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I have heard, in the past two weeks or so, many arguments in support for the Old Mass. However, one striking similarity is that people’s memories of the Old Mass seem to make it appear as though the Old Mass had never experienced any change since the time of Pope Pius V, and that the priest had always celebrated Mass facing the same direction as the people.

Perhaps the author of a good book I’ve read explains perfectly well my thoughts on the matter. Robert CabiĆ© is a presbyter of the diocese of Albi, France, and a member of the Theology Faculty of the Catholic Institute of Toulouse.

A read through this book will show that the Old Mass is not as old as we think, and that it is merely a freeze-frame in a certain period of the history of the Mass.

Here is the foreword of a good book called “History of the Mass” by Robert CabiĆ©, published by Pastoral Press:

Without doubt, the decisions of Vatican II that most affect people are those belonging to the liturgy, especially the Mass. At Mass changes determined by the Council are visible to regular worshippers each Sunday and to others who celebrate the Mass only at weddings and funerals or on Easter and Christmas.

These liturgical changes are perceived as having upset, even overthrown, established practice, as having distanced us from the world in which everything was familiar. Whether one is happy or unhappy with the church, images treasured since child hold are the measure of “all that is new”. But how long had the Mass existed unchanged in the form that it had before the Council’s reforms?

Some Christians speak about “the Mass of Pius V” as though it had no precedents, yet Pus V lived only four hundred years ago; how was the Mass celebrated before him? As soon as we exceed the boundaries of two or three generations, memory reassures us: the forms of celebration that we have just abandoned are the Mass “as it was always done”.

Other Christians, with perhaps a larger grasp of history, are happy that the decisions of Vatican II have brought about a return to the sources. They know that St. Gregory the Great, for example, celebrated Mass facing the people, and that the East has always had other forms of celebrating this sacrament. Can we not, therefore, allow for an organic development of the rites of the Mass since the apostolic period?

Finally, still other Christians, the younger generation, know the Mass only as it is celebrated today. The young hear grand allusion tot he past - to a ritual pattern that seemed to express more fully, even to guarantee, the dignity, majesty, and security of the “true Catholic faith”. But they have also been told that the changes of Vatican II restored to Christians a form of prayer that many fervent Catholics had long desired.

Do not these reflections demonstrate the benefits to be gained form a patient historical inquiry into the Mass as a human institution, which - like all things human, even the human encounter with God - has known both glory and vicissitude throughout the centuries? The Mass, having its origin in the will of the Lord, has never been other than what it was in the beginning, and yet, throughout history, the Mass has been experienced by people of various races, languages, and civilizations, people who brought to the celebration their own piety and culture - and perhaps also their weakness.

Without damaging its fundamental structure, people have given the Mass, according to different times and places, different visible forms. We must understand, as the Christians before us did, that fidelity does not necessarily consist in reproducing models inherited from one’s forebears but in penetrating the mystery we have received and in bringing to it all richness of one’s own age and culture, before we, too, pass the mystery on to our children.

At this point, I would stop but the foreword continues to introduce the book.

Together, therefore, we are about to set off on a pilgrimage. Our guides will be those who have studied the ancient books and those who have given witness now and throughout the ages) that their spiitual experience was nourished by the sacrament of the altar. We can only take the main roads witout pausing, as pleasant as that would be, at each turn along the way.

We will study this history as it unfolded, successively, in five major periods:

  1. the Mass before the formation of liturgical books, from the New Testament to the end of the third century;

  2. the creative period in which various structural elements of the celebration were expanded. Here we will separate earlier embellishments brought forth in the various churches during the fourth and fifth centuries from the elaborate forms that appeared during the sixth century to the eighth centuries;

  3. the changes that appeared during the Carolingian period concerning the priest’s role in the Mass; and the changes that began to the twelfth century that had so large on effect on eucharistic piety;

  4. the Masses it appeared in the missal published by Pius V after the Council of Trent; and the popular devotions and piety that accompanied the implementation of this missal; and

  5. finally, the liturgical movement that began in the nineteenth century and culminated in the Second Vatican Council; and the Mass as it was reformed in the missal of Paul VI in 1970.

Our focus throughout this journey, but especially from Chapter 4 (sixth to eighth centuries) on, will be on the Roman tradition, since it is from this tradition that our present practice is derived. The road we will follow is historical; it will lead us to a better understanding of the content and manner of the church’s prayer, that is, what the church has done and is still doing when it celebrates the eucharist.

If you are interested in embarking on a pilgrimage to discover the true history of the Mass, this book is available at OCP Publications. It provides a more complete picture of the position the Vatican II reforms had in the light of the whole history of the Mass, as well as paint a more accurate picture of how the Mass of Pius V itself introduced elements not found in the Mass prior to the Council of Trent.

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