Friday, April 07, 2006

Rumblings amongst the "progressives"? An opinion piece.

It seems to me that there is a noticeable rumbling within the "liberal" circles these days, and in particular these past couple of months. This includes "progressive" liturgical circles.

This could be for a variety of reasons of course, but it seems to me that as we assess the pace of the return to tradition, the return to Catholic sanity if you will, in our churches, ecclesial institutions, our clergy and the laity, perhaps we can also view this as a kind of barometer. In other words, perhaps it also demonstrates precisely how much concern there is amongst these circles about matters such as the growing popularity and openness toward the classical liturgy and the reform of the reform, and, more generally, the overall direction being undertaken which seeks to reclaim the conciliar era in continuity with our tradition.

I won't be so arrogant as to claim that this is objectively the case, but let's look at some things that we've noticed just recently that come at the point of two events: the anniversary of the death of John Paul II (and by consequence, the effective anniversary of the ascension of Ratzinger to the Office of Peter) and the present flurry of discussions about the SSPX and the classical Roman liturgy; a concentration of which hasn't been seen for decades.

Let's just take a few examples from the past few weeks.

1) We've seen the recent, rather intemperant comments of an Australian liturgist complaining about the "subversive" and "right-wing" agenda of the reform of the reform (and truthfully, by consequence, the Popes and the Council itself) in publishing classic texts of the liturgical movement. The tone of his language, never mind the spuriousness of his argument, demonstrates a kind of exasperation; his argument isn't per se intellectual, it seems more emotional, and it is directly attacking a group (orthodox liturgical circles) which he seems to see as having too much influence in their regard.

2) Cardinal Mahony has been fairly publically "out there" for some time as regards the liturgy. His documents seem to take on the status of encyclicals to dissenters and "progressives". (Time and again I hear of liturgists, middle-aged priests, etc. who will deny "Roman documents" on the liturgy, but will pull out one of Cardinal Mahony's documents as though it were an authoritative guide. A strange contradiction.) However, Cardinal Mahony's recent comments which spoke of Latin in the Roman liturgy as not really "traditional" and only indicative of a "small slice" of our liturgical tradition is, perhaps, more self-revealing than usual -- and comes, let it be noted, in response to a question which highlighted to increasing popularity of our liturgical tradition. One would hope that such embarrassing inaccuracies and misinformation would help spur some people to distance themselves from the Cardinal, and hopefully spur the Cardinal to distance himself from his own comments. Again, their extreme nature smack of a kind of desperation because of how obviously inaccurate they are.

3) With the anniversary of the death of the Pope and an assessment of Pope Benedict in his first year, there have been various "progressive" commentators who seem to hope that Pope Benedict has "moderated" -- Pope Benedict has of course always been a moderate, including in his stint heading up the CDF. But what they typically mean by "moderate" entails passivity toward the program of dissent which seeks to liberalize/alter/change Catholic faith, morals and worship. They seem to believe that since nothing major has happened yet, nothing will happen. Then again, one wouldn't think something so small as the "Boston Tea Party" would have resulted in what it did for Americans. Small rumblings can eventually become earthquakes, and certainly we've seen the writings of the Cardinal come out in many of the statements of the Pope. Those papal rumblings are tangible, and they are hitting the key issues, and one could only make such comments by being blind to those statements as well as to the goings-on in the Holy See lately.

4) Related to the third point, just yesterday (Fr.) Andrew Greeley made such remarks -- albeit in a much more cautious way than some of his brethren. What struck me about his opinion piece particularly was this statement in relation to this:

"A year later the conservative Catholics are the ones who are angry. The pope has not repealed the council, he has not imposed the old Latin Mass, he has not banned women from the liturgy..."

