Saturday, January 28, 2006

A friendly debate with Todd on Catholic Sensibility

I seldom get to look at other blogs I must confess. But I happened across Todd's blog Catholic Sensibility and noted a reference to the NLM Blog and some of the discussions all of us, including Todd, get into.

I hope Todd won't mind, but I want to address some of his own counter-arguments to the propositions of the reform of the reform movement. I figure this is easier done here as this post is now over a month old on his blog. I am not quoting his piece in full, but rather those pieces I wish to respond to.

Here they are...

Todd said: "The premise of the reform of the reform, as NLM proposes, however, is itself a basic fault, a misdiagnosis, if you will. What reform2 people seem to be doing is acting under some false notions:

"1. The problems of liturgy can be traced to post-1963, rather than pre-1963."

Actually, this significantly oversimplifies the matter and doesn't really represent things very well.

In actuality I would suggest, like Ratzinger has, that there were matters of concern in the typical parish liturgy before the Council, primarily in terms of the manner in which the typical parish liturgy was celebrated. For example, the prevalence of the low Mass, even as a Sunday liturgy. Moreover, there was room for development, particularly as regards the introduction of the vernacular in places such as the readings -- mind you, introduction is different than a wholesale switch. (All that being said, you are right in one respect: I won't sit here and say that the classical Roman liturgy as a liturgical and rubrical text was problematic. Could it be tweaked? Sure. Could some of its incidentals, such as vernacular here or there, be modified? Sure. Did it need to be celebrated better in many parishes? Definitely. But those things said, it is a venerable rite.)

As regards the post-conciliar situation, but in particular the post-1970 situation, we not only ended up with problematic manner of celebration (the prevalence of liturgical abuses in various forms, etc.) but also with a problematic product, by the rupture with organic development, by the manner in which the reform was undertaken, and by the break with the mandate given by the Council itself.

Likewise, this isn't to say there aren't good things in the post-conciliar era either. There are.

The problem is complex and varies in scope and nature.

While not idealizing the pre-conciliar parish, or absolutizing that Missal as an untouchable product (it is not), there is also an awareness that the post-conciliar liturgy of 1970 is an product that has broken in many ways from the Council, and it has also created the problem of fabricated liturgy. This is a significant problem which needs to be addressed. But no one is suggesting that liturgical problems are unique to the post-conciliar period.

Todd said: "This would be my sense of the overall liturgical situation:

"There was a near-universal sense of dissatisfaction with pre-conciliar liturgy. All of the world's bishops agreed that the Roman Rite should be streamlined and the various European liturgical experiments of the 20th century should be brought to bear."

It seems to me you are being awfully black and white here and are vastly over-simplifying the situation. (Especially if we are talking about universality in reference to the Catholic faithful in general.)

Certainly even liberal liturgists today admit that the changes caused great consternation for many priests and faithful. People attest to this from personal experience as well. It is an all too common story. Moreover, we see examples such as Evelyn Waugh's dialogue with Cardinal Heenan, both of whom were very concerned and unhappy with the reform as it happened.

The presence of such obviously common consternation, to the point of bitterness and distress in cases, over the liturgical changes does not seem to be the likely fruit of a "near-universal sense of dissatisfaction with the pre-conciliar liturgy". This is not to suggest that no one wanted any change at all, but it seems more likely that the desire was for minor tweaking (putting the epistle and gospel in English for example) such as would be consistent with organic development and not radical surgery. If the radical surgery that ultimately happened elicted such a popular response, it would seem that radical surgery was not was in fact desired -- and by consequence, there could not have been as much dissatisfaction as you would wish to make out.

Todd said: "There was not a concern about the principles of organic development of liturgy. The Roman Rite was sick, and in some cases radical treatment was required. Most of the liturgical changes were welcomed by the laity, and in the US, probably staved off a greater Church exodus that what we might have experienced in light of Humanae Vitae."

These statements are questionable speculation. Worse though is your first statement, based upon a premise which itself is questionable ("The Roman Rite was sick"). That there could be changes made to a rite doesn't mean the rite is sick. It is rather a natural part of organic development. This kind of attitude which sees a venerable rite of the Church as somehow ill, undesireable or bad and in need of radical change is itself one of the problematic mindsets we see today. You are rightly concerned with those who make a utopia of the preconciliar situation, but you seem to be taking an opposite extreme in villifying it.

That being said, your statement which would rationalize away the need for organic development within the liturgy is especially troubling. Such an attitude is not only in contradiction to Church tradition, but also to the letter of the Council which mandated organic development. So then what was the Council? A mere academic exercise to, in the end, be ignored in order to push forward what others privately felt needed to happen? (The "spirit" of the Council as some chose to wrongly call it. The true spirit of the Council is tied to the letter.) This is precisely the problem, and this way of thinking, and the results that have flowed from it, are why a reform of the reform is needed.

As for what might have happened had the liturgical changes not occurred, we can only speculate. All we do know is what did happen for one or another reasons, and also the experience of those who lived through the time.

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