Regardless of how many American Catholics participate in Masses celebrated according to the Tridentine rite, as Pope Benedict XVI recently provided, all can learn several important lessons from the pope's action.
First, the Eucharist is at the center of Catholic life and faith. Second, the Eucharist is the same, regardless of accidentals and nonessentials in ceremonial. Third, the Eucharist comes only through the visible Church. Fourth, God leads the Church of the Apostles today as much as he did 19 centuries ago in the days of Peter and Paul. Last, the Church is a community of "brothers and sisters in Christ," as the New Testament often describes it, with all members bound to help each other, trusting the Holy Spirit and respecting each other, to find life in Jesus.
Pope Benedict acted as a pastor and a father in his long expected, although not that revolutionary, decision to allow priests to celebrate Mass according to the Tridentine rite, amended 45 years ago by Pope Blessed John XXIII, but originally drawn by Pope St. Pius V more than 400 years ago. In his decision, he was expressly reaching out to Catholics who earnestly feel that liturgical practices after the Second Vatican Council do not enhance their sense of prayerful union with God.
In no way was the pope coercive or reactionary. He forced no priest to do anything beyond reason, only calling priests essentially to love those in the flock with uneasy hearts. He insisted that nothing in his action should be construed to diminish or question the "value and holiness" of Vatican II's liturgical reforms. While he encouraged use of the older rite if it is requested, he restricted its use.
Following this example, if requests for the older rite come, bishops and priests cannot arbitrarily refuse the new rite or offer it grudgingly. However, it is not just about the hierarchy and clergy. Catholics in the pews must realize that while some find the newer liturgy quite satisfying, others feel very differently. Those preferring the older rite must recognize the fact that those who prefer the newer form are not, therefore, less than good Catholics. All must respect and care for others.
Regardless of intentions, good or bad, serious practical problems await almost every parish in the United States in providing the Tridentine Mass. The number of priests who can read and speak Latin actually is quite small. Few priests know the old rubrics. Granted, the basics are the same in the old and the new, but there are noticeable differences.Training priests in Latin and in the old rubrics will not be easy, if reasonable at all, given the already very heavy demands on priests, and considering predictions that not that many will want the older rite.
The old Sacramental books are as scarce as hen's teeth. Some sanctuaries would need considerable rearranging or even remodeling. Then there is the matter of music. Pope Benedict stressed that the renewed rite should be celebrated with decorum and propriety. Providing, or denying, Mass in the Tridentine rite will not in itself alone solve all the problems of dwindling Mass attendance and Catholic inaction.
Another issue is the concern that this provision compromises the council's, and Pope John Paul II's, repudiation of anti-Semitism. This concern must be frankly faced through catechetics and dialogue. The Church cannot seem to reverse itself or talk out of both sides of its mouth.
The point common to us all right now, be we personally interested in this provision or not, is that we all learn from the positive lessons evident in the pope's action.