Wednesday, October 24


Addressing Some Misunderstandings

A more substantive and constructive follow-up will appear soon, but a few points I wanted to make in terms of addressing misunderstandings about yesterday's post:

1) My argument did not have to do with liturgical principles as such. Rather, it was an argument concerning the pastoral implementation of these principles. Thus, I would like to assure that any critiques I offered did not have to do with the way the liturgy is celebrated anywhere, but about other pastoral issues that I think are important to the reception of the "Reform of the Reform" and thus will help its content, upon which I agree, to find a better and broader hearing. When I used the term "ideology" in the previous post, it was referring to extraneous issues that could unfairly taint the experience of traditional liturgy for many people, especially those not as familiar with liturgical principles as the readers and authors of this and other blogs. Good liturgy does not occur in a vacuum, and thus it cannot be the sole criterion for whether a parish is seen as especially exemplary.

2) My main hope in starting this conversation was to look towards broadening the impact of the "Reform of the Reform" beyond those already convinced of its goodness. The people to whom this would apply are twofold:
a) the average Catholic in the pew who doesn't have strong views about the liturgy to begin with. These people are probably not content with the liturgy in their parish, but are not sure why. They probably have some longing for tradition, but not with any particular direction. However, they are also suspicious of change, especially since their last experience of liturgical change was particularly traumatizing and radical. This means that whether they accept many of the points on the agenda of the "Reform of the Reform" is going to depend very significantly on extra-liturgical matters, such as whether they feel welcomed, whether they feel engaged, and whether they feel they have to accept some other kind of agenda in order to enjoy the traditional liturgy. These are all concerns that have been experienced either by myself or by other people I know, and thus I'm not writing about this in the abstract.
b) Those of good will with existing views on the liturgy who are or appear to be to the "left" of the Pope and other advocates of the "Reform of the Reform." Now, I am not arguing that such people are correct, since I do not believe so, but I do believe they need to be treated with respect and not simply dismissed as being on the losing end of history and of truth. In order to avoid a cycle of retribution, there needs to be a sustained engagement with such people, especially since such people are capable of having a change of heart and mind (usually in that order). I have seen this happen in incredible ways, and it is a testament both to the goodness of Our Lord and to the effectiveness of a consensus-building approach.

3) I would like to comment a bit further by way of establishing my own credentials as someone who has been a part of this movement and thus has a right to critique what I see as potential pitfalls and to offer constructive advice. I do so by pointing out to you the pictures posted below of the first Extraordinary Form Mass at Notre Dame. This Mass came about partially as the result of gradual student efforts at the Saturday morning 9:00 a.m. Mass, which when I began as sacristan had an average attendance of between 2 and 5. Gradually, we began an increase in solemnity, using some of the better vernacular Church music available from GIA, and eventually moving in the direction of chant. It was Saturday morning, so granted not a ton of people were paying attention, but we did feel a certain obligation, as the only Mass at that time on campus, to be as accomodating as possible to the congregation, especially when we moved towards celebrating it entirely in Latin on some Saturdays. Thus, we were careful to be as friendly as possible towards attendees, and to actually take surveys to make sure that this was something that they were OK with. No, the Church is not a democracy, but we were not bishops either and thus did not have any real authority to begin with, and in any case, we made the attendees feel like they were a part of the experience rather than simply our guinea pigs. Two major things resulted out of this approach: first, the annual Eucharistic Procession, which has become one of the most glorious events of its type in the country. This was also an event where taking a welcoming approach has paid dividends, as the picnic following it has helped to solidify its place as a liturgical event that brings its attendees together in faith and in community. The second major thing that has resulted out of this approach is the weekly Extraordinary Form Mass on campus, for which it laid the groundwork. By convincing Campus Ministry and others that these expressions of the liturgical tradition were done in a spirit of openness, we were able to make progress that would have scarcely been thought possible, and would indeed have been impossible if we had taken a more hardline approach at almost any point.

In this vein, I would like to offer a quote from Thomas Merton (in his book Seasons of Celebration) about Corpus Christi in New York, one of my favorite parishes:
"There was nothing new or revolutionary about it; only that everything was well done, not out of aestheticism or rubrical obsessiveness, but out of love for God and His truth. It would certainly be ingratitude of me if I did not remember the atmosphere of joy, light, and least relative openness and spontaneity that filled Corpus Christi at Solemn High Mass."

Now, once again, I am not accusing anyone of of aestheticism or rubrical obsessiveness but rather pointing out that without the other extra-liturgical elements, good liturgy could appear as such to the outsider, as indeed Merton was initially.

4) To repeat, I am on board with the basic principles of the "Reform of the Reform," I am simply arguing that if my concerns are taken into account, it actually has a better chance of succeeding and not embroiling us in an endless cycle of retributive "liturgy wars."

But I am also questioning whether the standards and examples being proposed to us are the only way of carrying out a "Reform of the Reform" according to the principles set out to us by Pope Benedict XVI, and whether one could not come up with an entirely alternate set of "flagships" in some of the same cities, without fundamentally comprising these principles, though perhaps implementing them according to a different set of priorities. To say that the "flagships" that have been set in front of us are clearly ahead of other places presumes that there is a particular methodology for accomplishing the goal of good and beautiful liturgy, and that places that take a different methodology (while still being reverent, having beautiful and appropriate music, etc.) are somehow comparatively deficient. I think there is room, and indeed need, for a plurality of methodologies in this area, and thus a greater plurality of "flagships."

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