Going back a mere handful of years—well within the lifetime of this blog, at least in its earlier incarnation—the lines of battle were well drawn between those faithful Catholics who thought we should adhere faithfully to the liturgical books of Paul VI, and 'those attached to the former books', as Pope John Paul put it.
Now, of course, it is not a case of 'former books', for Pope Benedict has made both forms of the Roman Rite perfectly current, hoping, it is said, to recreate the Roman Rite anew without legislation or coercion. It will take time, but it is beginning to work.
To begin with, there is the more solemn style of celebration that he has introduced. We saw some excellent examples during the Papal visit to the UK. Some grumbled at the less traditional aspects of the Masses at Bellahouston and Birmingham, but really they should be comparing the whole thing to the Masses during the visit of Pope John Paul. The atmosphere was entirely different, and the change happened on that occasion when Pope Benedict, only a few weeks elected, attended the prayer vigil at the Cologne Youth Day that Pope John Paul had planned to attend. When the crowd began to chant 'Be-ne-det-to!', as it had done for JPII, the Holy Father simply put his finger to his lips and pointed skywards. It was a glorious moment; instant transformation resulted, and the consequence was one of the most prayerful occasions every seen on such a large scale. Subsequent Papal celebrations have had the same note of prayerfulness. I had long given up attending such things, or even watching them on the TV, because I was so distressed by the disruptive atmosphere. But everything has changed. In particular, I remember the great prayer vigil in St Peter's square at the close of the year for priests: there was hardly a sound in that vast crowd: I knew things were now going to be different. And so, during the Holy Father's visit to the UK, we saw the same thing. Yes, there were liturgical undesirabilities, but the tenor of the whole thing was prayerful and spiritually nourishing.
A few days ago, I met a brother priest at the seminary whom I had not seen for some time. He is, shall we say, not unknown in Catholic media circles. No, it isn't Mgr Loftus. In passing he happened to mention to me that he was starting to celebrate the traditional Mass from time to time. I was taken aback, because although I am aware that this priest is on the more orthodox side of things, I had never associated him in any way with traddydom. He saw my surprise, and said quietly 'yes, well, it's the future, isn't it?'
He's not the only one. In one southern English diocese, about twenty per cent of the priests now celebrate the traditional Mass at least from time to time. Most of these are in their forties or younger. They haven't stopped celebrating the Ordinary form as the norm, but, one might say that the Missa Normativa is no longer the Missa Formativa in their life or the life of their parish. I mean that behind their celebration of the Mass of Paul VI lies a positive experience of the Mass of Pius V (at least in its John XXIII form). The people who attend Mass now are mostly the sort of people who found the prayerful celebrations of the Papal Visit nourishing, and are (mostly) glad to experience the same in their parishes. Some call it the 'gravitational pull' of the traditional rites.
This has partly to do with the fact that in reality our parish liturgy has hardly changed since about 1975. A few extras, such as girl servers, but nothing much. What was exciting then, the introduction of a 'celebratory' style of liturgy, has become the norm, and like all party games that have been played over and over again, unless one is the centre of attention, the game palls. And still we see some priests beginning almost every celebration with a reminder to the grey heads in front of him of how awful things used to be and how much better they are now, like some ageing apparatchik of the Kremlin in the Russia of Brezhnev. We are even singing the same awful music. Very little has changed.
Except everything has changed. Like a long musical piece that has got itself stuck into a canon going on and on, now a new musical theme has entered. It harmonizes perfectly well with what is already being played, but suddenly the audience lift up their heads and regain their interest. This is not dissonance, but actually is not just interesting in itself, but makes better and more interesting sense of what is there already, to everybody's surprise, including the surprise of those who thought that really the best thing to do was to stop the music altogether and play the previous piece exclusively.
Here I would refer you to what inspired this very long post; Paix Liturgique from time to time send me emails with their latest article. Today's is arresting: Fr Claude Barthe, a long-term campaigner for the traditional rites, has lent his support to the movement for reform of the reform. Read it here (it's in English). Here's a taster:
The reform of the reform project cannot be implemented without the spinal column of the most widespread possible celebration according to the traditional Mass, which in turn cannot hope to be reintroduced on a large scale in ordinary parishes without the recreation of a vital milieu through the reform of the reform.The lion shall lie down with the lamb indeed.
Now before you write in and tell me that you have not the slightest intention of modifying your position, that either the Mass of Paul VI or that of Pius V are the devil's work, I am not suggesting that there are not plenty of people out there who have not moved an inch in their position. Simply that there are a lot who have, and right now they are having their effect.