Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Pandora's Box

"To reverse the maxim, subordinating the standard of worship to the standard of belief, makes a shambles of the dialectic of revelation. It was a Presence, not faith, which drew Moses to the burning bush, and what happened there was a revelation, not a seminar. It was a Presence, not faith, which drew the disciples to Jesus, and what happened there was not an educational program but His revelation to them of Himself as the long-promised Anointed One, the redeeming because reconciling Messiah-Christos".
Dom Aidan Kavanagh OSB
HOW DO PAPAL teaching documents come into existence? Many of us, I suspect, preserve a vague notion of the Pontiff labouring alone at his desk at the prompting of the Holy Ghost, in a manner reminiscent of St Gregory the Great in the familiar icononography. Of course we know it doesn’t happen in quite that way – all such documents are, to varying degrees, drafted, re-drafted, argued over and amended, at the hands of several parties. The Pope picks his men, commissions the work, makes his particular contribution whether formal or substantial, and sets his signature to the final document. Most of us know that the indefectibility of the Church is not involved in every minor detail or in anything beyond the narrow parameters of Pastor Aeternus.

Nevertheless, we sometimes seem to forget that the Holy Ghost’s protection from error operates chiefly in a “negative” way - even those of us who understand perfectly well that connecting the pipes and turning the tap doesn’t produce Pentecost on demand. Circumstances such as those surrounding the withdrawal and amendment of the original GIRM of 1969 are rare indeed; and although it’s appropriate to see in that particular episode perhaps one of the most explicit tip-offs from the Holy Ghost in modern history, it’s doubtful if a lively faith in the Church’s immunity from error could survive too many such incidents. More common are routine mis-statements arising from the exigencies of the times; minor in themselves, but not, perhaps, without consequences.

Consider the following extract from Mediator Dei (Para. 49)

From time immemorial…the ecclesiastical hierarchy…has not been slow – keeping the substance of the Mass and the Sacraments carefully intact - to modify what it deemed not altogether fitting, and to add what appeared more likely to increase the honour paid to Jesus Christ and the august Trinity, and to instruct and stimulate the Christian people to greater advantage.

This is uncomfortably close to being the very opposite of the truth. In fact “slowness” and extreme circumspection in introducing even the most tentative modifications or additions have always been the very defining characteristic of ecclesiastical authority in its dealings with the Liturgy; whatsmore, on every occasion when authority has intervened prescriptively to “modify”, the results have been, almost without exception, unfortunate. Trent, it would appear, is practically the only positive example of beneficial authoritative prescription in 1000 years. All of the rest - from Paul III’s disastrous Breviary reform, through Urban VIII’s mutilation of the Breviary hymns (corrected only after Vatican II) and St Pius X’s rearrangement of the traditional Psalter, to the reforms of Pius XII himself, have been questionable at best, deplorable at worst, and all disruptive of ancient forms. Even so, any idea that the liturgy may be made over in a spirit of pastoral or pedagogical expediency according to the subjective perceptions of a particular age, had always in principle been rightly and vigorously rejected.

I’m often puzzled by the extent to which "traditionalists" who rightly deplored the cult of personality surrounding John Paul II during his lifetime, and the santo subito agitations following it, themselves display an equivalent attitude in relation to one or other – or more usually all - of his pre-Conciliar, post-Tridentine predecessors. I often suspect such people aren’t really "traditionalists" at all, in any meaningful sense – merely ultramontane conservatives under the “wrong” Popes. The image of Pope Pius XII in particular as the “Last Great Roman”, the last faithful guardian of the flame of authentic Tradition and implacable foe of all of our present ills, after whom the Deluge, is still widely received. Mediator Dei in particular is routinely flourished by traditionalists to denounce the separation of altar and tabernacle, or the archaeologisms of the New Liturgy.

