6 March 2011

It's too great. Too important.

Warning: read manufacturer's instructions before use.
The Pimpernel has touched a nerve. As the comments on this post show, people doing traditional liturgy get very touchy when it’s pointed out that they have gotten basics wrong. Some even go pretty close to saying that to celebrate the liturgy flawlessly doesn’t really matter, so long as it’s celebrated.

Well, there’s a point in that. Liturgical perfection rarely occurs in this life and we all make mistakes. Mistakes are mistakes. They happen. They can’t be prevented.
So long as the traditional liturgy is celebrated, that’s the main thing, even if it isn't perfect.

But there’s a fatal flaw in that type of thinking. The liturgy has its logic which is expressed in a whole tapestry of rites, customs and even rules. That’s the tradition we’ve received. Some of them are little. Some are seemingly unimportant.

But no thread in a tapestry is unimportant. That’s the Pimpernel’s point. The little things gotten wrong out of ignorance or haste to celebrate the traditional liturgy should in fact be gotten right because the ignorance or haste can be prevented, and because they damage and affect the whole. 

Those who love the traditional sacred liturgy and want to promote its celebration are duty and honour bound to know about what they’re doing. They have an obligation to do their homework first. The sacred liturgy can never be an amateur pastime. It's too great. Too important.

There’s really no excuse nowadays. Lots of books and DVDs and websites exist to help train clergy and other ministers.

The Pimpernel recommends two books as basic resouces. There are others, but these are in print, up to date and reliable.

The Celebration of Mass; a Study of the Rubrics of the Roman Missal is essential study for any seminarian or priest prepearing to offer the traditional Mass. 

Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described is the fundamental manual for celebrating or serving the Mass, the Sacraments, Vespers and other rites.

If you're a cleric celebrating traditional rites or a MC responsible for their planning or celebration and you don't have access to these, you should. They will tell you how to handle a biretta safely, what to wear at Vespers, how to incense an altar at Vespers, how to give Benediction or even how to assist, what to wear at a wedding before a nuptial Mass, and a whole lot more. They will help you continue the celebration of the rich tapestry of the Church's traditional rites as the Church intends even though you may not have much experience of this before. They will make sure the liturgy isn't shabby in its detail and prevent you from looking like an amateur. They will help you add to the honour of the sacred liturgy, not detract from it.


  1. "As the comments on this post show, people doing traditional liturgy get very touchy when it’s pointed out that they have gotten basics wrong."
    Apparently, the Extraordinary Form devotees are as sensitive about criticism as are celebrants of the Ordinary Form. The old seminary joke was 'What's the difference between a liturgist and terrorist?' 'You can negotiate with the terrorist'

    "Some even go pretty close to saying that to celebrate the liturgy flawlessly doesn’t really matter, so long as it’s celebrated."
    This sounds like the same kind of argument used with the Ordinary Form that ended us up with clown Masses and Giant Puppets.

  2. I agree 100%, LP. It takes about as much time and effort to do things correctly as it does incorrectly. We are not forced to celebrate the Church's traditional rites and ceremonies in a vacuum, devoid of liturgical aids and manuals. We are blessed to have them at our fingertips (often enough they can be found free in online libraries). We mustn't confuse inexperience with neglect. An infant first learning to walk with all his stumbles, tumbles and awkward steps is adorable and beautiful to behold. A perfectly healthy, grown man walking in the same manner ... not so much.

  3. This is a photo of one the holiest Masses I have ever seen in my entire life.

    Every aspect of this photo is a rubrical nightmare.

    Yet I am truly convinced that the thronis et dominationibus rejoiced along with this priest and soldier-server who once celebrated the Sacrament of the Altar in a mud-splattered cornfield.

  4. Sortacatholic, thank you for the link to the beautiful photo. But how is this a rubrical nightmare? It shows a priest offering the Holy Sacrifice, presumably in time of war, with great care to be faithful to the prescriptions of the sacred liturgy. This priest isn't cutting corners due to ingorance or haste. He's taken a great deal of care to get everything right. In a cornfield (when necessary in time of war) or a convent chapel, his attitude to the sacred liturgy is the correct one.

  5. Does anyone know where one can download the digital versions of The Celebration of Mass; a Study of the Rubrics of the Roman Missal and Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described?

  6. Fine foods, fine arts, fine everything demand a loving attention to detail. Those who truly appreciate the finner things spurn the shoddy, the slap-dash. As for the celebrating of Holy Mass: The Perfect Sacrifice deserves perfection!


  7. Thanks for your very interesting response LP. I apologize for misunderstanding your previous comments on rubrics.

    I've shown that photo or a similar one to some trads, and their first response is "oh, but Mass shouldn't be that way! The ideal (or typical) Mass is Solemn, from the Caeremoniale, with this type of vestment set, ..." I've argued the same point that you have, namely that this priest is saying a very reverent Mass given the nature of the Mass (private Low Mass) and his circumstances (wartime).

    Now I gather that you would like Mass done according to the rubrics pertinent to the type of Mass. You are not claiming that every Mass needs to be Solemn or sophisticated. I agree with you that priests should strive to be as rubrically accurate as possible within their circumstances.