Saturday, April 07, 2007

The Source of Disunity in the Church Today

With the ever nearing probability of what amounts to an effective re-introduction of the historical Roman rite back into the Roman rite (the bridge back to our tradition as some have put it) there have been some who have expressed concern about a risk of possible disunity. Cardinal Barbarin noted it in La Croix and I have seen it come up on this blog and elsewhere.

However, it seems to me that if our concern is about unity within the Church then we need to examine what is merely a symptom and what is the actual cause of disunity.

I should like to propose that the risk of disunity is not caused by a plurality of rites, nor the liturgical rites themselves, and certainly not by any motu proprio. In our past, there has been liturgical diversity and there still is in the present. Ritual and textual diversity are not necessarily inimical to ecclesial unity.

That there can be tension that surrounds the liturgical question (and indeed there can be) is merely symptomatic of the actual problem which creates that tension. It is the fruit of the way in which the question is approached and is primarily caused by a hermeneutic of rupture. This hermeneutic is present in many quarters within the Church today. Let's be clear, this was not encouraged by the Magisterium or the Council and, in fact, they have clearly spoken against this. But if we take a look at the dynamic that has occurred in many parishes, seminaries, monasteries and other ecclesial organizations, this hermeneutic is evidently present and promotes the idea that there is a "new" way of being Catholic, as compared to an "old" way, now to be pushed aside.

How many people do you yet hear say, "but that is pre-Vatican II" or "Catholics don't believe that any more"? Such sentiments are very common and many come by them honestly because that was a seed that many planted in them and in literature following the Council; but it was not the Council itself which planted it, let's be clear.

One must stop and think for a moment that the very idea they hold, which Benedict has termed rupture, is intrinsically divisive. Its entire approach, as a hermeneutic, is to posit a dividing line between what "was" and what "is" now -- in their view. (And let's note as well, that this can go two ways. Some hardline traditionalists also operate from this hermeneutic. But for our purposes here we are mainly looking at this from the progressivist side of the equation, which is far more established and substantial.)

From this hermeneutic streams all sorts of consequences for the moral life, in matters of doctrine and in matters of liturgy. It is from those first principles of rupture that there comes a rejection of not only the pre-conciliar and its liturgical forms as somehow now undesireable or obsolete, but also the reform of the reform -- viewed as "backsliding."

Implicity, the hermeneutic of rupture sets up a radical division of what it sees as "past" and "present," and pits them in fundamental opposition, seeking to exclude the one or the other. As such, when the contrary hermeneutic of continuity is approached, which does not setup this division but rather seeks to both preserve the tradition and develop organically from it at the same time, it is attacked precisely because it is incompatible with the rupture view and the ends they seek (be it dismissal of anything post-conciliar or anything pre-conciliar).

The hermeneutic of rupture thus creates disunity not only with regard to the question of the classical liturgy but the reform of the reform and anything and most everything that seeks to preserve continuity in the Church. It pits itself against the Church's hermeneutic of continuity and, rather than the liturgical books themselves, it is the actual source of disunity within the Latin rite today. It is precisely that hermeneutic which has created many of the liturgical problems that have followed since the Council and which colours the question today. This the Holy Father seeks to address by creating this good and necessary "bridge" while also promoting a reform of the reform -- which is to say, a proper, continuity-based understanding of the Council.

A liberalized classical liturgy (like the reform of the reform) will indeed upset those who have been intentional proponents of this dissonant approach, but it is not the liturgical books which do this, it is rather the hermeneutic they bring to the question which colours it and everything else. In point of fact, what the motu proprio has the possibility of doing is sending a strong message that the Church operates from a hermeneutic of continuity and that the question is not an either-or when it comes to our tradition. It is truly a teaching moment.

Just as it is possible to pursue the hermeneutic of rupture, whether one be a progressivist or traditionalist, so it is possible to pursue a hermeneutic of continuity while advocating a reform of the reform and the liberalization of the ancient Roman rite. The key in these questions is not the particular liturgical books that one prefers or chooses to worship in or celebrate, the key is rather the particular hermeneutic one brings to both the Church and her liturgical rites.

In point of fact, when one adopts a hermeneutic of continuity they are more likely to see a fruitful and symbiotic relationship between the reform of the reform and the classical Roman rite. It actually becomes a point of unity rather than division as they seek to help one another in the restoration of continuity and true Catholic liberality and diversity.

Thus I would propose that those who are concerned with disunity within the Church should not be concerned with the question of the motu proprio and its effects, rather they should be concerned with the hermeneutic of rupture which brings a fundamentally divisive approach to the Church and her liturgy, which is both ever ancient and ever new, rather than only ancient or only new.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: