In defence of noble simplicity and lack of choice


Rorate Caeli has published the latest FIUV Position Paper on Prefaces. The papers are produced by a sub-committee under moderation of Joseph Shaw, Chairman of the Latin Mass Society who is presenting the papers to the public - though the papers are not the work of any one author. (FIUV is the International Federation Una Voce.) Joseph Shaw is the ) Fr Z has commented on this paper and has a poll at his post on the subject. The FIUV website has a page with links to all of the Position Papers on the 1962 Missal.

The Position Papers are issued with a view to stimulating discussion. At the head of each paper is the loyal statement:
The International Federation Una Voce humbly submits the opinions contained in these papers to the judgement of the Church. 
Here is the abstract of the latest paper:
"Although there are a great many Latin Prefaces dating from the early Middle Ages, the Roman Rite is historically characterised by a very limited number: the Hadrianum contained 14; from the late 11th Century until 1919 there were 12; four were added between 1919 and 1928. In addition a few extra Prefaces are permitted for religious orders or certain places. The small number of Prefaces, the lack of choice between Prefaces for a particular Mass, and their restrained Latin style, are all characteristic of the ancient Latin liturgical tradition represented by the 1962 Missal, and there is little precedent for adding to their number, even for important new feasts. The Prefaces of the 1970 Missal, of which there are 82, are distinct in function as well as style, being designed to complement the new Eucharistic Prayers, and composed with a distinct sequence of prayers in mind, in which, by contrast with the ancient Roman tradition, the Preface has no intercessory role. The possibility of adding new Prefaces to the 1962 Missal does not seem to us to fulfil the criterion of Sacrosanctum Concilium that ‘the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires’ a liturgical change, particularly while the Extraordinary Form is still at an early stage of adoption in the mainstream of the Church’s liturgical life."
As a priest who regularly celebrates both forms of the Roman Rite, I agree with the  argument of the paper and its conclusion. The new prefaces are all worthy enough in their own way but the first thing that must be said is that they depart from the noble simplicity of the Roman Rite. The paper quotes Adrian Fortescue from his book Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described:
"The chief note in the Roman rite has always been its austere simplicity. That is still its essential note, compared with the florid Eastern rites. It is surely worthwhile to preserve this note externally also, to repress any Byzantine tendencies in our ceremonies."
The new prefaces generally exhibit what Fortescue in The Mass. A Study of the Roman Liturgy described as:
"A tendency to pile up explanatory allusions, classical forms that savour of Cicero and not at all of the rude simplicity that is real liturgical style, florid rhetoric that would suit the Byzantine rite in Greek rather than our reticent Roman tradition..."
For extreme examples of this, see the Collection of Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary which are certainly beautiful meditations on various titles of Our Lady. In these Masses, the prefaces are longer than most of those in the Missal and form a substantial meditation on their own - and could indeed be used as such - but look much like a modern version of the medieval embellishments that were dropped from use in the reforms of St Pius V.

 The paper makes another important point in saying that
"it is part of the character of the Extraordinary Form that options are generally minimised;"
In celebrating the Novus Ordo, the priest is offered a panoply of choices for the preface at many of the Masses he says during the year: four for Lent, five for Easter, eight for Sundays of ordinary time, and six common prefaces for weekdays. I wonder what the reformers were thinking when they offered three prefaces of the Nativity for the week between Christmas and Epiphany, two for the nine days between Ascension and Pentecost, and two for the twelve apostles.

How does the priest choose? Must he study the texts of the propers every day, compare the various prefaces and choose which one fits best? (If so, why could not some expert from San Anselmo or Collegeville not do that once and for all and spare parish priests the labour?) Perhaps that is not possible because the priest is meant to assess the pastoral needs of the people in the assembly and choose which of the eight Sunday prefaces will best speak to their existential situation on the 19th week of Ordinary Time year C, taking into account the other texts of the day? It would be a pity if he had gone to all this trouble and the Miggins family didn't turn up to have their existential situation referenced because they decided to go and visit Auntie Freda for the weekend.

As we all know, this earnest daily liturgical calculation does not happen: the preface is chosen either at random, or because it is short, because "we had the other one last week.", because the missalette has it printed, because we are going round the prefaces in order, or for any one of a number of other reasons, none of which have anything much to do with the spirit of the Liturgy.

As a parish priest with a long To-Do list biting at my heels, a backlog of pastorally important emails to answer, people to visit and sermons and talks to prepare, I find that it is always a relief to wake up in the morning on a day when we have the usus antiquior. I can focus on trying to say the Mass devoutly rather than choosing which texts to say. 

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