; neither of them are convincing to me. Perhaps part 2 will give me a better idea of the feminisation argument.

I do think (and this won't surprise Ben) that the greater prominence to scripture in the OF. From a personal point of view I find I have a good knowledge of the Gospels and many parts of the Epistles and Old Testament almost entirely from listening to them in Mass. This, for me, as I said, is a Good Thing.

However I am entirely at one with Simon on his view of EPII which should, I think, be removed from the Missal without delay.