Monday, March 26, 2007

How will the Motu Proprio affect Catholic liturgical culture?

It's not too early to speculate on the effects on parish liturgical life of the Motu Proprio.

Tridentine Nirvana: we can rule out the most far-flung illusion that this will mean a full and complete revival the Tridentine Missal. That's not going to happen, and those who believe that are just not in touch with the reality of the current situation: for forty years, the modern rite has been the only Mass known by 99% of Catholics in the English speaking world. The vast majority is acculturated to it. If you imagine yourself as St. Michael casting out the Devil who has ruled the church since 1962 or whatever, and using the Motu Proprio as your sword, you are on another planet.

Return of the Dark Ages: On the other side, we can rule out the most far-flung progressivist fears that this is going to undo Vatican 2, turn back the clock, encourage new Crusades, restore the temporal power, create an ecclesiastical dictatorship, lead to pogroms, and result in the mass burnings of heretics. So please understand: this is about the liturgy—the public expression of the Church's worship—and not politics. This is a liberalization, not a crack down. It provides people more choice, not less. It is granting more liberty, not taking liberty away. By the way, the SSPX has done us no favors by linking their liturgical agenda with fantasies of restoring the French monarchy or eliminating religious freedom.

A cruel bifurcation: The classic rite might be seen as the one with decorum and dignity and the one in Latin, whereas the modern rite will be seen as the people-friendly vernacular Mass with goofy music. Priests will tell people who object to find another parish that offers the old rite and otherwise keep quiet. This tendency would be a disaster for the reform of the reform. It would further marginalize Latin and authentic Catholic liturgy. It would be a setback. I seriously doubt that this could be the result, though it will be good to guard against this by remembering that the normative modern rite is in Latin and the Graduale remains its songbook. My hope is that the language of the Motu Proprio will lessen the sharp distinction between the old and new missals, by using language like ordinary and extraordinary, or modern and classical.

More Tridentine-only parishes: This could happen but it is not that likely. Existing parish priests will not leave their current parishes to establish new ones. The shortage is too great. Places that already welcome Tridentine-only orders will have more parishes that offer this rite only, but money is short and congregations will still have to cough up the resources to make it possible. Also, many dioceses in this country refuse to permit orders that are dedicated to the classical rite exclusively. Presumably under the Motu Proprio, Bishops will retain the right to decide which orders to admit and exclude, and those that exclude them will continue to do so (for ever-changing reasons they can make up on the spot). So my guess is that classical-rite only parishes will be kept at their current level or grow slowly over time.

More biritual parishes
: This is the most likely result. Some parishioners will advocate the Tridentine option, and a priest will find the time to study and learn and then set aside a special Mass time for this. There are certain steps to overcome. Most priests don't have time or interest in this cause. If they fear, even slightly, that the Bishop will disapprove, they won't go there. But some will. Initially, such a special Mass could drain away resources from other Masses, particularly in the area of music, so it will most likely be a Low Mass. Only a small minority will choose, for example, a 1:00pm low Mass over an 11:00am new rite Mass. But over time, circumstances could change. The Mass time could be moved as it grows more popular. But be aware traditionalists: this will mean that hosts will be mixed in the tabernacle. Believe it or not, some people have an issue with this.

Pressure on the new rite
: However you look at it, the Motu Proprio revives the classical ideal as a kind of religio-cultural currency. Its status will be re-legitimized. This is hugely important because of one of the grave defects in the modern rite: it lacks rubrics that dictate a certain liturgical result. For this reason, it is too often used as a vessel into which the celebrant and the liturgy teams dump their agenda. Some of this is tendency results from bad intentions but lots of it is entirely innocent. People don't have the model of the old Mass in their mind. Sometimes it takes only one attendance to create the epiphany: oh so that's how Catholic liturgy is supposed to sound and feel! This impact here could be huge, and, I think, overshadow the bifurcation tendency mentioned above. There is also this interesting possibility: pastors will be inspired to fix up the new rite and make it more solemn and correct precisely to forestall what they consider a worse choice of actually having to learn the old rite and put it in place as a parish option.

The mainstreaming of the disaffected
: this is another happy result of the Motu Proprio. Those people who have felt stepped on and abused by the coercive and sometimes vicious way in which the new rite was imposed will finally have this historical wrong undone. They will then have to take a new look at mainstream Catholic life in the U.S. and begin to make themselves part of it. They will have to adapt to the new reality, come out of their bunkers, and make a positive contribution to Catholic life in this country. They will also have to adjust to the fact that the major source of their disgruntlement will have been addressed. They will have to be happy again, and, oddly, this change doesn't always come easy for people who have lived in despair for so long.

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