Tuesday, December 26, 2006

A call for a shift away from a vocabulary of polemic and inaccuracy

I wished to make a proposal to our readership, not simply for this blog, but in general in our approach to liturgical issues (i.e. I am not suggesting this is a blog "rule" I am enforcing). The purpose here is not to point fingers, or assign blame. As was referenced in the recent French manifesto in favour of the liberalizing of the classical Roman liturgy, there has been fault and blame on either side. There has been much hurt, many accusations and much in the way of polemics.

However, it seems to me that now is particulary the time to re-assess some of the thinking and terminology that has developed in the last few decades on "our side of the fence" (by which I mean simply those advocating traditional liturgics).

I believe this is particularly the case now as we move into a new phase of the liturgical restoration and genuine renewal and re-assessment of the post-conciliar era. We move into a time where there is need now for a greater cooperation and co-existence between the reform of the reform and between those attached to the classical liturgical rites. We also move into a time where there is need for greater historical and theological precision in our comments and critiques, as new generations and groups (who have until now been raised solely on a diet of the more modern liturgics) will have the opportunity be presented with and more readily seek out, our liturgical tradition and history. They need to be presented with it at its best and most accurate, well-reasoned and charitable face. Polemics, by contrast, will not serve this.

As such, it seems to me that those ideas or terms which carry a polemical connotation will not help serve the restoration of the liturgy, and a growing openness to our classical rites or a reform of the reform -- nor be helpful in their mutual and necessary co-existence.

We must also be careful that our terminology reflects reality, such as what the Council did call for, or what is historically the case.

"NOVUS ORDO" - I have made it a steadfast goal to not refer to the "Novus Ordo". While this term is arguably coined by people on either side, and of course literally only translates to "new order", it nonetheless has come to carry with it a polemic which can at times be interpreted as an utter rejection of the rite, or a questioning of its validity even.

As such, an alternate term would seem to be either "the Pauline Missal" or the 1970 Missal, in reference to Pope Paul VI, or "the modern Roman rite", wherein it is distinguished from the classical liturgy.

"TRIDENTINE MASS" - concurrent with the former is the misleading designation of the "Pian Missal" or "Tridentine", which suggests a missal effectively created by Trent of Pius V. However, anyone who compares the more ancient liturgical rites and uses with the Missal which was codified by Trent will know quite readily how similar they are. Hence, reference to the "1962 Missal", or the "classical" or "ancient" Roman liturgy would seem more accurate.

"LATIN MASS" - an imprecise term by any account, as it can refer to either set of liturgical books. Typically as well, and this is the bigger problem, it sets up a false dichotomy which suggest Latin was abolished by the Council.

"WRECKOVATION" - while it might seem witty or to the point, nonetheless, it probably does nothing to contribute to the serious consideration of liturgical architecture and critique of the same. Substantive critiques can be made without resorting to a polemical term.

"TABLE ALTAR" - just a word here about the connotation, not the actual term. I myself appreciate more the solid form of altar that developed in the West. However, what isn't helpful in a discussion of the form of the altar and the corresponding relation of it to the rest of the sanctuary are polemics which would reduce this altar to being a non-Catholic, even protestant, aberration (which historically isn't the case, given its historical presence in both the West and especially the East). Regardless of whether it might be critiqued from an architectural perspective, let it be remembered that it is in fact a consecrated Catholic altar, regardless of the particular form. There are better, more objective ways to advocate for the traditional models that have developed in the West.

This list is by no means complete, but I believe you will get the sense of what I am suggesting here. Let's be careful to eliminate the polemics from our own vocabularly. Let us not have a penchant toward reactionary or over-exaggerated statements. Let us also make certain we make well qualified statements that take into account our history and tradition, and which does not find a tendency toward a liturgical absolutism that may not in fact be historically or theologically accurate.

Instead, let us provide a reasoned, respectful critique and catechesis.

This will have a far greater power and long-term effect for positive liturgical change than the short-term satisfaction that might be gained by the use of polemics, or the ease that might be derived from long-used, but historically and theologically inaccurate terms.