Sunday, August 01, 2021

The Revolution Is Over

Today is the sixteenth anniversary of the New Liturgical Movement, and of course, we never let this day pass without a word of thanks to our founder Shawn Tribe for his nearly eight years of dedication to the site, to our long-time contributor Jeffrey Tucker, who succeeded Shawn as editor, to our publisher, Dr William Mahrt, to our parent organization, the Church Music Association of America, as well as to the rest of our team, new and old, and our innumerable guest and photopost contributors, for everything they have done for the site over these many years. I also just realized that in addition to my time as a staff writer (starting in late 2009), between my time as managing editor and editor, during this summer I passed the point of running NLM longer than Shawn did. Over the years, I have received many words of encouragement and appreciation from readers, and I wish to reiterate how grateful I am for them. I know our other writers share this sentiment.

The NLM banner as it appeared from 2005-8
When Shawn founded NLM in August of 2005, it was a propitious time to discuss the liturgy in the Catholic Church. The name “New Liturgical Movement” comes from the writings of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, who had been elected Pope less than four months earlier. In the chaos and madness of the post-Conciliar era, he was one of the few notable Catholic prelates and theologians willing to recognize and publically say that things had gone badly wrong in the liturgical reform. He also understood as few others of his rank did that the Church cannot be faithful to itself if it continues to treat its own past (and this, of course, includes so much more than its liturgical tradition) as just so much garbage. When he issued Summorum Pontificum in 2007, he did NOT do so solely or even principally as a matter of reluctant pastoral necessity for the sake of reconciling the SSPX, as some have contended. He himself told us that he did it for the much greater necessity that the Church be reconciled to itself. “What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful.” [1] “It was important for me that the Church be one with herself inwardly, with her own past; that what was previously holy to her not be somehow wrong now.” [2] No power on earth can erase the truth of these statements, or the moral force that lies behind them.

Given the most recent developments in the liturgy, many perhaps will feel the temptation to sadness and discouragement. This is why I recently reposted some words of wisdom which my father wrote to encourage my mother in 1965, when the Church first began to enthusiastically erase itself. The progress that has been made (however tentative, however incomplete) in the last many years towards undoing that erasure was unthinkable when they were the age I was in 2007. On Saturday, I will repost an article from three years ago about St Cajetan, the founder of the Theatine Order, who lived in some of the most decadent times that the Church has ever known. The foundations of reform that he helped to lay led to a radical improvement in the Church’s life, in more ways, more rapidly and more thoroughly, than anyone could possibly have foreseen while he was alive in this world.

Nonetheless, I do not deny that I have shed a few tears in the last two weeks. In various capacities, not just writing for NLM, I have been actively involved with the traditional liturgy for over a quarter of a century. The rediscovery of this treasure, (one which my parents had thought lost forever), has shaped my life for the better in more ways than I can count. Over the years, I have been blessed to know many priests who were wise and generous shepherds, seminarians zealous for the salvation of souls and the sharing of the gift of the Faith, and laypeople of all conditions who have found or come back to the love of God through the same life of prayer that guided our ancestors for countless years before us. Of course it is painful to consider that the door of mercy has been slammed so violently in the faces of these good people, that the only accompaniment offered to them is to the exit of their parishes, to exile and dissolution; and this, on such transparently specious and disingenuous pretexts.
But these tears and worries are a matter for the short term, not for the long term. For the long term, the progress which has been made for liturgical recovery will be set back, in some places more badly than others, but it will not be erased. And I go much further than that: the most recent motu proprio was not the end, but it was most certainly the death knell, of the post-Conciliar revolution.
Sacrosanctum Concilium, Vatican II’s constitution on the sacred liturgy, begins with a statement of what the Council hoped to achieve. “This sacred Council … desires to impart an ever increasing vigor to the Christian life of the faithful; to adapt more suitably to the needs of our own times those institutions which are subject to change; to foster whatever can promote union among all who believe in Christ; to strengthen whatever can help to call the whole of mankind into the household of the Church.” None of this has happened. The Christian life of the faithful has not become more vigorous; its institutions have not become more suitably adapted to the needs of our times; union has not been fostered among all who believe in Christ; the call of the whole of mankind into the household of the Church has not been strengthened.
When does this start?
In the wake of this failure, the post-Conciliar Catholic Church finds itself a post-revolutionary society, no less than France was in 1794, or Russia was in 1925. And when a revolution fails, when “freedom, equality and brotherhood” lie buried under a pyramid of severed heads, when the worker’s paradise consists of millions of square miles of rust and cadavers, its paladins can go forward on one of two paths. The hard path is to recognize that the revolution has not achieved its goals, and work to rebuild their society in the light of that recognition. The easy path is to find some “reactionaries” and “counter-revolutionaries”, and blame the revolution’s failure on them.

And of course, in any revolution, there do exist “reactionaries” and “counter-revolutionaries.” But their true numbers are never enough to explain the revolution’s failure, and they do not bear the brunt of its anger. Far more peasants than depraved aristocrats lost their heads in revolutionary France; far more ordinary Russians were deported to Siberia than actual opponents of communism. And likewise, far more ordinary people face the prospect of having a way of praying that they love taken away from them than people who purportedly threaten the unity of the Church.
The surest sign that a revolution has failed, and chosen to take the easy path, is its fear of the past, its fear of the memory of what life was really like before the revolution. And this is why, in the midst of a tidal wave of crises within the Church, a hammer has been dropped where it has been dropped: not on the German Synodal Way, or the various Catholic institutions that have to all intents and purposes walked away from the Faith. The problem so grave that it must be met with the same furious scribbled-on-the-back-of-a-napkin haste that we remember from Fr Bouyer’s memoires is not the long-standing persistence of grave liturgical abuses, the de facto absence of catechetical formation in once-Catholic nations, or widespread moral, doctrinal and financial corruption. The hammer has been dropped, rather, on the father and mother who were born at least 20 years after the last time a cleric used the word “aggiornamento” unironically, and on their children who are too young to remember the papacy of Benedict XVI.
Dangerous counter-revolutionaries threatening the unity of the Faith!
There can be no clearer sign that the post-Conciliar revolution is totally uninteresting to the rising generations, and knowing this, grows deathly afraid, and resorts to doing by force what it cannot do by persuasion. One of the most famous things that St John Paul II ever said was also one of the simplest things he ever said: “Do not be afraid!” I am not a saint, but I make bold to repeat the same words: Do not be afraid. A dying revolution is not a dead revolution; it can still strike out and cause pain, and will likely do so. But in the very act of doing so, it confesses that it has failed and is dying. Do not be afraid. The revolution is over.

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