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Will the Vatican Withdraw the “New Coke” and Give us Back the Classic?

by James W. Bannister, B.A., LL.B.

Recent rumors about the possibility of Pope Benedict XVI issuing a motu proprio on a possible reform of the liturgy got me thinking about one of the greatest marketing fiascoes of all time.

In the 1980s, the Coca-Cola Corporation, makers of the world’s biggest-selling soft drink, became worried because their rival, Pepsi-Cola, was gaining ground on them, taking away their market share, particularly in the all-important youth market. It seemed young people liked Pepsi better because it was sweeter and not as strong as “the Real Thing”. So Coca-Cola decided to change the classic X7 formula, to make Coke more like its rival. Did Coca-Cola ask the public what it wanted? No. The decision to do away with “the old Coke” and bring in New Coke was made from the top down, at Coca-Cola’s Atlanta head office. Many managers and retailers warned against it, but those in charge didn’t listen. They were so busy worrying about Pepsi that they didn’t listen to their own people.

And they made the decision “final”. They didn’t give people a choice. Coca-Cola simply announced that after a certain date they would no longer produce the old X7 formula. People would have to drink New Coke, like it or not.

At the time I had an acquaintance who was Vice-president of Marketing for Coca-Cola Canada. I told him “If I wanted to drink Pepsi, I would buy Pepsi. I’ll bet that one day you’ll have to bring back the old formula, because that’s what people really want.” “No,” he said, “it’ll never happen.”

Not even a year later, when the cola-drinking public rejected New Coke and sales plummeted, Coca-Cola launched “Coke Classic”. And what is that? Why, it’s the old X7 formula, of course — the formula that was used from the beginning and which had stood the test of time.

And Coke Classic is what we have today. New Coke is only a faint if horrible memory. Coca-Cola is number one, as it was before.

What does this remind you of? Can you see the parallel with the imposition on the Catholic faithful of the New Mass? Do you understand why the Vatican is now trying to find a way, without losing face, to go back to the old Tridentine Mass, the Mass of St. Pius V, the Mass of All Time?

One person who understands the failure of the Novus Ordo mass is Sri Lankan Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith, secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments. In an interview with Inside the Vatican magazine, he made some very telling observations.

“The Tridentine Mass,” he said “is not something that belongs to the followers of Archbishop Lefebvre only. [Of course noone ever suggested this!] It is part of our own heritage as members of the Catholic Church.”

In a startling admission, the Archbishop went on to say, “The post-conciliar reform of the liturgy has not been able to achieve the expected goals of spiritual and missionary renewal in the Church. The churches have become empty. Liturgical freewheeling has become the order of the day, and the true meaning and significance of that which is celebrated has been obscured. ... One has to, then, begin wondering if the reform process had in fact been handled correctly.” Remember Archbishop Ranjith’s position. He is secretary of the congregation most directly concerned with liturgical norms. We can assume that his astonishing remarks would not have been published without at least the tacit approval of the congregation. Clearly the Vatican is worried. The marketing statistics are in and the New Mass has been rejected by the people, just like the New Coke!

So what is to be done? Archbishop Ranjith speculated that the Novus Ordo mass, which has been tinkered with several times since its creation (by a committee which included Protestants and Masons), might be reformed yet again. We could be in for a “reform of a reform of a reform”. If that were done, the Archbishop suggested, the Tridentine Mass and the Novus Ordo Mass could exist, side by side. “An ‘either-or’ attitude,” he said, “would unnecessarily polarize the Church, whereas charity and pastoral concern should be the motivating factors. If the Holy Father so desires, both could coexist.”

To that I say, fine, so let it be! Let the Mass of All Time compete for the worship and adoration of the faithful with the Novus Ordo mass.

To quote Archbishop Ranjith again, “The holy Eucharist belongs to the Church. Hence, it has a meaning of its own which cannot be left to the idiosyncrasies of the single celebrant.” The people know this. Just as Catholics are now filling the churches where the Traditional Mass is offered, so they will, if given the choice, reject “mass light” and return to the classic, traditional liturgy.