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(LifeSiteNews) — Since Benedict XVI’s Summorum Pontificum, released in 2007, many more Catholics and clergy have had the opportunity to discover the Traditional Latin Mass. Those who discover this rite are led, sooner or later, to compare it to the Novus Ordo Missae of Paul VI. The recent restrictions placed on the old rite by Pope Francis have perhaps intensified these comparisons. Any such comparative study cannot fail to remark a few of the major changes: the elimination of the traditional offertory prayers, the multiplication of options in place of the Roman Canon, the complete reworking of the Mass readings, and so on. At first sight, it is hard to see the purpose of such changes. The Roman Canon, for example, has its roots stretching back into the first centuries of the Church. What would be the purpose in replacing it with a much shorter and almost completely novel set of prayers?

We naturally search for the “key” to the changes, not only so that we can understand them better, but also so that we can weigh the effects of these changes in light of their motive. Has the introduction of a new rite of the Mass been a successful enterprise? Has it achieved what Paul VI was aiming at and hoping for?

When we look at the history of the Second Vatican Council, and especially the discussions of the Council Fathers surrounding the document on the liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, we begin to have a sense of the key. This sense is strengthened and confirmed by an examination of the group tasked with reforming the liturgy, the Consilium and its secretary, Fr. Annibale Bugnini. The motive emerges quite clearly: ecumenism, that is, a desire to dialogue and achieve greater unity with non-Catholics, most especially, with Protestants. The changes in the Mass which were noted above begin to “make sense” when looked at in the light of ecumenism – they are all meant to be a movement towards the Protestants.

The liturgical reform which began with the work of the Consilium did not stop at an overhauling of the Mass. The other sacramental rites also underwent a serious reworking. Here again, we can see that many of the changes were inspired by an attempt to bring Catholic rites more “into line” with Protestant beliefs. Some may express this intention more benignly as “emphasizing what Catholics and Protestants have in common.” But it is hard to maintain this euphemistic phraseology when we reflect on what has been lost, on what is no longer clearly expressed by the rite.

All of the new sacramental rites bear the mark of ecumenism, but one of the most striking is certainly the new rite of baptism. Even a brief, side-by-side comparison of the old rite and the new rite reveals a purposeful and determined elimination of Catholic thinking, presumably as an attempt to “celebrate unity” with Protestants. The purpose of this article is to make such a comparison. For the sake of brevity and clarity, I will focus on comparing the rites of infant baptism.

The old rite of infant baptism uses place and movement as part of its symbolism. The ceremony begins outside the church, then proceeds inside to the entrance of the baptistry, and finally to the font. The symbolism is made quite clear by the ritual and the prayers: the unbaptized infant is not yet worthy to enter the church because he has inherited Original Sin and is under the power of the devil.

Right at the start of the ceremony, the priest will question the child: “What do you ask of the Church of God?” The response is solemn and simple, “Faith.” “What does faith bring you?” “Eternal life.” Since the child himself cannot speak, Holy Mother Church supplies and asks the godparents to lend their voice to the child. But it is to the child himself that the priest addresses his questions, both here and throughout the ceremony. Before entering the church, the priest will perform two exorcisms, and will give the infant blessed salt, which itself has also been exorcised. The priest himself wears a violet stole, the color of penance. A battle is being waged over the soul of this little child: the devil wants to keep him for his own, but Jesus Christ intervenes, through His Church, to save the infant.

The priest places his stole on the child’s head and leads him inside the church. There, all who are present join in a profession of faith – that faith which God will give the child through His Church. The priest performs a third exorcism, and then touches the ears and nostrils of the child saying “Ephpheta” or “Be thou opened.” For a second time, the priest will question the child, asking the first part of a series of questions that represent the baptismal vows: “Do you renounce satan?” and so on. The child is then anointed with the consecrated oil of catechumens, the final preparation for baptism. Only now does the priest change to a white stole, signifying the joy and peace which will follow once the sacrament itself is given. The ceremony moves to the final place, by the side of the baptismal font.

One last time, the priest addresses the infant, asking finally “Do you wish to be baptized?” The child is then baptized, and there follow a few ceremonies which demonstrate the effects of the sacrament. First, the child is anointed with the sacred chrism, the Church’s most holy oil, signifying that he is truly free and ready to rule with Christ. Second, the priest gives the child a white garment, which signifies the purity of his soul after baptism. He is no longer a sinner, but a friend of God, beloved and holy. The priest tells the child to carry this garment unstained to the judgment seat. Finally, the priest hands a lighted candle to the child, which represents the state of grace, the presence of God within his soul. The child is to keep this light shining throughout his life. The ceremony concludes simply, “Go in peace and may the Lord be with you.” The child, equipped with the grace that divinizes him and the virtue of faith, now has to “work out his salvation” in the world so that he may one day enjoy eternal life.

Let us turn now to the new rite of baptism. As I mentioned above, the key to understanding the changes to the rite is ecumenism. We can ask ourselves, “what is it in the old rite of baptism which a Protestant would find hard to accept? What would emphasize our differences in belief more than our similarities?” First and foremost, Protestantism tends to emphasize the value of the personal act of faith, made knowingly and freely. Thus, faith is not something received through the agency of another; the soul must go to Jesus Christ directly. Second, there is no such thing as a sacramental priesthood, or a person acting in persona Christi. Therefore, sacraments are not given through the ministry of priests, nor do priests have a power that no other person can have (such as power over the devil, to perform an exorcism). Finally, the Protestants hold that Christ has already accomplished everything to do with our salvation in His Passion and death. The idea of “applying the merits of the Passion” to us here and now is quite foreign, especially if such an application happens through the agency of another human being (i.e., a priest).

As we now go through the new rite of infant baptism, we can see that the points above are really driving the changes. The new rite of infant baptism is designed to be as inoffensive to Protestants as possible. I would emphasize this here because I think that, outside of this perspective of ecumenism, we can give no single and logical account as to why certain things have changed. As a final preparatory comment: the new rite allows for so many “options” in various prayers and ceremonies that it is hard to speak about “the rite itself.” In laying it out, therefore, I have chosen to follow the first option provided in the sacramentary.

The new rite of infant baptism does away with the movement from place to place. It is to begin wherever the people are gathered and waiting. It is supposed to be done in the presence of the faithful, or at least relatives and friends, all of whom take “active part” in the rite. The priest is vested in “festive colors” and he begins by greeting everyone and reminding the parents of the joy they had in receiving a child. The priest questions the parents of the child, asking them the name they give to their child and what they ask of God’s Church for the child. They reply, “Baptism.” The priest immediately reminds them of their responsibility in training the child in the practice of the faith, and he asks if they understand what they are undertaking. He also asks the godparents if they understand their responsibilities.

The priest then welcomes the child to the Christian community, and “in its name” claims the child for Christ. In silence, he traces the sign of the cross on the infant’s head and then asks the parents and the godparents to do the same thing.

The next two parts of the ceremony are the “Liturgy of the Word” and the “Prayer of the Faithful,” or intercessory prayers. The former comprises one or two Scripture readings and a homily. The latter involves various invocations and prayers for the child, in a litany-style request and response. These two parts of the ceremony (entirely foreign to the old rite) closely mimic the baptismal rite in Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer.

The next part of the ceremony is titled, “Prayer of Exorcism and Anointing.” The prayer which the priest says is addressed to God, so it is not, properly speaking, an exorcism (which is always addressed to the devil, commanding him to leave). The prayer itself is odd, because it asks God for what the sacrament of baptism itself will do. Compare this to the old rite, which, before the baptism, is continually asking God to make the child worthy of the grace of baptism, i.e. to prepare him for the sacrament and its effects. The anointing is done with the oil of catechumens, but it may be omitted if the minister judges it to be “pastorally necessary.” In this case, it is replaced with a short prayer. At the conclusion of this part, the priest lays his hands on the head of the child in silence. Then, all proceed to the baptistry (unless they are already there).

Before the baptism itself, the celebrant reminds the people of the wonderful work of God, and then he performs a blessing and an invocation of God over the baptismal water. This latter part is never omitted, even during the Easter season. This is, again, taken more or less directly from the 1549 Book of Common Prayer. By contrast, the baptismal water used in the old rite is never blessed at the baptism itself, because it was already blessed at the Easter Vigil ceremony, and the priest is obliged to use this water to baptize. In the traditional Easter Vigil, the ceremony for the blessing of the baptismal water is solemn and lengthy, involving also the lit Pascal Candle (representing Christ) and referencing Christ’s Passion and death repeatedly. What is so striking about this change in the new rite is that it effectively breaks the connection between the Easter Vigil and baptism – that is, between Christ’s Passion and the application of the fruits of that Passion to each individual soul through the sacraments and the agency of the priest. Thus, the new rite removes this specifically Catholic theology of the sacraments.

