Monday, July 23, 2007

That Newfangled Populist Tridentine Mass

In one of her recent Rome Notes columnes, Elizabeth Lev comments about the fifty or so new churches built in Rome in the wake of the Council of Trent. These churches, among them the Gesù (pictured above), were designed to reflect the new codification of the liturgy, in accordance with the council. The funny thing is just how accessable the liturgy was designed to be, the very thing many today complain the Tridentine Mass is not. Consider some of the innovative features that Lev points out in the Gesù:

* Prior to Trent, rood screens, similar to the iconostases found in the East, seperated the presbytery from the nave and prevented the congretation from seeing the liturgy clearly. Trent removed these and new churches, such as the Gesù, made a point of raising the altar and lowering the communion rail to give the faithful an even better view of the mysteries being celebrated.

* A leading concern in the design of this building was for good acoustics, in order that the the chanting of the mass completely fill the church, for all to hear.

* The Gesù features a huge nave, allowing the faithful to gather around the pulpit and hear the sermon. (The Jesuits in particular were instrumental in introducing this greater emphasis on the homily.)

It would seem the Fathers of Trent had a far better idea of what they were doing than certain contemporary critics would give them credit for. The liturgy, Tridentine or otherwise, is not about power, secrecy, gender descrimination or any of the other trivial ideas tossed around by its detractors. The innnovations of the Church of the Gesù demonstrate as much.

For the Rome of 1585, the Gesù was a revolutionary structure while still respecting the tradition of the early Christian Church.

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