Monday, November 26, 2018

The Continual Spectre of False Antiquarianism

Excavating Roman ruins in London
A friend of mine once wrote to me about a forum on the Eucharist that he attended at a well-known Catholic institute, taught by a teacher who, though talented, said a few things that were, at best, misleading. They illustrated well the sort of half-truths that people occasionally use to justify a kneejerk preference for a liturgical form that, if only they were to research it better, they would come to see as the fruit of Enlightenment rationalism, the fulfillment of the ideals of the Synod of Pistoia, and not authentically Roman, or even Catholic for that matter.

Here were three points made by this teacher:

1. The Emmaus story prefigures the Novus Ordo Mass because Jesus broke open the Scriptures (“Liturgy of the Word”) and then broke bread (“Liturgy of the Eucharist”).

2. Origen’s commentary on Exodus 35, 4–5 shows that people received Communion in the hand at the inception of the Church: “How carefully and respectfully you receive the Lord’s body when it is distributed to you, for fear even a crumb might fall and a little part of this consecrated treasure might be lost. You would even blame yourself — and rightfully so — if a fragment were lost through your negligence.”

3. St Justin Martyr’s First Apology describes a Mass far closer to the Novus Ordo than to the traditional Latin Mass. Even the term “president” is found there, as the term “presider” is found in the context of the Novus Ordo. Thus, the Novus Ordo is a return to the “true” Mass of early Catholics.

Note that there is a common thread running through all of these points: “false antiquarianism,” as Pius XII called it. This appeal to antiquity is always selective: the reformers pick the early elements that fit with their modernist agenda, and effortlessly discard the rest — even things that are equally ancient or more ancient, such as the ad orientem stance.

In other words, there is a modern filter that determines what antiquity means and what makes an ancient element acceptable to moderns. In this way, all such “recoveries” are inherently and unavoidably modern rather than ancient. Thus, antiquarianism is doomed to collapse into the self-referential modernism that picks and chooses items still deemed “relevant” out of the indifferent mass of ateleological matter into which the Church’s past has been converted by modern philosophy. Nothing is valued simply on account of its being handed down; it is valued because it is wanted by a reformer according to his own lights and for his own purposes, be they good or ill. It could almost be turned into a motto for an organization called Planned Prayerhood: “No rite an unwanted rite.”

For example, the reformers liked Communion in the hand because it suited their anti-medieval, anti-scholastic, anti-metaphysical, anti-Tridentine mentality, dressed in the fancy clothing of ressourcement. But when it came to Septuagesimatide, which is from the 6th century and even older than Ash Wednesday, they just chucked it out the window. One can cite dozens of such examples. There are, however, patently good reasons why the liturgy of the Church developed as it did over the centuries — when, for example, a period of preparation for Lent was introduced, or when it was experienced as safer and more reverent to give Communion on the tongue to kneeling faithful.

The modernist agenda is thus very clever in how it appeals to the ancient practice while conveniently forgetting (or denying?) that the Church’s worship is perfected over time, under the guidance of Divine Providence. In spite of his own unfortunate dabbling with liturgical reform, it seems that Pius XII saw this truth and underlined it in the 1947 encyclical letter Mediator Dei, in three paragraphs that should have been engraved on the wall of the Consilium’s headquarters:
62. Assuredly it is a wise and most laudable thing to return in spirit and affection to the sources of the sacred liturgy. For research in this field of study, by tracing it back to its origins, contributes valuable assistance towards a more thorough and careful investigation of the significance of feastdays, and of the meaning of the texts and sacred ceremonies employed on their occasion. But it is neither wise nor laudable to reduce everything to antiquity by every possible device. Thus, to cite some instances, one would be straying from the straight path were he to wish the altar restored to its primitive table form; were he to want black excluded as a color for the liturgical vestments; were he to forbid the use of sacred images and statues in churches; were he to order the crucifix so designed that the divine Redeemer’s body shows no trace of His cruel sufferings; and lastly were he to disdain and reject polyphonic music or singing in parts, even where it conforms to regulations issued by the Holy See.
          63. Clearly no sincere Catholic can refuse to accept the formulation of Christian doctrine more recently elaborated and proclaimed as dogmas by the Church [a reference to the Council of Trent], under the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit with abundant fruit for souls, because it pleases him to hark back to the old formulas [of antiquity]. No more can any Catholic in his right senses repudiate existing legislation of the Church to revert to prescriptions based on the earliest sources of canon law. Just as obviously unwise and mistaken is the zeal of one who in matters liturgical would go back to the rites and usage of antiquity, discarding the new patterns introduced by the disposition of divine Providence to meet the changes of circumstances and situation. 
          64. This way of acting bids fair to revive the exaggerated and senseless antiquarianism to which the illegal Council of Pistoia gave rise. It likewise attempts to reinstate a series of errors which were responsible for the calling of that meeting as well as for those resulting from it, with grievous harm to souls, and which the Church, the ever watchful guardian of the “deposit of faith” committed to her charge by her divine Founder, had every right and reason to condemn. For perverse designs and ventures of this sort tend to paralyze and weaken that process of sanctification by which the sacred liturgy directs the sons of adoption to their Heavenly Father for their souls’ salvation.
Notice how many of the things that Pius XII singled out for condemnation ended up being done, to the letter, by Captain Bugnini and his novelty-mongering crew. (In my book Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness, I go into all these things in more detail, especially in the chapter contrasting the original liturgical movement with what it devolved into.)

