Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Tragic Flaw of Tolkien's 'Denethor' in Diocesan Liturgical Life: The Difference Between Stewardship and Kingship

Fr. Rob Johansen of Thrown Back has a story up, A Bit of Episcopal Over-Reaching?, and Fr. Zuhlsdorf provides his own commentary as well.

Effectively, the Bishop of a particular Michigan diocese is mandating the use of English for all liturgies, unless express approval is gained from himself, by submitting an application form to that effect.

As Fr. Johansen aptly observed, this is isn't likely intending to curb Spanish, Polish, Portugese, other such languages, but more likely finding Latin as its intended target -- particularly given the timing. (However, any which way you look at it, it is highly problematic.)

Certainly it has no bearing on the usus antiquior which is officially only in Latin (but for the readings) and the bishop has no authority to trump the papal motu proprio with his own 'initiative'. It's difficult to say what the bishop intends in this regard, if anything.

Yet as well, no permission is required for any Catholic priest in the Roman rite to use the modern liturgical books, and in Latin, either fully or partially, as that is the typical edition. It is hard to see this as anything but over-extension of the bishop's authority, and certainly problematic in regards to the Church and the Council in this regard.

This incident, likely to be repeated elsewhere as well and certainly nothing new generally speaking, puts me in mind of the timely reminder found in the explanatory note to the bishops upon the release of Summorum Pontificum. There the Pope touched upon the nature of the bishop's role as "chief liturgist in his diocese" which makes it clear that his role is as a caretaker of the liturgy, which re-emphasizes that they are not masters over it, able to impose their own will. Bishops have indeed been given discretionary power over certain matters, but others they have not and are beyond their own mandate and authority (except as enforcing the rule of law).

To refer back to a bit of Tolkienesque imagery, this reminds me of the character "Denethor" ("Steward of Gondor" and father of "Boromir" and "Faramir") whose tragic flaw was to forget his role was that of steward rather than King, attempting to stand in the way of "Aragorn", heir to the throne of Gondor. In attempting to bar that Kingship and take on something greater for himself, he almost stood in the way of the good.

We need our bishops, priests, diocesan liturgists and liturgical committees to understand their proper role.

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