Monday, July 9


A Dead Letter?

Following both the comments on this blog and some other links I have seen, it seems to be thought among some that my postings on the motu proprio somehow demonstrate that the document is meaningless and a dead letter. The accusation follows that by trying to approach the motu proprio from the perspective of the Liturgical Movement, Vatican II, and the Ressourcement, we are somehow betraying the traditional Mass into the hands of its enemies. This accusation is patently absurd, because in fact what we are trying to do is read this document within the milieu of the Church, and in the context of the intent of the author, Pope Benedict XVI, who was clearly influenced by all three of the above mentioned movements and events and would in no way see them as problematic or detracting from a true understanding of the liturgy.

It is impossible to separate Ratzinger and his theological backdrop from the Liturgical Movement and the Ressourcement. Indeed, for someone who has read both authors, it is clear that Romano Guardini more than anyone influenced Ratzinger both in terms of style and theological approach. One need only look at the books The Spirit of the Liturgy, named for the classic by Guardini, and Jesus of Nazareth, which owes much to Guardini's large and popular life of Jesus, The Lord, to see the influence of this Liturgical Movement leader on Ratzinger. Many, indeed, have lamented that Guardini died too soon, before the goals of the movement could be properly brought about and its impetus was hijacked. One can see the sense of betrayal felt by the Liturgical Movement in the wake of 1970 in Louis Bouyer's memoir, The Decomposition of Catholicism. Bouyer was no traditionalist in any strict meaning of the term, but he certainly realized that the liturgical chaos that came about was not compatible with what the Liturgical Movement had been seeking.

As I have repeated many times, the extraordinary form of the Mass does not presuppose traditionalism as its theological milieu. Indeed, I think it is extraorinarily compatible with the Ressourcement approach to theology, and think that the traditionalist distaste for it does no good for the cause of the traditional Mass. Once again, if we look at Benedict XVI himself, he has clearly said that his life was most deeply influenced by the works of Henri de Lubac and Hans Urs von Balthasar. The renewal in theology that they worked so hard for was, like the Liturgical Movement, sidetracked by people with other agendas. Their works, especially de Lubac's Corpus Mysticum, are profoundly Catholic and can help one draw closer to the traditional form of the Mass - indeed, they have done this for me in many ways.

All of this is to say that there is no reason to think that my speculations and discussions here are attempts to dilute the motu proprio or to impose a theological hermeneutic on it that is not there already in the thought of its author. I am rather simply seeking to see what are allowable possibilities, and to help pastors implement this document as widely and generously as possible. No-one is going to be prevented from implementing this document in ways that traditionalists prefer by what I am suggesting, but it is my hope that some who otherwise might be cold to the document will be warmed to it by the possibilities I have brought up. To accuse such people of having a "Novus Ordo" mentality or some such polemic is counterproductive to the cause of good, traditional liturgy. So is trying to tar the Ressourcement and the Liturgical Movement with later events that were defeats, not victories, for these movements, and were recognized as such by the likes of Bouyer, de Lubac, and Ratzinger himself.

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