Let us consider briefly, then, the three points made by the teacher that were mentioned at the top of this article.

Ad 1. The division of the Mass into the Mass of the Catechumens and the Mass of the Faithful is far more ancient than the division between Liturgy of the Word and Liturgy of the Eucharist. This latter division hails from the Protestants. Sure, you can get it out of Emmaus, just as you can get Luther out of Romans or Calvin out of Augustine. But it’s not traditional and it’s not Catholic.

Ad 2. Bishop Athanasius Schneider’s book Dominus Est is the definitive refutation of the idea that the early Church did “just what we’re doing now” with Communion in the hand. Nothing could be further from the truth. First, the ancient way was more careful, more devout, and more solemn. Second, the numbers of faithful were far smaller. Third, the reason the Church moved to Communion on the tongue for kneeling recipients is the very piety one finds in the Fathers of the Church. Take the attitude you find in St. Cyril of Jerusalem and compound it by several centuries of meditation, adoration, and experience, and you will end up with the medieval custom. (It should hardly need to be said that the Byzantine manner of distributing communion, in spite of superficial differences, has far more in common with the traditional Roman way than it has with the contemporary Romish way.)

Ad 3. Yes, the primitive liturgy described by St. Justin sounds a bit like the Novus Ordo. That’s because there had not yet occurred 1,800 years of natural and supernatural development to enrich the solemn official worship of the Church, especially after this worship had become legal and public. St. Justin must be rolling over in his grave to see people depriving themselves and Our Lord of due reverence and beauty in order to simulate the fiction of a primitive liturgy.

The redactors of the Novus Ordo used selective (and, as we now know, often erroneous) scholarship on early Catholic practices as an incentive and a justification for creating their own novel product, which, in its totality as in its particular constellation of details, bears little resemblance to any actually existing liturgical rite whose complete form we know, such as the Latin rites and uses at the end of the first millennium, or the Roman Rite from the middle of the second millennium. Or rather, it bears the same resemblance as a teddy bear to a black bear: they both have the same shape, they both have eyes, ears, nose, a mouth, and four paws, they are both furry. But one is large, heavy, alive, and hungry, while the other is small, lightweight, lifeless, and stuffed.

To return to our point of departure, the well-intentioned but ill-informed teacher who presented this half-information to his Catholic audience was doing them a disservice by implying that the Novus Ordo is somehow more in continuity with the ancient Church than the developed Latin liturgical tradition. In so doing he inadvertently made himself a “useful idiot” running interference for the modernists who carried out the liturgical reform with a hatred of the traditional Catholic faith, and who removed every so-called “medieval or Baroque accretion” they could get away with removing. The result is the stripped-down Bauhaus liturgy that will haunt the reputation of Paul VI until the end of the ages.

In order to cover the new rite’s nakedness, people inclined to “Reform of the Reform” add as many “smells and bells” as they can think of or get away with. But there is no amount of Latin that will change what the prayers say (and do not say); there is no amount of chant that will change the damaged structure of the propers, the lectionary, and the calendar; there is no mountain of incense that will mask the sharp smell of the electric dynamo, the spirit behind the reform. ROTR is a huge band-aid placed over a gaping wound that refuses to heal. It refuses to heal because rupture with tradition cannot be blessed by God. Many people will be saved in spite of it, but it can never be a good thing in itself.

Why, then, do Catholics still adhere to the ROTR when they could (in many cases) so easily move over to the TLM? When, let us say, a parish run by the Fraternity or the Institute is just across town, or even down the road, or where a parish priest has added the usus antiquior to the Sunday schedule? Why settle for the Citroën or Renault when you could have the Jaguar or Rolls Royce? Why is it that those without special training or academic credentials can often see the rightness of the old ways and the emptiness of the new, while those who should be leading their brethren by precept and example turn out to be hoodwinked and benighted?

I believe there is a moral reason and a cognitive reason.

They do not see it because they do not want to see it. This is the moral dimension. It stems from a false ultramontanism, whereby Paul VI or any pope can do no wrong, and from a fear that if the liturgy he promulgated turns out to be flawed, it will somehow call into question the indefectibility of the Church — which it certainly does not. It also stems from a fear of personal instability: if the new liturgy is seriously defective, that may mean the new theology and pastoral approach introduced by Vatican II is worthy of critique (as indeed it is). And that would require an interior spiritual and intellectual reorientation that many are unwilling to entertain, let alone execute — although Pope Francis has been making this reorientation tempting and even irresistible, for which we can be grateful to him.

They do not see it because they have not tried to see it. This is the cognitive or perceptual dimension. One has to let the traditional liturgy wash over one’s body and soul like waves at the ocean, patiently getting to know it, adjusting to its gentle rhythm, before its secrets fully reveal themselves. Those who discover these secrets are proving once again the efficacy of the prayer of Our Lord: “I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them to the little ones” (Mt 11:25).

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