29 November 2006

Gloomy thoughts

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?


Sue said...

You're absolutely right. There are so many interconnected problems here that it's hard to know where to start.

A story.

Two or three years ago, I attended the Old Rite Mass which David Joyce of the LMS arranges annually for LMS members (and anyone else who cares to be present) at Portsmouth Cathedral. A friend of mine with five young children decided she'd like to come as well, bringing her husband and three oldest - 10, 8 and 6 - while the youngest two were at a friend's house. The Mass was a Missa Cantata, but for some reason I can't now recall, the schola who are usually there - an excellent group who sing superb a capella polyphony - weren't, though we had some chant.

I was worried that the children would be restless, since they'd been told there'd be lovely music; or that Kate, my friend, would be antagonistic: she'd never known anything but the English Novus Ordo before. However, the children behaved like little angels, and Kate was clearly enchanted by the whole liturgy, from her comments on the return journey. So - great! I thought. Another trad. convert.

Well, yes. She was too thoroughly converted. She couldn't help comparing the beauty, dignity and grace of the ancient Mass to the stuff she had to endure at her local church, fronted at that point by a priest who'd trained as a psychologist, and felt that counselling had replaced confession, etc, etc. When the bishop (of Plymouth: our area, Bournemouth and the New Forest, is on the boundary between Portsmouth and Plymouth dioceses) visited her church, she asked for, and got, an interview: during this half-hour, she reported, the bishop told her that she really didn't need to worry if parts of the Host were dropped or ignored, as the Real Presence wasn't there in small bits. That was just one comment out of many, but it's the one which stuck in my mind.

So in search of orthodoxy and beauty, she started attending an Eastern Orthodox church in - I think - Dorchester (the nearest one to her); and I heard about nine months ago that she and her family were officially becoming Orthodox.

In other words, it's no good just creating a taste for holiness, a love of the sacred: while our church in this country is in its current state, it may backfire.

Fr Ray Blake said...

A fascinating project, I wish you well and look forward to seeing its development.

Pseudo-Iamblichus said...

Unfortunately, one of the main problems with the traditionalist movement is how many seem to have the exact same mentality as Novus Ordo Catholics. Many can say that times change, but in many ways they haven't. In my experience, traditional Catholics have been quite ignorant in their understanding of liturgy, the Faith, and the world in general. True, they are more "well-read", but they often have recourse to shibboleths, knee-jerk theologizing, and a deifying of what a certain text or figure has said about such and such an issue (whether it be a dead Pope or a dusty old catechism). In other words, Roman Catholic traditionalism has yet to develop an organically formed justification for itself taken from the very sources it is trying to save. Instead, it tries to use a warped argument from authority (one pope against another). In this argument, they will always lose. A living Pope will always trump a dead Pope in the magisterialist mentality.

What needs to be done is a thourough and complete study in such fields as Patristic thought, early and medieval liturgy, the Gallicanist crisis, and yes, the Protestant Reformation, to see where this all has come from and where it all is going. Aside from this, all that there will be is the dog chasing its own tail.

Moretben said...

Arturo hits the nail on the head. There is a terrible shallowness with regard to Tradition within the "Traditionalist" movement itself, and unfortunately the "ultra-conservative", "reactionary" and even "nostalgic" gibes are all to often uncomfortably close to the mark. Too many self-described traditionalists" are simply ultramontanists under the "wrong" Popes, mirroring precisely the mentality of the Novus Ordo "magisterial fundamentalists". There's often very little evidence of genuine liturgical sense at all. It's all long skirts, Lamentabili and a farrago of varyingly unappealing political attitudinising.

However, I would wish always to give priority to the lex orandi, and let the lex credendi catch up, as it will, inevitably. You cannot simply "re-catechise" people out of their present liturgical formation. Sue's point is vitally important too, though - to tease us with glimpses of how things ought to be, while witholding the opportunity to live them is a cruel and destructive strategy.

Moretben said...

Couple of other points: we worry too much that everything depends on the quality of our arguments. It doesn't.

Secondly, looking at the "divide and rule" from another angle: there are lots of things that irk me about the SSPX, but I'm quite certain that without them I'd have followed Sue's friend Kate some time ago.