Monday, February 05, 2018

What the Difference in Disagreements Can Teach Us

In the world of the usus antiquior, we find certain disagreements. Here are some examples:
  • whether orchestral Masses (e.g., Mozart’s) should be performed, or whether they run contrary to the spirit of the liturgy;
  • whether to follow exactly the Solesmes rhythmic markings or to incorporate the findings of chant paleography;
  • whether the people should sing the Mass Ordinary together with the choir;
  • whether a Gothic chasuble is better, worse, or equal to, a Roman fiddleback;
  • whether to remove the chasuble before preaching, or only the maniple;
  • whether buckled shoes are worth reviving or may be considered an affectation;
  • whether this much lace is too much lace.
Such disagreements, I think all would agree, are about relatively minor matters, in the grand scheme of things. At their fiercest, such disputes might be compared to boxing or wrestling; at their mildest, to chess or culinary tastes. Everyone agrees about the essentials: the Mass is a true and proper sacrifice; the universal tradition of ad orientem worship and the Western tradition of the Latin language are ever to be retained; the Ordinary and Propers of the Mass are always to be recited or sung, and if sung, normatively in Gregorian chant; the Roman Canon is the heart of our central act of worship, and like the heart’s beating, it takes place in silence, hidden within; the sanctuary, which represents the holy of holies and the court of heaven gained by Christ the High Priest, is off limits to all but ordained ministers and the men or boys who are deputed to substitute for them; the awesome mystery of the Holy Eucharist is to be received kneeling, on the tongue, in an attitude of utmost humility and adoration, from hands specially anointed for the purpose of consecrating, carrying, and giving the Lord.

We might compare such differences as there are to the performance of a stately piece of Baroque music, where musicians ornament the music in various ways, but according to the conventions of the period and the indications of the figured bass. Two performances of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion or Handel’s Messiah may vary in many details, but it is still obviously the same music, with the same words, in the same order, and with largely the same impact.

In the world of the Novus Ordo, we also find disagreements—indeed, quite a number of them. Here are examples:
  • whether the Mass is primarily to be understood and enacted as a sacrifice or as a meal;
  • whether the language used should be the age-old Latin, a “sacral” vernacular, or a contemporary vernacular;
  • whether traditional sacred music should be employed a lot, a little, or never, with modern popular styles in its place;
  • whether the priest in accord with bimillenial tradition should offer the Mass facing eastwards, or rather facing the people;
  • whether the priest should pray the only traditional Roman anaphora, the Roman Canon, or choose another one from the menu;
  • whether Mass should be recognizably the same throughout the world or radically inculturated;
  • whether women should serve in as many liturgical ministries as possible, or the tradition of men only in the sanctuary should be retained;
  • whether lay people should handle the true Body and Blood of Christ, or whether, in keeping with the entire Catholic tradition, only bishops, priests, and deacons should do so;
  • whether this sacrosanct, august Mystery of the Flesh and Blood of God should be placed on the tongues of kneeling faithful, or into the hands of people standing in line.
It is not difficult to see that the number, nature, and magnitude of disagreements in this realm vastly exceed those found in the traditional realm. These disagreements, let us be honest about it, are more like warfare between countries. The sides are embedded in their trenches; they fire away with belligerence and take no hostages. Indeed, if someone in 1950 had been given a list of the disputed points above, he would have reasonably assumed that it was an accurate statement of disagreements separating Catholics from Protestants, or believers from modernists.

This monumental contrast between the two worlds should give us pause and prompt serious reflection. How does this welter of deep disagreements across the board about the lex orandi of Paul VI (and, therefore, inevitably, about the lex credendi of the People of God) square with the consistent teaching and practice of Paul VI’s namesake?

The Apostle Paul placed much emphasis on unity, not only in matters of doctrine but also in matters of practice, where he urged conformity with tradition: “The things which you have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, these do ye, and the God of peace shall be with you” (Phil 4:9). “We charge you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw yourselves from every brother walking disorderly, and not according to the tradition which they have received of us” (2 Thes 3:6). “Fulfill ye my joy, that you may be of one mind, having the same charity, being of one accord, agreeing in sentiment” (Phil 2:2). “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no schisms among you; but that you be perfect in the same mind, and in the same judgment [in eodem sensu, et in eadem sententia]” (1 Cor 1:10). Or, in the words of St. John: “Remember then what you received and heard; keep that, and repent” (Rev 3:3).

Which of the two worlds we have discussed better embodies the apostolic advice to receive the tradition gratefully and wholly, and thereby be at peace; to withdraw from the disorderly who walk not according to tradition; to have one mind, in one accord speaking the same thing, walking by the same judgments?

The same teaching is consistently given from the early Fathers through the Middle Ages down to the modern period. The Council of Trent says much the same:
This holy Synod with true fatherly affection admonishes, exhorts, begs, and beseeches, through the bowels of the mercy of our God, that all and each of those who bear the Christian name would now at length agree and be of one mind in this sign of unity, in this bond of charity, in this symbol of concord; and that mindful of the so great majesty, and the so exceeding love of our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave His own beloved soul as the price of our salvation, and gave us His own flesh to eat, they would believe and venerate these sacred mysteries of His body and blood with such constancy and firmness of faith, with such devotion of soul, with such piety and worship as to be able frequently to receive that supersubstantial bread... (Session XIII, ch. 8)
In the culminating lines of Pope Pius XII’s famous encyclical on the liturgy, Mediator Dei—which makes for eye-opening reading, as one sees how brazenly the teaching on almost every page has been contradicted by the course of events—the pontiff declares:
May God, whom we worship, and who is “not the God of dissension but of peace” (1 Cor. 14:33) graciously grant to us all that during our earthly exile we may with one mind and one heart participate in the sacred liturgy which is, as it were, a preparation and a token of that heavenly liturgy in which we hope one day to sing together with the most glorious Mother of God and our most loving Mother, “To Him that sitteth on the throne, and to the Lamb, benediction and honor, and glory and power for ever and ever” (Apoc. 5:13). (Mediator Dei, n. 209)
This is from 1947, one year before Annibale Bugnini, joining the Vatican’s commission for liturgical reform, began his slow ambitious climb to prominence and ultimate hegemony over the Hamletesque Montini.

A reader once wrote to me:
People wedded to the new liturgy have narratives and they become invested in them, especially as they get older. To concede the superiority of the traditional liturgy would mean having to rethink more aspects of that narrative than they are ready to do, especially as it would involve admitting to being wrong for a long time about things of great importance. It is a shame, because the traditional Roman Rite is fully the heritage of every Catholic, yet so few avail themselves of it. 
When all is said and done, the only narrative that can make sense for a Catholic is continuity with his own heritage, with stronger allegiance to that which has been of longer use. Received forms and practices have intrinsic value, according to the mind of Christ and the Church; they enjoy the privilege of seniority, settled reception, and proven efficacy. So, while one might be wrong in one’s “take” on this or that aspect of one’s heritage (the disputed questions listed at the top of this article), one will never be mistaken in principle for adhering to tradition. Whereas the moment one abandons this compass, one is in a ship afloat at sea, with no established route and no guarantee of arrival, confined with passengers who are confused, restive, and strongly at odds about what to do next. I prefer being a passenger on the ship that knows whence it comes and whither it goes, and has all the means for a safe and speedy journey—with the guarantee of fraternal harmony and amicable differences along the way.

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