Thursday, May 03, 2007

Some Propositions

There has been much discussion of "motu-mania" recently in the blog world -- in fact, there a kind of irony in the fact that there is starting to be almost as much focus upon the question of focusing upon the motu proprio as there are people actually focusing upon it. The two things we see a lot of are people who can't wait to see it come, and those who seem to wish the matter would simply go away.

But why the latter I wonder? It could simply be like eating the same meal over and over that, no matter how exquisite, one grows tired of it at a certain point. However, it seems more nuanced than that. Is it simply over-exposure, or it is something deeper? That is a question I've been asking myself. The answer is probably a something of both, but it's what might be deeper that I am interested in looking at.

One the one hand, one can understand the positive focus upon and expectation of the motu proprio. First, one surely can at least acknowledge the possibility that it could have at least some positive effect in the broader Roman rite. In that sense, one might not be personally focused upon the classical liturgy, but could still be encouraged by anything that is a nod to and shift back toward more traditional liturgics and look for how it might positively effect both the Church and their own projects.

As well, for those who are specifically attached to the classical liturgy, they have had to live under quite a yoke for the past 40 years, so anticipating the motu proprio is like a refugee seeing their first glimpses of the shores of a free land upon which they hope to build a brighter future. It represents hope, and it represents a new set of conditions under which one might be more free to flourish. Can this really be begrudged? Would this, at very least, not be an instance of "I am happy for them"?

The fact that there can be a kind of distaste for the whole matter, which manifests itself in an, at times, "testy" manner, is what leads me to believe there is something deeper going on in at least some of these cases.

One can understand that progressives aren't interested. Though hold on. In reality they are in fact quite interested in the question; what they aren't interested in is the answer that Benedict is seemingly proposing.

What is perhaps more curious is that some very faithful Catholics, who in various domains evidently love the Church and reject the desire to alter Catholicism so as to make it more in sync with the secular world, can have a sort of "passionate indifference" that they bring to the question. It sometimes manifests itself with regard to the liturgy generally; but more on that later. In our present consideration, it manifests itself in statements such as "I don't care about the Motu Proprio" or "I have no interest in the Tridentine liturgy."

I've asked myself the question of why that might be, because this seeming indifference strikes me as not particularly indifferent, which is why I term it passionate. Put differently, there is a bit more passion there than usually manifests itself with indifference. But when these statements are made, I've found they often go along with other statements which seem to actually speak something different than indifference; rather it speaks of a kind of tension, even distaste. This isn't to deny that some may indeed be truly indifferent, and that I'll address further on, but as for these other cases, I have a few possible answers I'd like to propose, which I hope can be illuminating for any and for all and which might help build some bridges.

The Parable of the Prodigal Son

So why this passion? One possibility that strikes me is that there are those who have worked for a great number of years trying to help re-enchant the modern Roman rite in typical parish celebration. They are good men and women, priests and laity, who have often taken it on the chin from their pastors, their parishioners and their bishops. They are doing good work and this is where they find their call to work in the Lord's vineyard. They've also taken a lot of criticism from the more vocal, hardline kind of adherents of the classical rite. They've been told by some such individuals that what they are doing is futile, or even wrong, and have found their efforts maligned. They've also at the same time often seen the excesses of certain groups and individuals attached to the classical rite who operate outside communion. Such have the convenience of congregationalism that comes without the 'burden' of full communion. Convenient, but a serious problem to be certain.

Both because of their own hard work, and because of the abuse they at times take from both sides, it's humanly understandable that they would therefore have a mixed reaction to the idea of a widened permission for the classical rite. On the one hand, they may feel a bit like the faithful son in the parable of the prodigal son. They feel that perhaps they've been taking it on the chin, slugging it out day by day, trying to work things out within the Church and now, the Pope may extend the liturgical "fatted-calf" to these other folks who they've had negative experiences or associations with. They may feel a little resentful therefore; or they may feel as though disobedience is being rewarded yet again, be it progressivists on the one side, or a hardline traditionalist on the other.

I'd like to appeal to anyone who feels this way to recall that there are very many moderate devotees of the classical liturgy, from the pious old man or woman simply working out their salvation, to a serious liturgical scholar working in the domain of liturgical inquiry, who have remained very faithful to the Holy See, and therefore, like yourselves, they have remained in the bosom of the Church, even when it has been uncomfortable for them by virtue of some of the very same pastors and shepherds. They might ask questions, and sometimes difficult questions, but they do it out of love for the Church, and they don't go to extremes about it.

While some of the 'prodigal children' have loudly gone their way, perhaps irritating you, you may not have noticed that working on the other side of the Lord's vineyard are these individuals. They may be working in a different part of the vineyard, but the same one nonetheless.

We shouldn't make an utter association of the classical rite movement with its hardline proponents. For charity, we should also remember that many of those hardline people are hardline because they are hurt individuals living through trying circumstances. And let's also not forget a significant dimension of the parable of the prodigal son: the Holy Father is also taking the role of the father, and in part (sic) he is trying to help those who have wandered away from home to find their place again. That is ultimately something to rejoice over even if it only brings but a handful of souls back into full communion.

It is also worth remembering that many of those associated with the classical rites have also "taken it on the chin"; they are not taking the easy way out so to speak. Many of them have been treated (as Ratzinger characterized it) as "lepers" within the Church. Priests have been ostracized by their peers or pushed into less than ideal ministries, and faithful Catholics have been treated somehow as though second-class citizens within the Church.

There's been plenty of pain to go around for anyone trying to work in the liturgical context and we who find ourselves more "in the middle", whether we be devotees of one or the other rite, certainly need to not inflict it on each other, or to allow the more radicalized, absolutized type of posturing guide our own course of action and response with relation to each other.

Papal and Conciliar Authority

Another possibility that has crossed my mind is that of the question of papal and conciliar authority. For some, there has been an automatic association with these rites that goes something like this:

Adherence to the classical rite = questionable obedience, outright disobedience and suspect rejection of the Second Vatican Council and papal authority.

Adherence to the modern Roman rite = acceptance of the Council and papally approved liturgical reforms.

i. The Council

If we make this general co-relation, then it's understandable how one might be either disinterested or even suspect about the possibility of a widened classical liturgical availability. It might also seem to cave to a kind of anti-conciliarism, or at very least it might seem to be a misplaced focus, if we are equating our present liturgical books with the Council particularly.

What has to be remembered here with regard the Council first off is that there is a unifying principle that can be found between adherents of either rite; namely that there has been a problem in the implementation of the Council's directives. Whether there is agreement on what that constitutes will depend upon who you speak to of course, but certainly a fundamental tenet of both the reform of the reform and the classical rite movement is that organic development was harmed in some way; that the method of the liturgical reform was out of the ordinary and not necessarily a desireable form of liturgical revision. People on both sides join Ratzinger's opinion in this regard.

Whether you agree with this argument, and other such arguments, or not, the point is that this isn't the same thing as rejecting a Council. In point of fact, it is in precise reference to the Council and fidelity to it as well as to our tradition, that the objection is made. At very least it must be admitted to be an arguable case and that if individuals such as Ratzinger can make it, then by no means can it be rejected simply as a radical, anti-papal or anti-conciliar argument (since Ratzinger himself could not be so characterized).

ii. The Pope

Another aspect to this question is that of papal authority. Thus, some equate the critique of the liturgical reform (or adherence to the classical rite) as a fundamental rejection of papal authority. After all, the pope of the time, Paul VI, approved those books.

But there is a nuance here that doesn't touch the liturgy in the same way it touches doctrinal pronouncements and we cannot apply a strictly identical criteria, even though we should take such things seriously. Doctrinal pronouncements are subject to different, far more absolute considerations than liturgical reforms -- though both are very important. It's a curious paradox that will lead us to our later considerations, but one should not take from this point that this is because things liturgical ultimately don't matter and are subjective. This would be to go to a different extreme.

In these questions there is room for discussion and even disagreement. Questions such as the liturgical reforms are not merely or absolutely governed by papal fiat. (If they were, the Quo Primum argument some wish to make might actually bear a little more weight.) The papal fiat essentially guarantees a legal aspect (liceity to use the rite) and a basic sacramental-doctrinal aspect assured by indefectibility (that it is a valid Catholic rite of Mass). As for particulars of the liturgical reforms (how the text was reformed; what was added and deleted; what rubrics where changed, etc.) here there is room for discussion and debate. In part this is because the liturgy is "governed" by what we might call the "law" of custom and tradition. (For example, this is where questions like organic development enter.) This is referenced in the catechism by the fact that even the supreme authority of the Church may not arbitrarily change the liturgy. This is why the simple fact of ecclesial approval is not the end of the story like it is in matters of doctrinal declarations.

These are questions that can be asked while remaining fully in accord with the Church and while fully accepting and adhering to papal authority -- just as making a critique of particular aspects of the 1962 missal does not make necessarily make one disobedient, disrespectful or a "modernist."

