On a long flight from London to Sydney, I reread Alcuin Read's "Organic Development of the Liturgy" in a single go. I remain in awe of Dom Alcuin's scholarship and of the facility with which he can describe the complex in simple terms. But I realised, reading the book, not only that attempts to communicate between traditionalists and those imbued with the spirit of Vatican II are a dialogue of the deaf, but that the traditionalist cause has been undermined from within, and that those who are anti-traditionalist are able to divide and rule.
Dom Alcuin, in the spirit of the Liturgical Movement, argues persuasively that Dom Prosper Guéranger’s principles of liturgical reform are a valid test of the appropriateness of all of the changes made in the Liturgy. He also argues that making the Mass more easily understandable by the laity is a product of catechesis: if the faithful are taught the meaning of each word, each gesture, of the priest during Mass, then they will better understand the mystery in which they are participating. These two points can stand symbolically as the traditionalist objection to the Mass of Pope Paul VI: that it is a rupture from the organic development of the Liturgy since apostolic times; and that it is, to coin a phrase, dumbed down to suit modern man.
Fine: we fold our arms, smile, and ask those who disagree with us to counter our argument.
But they won’t play. They won’t accept the premise that our view of liturgical development is other than our view: why should we set the terms of the debate? They have two points as well: that the Mass has to be as close as possible to what happened at the Last Supper when the Eucharist was instituted; and that it has to be accessible to all, and that therefore things like the orientation of the priest towards the East and the foreign language in which it was celebrated are barriers between mankind and its Saviour.
I would like to propose two new points: first to characterise the dispute as one between true and false humanism: man is only the measure of all things insofar as he is God’s creature, created in God’s own image and likeness; man is not the centre of the universe: God is. And as far as the changes go: “By their fruits shall ye know them”. But this is not the field on which traditionalists have fought. Instead, we have challenged our opponents on their own field and have, of course, failed.
And we have fractured: we have been divided and are therefore ruled. The energy spent on disputes between SSPX adherents and “faithful Romans” has not been dissipated: it has been collected and stored and used by those who would characterise us as nostalgics and who point to those disputes as evidence that we are not part of the mainstream of Catholic thinking. Our arguments against the ultramontanism that allowed Paul VI to impose a new Rite are turned against us to prevent Pope Benedict from imposing any alternative. And meanwhile we have the Halloween Mass …
The Pope is, of course, guardian of the Magisterium. But the Heads of our local Churches, our Bishops, are products, not of Tradition, but of the radical new understanding of what it might mean to be a Catholic, fostered in the 1970s.
In some ways, the Rite we follow, we prefer, has become, I’m afraid, almost irrelevant. In “Faith of Our Fathers”, Professor Eamon Duffy writes:
“Watch any queue for Communion, in any sizeable congregation, in any Catholic church in the English-speaking world. Watch, in particular, the teenagers and children, who will approach the altar, hands by their sides or even in pockets, who will take the Host often between thumb and finger from the priest’s thumb and finger, like a biscuit, and on returning to their places will slump and gaze about them as if they have just come back from the bathroom … It seems to me patently clear that this behaviour is simply incompatible with the sorts of belief about the nature of the Eucharistic species and the mode of Christ’s presence in the Mass with which Cathjolics were brought up before the Council …”
This is the real challenge. Of course the manner in which the Rite is celebrated is central to our Faith: but how are we to rechatechise two generations in the Faith?