Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The "Camp" Mentality in Relation to the Modern Liturgy: An Example Presents Itself

In a recent post, I shared some thoughts by Fr. Raymond Blake about the concern someone brought to him about an "either-or" mentality they were sensing. This was mentioned to Father Blake in the context of some of those attached to the usus antiquior, but just as Fr. Blake agreed that would be problematic, so too did he point out that this is likewise an issue within the context of adherents of the modern Roman liturgy.

Indeed, it would not be fair to somehow make this a "traditionalist" problem; it is not. It is just generally a problem amongst some. And certainly it would not be fair to those who find their home within the usus antiquior to be painted with that brush.

However, the point of this piece is that a good example of this principle in action from the opposite spectrum (that of some of those attached to the modern liturgy and with regard to the more ancient liturgy) quite unexpectedly showed up in the NLM inbox today, quite unrelated to the post in question.

The context is that this comes from the "daily meditation" on the Mass readings for the modern Roman liturgy for tomorrow, July 20th. This meditation is published by a very significant and prominent publisher of liturgically related materials in the United States, and would be widely read. In the "homily help" for tomorrow's reading, we read the following "help":

The Jews from the book of Exodus were nostalgic about their days in Egypt, even though they were treated much like prisoners. As soon as Moses asked them to trust God to deliver them from Pharoah's army, they longed for the days of slavery in Egypt, forgetting the terrible treatment they had suffered as slaves.

A certain percentage of Catholics have regretted all the changes in the church that have occurred since Vatican II. They yearn for a return to the Latin Mass, though they forget that the priest spoke to the wall, in a tone deliberately inaudible. Even among the very elderly priests there are few who want "the good old days" back.

(The italicized emphasis was their own.)

So then, what do we see here? For one, there is a rather questionable analogy by which one could easily enough confuse this "help" as suggesting that the pre-conciliar age too was an age of "slavery" and prisonry -- whether this was the intent, I know not, but it certainly was not well thought out as that would be utterly inappropriate, being entirely in a spirit of rupture.

The second problem is of course the mischaracterization of ad orientem as the priest "speaking to the wall" -- an even less satisfactory characterization than the "back to the people" image usually presented. This problem is multi-fold. For one, ad orientem is not particular to the usus antiquior, but remains an option for the modern Roman liturgy, and was never eliminated by the Council or any later legislation. As well, I suspect many a Roman rite priest, in either form of the Roman rite, or for that matter the priests of the Eastern churches, would be quite surprised to learn they are "speaking to a wall" rather than leading the faithful in offering worship to God. In short, it is a mischaracterization which is not liturgically, historically or theologically informed and amounts to nothing more than a mere polemic, and a particularly problematic one given the context.

Finally, there is the mention of the liturgy being done "deliberately" in an "inaudible" fashion. Well, in point of fact, the "sotto voce" element of the usus antiquior was essentially that of the Canon of the Mass. Certainly there were Masses which were being done in a hushed/quiet tone generally it is true, but let's make the proper distinctions. This was not essential, and neither does it take into account the activities of the Liturgical Movement in areas like the dialogue Mass, the sung Mass and so on -- so it was also not universal. Accordingly, it seems rather problematic to speak so generally as though it were the only or universal approach to those rites. It does not really paint a full or accurate picture.

Needless to say, there is nothing terribly edifying or helpful about this reflection, and it certainly is to be found wanting on a variety of levels. It is a good example of precisely the opposite sort of rupturism that Fr. Blake so aptly pointed out in his own thoughts.

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