Monday, October 29, 2018

For the Liturgical Progressives, Dialogue Means “Agreeing With”

The two healthy (liturgical) lungs of the Church 
For years, I have been reading articles at the Pray Tell blog, and when I make comments on its articles, I try to challenge readers with different ideas about the Church's liturgical direction.

An article there exactly one month ago caught my attention — this paragraph in particular:
Some Catholics (usually of the more traditional variety), upon hearing that I am an Orthodox Christian, have made it a point to proclaim their love for the Orthodox liturgy and critique the changes to the Mass after Vatican II. Mainly, they lament the loss of beauty and reverence of their experience of the Novus Ordo and long for the Tridentine Mass. I smile, but, as a scholar of liturgy, know that the Mass of Paul VI has much more in common theologically (e.g. its stronger pneumatological dimension) and ecclesiologically with the Eastern Church than the Tridentine Mass. Still, having attended a few Masses (of the post-Vatican II style) that I found (in their words) overly “informal” and/or “dry,” their concern resonates.
          Interestingly, the reform of the liturgy after Vatican II is also debated within some Orthodox circles. Some Orthodox Christians are critical of the reform of the Mass after Vatican II as well. In this case, they fail to distinguish between the greater theological and historical similarities of the Orthodox liturgy and the Mass after Vatican II while overemphasizing some of the phenomenological differences.
If ever one needed an illustration of understatement, I would submit this quotation.

The Mass of Paul VI has “more in common” with the Eastern Church only in the sense that (a) it was artificially Easternized by its architects, who had little or no respect for the Latin tradition and had a strange but ill-informed craze for all things Byzantine, and (b) it was conceived in a textual testtube which was cerebral, abstract, and academic, as Ratzinger has pointed out. For example, it was all the rage to insist on the need or the desirability of an epiklesis for the anaphoras, because the scholars were too caught up in their theories to admire the Roman Canon’s antiquity that predates the Macedonian heresy over the divinity of the Holy Spirit.

Then, the author (as if waking up to the fact for the first time) admits that some Eastern Orthodox have problems with the liturgical reform. In reality, those that are well informed understand it to be a disaster of the highest degree, a thorough disembowelment of Western tradition. This is why the Moscow patriarchate (much in the news these days) hailed Summorum Pontificum with joy.

Notice any resemblances?
The final claim — that there is greater theological and historical similarity between the Orthodox divine liturgy and the post-Vatican II Mass — is blatantly false. The opposite is not only true, but painfully true. The discrepancies between age-old Orthodox worship and the Bauhaus Novus Ordo are pushed aside as “phenomenological.” This is like saying that the difference between a traditional Requiem and a modern funeral is “phenomenological.” Yes, to be sure; but it is first and foremost theological and historical, in the profoundest possible way. And to say that the apparent differences are overemphasized is quite simply pure rationalism — as if our experience of liturgy, of the right approach to and attitude towards the numinous, were not something that comes through our senses first, and only afterwards, arrives in our intellects, in keeping with Aristotle’s sane empiricism.

I found this phrase in particular incredibly condescending: “I smile, but, as a scholar of liturgy, know…” The lure of gnosis, abundantly on offer in the pseudo-scientific mystery cult of contemporary liturgists. May the Lord in His mercy preserve us from professional liturgists!

One recalls the famous exchange between Fr. Pierre-Marie Gy and Cardinal Ratzinger concerning the latter’s book The Spirit of the Liturgy. Ratzinger had dared to criticize some of the untouchable “truths” of the liturgical reform, and Fr. Gy, whose life had been invested in this lame duck, was not amused: “How dare he write such a book — he is not a liturgist!” The same reaction, of course, greeted Pope Benedict’s intriguing if not always successful Jesus of Nazareth series, which the historical-critical gurus could not abide. In reality, with The Spirit of the Liturgy Ratzinger was doing the work of a true theologian: he was writing liturgical theology, based (it goes without saying) in a solid grasp of liturgical history and texts, but going far beyond that limited scope into more fundamental theological and philosophical principles, as well as offering a more realistic assessment of the actual cost, in souls and in sanity, of the liturgical reforms, from the vantage of one who had extensive pastoral experience, which many of our smiling theoreticians lack. It is, in truth, the specialists who are wearing blinders or suffering tunnel vision, and the non-specialists who can see deeper and farther, just as we notice today that the youth are instinctively and intuitively drawn to liturgical tradition while their elders, be they teachers or pastors, embarrassingly chase after the evanescent relevance of the new and improved whatever.

