Monday, January 18, 2016

The Balance Scale: Nineteen to One

In an article here at NLM, Gregory DiPippo beautifully summed up the fundamental difference between the original Liturgical Movement and its increasingly revolutionary successor prior to, during, and after the Second Vatican Council:
Before World War I, the major figures in the Liturgical Movement believed that instilling true devotion to the liturgy, and curing the neglect thereof, was principally a matter of education. The liturgy was seen as an inexhaustible treasure-trove for the spiritual life, and the goal of men such as Dom Guéranger and Fr. Romano Guardini was to raise both the clergy and the laity up to a greater appreciation of it. In the period between the wars, the attitude shifted towards the idea that if the run of the clergy and faithful were uninterested in the liturgy, the problem lay not with them, but with the liturgy. The cure for this neglect would then become, not to educate the faithful up to the level of the liturgy, but to alter the liturgy to suit the needs of “modern” man.
DiPippo goes on to ask the logical questions that no progressive or liberal or modernist could ever answer without undermining his own position:
Since all of the architects of the post-Conciliar reforms were formed as churchmen in the aftermath of the two World Wars, the question should also be asked: how much of their era’s way of looking at the world, how many of their attitudes and ideas, are as perennially valuable as those of, say, Saints Augustine, Benedict, and Gregory the Great? If they could ask the question “how much longer must we live according to the ideas of the preceding centuries?”, and answer “no longer, starting from today”; can we not also ask “how much longer must we live according to the ideas of the preceding century?” (These questions are pertinent not only to the liturgy, of course, but to all of the aspects in which the Church struggles through the aftermath of the post-Conciliar reforms.)
These questions could sound like an endorsement of perpetual revolt: each generation has to throw off that which came before. But he’s not saying that at all. Rather, he’s saying that there are two views: the one that chucked out tradition, arbitrarily mixing archaic and modernist elements (the decadent liturgical movement), and the one that honored and respected tradition in its slow development over time (the original liturgical movement). The former specializes in throwing the past overboard, or tinkering with it ad libitum and injecting modernity into it — Fr. Gelineau’s concept of the liturgy as “a permanent workshop”[1] — while the latter wishes to hold firm to the received treasures and to live them with the understanding that comes from love.[2] It is the essential difference between the revolutionary and the counter-revolutionary: one tears down and reconstructs on a new plan, the other maintains a sound identity by preserving, repairing, and enriching.

One might think of it this way. Let us say you have a balance scale for the history of the Church, and you want to determine what is heavier, weightier, worthier. In one dish is more than nineteen centuries of tradition (and with it, reverence for the given forms of worship); in the other dish, not even one century of theory-based experimentation (and with it, a notable lack of reverence for given forms). Which way will the balance tilt? Which way will you tilt? For each of us is, in a way, the balance scale, and how we tilt amounts to a small gain or loss in the renewal of the Church.

Consider a different use of this metaphor. Some practices are extremely widespread, and others are rare. Say you are weighing precious metals and common metals. The weight of the common, since there is far more of it, may greatly exceed the weight of the precious, but you would be foolish not to take the precious over the common, the gold over the lead. Here, it is not weight that counts, but quality. Take the one piece of gold over the nineteen pieces of lead.

The traditional Catholic joins his lot with nineteen and a half centuries of organic development rather than half a century of inorganic innovation. He searches for the precious handmade works of great anonymous masters and values them above the lackluster assembly-line products of committee barons. He knows how to use — and how to be — a reliable balance scale.


[1] See here for the full quotation.
[2] See my article "Carrying Forward the Noble Work of the Liturgical Movement" for more on the contrast.

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