Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A Critique of a recent piece on the Shrine of the Holy Whapping [UPDATED]

Dan (not Matthew please note!) at the Shrine of the Holy Whapping has written a piece expressing his concern about "the Reform of the Reform and neo-Traditionalism".

I will make my comments in the midst of his piece below. See the bold red sections.

Reform of the Reform" and Neo-Traditionalism

(by "Dan" of the Shrine of the Holy Whapping)

Over a long period of time, it has increasingly been my opinion that the "Reform of the Reform," and many of its leading proponents in the blogosphere, have exhibited an increasing narrowness of vision and tendency towards hitching its wagon to the classically "traditionalist" agenda. This tendency is counterproductive both in the present and the future, and, if not addressed, could lead to more rather than less liturgical polarization in the Church, repeating rather than resolving the problems of the past.

[I would propose that we need to first of all define what the reform of the reform is. At its deeper levels, it has always been attached to the usus antiquior in the sense that it was concerned with organic development coming from it and the effecting of the rather mild and conservative reforms called for by Sacrosanctum Concilium. The research of Dr. Alcuin Reid continues to lay out the fact of the assurances that were given to the Conciliar Fathers, which was that the Ordo Missae (of the 1962 Missal) would remain substantially in tact. In that sense, I might counter propose that really what has gone on is that there have been some who have re-defined the reform of the reform in a way that could really be better defined as the "STBDTR movement" -- "Say The Black, Do the Red". There is nothing wrong with promoting this of course, but let us be clear, the reform of the reform, certainly in its advent, and certainly as represented by many of its numbers, is not simply concerned with improving the ars celebrandi or the quality of sacred music, but also in a re-analysis of the very liturgical reform itself in the light of the Second Vatican Council.

Second, as I have commented upon recently, we must also be clear, the liturgical move of Pope Benedict within Summorum Pontificum has revolutionized the liturgical question. What were not so serious as considerations now are in the light of a de-marginalization of the usus antiquior. New realities, possibilities and strategies now exist and we would be foolish to not take them into account. The taking of such into account, however, is not to hitch to a classically traditionalist agenda; it is rather to pursue the original agenda of the reform of the reform, in the light of the post-Motu-Proprio Church.

I might suggest, therefore, that what would be more narrow is to not take this seriously enough into consideration. The Pope wishes to not only reconcile the liturgical tradition with the Church in the broadest possible sense, but also to bring about a spirit of general reconciliation.

