Fr. Robert Sokolowski has developed a form of theology he calls “Theology of Disclosure”. It is a way of practicing theology informed by the discipline of philosophical phenomenology.
Phenomenology is not “descriptive” analysis. It involves a difficult “change of approach” or viewpoint, one that requires us to think being in terms of how it is manifested to us, and correlatively to think of the different ways in which we approach being. Things are as they manifest themselves; they manifest themselves as they are. There are essential structures of manifestation. All of this is very difficult to get one’s mind around. Indeed, one might take solace in knowing that the founder of phenomenology realized the difficulty and sometimes stated that what he had taken to be a phenomenological analysis was really only descriptive analysis.
That said, we can really get somewhere with at least an attempt to see the various ways in which being manifests itself and, correlatively, the ways in which we approach being, and vice versa.
Sokolowski made this application, among other realms, in the arena of liturgical and sacramental theology. I wish not simply to report his achievements but to follow out some further explorations in this area. If the endeavor is not successful entirely because not truly a child of the phenomenological reduction (as this change of viewpoint is called), it may perhaps be stabbing in the right direction.
Briefly, then, let us look at the opening of Two Masses, the Extraordinary Form and the Ordinary Form.
We notice immediately distinct beginnings, after the sign of the Cross:
|Extraordinary Form||Novus Ordo|
|Priest kisses the altar.|
|“I will go in to the altar of God.” The server responds, “To God who giveth joy to my youth.” The priest then beseeches God to consider him set apart from sinful heathen. Priest and server alternate exclamations and exhortations.||“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” Or another a similar alternative formula.|
|Then Priest Confesses to Almighty God his sins, beseeching forgiveness.||Everyone, including priest, confess sins together.|
|Then server (and the people actively and interiorly) confess their sins.|
|Priest prays that the congregation’s sins be forgiven.||Priest prays that everyone’s sins (his included with the congregation’s) be forgiven.|
|Then the priest grants everyone absolution.|
|Finally, priest goes in to the altar and kisses it.|
|More prayers beseeching God’s mercy for sins of everyone.|
|Then there is an Introit.|
|Kyrie||Kyrie (unless it was said in lieu of confession)|
What “ways of being” are manifested in each liturgy? The extraordinary form brings out Mass as Sacrifice. Correlatively, we are to gear our approach as that to sacrifice, being offered by a sacred minister, through whom we offer our prayers and participate in our distinct way. It is a service to God. Whereas, the Novus Ordo approaches liturgy in the context of fellowship. Now, as a matter of fact, the Mass is primarily a sacrificial event. This is a matter of doctrine, not opinion. See Pius XII Mediator Dei and the constant Tradition. So, the EF gears its participants for this mode of targeting the event (approaching the “being of the Mass) better.
On the other hand, at first sight we see a more Trinitarian element to the NO (absolutely no pejorative intent or implication here; I am saving time by abbreviation). There is an explicitly Trinitarian ring to the NO. This is not suggested in words at this point in the EF. Nonetheless, there is the suggestion in the deeds. How? Because the EF involves one precise direction: Towards the altar. To whom is the sacrifice made? Ultimately, to the Father. This Trinitarian implication of the gesture is brought out explicitly throughout the Canon. The People approach the Father through the Son, who is represented distinctly by the Sacred Minister. Hence, the very structure of the entire worship is “ontologically / gesticularly” Trinitarian. In the NO, it is standard practice for the priest to “face the people” from behind the altar (during the canon) or from near the “chair.” This is not mandated in the rubrics, so far as I can tell, but it is what almost invariably happens. The altar, then, really becomes a “table”. What is stressed is not sacrifice but communion (reception of the Eucharist). Pius XII teaches that the essence of the Mass is sacrifice, and that reception of the Eucharist is most highly encouraged – but it is not mandated for an integral Mass. (Only the participation of the priest is so required.)
If we simply stop here: It is no wonder that so few Catholics really recall that the Mass is a Sacrifice to honor God and appease his righteous anger for the sins of the world (and our sins). Those who do are heroic, for they exegete the NO through the lens of sound doctrine. However, the sacrificial character of the Mass is not as it were signaled so clearly as to call the participants to approach the event in this manner. In short, in order to comport ourselves in the right way for a particular manifestation of being, we must have some clues. These clues should be embedded in the very event, rather than foisted onto the event from afar. For instance, cherished family portraits are framed well and placed beautifully; or they are collected in a handsome album. In this way, those who approach are invited to approach with a proper respect and nostalgia for their loved ones. The EF does this with the placement of the altar, the priest’s approach thereto, and the Trinitarian structure of the worship. The NO does not exhibit the Trinitarian structure in its (typical) action and does not bring out the sacrificial character (not yet at this point of the liturgy), with the exception of the initial kiss of the altar. But note: That initial kiss begins straight away, without preparation. Such a procedure can lead to a certain familiarity. The lengthy preparation to ascend to the altar in the EF calls for a “fear of the Lord”, not a terror of servility, but an honoring that recognizes Magnificence.
Next, the EF presents two distinct confessions of sins, the priest’s and the server’s (and people’s). The priest is set apart. He is not the congregation; the congregation is not he. He has a sacred role to perform. They assist him in this: They are present with him, in their place and in their role. His service is primarily for the honor and worship of God; secondarily for the nourishment of the faithful. Is this neglect of the good of the congregation? Do they feel lonely? Do they need accompaniment and fellowship? Affirmation? Emphatically, this is not abandonment of the people. This is not neglect. To honor God above all is man’s highest activity. Man’s happiness is only in reaching out. In total “self-gift” as John Paul put it. Performing the liturgy precisely as an act of service to almighty God is the lifting out of self that makes man happy. By the lifting of my hands to God, I come to myself. Further, the community is built up most in this mode. Why? Because we have a greater union with one another through our union with God. If each person is united with God, each will be more concerned for the other than if each is thrust upon each as a focus of attention. After all, you cannot meet my need. Not even the Sacred Minister can, as man, meet my need. He can do so only as Christ’s representative. When he stands their behind the altar affirming me, he gives me human help. This is good, but not good enough. I need divine help. I must be brought outside myself. When I encounter only human others, I am left in my agony (or my passing pleasures). When I encounter God, I am taken up into ecstasy.
In the NO, priest and people together confess their sins. (Unless of course another option is used. And frequently enough, we see other options used. These are all well and good, but they do not involve that very important formula.) Similarly, in the NO, the priest only offers one prayer for everyone, beseeching God’s forgiveness. In the EF, he offers a prayer for himself and a distinct one for others and finally, absolution to everyone. There is no absolution in the NO. The distinction between priest and people is brought forth; they are each called to act according to their distinct gifts and place. This is not competition. It is order, actuality, being; for order is brought about through distinction.
There is no question of validity here. There is no question of liceity here. Both Masses are valid and licit. Both conduce to salvation. However, one is more apt to call the people to the attitude of sacrifice, which is precisely what the Mass essentially and primordially is. It is not secondly, it is not even “equiprimordially” sacrifice and fellowship / communion. It is primarily sacrifice, worship of God. One is more apt to bring out the distinction of roles of laity and priest. One is more apt gesticularly to invoke the Trinitarian structure of worship, although the opening of the NO brings this out explicitly and, with the exception of the sign of the Cross (which both share), the EF does not at this point.