Yet another example of an intemperant, inaccurate comments. I don't know of a typical traditionalist (i.e. not a "radtrad" who, while vocal, are not in the majority) who expected the Council to be repealed or the Tridentine rite to be "imposed" on all -- and as for the latter, I've never heard anyone asking of that in the reform of the reform (and its a non-issue in the Tridentine rite). What I do see is a lot of glorying in the pope's statement on how the Council must be seen and interpreted. This is what typical traditionalists and what all reform of the reformers ultimately expect as pertains to the Council. I've also seen traditionalists asking for a freeing of the classical liturgy so that they are no longer treated as second-class Catholics by some local bishops and chancery officials. Ironically, this is precisely what is on the table for discussion now, something we can safely assume is at least partially as a result of Pope Benedict himself.

So is he speaking of the desires of normal Tridentine rite Catholics and reform of the reformers, or is he talking about sedevacantists? If he were talking about the latter, or if those were indeed our goals, we could agree, but clearly that is not the case. And so, in that sense, he sets up goals which are ultimately doomed to fail -- and perhaps, in setting it up that way, doomed to defeat, that gives some dissenters a sense of satisfaction that they've "won". That would be a hollow sort of victory were it actually a victory at all. In this account, he loses on both fronts.

I wonder, do Fr. Greeley and the rest of the "progressive" folks really believe what they are saying here or is it merely wishful thinking on their part in the face of present rumours and actions, not to mention the burgeoning and youthful growth in those who desire orthodox doctrine and worship?

Concluding Thoughts

Regardless of what happens with the rumours we've been hearing these past few weeks, it seems to me that these sorts of comments are potentially the signs of increasing desperation on the part those who wish to see a further program of liberalization (ultimately de-Catholicization when taken in its more extreme forms) in Catholic doctrine and liturgy -- and who are recognizing the signs of the beginning of the end in this regard.

One way or another, at one time or another, this will happen. The dissenting program is ultmately not self-sustaining, it has no staying power -- it is akin to a cultural group which contracepts itself into non-existence. As this program effectively desacralizes and de-Catholicizes, its adherents fall away, or at very least do not multiply with new generations. By their very principles it creates a culture where new generations no longer see a need to stay within the Church and they leave it. There are some exceptions of course, but the statistics about practising Catholics within our Catholic schools bears witness to this trend, the dying of so many aging religious orders bear witness to this trend. It produces few vocations, gains few converts and keeps few individuals as the years tick on.

By comparison, those parishes, dioceses and religious orders which adhere unabashedly to Jesus Christ, his apostolic Church and our venerable and time-tested traditions, see vitality and growth in an exponential way. This is truly progressive; a progression rooted in the eternal and in Truth. It does not forsake its own inheritance like a family might forsake its parents and grandparents to an asylum or nursing home -- and those who forsake as such can expect little less from their own children in their own regard. This is what we see happening.

Unlike Fr. Greeley's claim, I, for one, am not angry with our Holy Father whatsoever. I understand his theology and his sentiments as he's consistently expressed them in his works down the years. I also understand the position he is put in as Supreme Shepherd of the Church, and as one whose every action and decree must be weighed accordingly, and action taken prudently. That means some actions must be grandfathered in and cannot be made overnight.

The Holy Father recognizes the crisis in the Church, and he also recognizes how Catholics attached to their liturgical traditions are treated as "lepers" (his words). I have complete faith that he will do what he can, when he can, with the intention of keeping as many people within the bounds of Holy Mother Church as possible -- a serious duty.

"Progressives" may hope and pray that the Holy Father is taking up their program, or at very least leaving it alone, but I'd recommend those who are adopting such thinking rather pick up the recently released compendium of the Catechism and study the actual texts of the Second Vatican Council, because that is where we are going. It is the only place we can go, for as Catholics we are bound to the three pillars of our Faith: Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium.

As for those famed rumours, we will wait and see what happens today. And if not today, then tomorrow or the day after that. I have faith in our Holy Father and in the winds of change, the movement of the Holy Spirit, within the Church which is evermore bringing us toward a genuine "new springtime" within the Church.

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