By now most Latin Catholics with an interest in liturgical matters know the complaint: The so-called 1962 books (Missale Romanum, Breviarium Romanum, etc.) which are approved for official Church use are inferior to those in use up until around 1954. The litany of changes instituted by Popes Pius XII and John XIII were imprudent, sloppy, and, in the case of Holy Week, revolutionary. However, as I have argued many times before, the average Catholic in the pew would hardly know the difference. The primary difference between a Sunday Tridentine Mass served according to the 1962 Missal and one served according to a 1954 (or earlier) Missal is the absence of commemorations. The third Confiteor was technically eliminated too, though many traditional groups, including the Society of St. Pius X, the Institute of Christ the King, and the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius continue to recite it. A noticeable number of diocesan clergy appear to as well. Where the 1955-62 liturgical changes are most noticeable is in the breviary, though due to the accidents of ecclesiastical history, the Divine Office is almost exclusively confined to the clergy. Public recitation has all but disappeared.
The reason I make mention of this again is not to argue for the superiority of the 1962 books (which I have never done), but to issue a fresh reminder that given the present state of liturgical affairs in the Roman Church, squabbling over minor variances is a waste of resources. (The one exception to this is revised rite of Holy Week, which should be cast into outer darkness.) Some Catholics attached to traditional Western liturgy occasionally point to the Orthodox as paragons of liturgical virtue, even going so far as to promote the myth that the Orthodox never revise or abbreviate their services. Nonsense. In the past century both the Greek and Antiochian Orthodox have adopted a highly truncated form of Matins (Orthros) for parish usage. Numerous Orthodox jurisdictions have also trimmed parts of the Divine Liturgy, including the Litany of the Catechumens and Psalm 33. While none of these changes alters the core structure or integrity of the Divine Liturgy, they are arguably more perceptible than any abbreviations found in the 1962 Missal.
It is also worth keeping in mind that even liturgical maximalists like the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) regularly exercise liturgical prudence at the parish level. The All-Night Vigil doesn’t actually last into the wee hours. Psalter readings are shortened, hymns are intoned rather than chanted, and some elements are occasionally dropped altogether. Even in ROCOR monastic environs, the Vigil service is likely to last no more than three or four hours (depending on the occasion). It’s hard to imagine a Latin Catholic liturgical purist wailing about missing troparia in the canons of Byzantine Matins with the same hyperbolic indignation he is prone to let loose against a dropped Collect at Mass. The reason is simple. The Byzantine Rite is long, multilayered, and, arguably, overcrowded; the traditional Roman Rite is austere, elegant, and comparatively stripped-down. It is easy to pitch a fit over minor details concerning the latter while blithely ignoring many in the former.
A wise and humble ROCOR priest once said, “Pray as you can, not as you wish you could.” Being the pastor of a modest rural parish, he recognized that the resources available to a cathedral or city church (large choir, multiple clergy, an infantry of altar servers, etc.) weren’t available to him, so he makes do with what he has. In the Roman Church today, many traditional Catholics are fortunate to find any priest who can serve the traditional Latin Mass period. No doubt many would love to have a high Mass every Sunday, but that is usually not possible, at least not at first. Thankfully the situation appears to be changing, particularly in urban areas, but there is still a lot of work to do. As I discussed in an article for The Angelus magazine, “Roman Liturgy in the Light of the East,” there is a lot traditional Latin Catholics can learn from Orthodoxy’s liturgical ethos, but implementing that learning won’t happen overnight.
Similarly, correcting any potential defects in the 1962 books is a long-term project. It needn’t be a divisive issue. As the traditional Roman liturgy continues—God willing—to spread, more priests and laity will begin to see where changes need to be made; what parts of the pre-1962 books should be recovered; and how the Mass might be better served with the full dignity it deserves. This is a process (some might say a struggle) shared by Greek Catholics, too. (For more on that, see my earlier post on Greek Catholic liturgy here.) It is a process that will never be completed, however, if the faithful keep bickering over secondary, nay, tertiary liturgical matters.