Friday, December 12, 2014

Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis - A Review by Dom Alcuin Reid

I would like to personally thank Dom Alcuin for offering to NLM this review of Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis: Sacred Liturgy, the Traditional Latin Mass, and Renewal in the Church, by our contributor Dr Peter Kwasniewski of Wyoming Catholic College, now available from Angelico Press.

Following the recent appointment of the new Prefect of the Congregation of Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, the American commentator Rocco Palmo suggested that, as a result, the Congregation was now likely to “hew closer to [Pope] Francis’ own liturgical approach.” Palmo continued: ”As one op summarized its principles: ‘Go by the book. Don't make a fuss about it. And remember that liturgy’s always a means to an end—not an end in itself.’” Whether Palmo is in fact correct about the Holy Father’s approach is by no means clear. I suspect that he is doing the Pope a disservice—after all, to borrow a phrase from Mark Francis CSV, Pope Francis “is not a trained liturgist.”

Be that as it may, what is much more significant is Palmo’s blithe assertion that making a fuss about the liturgy is inappropriate, and that the liturgy is always a means to an end, not an end in itself, for this simply casts aside the fact that our first duty, in justice, is the worship of Almighty God. The first commandment of the Decalogue, the Rule of St Benedict, the teaching of St Thomas Aquinas and the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council, amongst others, make this perfectly clear. So does the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “God’s first call and just demand is that man accept him and worship him” (n. 2084).

Certainly, the Council teaches that the Sacred Liturgy is the source and summit of the Church’s life and mission (SC 10), and that the “liturgy does not exhaust the entire activity of the Church” (SC 9). Nevertheless, the Sacred Liturgy enjoys priority. It has a literally fundamental place in Christian life. As the Council states: “no other action of the Church can equal its efficacy by the same title and to the same degree” (SC 7). Indeed, the Council teaches that the “the aim and object of apostolic works is that all who are made sons of God by faith and baptism should come together to praise God in the midst of His Church, to take part in the sacrifice, and to eat the Lord’s supper” (SC 10).

Let us be clear: according to the Second Vatican Council (and two millennia of Catholic tradition leading up to it) apostolic works are not ends in themselves, but are a means to bring people to the optimal worship of Almighty God in His Church. The worship of God is the end of Christian life, and we realize this ecclesially, liturgically. Christian faith is not a form of social activism; it is an essentially cultic relationship with the person of Jesus Christ living and acting in His Church today in and through the Sacred Liturgy. To be a Christian is to be called to full participation in the Sacred Liturgy in this life and to rejoice in the heavenly liturgy in the next. To obscure or to forget this is to reduce Christianity to a mere proponent of humanitarian welfare—an NGO. Indeed, to deny the fundamental primacy of the Sacred Liturgy for all Christian life—to regard it as a mere means to an end—is, perhaps, to give life to what may well be called the anti-liturgical heresy of the early 21st century.

You do not have to be a trained liturgist to recognize this, as Cardinal Ratzinger demonstrated when he wrote in 1997 that “the true celebration of the Sacred Liturgy is the center of any renewal of the Church whatever,” and when, as Pope Benedict XVI in 2007 he promulgated the Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis and the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum. In his letter accompanying Summorum Pontificum, which established the right of all to the free use of the pre-conciliar liturgy, he spoke of the need “of coming to an interior reconciliation in the heart of the Church,” and asked his brother bishops to “generously open our hearts and make room for everything that the faith itself allows.”

Peter Kwasniewski understands the place of the liturgy in the life of the Church; equally he is in no doubt about the profound crisis affecting not only the perception of its nature, but also about the crisis that has followed on from its reform following the Council in both its official (on paper, in Latin) forms and in the widespread and sometimes mutant applications of these. His premise—of the existence of a crisis—is tenable, surely, if we but reflect on the fact that the majority of Catholics do not regularly participate in any liturgical rite ever. They simply stay away. The reformed liturgy has neither retained them, nor has it brought them back to their first duty—the worship of Almighty God. Certainly, the greater proportion of Western Catholics who do worship regularly do so according to some interpretation of the reformed rites, but this is but part of a small fraction.

