WASHINGTON, May 15 (UPI) -- You don't have to be a Roman Catholic to feel some nostalgia for the days when the holy Mass was a less messed-up affair -- and sung in Latin. Now there are signs of hope that some of the beauty of the Church's ancient liturgy will soon return.
Vatican sources told United Press International Thursday that three congregations of the papal curia are working on a document setting liturgical norms intended to put an end to the frequently ugly abuses that have become rampant since the Second Vatican Council 1962-65.
The paper will be published before the end of the year and include "prescriptions of a juridical nature on this very important subject," as Pope John Paul II stated in his latest encyclical letter, Ecclesia de Eucharistia" (Church of the Eucharist).
In this context, a Vatican insider said it was highly significant that Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos, prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, recently celebrated Mass according to the old Tridentine Latin rite in St. Peter's Cathedral in Rome.
"It's not that the Church will return to the Latin liturgy full-time," a Rome-based prelate cautioned, "but we should celebrate it more often." He added that this should contribute to the reconciliation between the Vatican and the followers of the late French archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, founder of the traditionalist Society of Pius X headquartered in Switzerland.
According to the Rev. John McCloskey, director of the Catholic Information Center in Washington, the desire for such reconciliation was one contributing factor in the Vatican's plans for a return to liturgical stringency.
"Now, as I understand it, nothing will stand in the way of a priest wishing to celebrate the Tridentine Mass anymore," he said. "So at least on this score there will no longer be a reason for disagreement with the Lefebvre people."
The Tridentine Mass, whose luxuriant beauty inspired some of the world's greatest composers, was celebrated in all Roman Catholic Churches from 1565 until 1965, when Vatican II bungled -- in McCloskey's words -- the liturgical reform.
That was the time, too, when altars were turned around so that the priests now stood behind them and faced the congregation while consecrating the Eucharist. Ever since, traditionalists used to jest, priests and congregants worshiped each other, a thoroughly postmodern exercise.
The Rev. Gerald E. Murray, a canon lawyer and pastor of St. Vincent de Paul's Catholic Church in New York City, bemoaned the TV culture that has taken over worship since Vatican II. "It's all about the people. Everything is directed at them; everything is didactic."
Many Protestant liturgical congregations, especially in Europe, did not automatically follow Rome's example but continued the practice of the faithful and the celebrants facing what is called the East Wall, where traditionally the altar stood in most old churches. In Catholicism, too, some priests refused to go along with the 1960s practice -- and were perfectly within their rights, McCloskey explained.
In much of the Western world, the Vatican II liturgical reforms led to a trivialization of divine service. As in many Protestant congregations, "creative pastors" strumming their guitars to folksy tunes often became the norm. This liturgical free-for-all following the abandonment of the Latin Mass "must have driven hundreds of thousands out of our churches," McCloskey reckoned.
John Paul II has long been painfully aware of this -- and the need to place a "final point" under Vatican II, correcting this mistake. This "final point" will presumably consist of two things: first, a general permission for all priests to celebrate the Latin Mass whenever they wish, which especially highly educated urban Catholics desire, according to Murray -- and second, crystal-clear rules for other forms of divine service,
Like all other clerics interviewed for this story, McCloskey sounded enthusiastic about this expected new development in his church: "This is extremely important -- it is extremely good."