In its initial stages, the "Reform of the Reform" was a novel and intriguing idea - a reconsideration of the liturgical reforms of the 1960's and 70's, especially in their applications on the ground and the myths that were perpetuated of a rupture between past and future. Indeed, in this respect, it is still important and necessary. In recent years, however, and especially in the wake of the motu proprio, many proponents of the "Reform of the Reform" have become overly "restorationist" in their thinking and the kind of things they promote. This can be seen especially in a recent list of "flagship parishes," which chooses what I find to be a very narrowly constituted selection of parishes that exhibit more the thinking of what the "Reform of the Reform" agenda wants at the moment than what such a reform actually calls for. [This is an interesting reference to the listing that was raised here that included the likes of the London, Oxford and Toronto Oratory, St. John Cantius, and other parishes. I would propose that this critique is largely subjective including what constitutes being "restorationist", which is not defined at all, let alone in reference to ecclesial documentation. Does this refer to the original vision of the reform of the reform? How do we define what is called for other than by the letter and tradition of the Church? Now, indeed, those parishes are further ahead in the reform of the reform game, but certainly that doesn't disqualify them as flagships; nor is that a bad thing. Not all will be at the same place, nor can one reasonably expect that.] Indeed, it comes off largely as a selection of conservative havens [an interesting choice of words to suddenly introduce political categories into this specific sphere. Has the liturgical tradition of the Church, the following of the rubrics, the employment of the traditional music and rubrics which are allowed in the modern liturgical form and consistent with a hermeneutic of continuity, or the implementation of Summorum Pontificum, is this simply and suddenly a matter of "conservativism"? This could easily be understood as contributing to a balkanized, subjectivized, do-it-yourself view of the liturgical and liturgical form -- which as Fr. U.M. Lang has noted, are not "mere superficialities" -- if we can so reduce them to such categories, which implies something quite significant.] than as anything else, and ignores the fact that there may be elements of their constituencies (and clergy) that, by catering to those "in" on the prevalent way of thinking (which is not always necessarily the only conclusion of being an orthodox believer), end up alienating many others who, all things being equal, might like to worship there. [This can go two ways, but it is worth noting, it does tend to individualize and subjective the matter. Who and what is also being referenced by "the prevalent way of thinking" and again, how does this speak of what the Church herself teaches and proposes about organicity and our role as stewards of the liturgy? From a practical point of view as well, there are of course going to be those who may not yet see the importance of these things, but does this mean that one should critique those who are raising the liturgical bar higher? I should hope not. It is precisely the lived experience of such that can help in that regard by sheer familiarity and potential exposure. It is very difficult to gather what the author thinks a reform of the reform should look like, not only in the end, but in practice. There seems to be a far too absolute sense of what everyone should or should not be doing now, as though all places and parishes were the same, in the same circumstances, or at the same stage. There is also not a reference to the Church's liturgical principles I think, which should weigh heavily in this consideration.] Furthermore, the praise of such places, which often comes off as ludicrously gushing [How so? Simply by their praise or by commenting upon their merits. Should not good be acknowledged and recognized?], ignores and downgrades the significance of other places in the same cities by making it appear like they are the "only show in town." [A listing of "flagships" is not intended to be comprehensive, and no one would reasonably expect such, particularly when such was explicitly stated. Further, to speak of "flagships" does not suggest the entire fleet, but speaks rather to those in the fleet that may be leading the charge by being ahead of the others. This is also a significant point. One might choose to disagree with who and what are the flagships, but that is a case that would have to be made, and it certainly is not to "ignore" or "downgrade".] Once again, this comes off as promoting ideological havens [Again it must be asked, is fidelity to the liturgical tradition, a hermeneutic of continuity, to the documents of the Second Vatican Council to be understood as "ideological"? Could one reasonably believe, incidentally, that Benedict XVI would have such critical words for these places? Given what he has written, given what he is doing with the direction of the liturgies of the papal basilicas, and given his words at Heiligenkreuz Abbey, who compare in their excellence, I think it highly unlikely.] instead of pointing to the richness and legitimate diversity of beautiful liturgy in the Church. [Legitimate diversity is important, but we do need to define it properly. I am not certain what the author is thinking here. Suffice it to say that it certainly isn't defined merely by the present status quo in parishes. In point of fact, pointing to such places as the Oratories of Cantians, who celebrate both the modern and ancient forms in a continuity, is precisely to point to that diversity -- and also speaks partially to why they are flagships, since they operate very much in the context of the post-motu-proprio church. In that sense, it seems rather ironic, if not inconsistent, that this is critiqued.]

Essentially, the problem with much "reform of the reform" discussion out there right now is it displays a contentment with being a phenomenon of the ecclesial right, [There really is no such contentment since both liturgical movements seek to grow, to form and to catechize. There are adjustments people must make on all sides in the post-MP Church] rather than moving towards or seeking to really influence the center. Thus, the tendency to exalt places that, beautiful liturgy aside, can by no means accused of residing in or near the center. [They have value as "beacons"] There is also a tendency to settle for nothing less than the perceived idea of "perfection," [There are some who indeed have that fault, but this is the matter of individuals, not of movements. There are also many others who quite clearly, while striving to attain the best possible liturgy that they can, are also quite realistic. This critique is therefore rather generalized and not really relevant to the critique being levied] and thus incessantly criticizing every little aspect of something that one finds insufficient, whether it is the fact that a parish does not have a celebration entirely in Latin, or that the Missa de Angelis is somehow "not real chant." [Those attitudes would be critiquable, but they are certainly far from universal; so why raise them as part of a general concern?]

The danger, then, of the "Reform of the Reform," is to institute a kind of neo-traditionalism - less problematic, perhaps, than its predecessor, but nevertheless lacking in vision for the whole Church and relying for its identity on what ends up as a mixture of traditionalism and elitism. [Given that the Church speaks of what is appropriate, for example, in the realm of sacred music, is that "elitism"? Again, a greater defintion of what the author is trying to get across would be helpful] Such a strategy might result in short-term gains of those enthusiastic for something different, but it does not have a future as a sustained way of living within the Church. [One is welcome to their own opinion of course.] Ultimately, no movement of the Church that comes off as ideological can ever completely dominate the center, because the faithful naturally resist ideologies. [Again, this presumes they are ideological; but I would counter-propose that when the approach taken is consonant with the Church and her liturgical tradition, we can't consider this ideological.]

