In a discussion with The Thirsty Gargoyle this morning on Twitter, I said that it would be hard to imagine a priest saying Mass in Latin messing about with the rubrics. I was thinking as I wrote about NO Mass, but he typed back: "Now, no, but there's plenty of anecdotal data of DIY Latin Masses back in the day". He makes a very interesting point, for there was, of course, liturgical abuse by priests celebrating the Mass before the post-VII changes.
I am going to post an extract from O'Connell's "Celebration of Mass", in fact, an extract from the section on defective ways in which Mass can be celebrated: not the sections on Mass said too slowly or too quickly, or on what constitutes valid matter, or what happens if a wasp falls into the Chalice after the Consecration and dies, or what happens if a priest dies half way through Mass, but what Fr O'Connell calls "Arbitrary Changes in the Rite of Mass".
The big, big, difference between now and then, of course, is that the general expectation was that there was only one right way to say any particular Mass, and that, once it was decided which (licitly sayable) Mass was to be said, nothing was left to the priest: there was one way to say Mass properly. Today, the priest has more options: dramatic options like "Which Eucharistic Prayer shall I say at this Mass?" which the pre-1967 priest could not have dreamed of; and therefore potentially has more ways of accidentally or deliberately going wrong. But he still has rubrics: the rubrics may not be as prescriptive with regard to every detail as before, but the importance of sticking to the rubrics should be, it seems to me, to be as obviously necessary today as yesterday.
With that caveat: that today's rubrics are less prescriptive than yesterday's: look at Fr O'Connell's view on the gravity of intentionally messing about with the rubrics and ask yourself whether it is the same in both forms. If you don't think it is, ask yourself whether or not that is because what the priest is doing at the altar has changed or not.
I should say in fairness that this musing has little to do with what The Thirsty Gargoyle and I were discussing earlier, and that I have taken the discussion off in a different direction all by myself - blame a quiet motorway on a late Sunday morning - but this might contribute to an understanding of why there is such a gulf between those who like (or who can take or leave) clown Masses, and those for whom they are an abomination.
Arbitrary Changes in the Rite of Mass
Despite a custom to the contrary - which is expressly reprobated in the code of canon Law - the celebrant of Mass is “to observe accurately and devoutly the rubrics” of the Missal, “and take care not to add other ceremonies or prayers by his own authority.” Arbitrarily to change in, any way - by addition, omission, or transposition - the rite of the Mass is unlawful. So strict is the interpretation of this law that S.R.C. refused to allow the celebrant of Mass, for the purpose of gaining a rich indulgence, to pronounce, even in a low tone, the words "My Lord and my God" while looking on the sacred Host at the Elevation, and cited canon 818 to justify this refusal.
Whether the mutilation of the rite of Mass .would be a grave sin, or a venial one, or no sin at all (for a sufficient cause) is discussed by the moral theologians. Their reply is that this will depend on: (a) the motive for changing - is it because of contempt for the rubrics, culpable ignorance of them, gross indifference and carelessness, or from mere human frailty, like inculpable forgetfulness, or inattention, or from "devotion" of a wrong kind? (b) The nature and extent of the change - is it one that seriously concerns the reverence owed the Blessed Eucharist, does it occur in an important part of the Mass (important in itself, or because of some extrinsic reason, such as the mystical meaning of the part), is the addition, or omission, serious because of its length? It is regarded as grave to make even a comparatively small change in the Canon of the Mass, because of its intimate connection with the Sacrifice; and it is more serious to have omissions in the ordinary parts of the Mass, the parts that occur in every, or almost every Mass, than in extraordinary parts which occur sometimes only. Thus the omission of all the Prayers of Preparation at the foot of the altar, of the Gospel, of several of the offertory prayers, would be regarded as a notable omission; to omit the purification of the paten (unless there were no visible particles on it) or chalice, would be a grave want of reverence for the Blessed Sacrament; to omit the addition of water to the wine in the chalice, or the fraction of the Sacred Host, or the commingling of the two Sacred Species, would be
a serious omission because of the mystical meaning of these rites. But to omit the Gloria, or Creed, or prayers of commemoration, or the Last Gospel would not, ordinarily, be regarded as a grave omission.
Additions to the Rite
Arbitrarily to add prayers or ceremonies, with the intention of introducing a new rite, or to a notable extent (especially prayers not found in the Missal), would be a grave violation of liturgical law. To add the Gloria (on days when it should be omitted), or Collects not allowed by the rubrics, or ejaculatory prayers would not, ordinarily, be grave. In general, private (vocal) prayers may not be introduced into the rite of Mass, except where the rubrics provide for it, e.g., at each Memento after the reception of the Sacred Host.
Remedying Omissions in the Rite
The directions of De Defectibus do not, generally speaking, encourage the repairing of nonessential omissions. If the celebrant should omit anything belonging to the validity, or the integrity (e.g. the Offertory), of the rite of Mass, he must, of course, repair the omission. If an omission be trivial, it need not be supplied, and may not be, if it is not noticed at once. If an omission be notable (though not concerned with the validity or integrity of the Sacrifice) and can be easily be made good – because, e.g., it is noticed almost at once – and without causing scandal, it should be. Thus, if the celebrant omitted, in error, the Gloria, or a commemoration, or the Creed, he must not interrupt the Mass to repair the omission, but he may, indeed should, repair it, if he adverts to it almost immediately.