Yes, the Western Catholic Church is in crisis and whilst there may be many factors contributing to this, the liturgy produced following the Second Vatican Council has neither prevented nor sufficiently addressed it. In the midst of this crisis Kwasniewski underlines the importance of the resurgence of the usus antiquior—the more ancient use of the Roman rite—for the life of the Church in the twenty-first century, and of the necessity of celebrating the modern rites in a manner that is consciously in continuity with it.

A collection of essays published over a number of years, Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis succinctly examines liturgical formation and education, the effect of the liturgical reform on ecumenism, liturgical language, the necessity of solemnity, concelebration and private Masses, the vernacular and much, much more. Kwasniewski challenges much of what we might call (recently) ‘established’ liturgical wisdom in a manner which is both insightful and educative:
The ultimate ‘children’s Mass’—and I mean for everyone, from the wee lad to the ancient, who seeks to live out the vocation of spiritual childhood, not for those who remain (or who would have others remain) locked at a childish stage of human development—is a Tridentine Mass with all the stops pulled, thundering orthodoxy and whispering mystery to all present. If you want a church full of Catholics who know their faith, love their faith and practice their faith, give them a liturgy that is demanding, profound, and rigorous. They will rise to the challenge (p. 27).
His consideration of the nature of liturgical participation and its modern misinterpretation is penetrating:
The call for the laity to ‘participate’ arose because of the deleterious influence that the devotio moderna had on liturgical life, coupled with an approach to liturgy that emphasized the juridical over the artistic, the utilitarian over the aesthetic. If genuine participation was sometimes poor prior to Vatican II, the post-Vatican II liturgical reformers erred grievously by seeking to achieve participation through the deconstruction and minimalization of the liturgy. Many of them appeared to understand active participation to mean doing something: singing, reading, helping out with the distribution of Holy Communion. A premium was placed on the doing, even when it meant making the liturgy banal and simplistic to assure that such participation could be actually realised (pp. 122-23).
Whereas, Kwasniewski asserts: “Man’s highest activity is the silent contemplation of divine reality through the power of his mind elevated by grace, and this is the activity toward which the liturgy should be leading all of us” (p. 122).

Let it be said that Kwasniewski is no uncritical traditionalist who draws a line beyond which no liturgical reform or development is possible. Indeed, his consideration of the ways in which the scriptural readings of the 1962 Missale Romanum could profitably be augmented betokens sensitivity and insight (pp. 129-30). So too, a good deal of his critique could serve to inform the much-needed reform of the reformed rites (the validity of which rites he explicitly accepts).

In response to the crisis he so clearly identifies Kwasniewski calls on pastors and all who are able urgently “to heal the wounds exactly where the blows have fallen.” This, he argues, “must consist of, or at least necessarily involve: 1. The restoration of the traditional liturgy. 2. The proclamation of Catholic social teaching in its fullness. 3. The reestablishment of St Thomas as Common Doctor” (p. 195). His appreciation of the integrated religious, social and political value of traditional Corpus Christi procession serves as an instructive example of what needs to be done (pp. 193-94). As we self-consciously busy ourselves with the urgent task of evangelization, ‘new’ or ‘old’, we would do well to take time to ensure that we have understood the nature and extent of this crisis and the content and sources of the remedy the author proposes.

Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis is powerful, persuasive and pulls no punches. It is the cry of a layman—a husband and a father—who has lived in different parts of the Western Church these past decades, who has suffered many and varied interpretations of the new liturgical rites and who knows only too well the difficulty so many have in simply obtaining regular access to the usus antiquior, or even the modern liturgy celebrated faithfully and fully. Kwasniewski writes with moral certainty that the wider celebration of the older liturgical rites are key to the life and mission of the Church in our day and argues his case articulately and with intellectual rigor. Certainly there are some instances where his references could be expanded, etc., and there is much room for further discussion on much of what is said, but I challenge any of those who regard the post-Vatican II liturgical forms as exclusively normative to study this book with an open mind and not be changed as a result. Kwasniewski certainly uses strong language in arguing his case, but when grave danger confronts one’s family, what father will not employ all of his strength in their defence?

Dom Alcuin Reid is a monk of the Monastère Saint-Benoît, in the diocese of Fréjus-Toulon, France, and editor of Sacred Liturgy: The Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church, published by Ignatius Press.

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