The only workable strategy is to move towards and constitute the center. [Again, how the centre is defined is crucial. Obviously we have to reach out to the average Catholic.] This inevitably involves compromise and not getting one's way, but it opens up whole new paths for renewal and for leavening the mainstream rather than condemning it and starting one's own operations. [I believe it would be more accurate to speak of starting one's own operations when one is defining their own principles as they see fit, and not rather when people try to effect those of the Church and the liturgy the Church wishes to give the faithful as seen in her tradition and theology. By contrast, what is being defined here as "mainstream" and is our author giving serious enough consideration to what the Church has said about many of the things occuring in the typical parish? This must all be done with pastoral sensitivity of course, but while there must be pastoral consideration, we do not live in a tyranny of the majority who may determine at their own preference or will what the liturgy is to be; this is precisely that spirit of mastery over the liturgy that Benedict has identified as so problematic and which our tradition speaks against. Rather than ceding to this, we simply must work sensitively and re-form the faithful in Catholic liturgical principles, employing legitimate forms of diversity as defined by and in relation to our tradition.] The real "flagship" for such a strategy is Notre Dame's Basilica of the Sacred Heart, with its beautiful liturgy televised on two different satellite TV stations. It is a well-celebrated Mass in a beautiful church that each weekend opens up thousands of people to beautiful liturgy they have perhaps not experienced in their own parish, but realize is attainable at least in certain respects. This is the "Reform of the Reform" in an organic way - beautiful liturgy speaking to people and reaching out to them. There may not be an ideologically uniform congregation, and there are no homilies canonizing the parishioners ("I would preach to you about XXXX sin, but I'm sure no one does this at XXXXX parish"), and the absence of these things precisely creates an environment and experience that transcend the worn-out right/left divide in the Church and carve out a liturgical center from which all can draw. [The error in the presumption here is to consider that the flagship reform of the reform parishes achieved what they did overnight. Many have been in operation for decades and have built up and advanced in the movement; some have been this way since the Council in effect. What precisely makes them "flagships" is that they are leading the way, being further along that path, and point to a goal to be achieved by many parishes starting out or part way on their journey. They also express a particular fullness of the liturgical life, including the public recitation of parts of the Divine office.]

This is not to say that there is no place for more academic discussion about liturgy, and for a focus on places that do it well. But unless this is carried out in a way that is sensitive to the pastoral needs of the Church, rather than overly worried about carving out ideological havens, it has no chance. Perhaps in this light it is worth remembering Romano Guardini, the greatest theological mind of the Liturgical Movement - a man whose brilliance transcended ideology precisely by embracing the beauty of truth and of the liturgy. Until his would-be successors are more careful to avoid tying themselves up with ideology, I worry deeply about their possibilities for success.

Let me emphasize that my critiques of the "Reform of the Reform" are not meant to be an overarching critique of the entire project. As I started out by saying, such a thing is certainly necessary, and I share many of the same priorities. I do think, however, that it is necessary to think long and hard about the dangers I have emphasized in order to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past and turning the future into a cycle of retribution instead of a time of liturgical peace and beauty.

[There are basic principles in this piece that are not themselves problematic; ideologisms must indeed be avoided; pastoral considerations must indeed happen; drive for perfections should not result in a lack of charity; nor should one absolutize matters in such a way that could exclude that which is genuinely an expression of organic development or legitimate diversity.

Ultimately, we need to define "the centre" and "the mainstream" in the light of the teaching of the Church; that is what is centrist. We do not change that, nor water it down, even while we do, absolutely, recognize where many people are at and work accordingly. This is where the pastoral equation comes into play. But that doesn't make a London Oratory a "conservative haven", nor does it make it pastorally insensitive or irrelevant and it certainly does not make the "reform of the reform" askew.]

UPDATE: A few modifications where made above to try to reflect some of the clarifications some have made about how "center" was being thought of by the author.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: