Saturday, October 21


Brief Remarks on the Indult, and Matt's Social Life

So, once again, I was treated to the weird, wonderfully self-referential smallness of the orthodox Catholic blogosphere and its attendant real-life equivalent. I was at a birthday party last night where not only did I meet a fellow who had helped organize a contingent of Opus Dei youth from Notre Dame to come down to the City and do kid-related service work in the Bronx, but also two Indiana natives, one of whom, a Saint Mary's girl, had interviewed my former boss Duncan Stroik while in fourth grade. When she was in fourth grade, not Duncan. The other had actually worked for him and even helped out when Duncan had built the Villa Indiana to house his family in suburban South Bend.

Then, another fellow mentioned an article--on the OpinionJournal website he'd read about the difficulties of getting a parish to do a Tridentine nuptual mass with all the trimmings in Manhattan. An archdiocesan bureacrat had suggested a real dump of a place, while other pastors couldn't find the time. Then someone had ridden in on a white horse and saved them from banality. Who could it be, we all thought? None other than our very own George William Rutler.

This, in itself, did not surprise me. That much. Except that I'd crashed--with the connivance of the maid of honor--a wedding at Our Saviour's back in July. And sure enough, Amy Welborn, posting a link to the article, mentioned July 22 as the date.

And there it was, right across the top of the article, the bride's and groom's names that I remembered well.

The increasing nuttiness of this all was the whole reason I was there to begin with was another tour-de-force of Catholic Nerd recursivity. Admitted, sometimes pious city folk wander in and out during weddings there, leaving flowers at the Mary altar, or other members of the Indult Community just pop in to enjoy the experience and pray, but I'd met the groom before, at the Anglican Use Conference earlier in June, where he'd dropped in for a couple of the lectures. That was because of an introduction through his sister, the bridesmaid in question, who I'd met through Lauren of Cnytr, as they'd both gone to U Dallas, and also through the coincidence that she'd also briefly been the spokesmodel for Fr. Bryce's shortlived Catholic tee-shirt concern. (Don't knock it--it's a good gig. If her Latin fails, she can be the girl who poses with the chapel veils in church supply catalogues...) People kept asking me how I knew the bride and groom, and I had to give them the equivalent of Oliver Twist.

But read the article. It's real good.


What this post started out as, before it turned into an excursion into my social calendar, was that despite all the press being given to The Indult right now is spectacularly failing to see Benedict's real point. Yes, it's A Concession (cough) To The Lefebrites and The Frustrated Traditionalists, but it's also meant to impact, through a trickle-down affect, all of those normal middle-of-the-road folks in the pews.

Benedict hopes that having the Tridentine Mass out there again will bring the Missa Normativa back to its roots, and plug it back into the mainstream of church history, to pave the way for the eventual reform of the reform, which will probably more likely than not look more like the old rite than the new, at least to casual eyes. It's a sensible strategy, and one that ties in back to the old question of organic development and the avoidance of making change--in whatever direction--a constant, as it did during the traumatic times of the ninteen-sixties that His Holiness no doubt remembers so well.

While more regulations from Rome may help, it's not the ultimate problem, which is the re-emergence of a vital and yet respectful spirit independent of legal technicalities, that which characterized the great liturgical traditions of the Middle Ages. Trent actually put a stop to a lot of that vitality with the suppression of some of the more entertaining medieval customs--though, in all fairness, that life had turned into a sort of absurd and frightneing decadence. But still, something was lost. Indeed, I'd say that what we're facing now in the problems of the liturgical reform are the long-term fall-out of choices made in the sixteenth century by the codifiers of the Tridentine Mass, choices that in many ways were going to have problems no matter which way they went.

Trent sacrificed some measure of vital spirit to the necessary experiediency of centralization, and the results were sometimes spectacular, as with Palestrina, and sometimes just a fifteen-minute low mass, a miracle, but a little one all the same. More recently, we seem to have succeeded in sacrificing both somehow to each other, with even more dire results. I become worried and frustrated when we--and I am no better sometimes--fight to the death over a second confiteor or the problem of what set of Holy Week services to use, when vast numbers of people have never heard the glory of the real Roman Canon, or seen the mass said facing God's east. The reform of the reform does not mean, as Benedict is showing, the denial of the old rite, but it also means we have to prioritize a bit in introducing bits of the old slowly into the new. Push to turn the altars round in the mainstream, push for a Latin Mass whether it's '62 or '70, and the rest may well follow as a matter of course when it becomes apparent that the Mass is no ordinary dialogue between man and man. We must be willing to go mainstream with these things.

What is needed is a sense of balance--a revitalization if not an exact restoration, though probably to the man in the pew, this distinction--and the outward form it may hopefully take--will be very hard to spot indeed. The payoff--and the difference--will be something only discernable in the decades, or even centuries, to come.

This, in the end, is what is needed, and what will, in the end, bring a strongly traditional mass back to the people in the middle, who need it the most and know it the least.

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