Fish on Friday?

Here’s an article relevant to recent comments on liturgy: Eamon Duffy on the abolition of fasts post-Vatican II. The basic point is that man is not wholly determined by thoughts divorced from externals. Specific practices help constitute religion even when the connection to doctrine is fairly loose. Some notable points in the article:

  • Duffy suggests that part of the reason for the post-Vatican II collapse is that in the Western Church there had been too little attachment to tradition and too much emphasis on formal authority. That seems right to me. It meant that the authorities simply couldn’t understand the value of what they were destroying. After all, all those traditions, the old mass or whatever, got in the way of clear presentation and implementation of what they had decided was correct. So why not do away with them?
  • The amazing cluelessness of the English bishops on the subject of set fasts supports that point—“they’re awkward, they make us look a bit odd, and they don’t do anything very definite, so let’s get rid of them.”
  • Fasting makes us aware of our dependence and our attachment to petty comforts, and so makes us less self-centered and more ready to notice the genuine needs of others. That should have good consequences that are complex in the way life is complex. Talking about fasting as an act of “prophetic solidarity with the poor”—which Duffy does—tends to simplify things radically in the interests of an implicit secular Leftism. It strikes me as cant. “The poor” in the more developed parts of the world aren’t usually short of food, no thanks to “prophetic solidarity,” and the minor inconvenience of fasting doesn’t have any real connection to the horrible suffering of people starving in North Korea. If the technocratic standard of direct immediate effectiveness is correct, the bishops were right that fasting is an empty gesture. If it’s not correct, then “prophetic” in a directly political and economic sense, and “solidarity,” with its suggestion that we should feel part of a universal undifferentiated mass, point in the wrong direction, as does the modern view that “the poor” are an aspect of class society that must be abolished through politics.
  • Duffy calls for “re-education and rediscovery” of the “richness” and “deeper resources” of our tradition and decries “scary” projects of restoration. That’s all very well, but to get anywhere you have to settle on something in particular and people today find that scary. So it seems that in the Church as elsewhere a certain balance is needed between the richness of what’s possible and the scariness of actual existence.

1 thought on “Fish on Friday?”

  1. Jim:
    You said…

    You said…

    “Talking about fasting as an act of “prophetic solidarity with the poor”—which Duffy does—tends to simplify things radically in the interests of an implicit secular Leftism.”

    I too felt that that portion of the article weakened the “Catholicity” of his argument. I wondered if it was just him playing to the Tablet audience—which iirc is “left” Catholic. Don’t know where Duffy stands on the continuum, but suspect from this article that he isn’t as whacky left as some of the Tablet’s readers.


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