Saturday, August 04, 2007

Now is the Acceptable Time

From my house to my parish called Mater Ecclesiae, it is about a thirty minute drive with moderate traffic. But this is Philadelphia and South Jersey in the summer time, so the idea of moderate traffic is purely an abstraction. This shore traffic, which everyone loves, gave me plenty of time to think today on my way to and from church for evening Mass, and my thoughts wandered onto the fact that we are at a crucial point in our liturgical life as Catholics.

For a century leading up to the Second Vatican Council, those in the Liturgical Movement labored to resurrect an appreciation and understanding of Catholic liturgical tradition by bringing the people up to the heights of the liturgy. Think of Dom Prosper Gueranger, St. Pius X, the Servant of God Pope Pius XII, and others. They worked hard to encourage, for instance, Gregorian chant and participation in the liturgy by the faithful, especially by the frequent and worthy reception of Holy Communion. The ideals of the Liturgical Movement were enshrined in Sacrosanctum concilium, the first document issued by the fathers of the most recent Vatican Council. This document really contained little in it that was new: most of its material can be traced to the work that had been going on for a century. It was a great moment of victory for those in the Liturgical Movement.

But it was not to last. What constituted the moment of victory for the Liturgical Movement also contained the seeds of its defeat. The same council that decreed that Gregorian chant be given pride of place was used to justify filling dumpsters with Libers and Graduales. "Active participation" (participatio actuosa; actual participation) was used to dumb down the liturgy, instead of familiarizing the people with the treasures of the liturgy. Chaos ensued, and the sad story is known, so I am not going to subject you to another tract on that.

In the midst of the chaos, however, under the leadership of holy men like Michael Davies, Klaus Gamber, and Joseph Ratzinger, a new Liturgical Movement formed and gained steam. For a generation or two or more it has labored on, in spite of many difficulties, and in spite of those in it being frequently "treated as lepers," to borrow a phrase from one of the eminent authors above.

But those who desire to see a rebirth of Catholic tradition are lepers no more. They are not left as orphans, thanks to the Holy Father's recent motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, which frees the Extraordinary Form of the Mass and opens the pathway for a reconsideration of the way the Ordinary Form is celebrated. In a way, just as Sacrosanctum concilium was the moment of victory for the Liturgical Movement of the 19th and 20th centuries, Summorum Pontificum is the moment of victory for the new Liturgical Movement.

Or is it not? As one priest noted the weekend the motu proprio was released, "The work has just begun," and that is an understatement. The full effects of Summorum Pontificum might not be known until well beyond our lifetimes, but we must begin the hard work now, to ensure that the new Liturgical Movement does not suffer the same fate that visited the original Liturgical Movement.

Among the most important priorities is a task which many have undertaken, perhaps none more effectively than everyone's favorite blogger, Fr. John Zuhlsdorf, who has been fisking everything from newspaper articles to episcopal statements that have come out in the wake of the motu proprio. Why is this important? Because in order for the motu proprio to be well-received, it must be well-understood. Much of the chaos that ensued from Vatican II was based on false information and hermeneutics, and that's why the Liturgical Movement failed. To ensure the success of the new Liturgical Movement, the dissemination of proper information is vital.

There is another matter that concerns me as a musician. I am particularly worried that priests, unaware that there are many excellent church musicians chomping at the bit to be of assistance at an Extraordinary Form of the Mass, will instead settle for the first "One-foot Suzie" they can find. If the EF is to experience any real revival, it will have to be beautiful, and one of the most important aspects of making a Mass beautiful is its music. Note to priests interested in the EF: I am available to assist you with learning to chant, with finding qualified musicians, and with anything else that concerns the implementation of a truly worthy musical program. Email me. Hocket [at] gmail [dot] com. Another good resource to contact is the CMAA.

In general, we must be certain that the ars celebrandi is attended to with utmost care. If Summorum Pontificum simply takes us back to the pre-conciliar sloppiness that some are fond of writing about, then we will have spelled our own defeat, and we will have no one to blame but ourselves.

I'm not going to go into more detail here, but the list of work is long, and everyone has a part to play in it--not just in making requests of our pastors. The "power to the people" aspect of this motu proprio means that the onus is on us for much of its success. And we need to get to work. Now.

And if we follow our vocations with fervor and do our worship in a worthy manner, it will become clearer to many more why anyone would sit in South Jersey shore traffic just to attend a Latin Mass.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: