Friday, March 30, 2007

CNS on the Motu Proprio: a link and commentary

In only the second nod to the Motu Proprio on Catholic News Service, the news service of the U.S. conference of Bishops, John Thavis writes an article, Tridentine Mass: Pope looks for bridge to tradition.

In this article, John Thavis looks at the forthcoming Moto Proprio and considers Benedict's intentions. A few comments are worthwhile.

The article begins with a contextualization of the Motu Proprio:

"From the outside, allowing the old Mass has been seen primarily as a concession to the followers of the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who was excommunicated in 1988 for his intransigence on liturgical and other reforms of Vatican II.

"But some Vatican officials believe that aspect has been overblown. More than making peace with Archbishop Lefebvre's followers, they said, the pope is trying to make peace with the church's own tradition."

This second paragraph is quite important [not because of what MP might say, because we don't know what it might say; rather because of the principle behind this statement]. Indeed, the matter of the classical liturgy in the context of a problematic liturgical reform and implementation (Motu Proprio or no Motu Proprio) should not, I propose, be understood as something to be given merely as a form of acquiescence or as an "incentive" to begrudgingly be given out of compromise, to disaffected Catholics or Catholics not in full communion with the Holy See. Rather the matter is one which should be understood precisely in the light of a need to re-connect ourselves back to our organic liturgical tradition, seeking steps to begin to rectify this issue.

Thavis continues further on: "The almost total prohibition of the old missal, which had been used for 400 years, was unprecedented in the history of the liturgy, he [Ratzinger] said in the book [Milestones]."

Our first point of correction is that the classical missal was not simply known and used for 400 years, but effectively for 1600 years. Often this 400 year mark is thrown out in a way that tends to diminuish precisely the depth of the problem that occurred in 1970. When we understand the depth to which our classical rite reaches (yes indeed, with organic developments, but let's remember that those occurred as well between the time of Trent and 1962 as well; so there is no reason to arbitrarily pick Trent as the "origin" of the classical missal when one considers the relative lack of substantive difference between it and the medieval forms of the Roman rite), the depth of the problem is that much more magnified.

"Even before he wrote those words, then-Cardinal Ratzinger had caused a stir when he said it made sense for the priest to celebrate Mass facing the same direction as the congregation, in the pre-Vatican II style, although he also said it would be confusing to turn the altar around once again."

We need to be clear here. If we look at Ratzinger's writings, he does raise the spectre of the need to be pastorally sensitive and not committ the same faults of rapid changes as happened in the 1970's. He did not, however, write off the prospoect of again re-orienting our liturgy through the traditional posture of ad orientem. He rather proposed the altar crucifix as a beginning step toward this gradual process of re-orientation and then noted that monasteries and other such places could be locations where the full tradition of ad orientem could be more quickly restored (see: Looking Again at the Liturgy with Cardinal Ratzinger ed. Alcuin Reid. St. Michael's Abbey Press.). Thavis' statement could easily leave the impression that Ratzinger had written off the idea of restoring ad orientem (as pastorally unrealizable) but this is not in fact the case.

As well, to speak of ad orientem as "pre-Vatican II" style is also problematic. It is not simply pre-Vatican II style, it was the method of celebrating the liturgy universally. Moreover, Vatican II never mandated versus populum, nor was the practice ever banished, and it continued to be used in most of the Christian East. Therefore, to characterize this tradition as being pre-conciliar, does tend toward a distortion of the Second Vatican Council and the Church universal on this point, and also lessens as well the significance and scale of this change.

"In one revealing speech to Catholic traditionalists in 1998, he said bluntly that the old "low Mass," with its whispered prayers at the altar and its silent congregation, "was not what liturgy should be, which is why it was not painful for many people" when it disappeared."

And many of us would agree. The sung (classical) liturgy must become more normative for the liturgy of Sundays and solemnities. This isn't a critique of the classical liturgy, however, but rather of the practice that was adopted in so many places with regard to it, and which didn't allow its full treasures to be as readily explored.

Thavis concludes his piece with the desires of the French Bishops, and their desire that a clear statement be made on the part of those attached to the traditional rite that speaks supportively of the post-conciliar liturgical reform.

What came to my mind here was there is also a need for those who have rejected our tradition and traditional forms to likewise demonstrate their own good will and a hermeneutic of continuity. Let's be clear and fair, there has been a hermeneutic of rupture which has banished most anything deemed "pre-conciliar" and this is as problematic as the sort of traditionalist who has rejected anything and everything "post-conciliar."

Further, not all "traditionalists" take on this approach of rupture. If they are simply attached to the treasures of the classical liturgy, desirous of true liturgical reform in the light of both the Council and our tradition of organic development, all the while never questioning the validity of the modern Roman rite, but calling for a reform of the reform with regard to it, then it seems to me that they have nothing to justify and join the ranks of our Holy Father as a Cardinal in this set of ideas. In that regard, I would propose they form a part of the true liturgical centre and mainstream ---- just as do those who focus upon the reform of the reform, but who are supportive of the availability of the classical liturgy, provided we do not take an immobiliistic and triumphalistic approach to it, or one which rejects the Council -- not as popular opinion may go of course, but as the mind of the Church may go, as seen in the light of the Conciliar documents and our tradition.

As for the extremes, the road to a change of heart and mind is not a one way street as this article might make one think; it is rather and precisely a two-way street.

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