Dom Alcuin Read’s Organic Development of the Liturgy offers a more ambiguous account of Pius XII's relationship to the "reform". I was aware that plans for the Novus Ordo had been laid exceedingly deep, and that a blueprint had been prepared and circulated at the Lugano Congress as early as 1953 (attended by Cardinals Ottaviani - who offered Mass for the delegates versus populo - and Montini, on behalf of the Pope); that Pius, who took an active interest in the Liturgical Movement, had promulgated Bugnini’s Holy Week rites (now clearly revealed as a preparatory run for more radical incursions) and Cardinal Bea’s anti-traditional Latin Psalter (which rendered the Gregorian chant all but impossible, and was withdrawn by John XXIII). It is still a shock to realise the extent to which Pacelli was evidently in sympathy with those tendencies of the later Liturgical Movement which compromise the NO so deeply – an ultramontanist reduction of “reform” to considerations of mere legal prescription, bare sacramental validity and “pastoral” expediency, under which respect for Tradition as objective content is almost completely submerged.

In A Protohistory of the Liturgical Reform, Dr Geoffrey Hull cites Mediator Dei’s reversal of Prosper of Aquitane’s dictum lex orandi, lex credendi as “a Pandora’s box which (Pius XII’s) successors were tempted to open, and did”; and indeed this is much more serious in its implications than the minor mistatement noted above. Had Pius XII omitted this passage, or better, restated the traditional understanding more fulsomely and explicitly, the Bugnini project would certainly have been stopped in its tracks. Who was responsible, one wonders, for the drafts of Mediator Dei? Isn't it a fair certainty that the Pope would have commissioned the leading liturgical experts - the same favoured group of scholars working simultaneously on prototypes of the Novus Ordo, and the text of what would become Sacrosanctum Concilium itself; who unpacked and implemented it subsequently, post-'65?

In any case, we cannot simply go back and go on as before, as though nothing had happened. If resistance to what Mediator Dei at least partly helped to set in motion was just and necessary, it cannot be right to wish for a mere "restoration" of pre-Conciliar conditions, as though it were possible to consign to oblivion the knowledge of what was in fact done to the Church, by the Popes, in the second half of the 20th century. Undoubtedly it will take several generations for the fog to clear, whatever the judgement of history on those at the centre of events. Meanwhile, we, the living, do not have time to wait for the Church to “think in centuries” – we and our children, in order to fulfil the purpose of own brief passage here, need the sine dolo lac today. We will not allow ourselves to be deprived of it again.
No one, however, who has found his way, through sacrifice and trials, to the great Christian liturgy will allow any progressive or conservative cleric to deprive him of it. We must not think of the future. The prospects for a liturgical Christianity are poor. From today's perspective, the future model of the Christian religion seems to be that of a North American sect--the most frightful form religion has ever adopted in the world. But the future is of no concern to the Christian. He is responsible for his own life; it is up to him to decide whether he can turn away from the gaze of the liturgical Christ--as long as this Christ is still shown to us.
Martin Mosebach - from The Heresy of Formlessness


Arturo Vasquez said...

"In the Orthodox Church, Socrates and Plato are placed on the same level as the prophets..."

From The Heresy of Formlessness to which you linked.

Obviously, this guy did not do his homework. Maybe this is true in Clement, but if you got a nickle for every time "the errors of the Greeks" are slammed in the Byzantine liturgy, you could build another five Hagia Sophias....

Your concerns are valid, but there is not a whole heck of a lot we can do about them. I used to share all of these sentiments, and that is why you have been a reader of my blog for quite some time in blog terms. However, I am beginning to get weary of crying to the four winds about the crisis of liturgy within Christianity.

Yes, I can see why the anti-ritualistic and anti-traditional aspects of many Christian confessions can be detrimental in understanding and participating in the Christian mystery. However, God will have His Church continue to the end no matter what, even if it means that there will be no more humeral veils and maniples.

