30 November 2006

Something to think about

"Patriarch Bartholomew, in his own homily, did not directly address the practical questions of ecumenism, although he referred to the Pontiff as "our brother and bishop of the elder Rome." Instead the Orthodox prelate centered his remarks on the Divine Liturgy, and the lessons to be learned from the ceremony. "The Liturgy," he said, "teaches us to broaden our horizon and vision, to speak the language of love and communion, but also to learn that we must be with one another in spite of our differences and even divisions." The Divine Liturgy, the Patriarch observed, points the Christian community in three directions: "toward the kingdom of heaven where the angels celebrate; toward the celebration of the liturgy through the centuries; and toward the heavenly kingdom to come." In this "overwhelming continuity with heaven as well as with history," he said, the Church finds the principle on which Christian unity must be based."

Top Patriarch!

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?

28 November 2006


So, another Catholic blog. Why?

I think that there is a gap in the market.

There is a wonderful variety of Traditionalist thought in the blogosphere: we can learn about the structure of the Liturgy through the ages; we can discuss the pros and cons of Pius XII’s reform of the Triduum; we can learn about the Pope’s gentle nudges of praxis in the Roman Rite towards what would have been for 1500 years or so both normative and normal.

But, at least in England and Wales, we have no mechanism for discussing what all of this means for our local Church. The Bishops’ Conference seems to think that the Church (quite possibly “Church”) is mainly about supporting CAFOD and its social agenda. At least one of its Bishops thinks he is (and describes himself as) generous in allowing Sunday Mass in the Old Rite in one parish his diocese and will not permit any extension.

And the Catholic press refuses to address any question which cannot be answered within its perception of what the Bishops might consider orthodox. In August, on the Universe’s forum, I posted a comment:

“What we don't have is a Catholic organ, loyal to the hierarchy, which feels able to question the direction of the Church in England and Wales ... because if any of these issues are ever aired, they are raised and answered in the same article, and according to the current orthodoxy.”

The Universe’s editor answered as follows:

“I was about to bash out yet another indignant reply pointing out that The Universe is a loyal organ that is constantly questioning and analysing general policies through its feature writers, then I came to the second part of your comment, and actually you’ve right, and you’ve hit on something really important here – how does one write a loyal but at the same time questioning article that doesn’t end up like a soggy pastry? I must admit we’ve tended to steer our writers (and they’ve steered themselves) towards a formula just such as Ttony has described – the message tends to end up the same whatever the subject – “doing great but could do better”. I must admit this has become so commonplace that I’ve all but banned headlines that include statements of the blindingly obvious like “Church could do more to ….” And “Our duty to ….” The real difficulty here is that natural journalistic instinct says that contributors and commentators should just be allowed to sound off (within reason) on any topic they feel very strongly about. The danger is a) that your Catholic paper ends up being a shooting gallery, and that b) we must never forget that Catholic papers have a dual role – to inform the faithful, but also as tools of positive evangelisation for non-Catholics that might pick them up. Critical comment can be indicative of a vibrant, open and developing Church, but right now ours isn’t and – most importantly – I don’t think everyone has the confidence or maturity to engage some of these contentious debates, though that’s changing through the unavoidable reality of decline, and the consequences that brings. When I was formulating the loyalty policy of The Universe, my own bishop, Edwin Regan, summed up what was needed from the Catholic press perfectly – the phrase he used was ‘critical solidarity’, which sounds to me exactly what Ttony is asking for.”

This is my problem. I think that “critical solidarity" would be great! But how does the average Catholic in England and Wales deepen his understanding of the major issue facing the Church today: the impoverishment of the Liturgy leading to the impoverishment of Catholic life; when there are no fora available to all in which such issues can be addressed?

Hence this blog. It’s not about the theology underpinning orthopraxis: that’s available all over the place. It’s not about the aetiology of the current crisis: there are thousands of sites on the Internet which can give blow by blow accounts of how we have got to where we are.

(I’m sure these issues will seep in: I’m only describing the gap the blog is aiming to fill.)

I want to offer a space for people to look at practicalities: what options does the Pope have? How do we reach the hierarchy in England and Wales? What chips do we have? How much worse will it get? Let’s stop considering the problem of traditional Catholicism as one of philosophical difference and instead start thinking about the steps we need to take to force our hierarchy to treat us: first as ordinary Catholics with a valid point of view; and then as a vanguard of change, the first fruits of a realisation that what happened in the 70s and 80s was a disastrous change in the Church’s relationship with its faithful and with the world.

My next post will look at the problems traditionalists have when trying to counter the modern view that the Liturgy should be adapted to suit the situation of modern man in the world. There are no easy answers.