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Motu proprio reverberations

Catholic bloggers, alert to opposition to the Pope’s motu proprio from suspects usual and otherwise, have come up with some notable examples, one by sometime America editor Fr. Thomas Reese quoted at Journey to Vatican III, and another at a weblog devoted to the Spirit of Vatican II that presents the thoughts of Japan-resident Irish academic Fr. Joseph O’Leary.

Reese’s comments were made before the motu proprio appeared. They don’t deal much with the substantive issues, and assert instead that it’s all about power: the faithful could already have the Tridentine Mass if the bishop agreed that it was a good idea, so the only issue is whether Rome or the man on the spot decides the point. By issuing the document, then, the Pope “is basically saying that he does not trust the pastoral judgment of the bishops.”

The analysis is an odd one, so much so that it seems mostly to represent the widespread tendency to believe that power is everything. In the Catholic Church, basic definitional issues are decided on behalf of the Church as a whole. The form of liturgy is so important that it’s commonly treated as such an issue. At least since the Council of Trent, it’s therefore been the Pope who determines the form of the liturgy. It was John XXIII who put the Tridentine Mass into its most recent form and Paul VI who adopted the New Mass and determined that as a general rule it would replace the Old Mass. However much those popes loved and trusted their brother bishops, they didn’t leave those points up to their pastoral judgement.

With that as background, it’s hard to see a special power play in defining the Tridentine Mass as simply one form of the Roman Rite and giving limited rights to those among the faithful who are attached to it. If the new rules show a lack of trust in the bishops, then it seems the old rules showed a lack of trust in local pastors and the faithful. Since the Pope won’t be forcing the Tridentine Mass on anyone, but is simply defining it as an unquestionably legitimate expression of the liturgical life of the Church, it’s hard to see anything overbearing about the “power to the people” approach the new rules take.

O’Leary’s comments are endless, and evidently based entirely on his view of the Spirit of Vatican II and its implications for the nature of the Church, together with his belief that those whose views are basically at odds with his own are not only wrong but ignorant, unformed, and often insane. The tone and general content of his rant is adequately indicated by its title (“Motu Proprio Madness”) and its first paragraph:

It is very difficult to reason with people suffering from mental illness. They cling to their bugbear, their fetish, their “King Charles’ head,” and react with rage to anyone who puts it in question. In the Church today, the Tridentine Rite plays the role of that obsessive object. It can be interpreted as a symptom of a deep-lying pathology. The weird cult surrounding it is a phenomenon that calls for depth-interpretation, just as the strange obsessions cultivated in new religions do.

He’s evidently a man of considerable intelligence and learning, but it’s useless for discussing the issue because it’s all in the service of—yes—his obsessions. The piece is nonetheless worth reading as a specimen of how aging Vatican II types think about things. They’re not dumb, but it seems that their thoughts have been going around in the same sterile circles for years.

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securus iudicat orbis terrarum—the motu proprio is stillborn, a flop! its only fans are wacky neocaths, and their advocacy is rendering it more ridiculous by the minute. The US bishops have given it the death-blow by simply pointing our calmly the objective differences between the 1962 and 2007 [sic] rites, notably the fact that the 1962 rite includes only 1% of the Old Testament and only 17% of New Testament, while the 2007 rite includes 14% of the Old Testament and 71% of the New Testament.

It seems to me the judgment of the world throughout time and in the various rites of the Church quite decisively approves liturgical languages, liturgical non-creativity, liturgy as the mystical becoming-present of God, and lots of other stuff that doesn’t doesn’t align with practices now dominant. Post-Vatican II that unchanging judgment was manifested in the collapse of religious observance and mass attendance among Catholics.

On your more specific point, the advantages of the extended cycle of readings seem doubtful to me. The Mass is one thing, an adult education program another. If you have a public celebration meant for everyone it seems important to hit the basic points in a repetitive way so people recognize and expect them and they take on a rhythm so people take them to heart. A one-year cycle helps that process along, a three-year does not.

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

The first document passed by the Fathers of Vatican II, at the end of the second session in 1963, was the one on the liturgy: It calls for a reformed liturgy favoring active participation—something quite incompatible with the restoration of the status quo ante, as Cardinal Martini has pointed out. That the Council wanted to put the Word of God in all its richness at the center of Catholic life, thought, and worship is also abundantly evident. If we are to be faithful to the Council and to what Paul VI and John Paul II called on innumerable occasions “the spirit of the Council” we cannot play fast and loose with its basic prescriptions.

[PS The current reactionary plans are the work of the heirs of the conciliar minority, who sought to undercut the majority by procedural manipulations and who since the Council have worked against it in the Curia, for instance, the attack on the translations approved by Paul VI in 1970 and on the principles underlying them (clearly expounded by ICEL at the time) revives defeated counter-positions of that time, now suddenly installed as authoritative. I am fascinated at the many expressions of hostility from Benedict XVI to the Pope who created him a cardinal, Paul VI—something oddly oedipal.]

A form of the Mass that leads to rapid decline in attendance evidently doesn’t promote active participation.

In general, though, I’d say that silent contemplation is active participation, while constant activity and noise is more likely a distraction from God’s action and so a barrier to participation in what’s really going on.

As to the majority at the Council, they wanted innovations only if they were genuinely and certainly required by the good of the Church, they wanted care that new forms grow organically from those already existing, they wanted preservation of the use of Latin and training of the faithful in that language, they wanted Gregorian chant, and they presumed communion in both kinds would remain quite rare for the laity. There’s no reason at all to think they wanted the priest to face in the opposite direction from the people. So it doesn’t look to me like the changes made after Vatican II corresponded at all to what the Council wanted. It seems to me that what was intended was a lot closer to the unreformed Tridentine Mass than to what we actually have now.

So what to do? The Church evidently needs to re-establish continuity between its liturgical habits and its liturgical history. Defining history and current habit as equally legitimate, which is what the Pope in effect has done, seems to me a statemanlike approach.

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

“A form of the Mass that leads to rapid decline in attendance evidently doesn’t promote active participation.” Post hoc non est propter hoc—social forces could be more responsible for the decline in churchgoing. There is no guarantee that a return to the status quo ante will fill the pews. However, seems true that conservative groups like Opus Dei and Legionaries of Christ are better at recruiting pious laity and even vocations to the priesthood—one reason why the Vatican is fond of them.

“they wanted preservation of the use of Latin and training of the faithful in that language, they wanted Gregorian chant,”

At the funeral for Luciano Pavarotti in Modena we had lots of Latin in the music as well as pop elements—a good reflection of Catholic culture today. While Vatican II was still going on Paul VI celebrated the Mass in a mixture of Latin and vernacular.

” There’s no reason at all to think they wanted the priest to face in the opposite direction from the people.” Paul VI also adopted this position, I think; in that celebration of the Mass in mid-council.

” So it doesn’t look to me like the changes made after Vatican II corresponded at all to what the Council wanted. It seems to me that what was intended was a lot closer to the unreformed Tridentine Mass than to what we actually have now.” Not at all, and the Vatican’s acceptance of the new liturgy in 1970, only 5 years after the Council tells against your claims.

“The Church evidently needs to re-establish continuity between its liturgical habits and its liturgical history.” And has done so—the present eucharist is in some ways closer to the worship of the early church, not to mention the other christian churches, than the restriction of liturgy to the Roman Canon and Missal was.

“Defining history and current habit as equally legitimate, which is what the Pope in effect has done, seems to me a statesmanlike approach.” He did not say equally legitimate—the Novus Ordo remains the norm, the Tridentine Rite an “extraordinary” one.