If traditional liturgy is absolutely necessary, we are doomed, simply put. You cannot teach a deaf person how to speak, and you cannot teach people who have no idea what traditional worship is how to do it. It is too far removed from their world, and you might as well try to teach them Cantonese. (Could God make something of the strangeness as learning Cantonese necessary for salvation?) And what would this type of situation do to those who are "liturgically pure"? It is arguable that becoming a Pharisee is all but inevitable, and you now how the Pharisees got it in the Gospels....

Perhaps (and I say PERHAPS lest you all pounce in order to beat me with your copies of the Ordo Celebrationis) we are contemplating putting an exquisitely ancient and beautiful yoke on those who know nothing about these dubiously necessary things. True, I love real liturgy in all its forms, but that is just me, and the absolute silence from the world on this is becoming deafening.

What is really important?

Anonymous said...

Absolute silence? I beg to differ. EVERYONE wants the smells and bells back and NO ONE likes the NO. Just most people are pretty obedient and lazy. They're not going to rock the boat. But once the hippies die off the only thing that will prevent a resurgance of the liturgy is if the current Pope manages to sufficiently aestheticize the NO. Pretty up and Latin up the NO and there won't be enough pressure to create a demand for the real thing - but if that doesn't happen (and the hippies will resist) then the pressure will be there.

Arturo Vasquez said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Arturo Vasquez said...

Lux in tenebris lucet,
et tenebrae eam non comprehenderunt

Anonymous said...

"If traditional liturgy is absolutely necessary, we are doomed, simply put. You cannot teach a deaf person how to speak, and you cannot teach people who have no idea what traditional worship is how to do it."

I learnt traditional worship from scratch. You learnt traditional worship from scratch. What's the problem? It felt utterly natural to me. "Someone will forever be surprising a hunger in himself to be more serious".

"A serious house on serious earth it is,
In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,
Are recognised, and robed as destinies.
And that much never can be obsolete,
Since someone will forever be surprising
A hunger in himself to be more serious,
And gravitating with it to this ground,
Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in,
if only that so many dead lie round."

From 'Church Going' - Philip Larkin

Anagnostis said...


Quotquot autem receperunt eum, dedit eis potestatem filios Dei fieri; vidimus gloriam ejus...

Naturally I’m with Mister B, on the easiness and naturalness of learning from scratch, and the unworkability of learning any other way. What is really important? Meeting Jesus and being transformed by Him. An intolerable burden from my point of view, would be the proposition that the opportunity for that exists only in the context of a “North American sect”, or anything remotely resembling it; bluntly, if the only extant “version” of the Christian Revelation were the Evangelical Protestant one, I would not now be a Christian. I would have refused to be drawn from the conclusion of my early manhood that religion is false. I am therefore obliged to grow and bear fruit where God has planted me, without (as Mosebach insists) concerning myself about whether or not He’s going to put the plot subsequently to the plough, or let the wilderness reclaim it. It’s not my business. I met Him here – and here’s where I’ve brought my children.

As for weariness – wrestling with one’s infant offspring through Low Mass, complete with bleeding-at-the-eyes, thirty-minute sermon, can sometimes seem to make very little sense indeed; a whole range of more attractive possibilities present themselves, one after the other, from poolside inebriation to infanticide. Then, out of nowhere, a three-year-old asks you to lift her up so that she can “see Jesus” at the elevation.

What else is important? Altar, priest, oblata, these prayers, these actions, this posture/attitude/demeanor; if you can, clothe them in silks, precious metals and inspiring architecture; if you can’t, frankly it doesn’t matter very much.

PS: I like visiting your blog because you’re gifted, erudite and amusing (also because you introduced me to the Tango station and because the author of the Cardboard Fence had a Mexican daughter). You’ll understand though, that every time I do so, I offer a little prayer for the decease, in God’s good time, of your present affiliation to the – aaahh – perspectives of certain Elizabethan divines. ;o)


Arturo Vasquez said...

Sometimes I think there is a tug-o-war going on in my soul between Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Anglicanism.

Pray harder!!!

Anonymous said...

Which breviary reform of Paul III?