One of the many interesting things in the Cardinal's address at Mass on Saturday last, and in his address to the LMS AGM beforehand, was the variety of titles he used to refer to the form of Mass being celebrated. In his homily he referred to it as the Extraordinary Form,the Usus Antiquior, the Classical Form of the Roman Rite, and in his AGM address he used the term Gregorian Mass. So what's going on here?
St. Gregory sending the mission to the English
Most of us have heard and used the first three terms, though, of course, Extraordinary Form appeared only with the release of Summorum Pontificum. The term Gregorian Mass is a new one to me and I suspect to most people. What exactly is meant by this term? We know it refers to the Extraordinary Form but what's the connection? We could even ask which Gregory is involved? It can't be referring to Gregorian Chant, firstly because this can be used, you could say should be used, just as much in the Novus Ordo, and secondly it is a question of forms of the Rite not externals, like music, and thirdly the Cardinal is far too sharp to muddy the waters thus.
He must have been referring to Pope Gregory the Great, pope for 13 years, from 590 ad to 604. In his fairly short pontificate he accomplished an immense amount, including sending St. Augustine on his mission to convert the English, (an ongoing project). He, like St. Basil, but to a much greater extent, was a supreme liturgical reformer and he essentially set the Roman Rite of Mass on the road to being what we refer to today as the Extraordinary Form. He codified the Canon, placed the Pater Noster at the end of it, eliminated the Prayers of the Faithful and gave a great emphasis to what we now know as Gregorian Chant. It might not be going too far to say that he as instrumental with establishing the idea of Traditio, the handing down from one generation to the next something ineffably sacred to be cherished and slowly, organically developed.
It is notable that the Cardinal never once referred to this form of Mass as the Tridentine Mass, ( or even as the Latin Mass), and I think the reason for this is to be found in what he has had to say on the subject. He refers to the Mass as a treasure for the entire church, not to be seen as a form of provincialism. He says he wished it to be a normal form of Mass in ordinary parish situations and that it should become a familiar way of celebrating Mass for the whole church.
As I was trying to find a seat on Saturday in Westminster Cathedral, a lady of certain years, who was sitting at the end of a row of seats caught me by the arm. The choir had just begun to practice their chants. She said, in a strong Irish accent, "Tell me is this going to be the Tridentine Mass?", I said, "Well, yes, it's going to be the older form of the Mass and a very important Cardinal had come from Rome specially to offer it". She got up, gave a bit of a snort and said, "Well he'ill have to do it without me then!", and walked off. I felt rather sad for her.
Names bring associations and like it or not the phrase Tridentine Mass is laden with associations, not the least of which is betrayal and perceived scandal. When the Holy Father referred to a reconciliation within the Church I am certain he was not just referring, by a long shot, perhaps not even primarily, to the SSPX but to the reconciliation with the long history of the church which will bring wholeness.
Is it just possible that an analogy is being drawn between Benedict XVI and Gregory the Great, even just a little bit? Gregory was a deep thinking theologian who never really saw himself rising up the ranks of the church and indeed shrank from rather than sought office, he even hid in a cave when the people sought him to have him declared Pope. We know that when Joseph Ratzinger was an academic in Regensburg he was somewhat shocked to be picked out and made bishop of a large diocese, likewise just when he was ready to retire, (having submitted his resignation three times), and write those books about cats, he was picked to be Pope. He is quoted as having prayed, " Please God, don't do this to me". Cometh the hour.....