Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Tridentine Mass: Why do the Orthodox care?

The altar of St. Michael's Western Rite Orthodox Parish prepared for High Mass.

This morning I received an email asking why Orthodox care about the Roman Catholic Mass. That is a perfectly reasonable question and so I thought I would post both the initial email and my reply. I have redacted the name of the correspondent and the name of his publication since it is a fairly well known one among Traditionalist Catholics.

Dear Sir,

I saw your post on The New Liturgical Movement blog. I would like to know if you and/or your priest or deacon would be interested in answering a question or two about your reactions to a pending freeing of the TLM.

I have conducted several interviews for XXX, including a bishop and Archbishop, and this them kept coming up. In particular, I would be interested in why the interest in this from the Orthodox? What is appealing about it? How do you think the average Orthodox priest, deacon, parishioner would feel about a freeing of the Classical Roman liturgy, and why?

If you know some people who are interested, I could incorporate your e-mailed comments (keep to about a paragraph or less for each answer) into an upcoming article.

Please let me know. For a sampling of previous writings, you can check here. http://www.renewamerica.us/columns/mershon

In Christ Our King,


My reply:

Christ is Risen!

This will be somewhat brief since a really detailed discussion of the Mass and how it relates to Orthodoxy is beyond the scope of an email. In general the level of interest in the matter, on our side of the fence, is not altogether widespread. It exist primarily in a few subgroups such as liturgists, former Catholics and some members of the clergy. Many Orthodox are completely unaware of the controversy and some, if they were aware, would tell you they had zero interest in what the Catholic Church does. However many Orthodox do grasp that (like it or not) what Rome does is important. Orthodox liturgists have always tended to cringe at the reforms of the Latin Church post Vatican II. There are a number of reasons for this.

First and foremost, Orthodoxy is institutionally suspicious of change. If your changing something the first question from an Orthodox will be "why?" "If it aint broke, don't fix it" could be our motto. Orthodox (who have a clue about these things) can look at the rite of +Pius V and see the pre-schism liturgies of Pope St. Gregory the Great and of St. Peter, less a few add on's that we do not accept like the Filioque and references to the merits of the saints etc. But substantially it's the Gregorian Liturgy of the Orthodox West. By contrast the reformed liturgy of +Paul VI is a radical departure from the liturgical traditions of the past. Even in Orthodoxy some things change. But it's always a very slow gradual change. Organic development in liturgy is permissible. Radical invention is not. The Pauline liturgy implicitly seems to move away from the clear expressions of faith about the sacramental nature of the Divine Liturgy commonly understood in the undivided church of the first millennium.

If you look at the rites employed in Orthodox parishes that follow the Western Rite (yes we have some), none use anything resembling the Novus Ordo. The liturgical rites most commonly employed by Western Rite Orthodox are the Liturgy of Pope St. Gregory the Great and the Liturgy of St. Tikhon. The former is a corrected form of the Pian Missal, and the latter is a corrected form of the High Church Anglican BCP of 1892. They are typically employed by the Western Rite Vicarate (WRV) of the Antiochan Orthodox Archdiocese. The other liturgy employed is the Use of Sarum which is the ancient liturgical rite of parts of pre-schism Britain. This is typically used by parishes under the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) and some Old Calendarist sects (although there are some minor differences between the rites used by ROCOR and the Old Calendarists).

As you may be aware there is a fairly lively debate going on within Orthodoxy as to whether or not the Roman Catholic Church retains the grace of valid sacraments (we use the word mysteries). The radical changes in the Latin Rite have been cited by some as evidence of the lack of grace in Catholic sacraments. I do not personally subscribe to this. But I do think as an indication of how seriously the changes in the western rites are taken, that it was in 1973 the ROCOR issued it's decree that it would no longer accept the validity of Catholic baptisms in contravention of the immemorial practice of the Russian Church. Today Roman Catholics (and pretty much everyone else) converting into Orthodoxy via ROCOR must be baptized.

A restoration of the so called Tridentine Rite in the Roman Catholic Church would probably be helpful. It's something that Orthodox can look at and say "we recognize this." The theological chaos now engulfing the Christian West is one of the more alarming things which we see in the modern world. As ongoing discussions about other issues move forward this could have a positive impact on the West's sensus fidei which we perceive as having been horribly compromised in recent decades. Orthodoxy remembers that the West was once part of the undivided church. And as St. John Maximovitch said "... Her venerable liturgies are far older than any of Her heresies."

In Christ,


Anonymous said...

You mention Orthodox objection to the mention of the "merits of the saints" in the Western liturgy. According to Occidentalis, a Western Rite Orthodox blog, this aspect of the Western liturgy dates at least from the time of St. Leo the Great and has parallels in the eastern tradition. See article here.

Father Aristibule Adams said...

To be precise, the 1904 Russian Observations were on the BCP of 1892, which was never implemented using that exact BCP. The St. Tikhon's was based on a Catholicized (Anglican/American Missal) use of the 1928 American BCP (1977, Incarnation-Detroit, Fr. Joseph Angwin and Met. PHILIP), The Russian implementation of those same observations (1997, Saint Petroc, Abp HILARION and Fr. Hieromonk Michael) uses rather the 1549. I know, lots of different BCP dates - easy to get confused (1892 and 1928 have the same numbers, after all.)