If we reject the ability to debate specifics of the liturgical reforms in the light of both the Council and our tradition, we demand more of people than the Church herself does.

As such, one should not align legitimate critique (as opposed to unnecessary polemics or critiques which aren't valid in a Catholic framework) with a rejection of the Second Vatican Council. That some may in fact do that is a form of extreme. But great scholars like Bouyer, Reid, Lang and others are not conciliar rejectionists. Rather, they "look again" at the reforms, just as people look back on aspects of the liturgy in former times and make critical appraisals. If such is allowable with regard to our venerable and long-standing traditions, then it is most certainly an option with more recent developments that don't bear the same weight of custom and tradition, even if they bear the weight of legal authority.

To tie back in with the original thought with regard to tension in relation to the classical rite and motu proprio, it should be seen clearly that one could be firmly attached to the classical rite, while not rejecting the Council or papal authority, but rather being precisely concerned with it and operating within the confines that are given one by the Church herself. It's only that the flashy rejection of the Council by some traditionalists stands out more in our minds than the quietly reasoned arguments of many liturgical scholars today, or the pious love of the Church and the Faith that many of the faithful attached to the classical rite hold.

True Indifference

Finally, a brief word about those who may actually be indifferent about these sorts of liturgical questions generally.

Some take the approach that all that matters in the liturgy is that the sacrifice is accomplished or the Blessed Eucharist confected. They would point out that it is this sacramental, supernatural reality that they care about and short of that, little else is of great concern barring fundamental liturgical law -- and that out of a principle of obedience to authority.

To a certain extent, this is not a problem itself. First, it is evident that supernatural realities being accomplished are first and foremost in necessity. Second, there is no moral obligation to be studied on the specifics of liturgical theology and history anymore than there is to be an expert apologist, canonist, theologian, or otherwise.

Where this can be highly problematic is when it finds two expressions as its governing rule or principle. One is if any concern for the greater specifics of the liturgy is held to be suspect, and even wrong or legalistic. The other is when one believes that nothing but the internal (or supernatural) dimension truly matters in the liturgy. Ultimately both expressions would, in principle, seem to believe that matters like liturgical forms, texts, rubrics, music and art, are window-dressing that are radically subjective and therefore ultimately not of importance -- and potentially even a distraction. It is almost a type of "manichean" view of the liturgy.

The problem here of course is that such fails to consider the influence of things like the rubrics on the celebration of the liturgy; the priest's approach to it, and the faithful as well. It also fails to consider the catechetical and evangelical weight of beauty, the importance the Church gives to matters like custom and tradition, particular liturgical forms (such as Gregorian chant) and so forth. It radically subjectivizes beauty without considering that while there are differences in liturgical forms, as perceived through different rites and traditions, this does not make liturgical forms utterly subjective and unimportant. It rather speaks of the difference between legitimate diversity (which speaks the same liturgical language so to speak, despite the variances) and illegitimate diversity (which speaks, or at least is in danger of speaking, a different language and message than the Church would have spoken). Moreover, it fails to recall that the liturgy has a didactic (teaching) function and that these things all teach (and that therefore there is also an intimate relation to doctrine). Finally, it fails to give sufficient weight to the fundamental relation between the external and the internal; the ability of all these things to properly teach and lead one to the supernatural realities underlying the liturgy, bringing one to a proper approach, giving witness to the marvel that is the Mass, and aiding us in our worship of God and sanctification of our souls.

In some regards I wonder if the disinterest in such questions isn't precisely a symptom of the very problems that the liturgy has faced, making it a kind of vicious circle. It can at very least make it difficult to perceive the importance of such things, particularly when such liturgy is for most a relatively abstract concept, or only a rare delicacy at best.

This is why, while one might choose to not have their own personal focus upon liturgical specifics, one should at very least one should understand its relative importance. Insofar as one can do that, hopefully they can also understand why there is "fuss" about something like the motu proprio, the classical rite or the reform of the reform.


Ultimately, all of these thoughts are proposed not in a desire to point fingers or to castigate. It's rather an attempt to understand first off, why some people might react with hesitation about the motu proprio. These are not bad people, but rather ardent Catholics that we are speaking of.

Perhaps by expressing what might be the reasons for their concerns, and by stating some considerations for how those concerns might be addressed, some bridges can be built here so that we might better work together for the liturgical good of the Church, rather than working contrary to one another.

It's true that in regard to those who suggest they simply don't care about such matters, that I have made a more critical response. But this too is in hopes that whoever might think this here might come to understand why the focus upon the liturgy is not only not a bad thing, but a very important thing as well.

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