Wednesday, January 04, 2006

A Fictional Debate: Slow change or quick change?

I wish to expand upon some themes that have been arising in our discussions.

Clearly whether or not changes to the 1970 Missal come slowly or quickly is a matter which has aroused a great deal of emotion.

The Two Camps

The Long-Term Approach

On the one hand, we read distinguished pastors of the Church who are suggesting that change must come slowly when it comes to changing the 1970 Roman Missal itself. (And again, let's highlight that by this, we are not referring to ad orientem orientation, the use of Latin, Gregorian Chant, etc. all of which are legitimate options in the 1970 Missal and which can be employed immediately. These elements are matters for the present.) In all likelihood, this is based off two thoughts. 1) As a response to the manner in which the liturgical changes occurred in the late 60's and early 70's, which was rather a traumatic event in the life of the Church for lay and cleric alike. 2) As a response to the method in which liturgical changes occurred, which was rather a kind of abstract process, with particular individuals constructing a liturgy piecemeal, rather than the normal evolutionary process.

This same caution also applies to communities who enjoy the use of the liturgical books of 1962. Individuals of such communities, themselves responding to the problematic liturgical reforms of 1970, have understandably become hesitant at the thought of change to these liturgical books, at least at this point of time. Different people are prepared for more or less development, but as a rule, it would seem to be thought best (particularly in view of the hopes of restoring full communion with the likes of the SSPX) to hold off on any such developments at the present time.

Underlying this caution, then, is a desire to not repeat the mistakes of the past.

The Short-Term Approach

On the other hand, there are those who would argue that more substantive changes to the 1970 liturgical books need to happen as soon as possible. This argument comes from the perspective that agrees that the manner and method which brought us to where we are is problematic but disagrees that such changes would be harmful given our present situation.

Many who hold to this position would argue that what is a bigger pastoral consideration is the confusion and suffering that the faithful are experiencing in the here and now, not the least of which families with children.

Likewise they might suggest that there are inherent issues in the present Roman Missal (too many options, the lack of clear rubrics, etc.) which leave it open to much misinterpretation and abuses. Thus, certain changes are required in order to begin to bring things back into line.

Some Critical Analysis of Both Approaches

The Long Term Approach - Sed Contra 1

One argument that might be made against the long-term approach is that it's premise implies that a situation exists today similar to that of the 1960's, but which in fact isn't due to a significant shift in the liturgical culture.

To illustrate: in the 1960's, the liturgical culture was as such that the Latin-rite faithful had been living with a liturgical rite which had, for all intents and purposes, remained substantially unchanged in their lifetime and for generations before. Changes had occurred of course, such as those at Holy Week, but effectively it was still the same liturgical rite they were accustomed to (Please note, I am not intending to address whether it was the liturgical state was "ideal", but rather just the state of affairs in terms of relative consistency in liturgical life). When the liturgical changes did occur, this became substantially shaken up, less so in 1965, but much more so in 1970. Put together, the faithful were subjected to 2 changes, and one quite substantial, within a 5 year span in what had been previously a serene consistency for generations previously. It was this dichotomy which resulted in it being a highly traumatic experience.

In our current scenario, by comparison, many Catholic faithful are accustomed to the liturgy being quite different from parish to parish, year to year. In some cases, this is because of the legitimate options employed by Father X at such-and-such parish are different from those picked by Father Y. Father X may also choose to give commentary throughout the liturgy whereas Father Y will not. In terms of the ars celebrandi Father X may say Mass in a very extroverted style, whereas Father Y may be more subdued. All of these significantly effect the sense and experience of the liturgy for members of the faithful.

In other cases the liturgy may vary by way of not only this kind of variance but also because of the unfortunate presence of liturgical abuses -- which, while not legitimate of course, are nonetheless a frank reality and one which should be considered in considering the psychological state of the faithful and their ability to adapt to liturgical changes. One parish, for instance, may invite the congregation up into the sanctuary during the liturgy of the Eucharist. Another may change the prescribed texts of the missal. In other cases, rubrics may be ignored or changed from parish to parish. Likewise, some parishes may have liturgical dance.

Musically, one Mass may be a "folk" or "contemporary" Mass, another may sing more traditional hymns. As well, we have the presence of charismatic liturgies, teen liturgies, etc.

Finally, liturgists and liturgy committees also often bring about liturgical changes at the parish level in accordance with the latest trends (whether legitimate or not). Some enforce the notion that liturgical music must change in a parish every 5 years for example. Others may disallow particular liturgical traditions.

In short, the present liturgical culture seems to be consistent primarily in one aspect: its inconsistency.

Given this state of affairs then, is the liturgical culture and psychological state of the faithful today, one in which they have been conditioned to liturgical change, not different from 40 years ago? While such changes 40 years ago were indeed traumatic given their liturgical culture, would not our present liturgical culture mean that such changes would not be traumatic now? (At least within reasonable limits. The shift back to the 1962 liturgy would be quite radical, given how different that liturgy now is from the present one, and would likely cause significant pastoral problems.) In which case, is the pastoral consideration here which would hold off on quicker changes to the 1970 missal, while well intentioned, perhaps overly cautious were it need not be?

By contrast, it might be argued that those who adhere to the 1962 liturgical books are not subject to the liturgical culture of change, but perhaps have become subject to an opposite extreme, whereby no change has occurred for them these part 40 years even in minor ways. As such, pastoral caution and liturgical conservativism should reign there.

The Short-Term Approach - Sed Contra 1

It might be argued that while there has indeed been a culture of change, nonetheless it remains a pastoral reality that change is not easy regardless and that preparation is needed before such can begin. Pursing far-reaching changes overnight may not result in the desired end, and could result in similar damage to the faithful as occurred before, let alone the possibility of further dissent from some clergy and religious -- which in turn affects the faithful who attend their parishes. Moreover, this culture of change is something which must be stopped as it is contrary to a proper attitude toward the liturgy and is a bad means to an (albeit) good desired end.

Further, it might be argued that if there is any doubt about how this will be received from a pastoral perspective, if such changes could result in the damage to the faithful, then this is something serious that must be taken into consideration, and should not be rushed into.

Likewise, it may be argued that simply reforming the liturgical texts of the 1970 missal in a direction toward the 1962/65 Roman Missal will not get the job done. The liturgical culture of constant change, of "institutionalized" liturgical abuses, the unfamiliarity with Latin rite liturgical tradition, etc. must first be corrected in the present, normative liturgy before anything deeper and more substantial is considered. This entails cleaning up the 1970 missal as it is celebrated now by employing proper translations of the texts of the Missal and encouraging a traditional ethos in our liturgy. As part of this is the concern that we re-introduce children, families and other members of the faithful to the use of Latin in the liturgy, to Gregorian chant, to ad orientem orientation, etc. These externals of the liturgy are extremely important for they affect the interior disposition of the faithful and that is foundational if we are to begin to revise the rite and see those revisions be effected.

While the frustration of many orthodox faithful is understandable, and from that, it is also understandable that a wish for substantial liturgical change would be immediate, we must avoid a purely emotional reaction to the situation.

With regards the concern for children, by the faithful either employing the option (where it exists) of a classical Roman rite community, or by means of the present goal of having the 1970 missal being celebrated as intended -- that is, in the traditional vein described above -- this would provide for, from a liturgical perspective, a stop-gap to our present off-track liturgical culture which families could feel more secure in. In short, this end can be substantially met without having to employ the more radical liturgical changes overnight. Since such an option exists, and given the potential pastoral implications of doing otherwise, this would seem the most prudent course, which provides for the faithful, but avoids the mistakes of the past.

(SRT Note: the second part of this equation for families, isn't specific to the liturgy, but concerns clergy and parish staff who dissent from the magisterial teachings of the Church. Since that isn't specifically liturgical, we won't put that in here.)

[Further "sed contras" could easily be proposed back and forth. Let us continue the debate about this in the comments section. I present these comments here as a means to try and spark a discussion about all of this, and not as a means to promote one or the other position. Let the "sed contras" continue...]

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