The Sarum, of course, is not 'pre-schism' though it is essentially the same as pre-schism British and French liturgy of the Roman rite. According to Dr. David Chadd , musicologist, Oxford; ( in the 1988 essay 'Beyond the Frontiers: Guides for uncharted territory' from the symposium 'Frontiers of Research in Medieval music' Dartmouth College, NH) we have in the medieval period (post-schism) an early Sarum and a late Sarum. The early Sarum according to some rubrics is based on the early use of the Royal Chapel and Sherbourne Abbey (so, when speaking of pre-schism - Sherbourne or Wessex Royal would be more historically accurate). Dr. Sara Gibbs Casey (U. Pittsburgh), also a musicologist, traces a tradition from the Stowe (late Celtic, mostly Roman), into the Drummond (transitional Celtic-Roman, proto-Sarum) to early Sarum (see the essay 'Through a glass darkly: steps towards reconstructing Irish chant from the neumes of the Drummond Missal', Early Music, OUP, May 2000.)

It is true of minor differences in ROCOR use and the Mount Royal Sarum use - though a clergyman using the latter recently described it as a poor translation (done some 30 years ago in Woodstock, NY by a monk under Abbot Dom Augustine Whitfield.) Many, many more differences if one means the so-called 'Old Sarum' of the Old Catholic, later Old Calendarist 'Saint Hilarion Monastery'.

John (Ad Orientem) said...

Your observations / corrections are entirely correct and accurate.

John (Ad Orientem) said...

Your point is accurate. However the practice was not widespread in either the west or east. Also it must be clearly stated that the concept of the merits of the saints in the modern RCC has evolved into something that is alien to orthodoxy.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your reply. Without seeming argumentative, I must point out that the practice was widespread in the West, as a survey of the collects from the "Gelasian", "Gregorian", and "Leonine" sacramentaries will show. (These sacramentaries date from the early 600s through the 800s but are not from the pontificates of those particular Popes). The doctrine of the merits of the saints to which you object did not occur until 600 years _after_ those sacramentaries, in the 13th century. Moreover, the notion of "merit" as we now hold it is quite different from what was intended in the 13th century, which has much more in common with the 6th and the 16th century (as it was interpreted by the reformers). I know that I have just made several sweeping statements without any evidence or explanation, but I haven't the time right now and I want to keep the topic of 13th-century merit separate from that of the word "merit" in the ancient collects of the Church. My point is that this word should not be removed; it should be explained.

Anonymous said...


I made a serious gaff in the construction of my sentence. I should have written:

"[T]he notion of "merit" as we no hold it is quite different from what was intended in the 13th century, which has much more in commmon with the 6th THAN WITH the 16th century (as it was then interpreted by the reformers)." Goodness.. I wouldn't have wanted to say that the ancient notion of "merit" had anything to do with the Reformers' interpretation!

Oscar Zoroaster Phadrig Isaac Norman Henkel Emmannuel Ambroise Diggs said...

I know this is REALLY late, but as a Catholic, I thank those of you in your Church who are interested in this. While I know Catholics and Orthodox Christians don't always see eye-to-eye, we have a LOT more in common than we often care to admit.

I have tremendous respect for the sense of tradition you have in the east and I can only pray that leaders here pick up on the importance of it in the future.

Good post!


Anonymous said...

There is no need to call the Old Sarum usage of the now-vanished St. Hilarion Monastery "so-called." It is the Sarum use with elements restored which we know beyond any doubt were part of *all* Old English uses before 1300 (such as the prefaces for various occasions, which were still done in England through the 12th century--see the Hanley Castle missal). It also incorporates some of the usages found in the "Pontifical of St. Osmund," which is a Sarum book written in the 10th century and completed in the 11th. No non-English source was drawn on in that recension of Sarum usage. So the "so-called" is a bit un-called for.

There is also no reason to call the monastery "Old Catholic, later Old Calendarist," unless one, for purposes of uniformity of style, wishes to refer also to the "Old Catholic, later Non-Patriarchal Orthodox" Mount Royal use. Or to say "the Independent-Anglican, later Non-Patriarchal Orthodox, Fr. Hieromonk Michael." What purpose, other than to sow seeds of bitterness or cast aspersions? Christian civility should reign on this blog.

By the way, the Old Sarum usage of St. Hilarion Monastery is noteworthy for one thing beloved to Tridentine Catholics: preserving the old Canon of the Mass. In the official Antiochian version which was published in 1995, and in the ROCOR (Russian Church Abroad) Tridentine mass form used for decades now, the lists of Saints in the Canon of the Mass are either deleted entirely, or replaced with an ad-lib set of saints.

It only remains to be said that the most voluminous and scholarly work on the pre-Reformation Western rite, in English translation, has been (oddly enough) carried out by Eastern Orthodox faithful of the Old Calendarist churches. Their work has overtaken in scope and scholarly acumen the work of all other Orthodox, not to mention all Anglicans, and all Roman Catholics to date. This should impel all the above groupings of Christians to outdo them and get busy publishing the pre-Reformation Western rite liturgy, for the enlightenment of us all. May God grant.