Friday, October 13, 2006

The Ideological re-writing of the Second Vatican Council and Fundamental Misinterpretations

I think a further comment is merited with regards to the journalism that is out there.

While the secular journalist cannot be expected to know the nuances of liturgical issues nor the theological debates going into the liturgical question, there is some rather irresponsible reporting going on where the most basic fact-checking is not happening. (The recent Washington Post article was a refreshing breather from this.)

The most common misnomer I have personally read -- and I grant that I have only barely looked at what the secular press is writing on this matter -- is a claim that the Second Vatican Council banished the 1962 Missal (what they imprecisely refer to as "the Latin Mass") when it was determined that the faithful should worship in the vernacular. (Similar, unsubstantiated claims are made about versus populum and other such matters.)

The errors in such a statement alone are numerous, and these errors appear in various forms in most pieces I have seen. If there is any secular reporter reading this, please take note:

1) the Second Vatican Council took no decision to banish the liturgy as it was at the time of the Council. Quite the opposite, the decision it took was to allow some organic liturgical reform.

2) Further to that, the Second Vatican Council did not banish Latin, it in fact legitimized the importance of the continuance of Latin in the liturgy, while at the same time allowing the introduction of the vernacular as part of organic liturgical reform.

3) The term, "the Latin Mass" in reference to the pre-conciliar liturgy and in disinction from the post-conciliar liturgy is not accurate, being rooted in a notion that Vatican II abolished Latin from the liturgy. It should be noted that the Council desired Latin to be retained and that the post-conciliar Roman liturgy may also be entirely (or partially) in Latin, it too could be a "Latin Mass".

What is most unfortunate about these errors is that the claims are almost entirely the opposite of the actual reality -- something which a quick read of a few paragraphs of Sacrosanctum Concilium or the addresses of the like of Ratzinger, etc. would easily demonstrate.

Such errors are of course also paired with, and likely partially fed by, the ideological posturing of the "progressivists". reported on this story in "The Return of the Latin Mass" (sic), quoting Fr. James Martin, an editor for the Jesuit journal, America wherein Fr. Martin says of this possibility: "This would make it much more difficult for people to engage in full conscious and active participation, which was the goal of the Council".

Fr. Martin may well believe this, but this belief is rooted in particular ideological assumptions, not in a hermeneutic of continuity, nor in the Council's decrees itself, nor in the clarifications and deeper exploration of active participation. To use Fr. Martin's assumption would actually entail the Council itself as making this more difficult since it called for quite conservative liturgical reform, including, of course, the retention of Latin. Active participation and the classical liturgical books have never been inimical. The very idea of active participation came about in the 19th century and was promoted by the likes of St. Pius X and Dom Prosper Gueranger. It further arose under Pius XII. Hardly men of the progressivist camp. Further, the Second Vatican Council itself testified to the means for active participation as particularly through, not liturgical re-construction, but rather through liturgical education and formation (something Dr. Alcuin Reid recently spoke on in his CIEL paper.)

A second issue arises as well, which is the critical commentary coming from some in the Catholic blogosphere (and most certainly outside of it as well) which fundamentally misunderstands the theological reasonings behind practices such as the use of a sacred language, Mass celebrated ad orientem and so on. To these folks this is Mass mumbled incomprehensively and said "looking at the altar" and so forth. These comments are ultimately untrue characterizations of course, and in many cases are likely not ill-intended, but rather are simply cliches.

Overall we must continue to endeavour to correct these misunderstandings. We must not allow the Second Vatican Council, nor our Roman liturgical tradition, to continue to be re-written in a way that is not representative of it as a reality, either theologically, liturgically or historically and in fundamental (if unintentional) opposition to the living and organic tradition of the Church.

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