Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam

Essential thinking for reading Catholics.

Monday, September 08, 2014

I disagree to such an extent I had to resort to blogging about it.

Dear Internet,

Yes. I know. I've let the place run down a bit. Twitter, you see. Facebook, too. These have eaten up my bloggy content in small snippets and leaving nothing for me to compose into the more long-form stuff you see in the blogosphere.

I've also been jaded by the writings of Professional Catholics who, with one or two* exceptions, have kind of ruined it for me. Especially a couple with whom it has been my calamitous misfortune to interact with when they were in mufti, as it were.

But every once in a** while, something crosses my radar and what I wish to respond thereto finds inadequate voice in the shorter Facebookish, Tweety forms.

I refer to a piece by Fr. Thomas Reese, SJ in the National Catholic Reporter regarding a vacancy in the Congregation for Divine Worship. No secrets will be betrayed in my stating openly and from the very start that I vigorously disagree with Fr. Reese in this matter, almost to the point -- not quite -- of disagreeing with the choice of font.

But even that was a close-run thing.

Father speaks, as seems to be the case for those who are adherents of his position, of "liturgical renewal." Me, personally, whenever that phrase rises to my consciousness, I regard the concept undergirding it with sheer, trembling dread.

As someone whose formative years in the faith were punctuated by episodic spasms of liturgical renewal, hearing that phrase makes me wonder if the finally-dormant tic will come back.

If I may take the liberty of interpreting Father's point through the prism of my own experience, in my considered opinion, traveling once more down such a road will be -- let me not mince my words -- catastrophic. Father rues that such renewal efforts were stalled by the pontificates of St. John Paul II and of Benedict XVI, for whose papacies I am inexpressibly grateful.

The one thing one finds unmentioned is what is the wellspring for liturgical renewal. In other words, what is the "charter" for it? The answer one generally gets is "Why, Vatican Two." Fr. Reese himself says as much when he notes that greater liturgical authority be devolved to the local episcopal conferences when he states "[...]which was the original intent of Vatican II, rather than micromanaging things from Rome."

However, the
documents of the II Vatican Council don't quite call for the sorts of things generally seen under the auspices of liturgical renewal. Kind of when you read about "solidarity" without even a hint of "subsidiarity."

Father also rues that said liturgical renewal is not a priority for the Holy Father. I agree with him the Holy Father seems to be aggressively disinterested in same. However, I am of the opinion this is a welcome situation.

At this point I must interject and offer you, dear Internet, some Complete And Full Disclosure. As one of the graphics at the top of this here blog states, I am an orthodox Catholic educated by Jesuits. I love Pope FrancisI loved him when he was Cdl. Bergoglio. (But I am on record that, on matters liturgical, the Holy Father's path and mine diverge.) I love the Jesuits even when they go, um, a bit, er, off-piste. I am a lower-case-T traditionalist. I am not an adherent, follower or otherwise especially enamored of, say, Rorate Cæli or its fellow travelers. My parish's "usual" Mass is vernacular Novus Ordo with generous lashings of Latin. But I make it a point to hear Mass in the Extraordinary Form whenever it's available, because I believe that a) its very existence, and b) many elements therefrom are on the whole beneficial to the Faith and the faithful. (My current predilection is for Novus Ordo in Latin, but that's just me.)

The above point to other areas of Father's piece with which I must also seriously disagree.
Father notes: "The purpose of liturgical reform is not only to translate old Latin texts into good English, but to revise liturgical practices to allow people to celebrate their Christian faith in ways that better fit contemporary culture."

I disagree, quite strongly. Rather, I'd suggest, the purpose of liturgical reform should be to allow the faithful to worship God in a way that will prove transcendent and transformative. Insightful readers of my (admittedly, of late, sporadic) works will note that fitting contemporary culture is something I would declare to be avoided as assiduously as one would ISIS personnel juggling mason jars of ebola. To my way of thinking, there are vast expanses of contemporary culture that are sharply at odds with Christianity and I see no advantage -- and the disadvantages, I'd venture to add, are legion -- to conformity therewith.

Another exception I take with Father in this matter is the phrase "to translate old Latin texts into good English." Habitual readers of this blog will note that I am adamant about the importance of accurate translations. Why? Because the farther we get away from accuracy in translations, the more power we place in the hands of the translator*** and the more power we strip away from the person being translated. And that, as my particular hobbyhorse of choice amply demonstrates, is always and everywhere a monumentally, colossally bad thing.

(A cynical person will note that often these sorts of inexact translations have a tendency to skew one way, ideologically speaking. Not I, you understand, but a cynical person.)

Father is also not, it seems pellucidly clear, a fan of Mass in the Extraordinary Form. Which is fine. We live in a pluralist society and live-and-let-live and all that. Fine.

But there are people who are especially attached**** to the Extraordinary Form, the overwhelming majority of which simply wish to have it reasonably available to them and all those others like them. No provision for pastoral care for them seems to be in the offing. In fact, it's not difficult for them to consider calls for liturgical renewal such as Fr. Reese's as being the long-form of "Tough. Get used to it." While Father seeks to justify some of his points under the "pastoral" mantle, no pastoral concern(as it were) is ever offered, by proponents of liturgical renewal, to those who prefer the Extraordinary Form, that I can see.

Father also suggests an R&D approach to liturgy that would, in my estimation, yield a bespoke Mass depending on when/where one happens to go to Mass and who the celebrant is that day. I cannot overemphasize my disagreement with this. Mass is not a R&D department, the Church is not a business, and the faithful are not a focus group. This approach will only emphasize and underline the rootlessness many (including, during the Wilderness Years, yr. obdt. svt.) Catholics feel. For whatever may be said about the Extraordinary Form, the fact remains it's exactly the same everywhere in the world. The faithful in Bangalore, Barcelona, Baltimore, Bali and Brasilia are all united not only in the faith they profess, but also are reminded of that unity by the very fact they are all experiencing the same words, in the same way.

To say nothing of the fact that the approach Fr. Reese suggests will yield an even more celebrant-centric liturgical culture.

(How one may reconcile Father's suggestion for an even more kaleidoscopic and fragmented liturgical landscape with his suggestion that more accurate translations are beyond the ken of many is a sealed book to me.)

Another concern, which is never voiced in these discussions, is the subject of beauty and banality. A very strong case can be made that liturgical banality and the arid dearth of catechesis have proven to be a grave blow to Catholicism. Throughout my life, every single development of liturgical renewal has been, and there's no way around it, the equivalent to the white cop trying to be cool on Sanford & Sons.

The record of liturgical renewalists and that which they have wrought is not, y'know, exactly glorious. By any objective measure, the last 50 years have seen a precipitous fall in all of the markers which we would consider good (and rise in the ones we'd consider bad): Mass attendance, membership in religious life, seminary enrollment, greater breakdowns of Catholic marriages, greater use of artificial contraception, greater number of abortions, etc.

Lastly, as mentioned above, Father suggests greater episcopal involvement in the Congregation. My issue with this (and not because I am rabidly ultramontane) is that it's these very episcopal offices, etc. which, when St. John Paul II asked them specifically to respond generously to requests for greater availability of Mass in the Extraordinary Form, almost uniformly failed to do so.

So, my prayer is the Holy Father, if he is not to further advance the "reform of the reform" at least there will be no further liturgical damage.



* Okay, three. But that's my last offer and I am not making a penny on the deal.
** long
*** "Tradutore, traditore." (Your translator is your traitor.)
**** While I am not especially attached to Mass in the Extraordinary Form, I am attached to it, I believe it enriches the worship life of all the faithful, even those who only hear Mass in the Ordinary Form in their vernacular.