Pontiffs of the world, unite!
So… I decided that I would leave a brief and moderately-toned comment at Pray Tell indicating my disagreement with the perspective of the author. Here is what I wrote:
While there are some fine general points made in this article, it is certainly not true to say that the reformed Roman liturgy has more in common with the traditional rites of the East. This statement is often made, but it is true only in the sense that certain Eastern features were artificially, unhistorically, and unliturgically introduced into the Roman rite where they had never existed before, while many features common to both East and West — notably, the use of sacred chant, the eastward orientation, the use of a liturgical language (still preserved in Slavonic and ancient Greek), the reservation of the sanctuary to vested male ministers, and plenty more — were abolished in the 1960s and 1970s in the West.
          At New Liturgical Movement, I published a study on the ten principles that the traditional (i.e., unreformed) Roman liturgy shares in common with the Byzantine liturgy — principles that are either rarely found in celebrations of the reformed Roman rite or were even abolished from it in principle:
          1. The principle of tradition;
          2. the principle of mystery;
          3. the principle of elevated mode;
          4. the principle of ritual integrity or stability;
          5. the principle of density;
          6. the principle of adequate and repeated preparation;
          7. the principle of truthfulness;
          8. the principle of hierarchy;
          9. the principle of parallelism; and
          10. the principle of separation.
The article may be found at this link.
Shortly after posting it, I received the following email from the editor of Pray Tell, Fr. Anthony Ruff, OSB, of St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota:
Dear Peter,
          I just deleted your comment on east/west. The first reason was that it wasn’t so much a response or dialogue with the author’s main points as a promotion of your post. I’m not comfortable having posts such as that linked at Pray Tell, for it doesn’t fit our mission of promoting rich discussion and a wide variety of viewpoints among all those who support Vatican II and ecumenical liturgical reform. Secondly, your tendentious portrayal of the liturgy of the Catholic Church is, to be honest, scandalous to me by its mocking, condescending, disrespectful tone. I’m truly sorry to have to do this but I think it is better for the mission of Pray Tell and the kind of conversation and dialogue we want to promote.
          Fr. Anthony
I found this initially quite surprising, and said so in my reply:
Dear Fr. Ruff,
          I think this is a mistake. NLM, which of course takes a very different line, never deletes comments from people who disagree, even sharply, with the main points of the author. The only comments stifled are those that are personally insulting. I doubt if anyone reading my comment would consider it of this type. If you want PT to be an echo chamber that excludes reasoned critique of the liturgical reform, that is your prerogative, but it will increase your reputation as a one-sided progressive platform.
          Best regards,
          Peter Kwasniewski
A "phenomenological similarity"
There was no further response (not that I expected there to be). Each side had said its piece. Fr. Ruff apparently does not find differences of opinion a way of “promoting rich discussion.” In the end, “a wide variety of viewpoints” is permissible if and only if you “support Vatican II and ecumenical liturgical reform.” (Is that a reference to Paul VI’s statement that the Novus Ordo was designed to bring the Catholic Mass closer to the worship of Calvinists?)

What I learned from this exchange is that, as is so very often the case, dialogue — for liberals and progressives — means “agreeing with me.” We can see the same dynamic playing out in the various Synods that have been held under Pope Francis. Each Synod has always heard many voices, from Cardinals to laymen, dissenting from the liberal baseline assumptions and conclusions that are supposed to prevail in this exercise of “walking together,” but these voices are sidelined, padded, or suppressed in the final results, and quite simply ignored in the day-to-day implementation (as we saw in a rather dramatic way with the post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, and with the grab-bag of fashionable sociological truisms bequeathed by the Youth Synod).

In short, there is no dialogue, only monologue. Or perhaps soliloquy, as would befit a liturgical reform pushed through, with many a self-doubt and self-contradiction, by the pope who compared himself to Hamlet.

No Hamlets here.

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