The celebrant next address the parents and the godparents, reminding them of their responsibility to bring the child up in the practice of the faith and asking them to renew the vows of their own baptism. There is here a strange oversight: the child himself is never addressed in the new rite of baptism, and so does not make any vows, whether by himself or through the voice of the godparents. If the parents were baptized as infants in the new rite, what vows are they then renewing? At the end of the questioning, the celebrant asks the parents if it is their will that their child be baptized “in the faith of the Church, which we have all professed with you.” The celebrant then performs the baptism.

The concluding rites are called “Explanatory Rites” and involve the anointing with chrism, the giving of a white garment, and the lighted candle, as in the old rite. The prayers accompanying these are completely different, however. In the anointing with chrism, the celebrant notes that God has welcomed the child “into his holy people.” The white garment is a sign of “Christian dignity,” which dignity is to be brought “unstained” into heaven. The candle is given to the parents and godparents: they are to keep the light burning. The “ephpheta” of the old rite is also inserted here, but is entirely optional. It is likewise modified: the priest touches the ears and mouth of the child, instead of the ears and nostrils. The prayer is completely different from the old rite.

At the conclusion of the rite, the entire congregation processes to the altar and sings a baptismal song. Everyone then prays the “Our Father” together (another imported ceremony from the Book of Common Prayer). The celebrant then gives a blessing, first to the mother, then the father, and finally the entire assembly.

Through this comparison of the two rites, we can see how a Protestant viewpoint dominates the new rite, while the Catholic teaching on baptism and the sacraments, so clearly expressed in the old rite, falls into the background. It is helpful to run briefly through the major shifts that show this.

First of all, why is the child never addressed in the new rite? Why does the celebrant always speak to the parents and godparents, incessantly reminding them of their responsibilities? It is because, for a Protestant, nothing can replace the personal act of faith. Now, the infant is incapable of such an act at this time. Therefore, it is useless to speak to him. It is instead the duty of the family (of the Christian community) to raise the child and dispose him to make this act of faith in Jesus Christ when the time comes. This contrasts starkly with the old rite, where it is the child himself who receives the outpouring of grace through the sacrament and who is therefore made already a child of God. While still an infant, he receives faith from the Church, through the ministry of her priest. The child’s responsibility is to maintain this baptismal purity throughout his life.

Second, the role of the priest is almost entirely eliminated. Besides the actual pouring of the water, everything he does is also done by the community, taking “active part” in the rite. Following the Protestant idea, the celebrant is merely a president of a community, speaking “in the name of the community.”

Third, why have all of the exorcisms been eliminated? Christ has not left a power to his specially chosen ministers to drive out the devil. There is no essential difference between priest and layperson in terms of power and function. To have a priest perform exorcisms would contradict this Protestant understanding.

We could perhaps mention another reason for the elimination of the exorcisms: the focus on the devil is foreign to a modern mentality, which is inclined to spiritual “optimism.” In the new rite, joy reigns supreme, and the occasional mention of Original Sin is not allowed to take any prominent place. The celebrant of the new rite is dressed festively, and reminds the parents right away of their joy in having a child. By contrast, the old rite is stark: it begins with a command to the child and an exorcism. The priest is dressed in penitential colors. Immediately, we are aware of a desperate struggle over the soul of the little one.

As a final point, we can mention the obvious inclusion of ceremonies from the Protestant Book of Common Prayer. What could be the point of including such things, when this book itself represented a falling away from the Catholic rites? There can only be one purpose: to bring the Catholic rite more into conformity with a Protestant understanding of baptism. This is, in a word, ecumenism.

At the end of this analysis, we are left with a crucial question: is ecumenism really worth abandoning our properly Catholic rites? We can say, with strict truth, that the new rite of baptism is just as much “Protestant” as it is “Catholic.” I would go further and say that it is more Protestant than Catholic, since, by omission and ambiguity, it empties the symbolism of the rite of Catholic meaning. Is this a good thing? What other consequences do we face from such Protestantized rites?

Each reader will have to face these questions and decide for himself. But let him weigh the matter carefully, and in the context of the universal crisis in faith we see today. What percentage of Catholics still believe in Original Sin and its effects? What percentage of Catholics realize the seriousness of their baptismal vows and their duty to maintain the purity of their soul? By emptying our Catholic rites of their specifically Catholic character, have we not largely contributed to this crisis of faith?

“Whoever wishes to be saved must, above all, keep the Catholic faith. For unless a person keeps this faith whole and entire he will undoubtedly be lost forever.” (Athanasian Creed)