Meetings today, meetings tomorrow. The summary of the key teachings of Sacra Liturgia 2016 will have to wait another day. In the meantime it is hard not to wonder at the muted panic that seems to be spreading in some quarters at the prospect of a resurgence in ad orientem worship. Why such a need to stamp it out so quickly? What do they fear in facing God?
Are they afraid that people, having experienced ad orientem in their own churches might discover that it works far better for worship? Are they afraid people would come to love it, and prefer it? If so, why should that bother them? If it meant a more committed and satisfied congregation, that should surely be greeted with cheers. If it came to pass that the congregations increased in number, then surely we should dance for joy (non-liturgically!).
There are indications that this is not the deeper fear. The fact the Fr Lombardi quite incongruously introduced the topic of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass when “clarifying” Cardinal Sarah’s call to ad orientem suggests, to me at least, that this is their real fear. For them, facing east is inextricably associated with the old Mass. If people come to love their priest join them in facing God at the altar, they might also begin to look to the old Mass themselves. And maybe they might come to love it as well. Is this what they fear?
Is this also why Fr Lombardi felt the need to pour cold water (or was it acid?) on the very phrase “reform of the reform”? Would this, too, be a potential pathway to instilling anew a love of the old Mass?
If this suspicion is correct then there appear a few consequent points to consider.
- If people came to love the old Mass, then it is very odd that certain authorities would want to deny them that which would get them into church, bring them spiritual nourishment and increase their ecclesial participation. These things are all desirable in themselves, that is beyond question. So it must be the means to this end (this new evangelisation) they dislike. Why? Is it because the great project of post-conciliar reform as enacted (though not as mandated by the Council itself), and to which so many have committed themselves so wholeheartedly, might be found to have failed? If so, then advocacy of reform of the reform must be pursued with firm vigour but distinct and consistent charity towards those who find it too challenging. Dr Stephen Bullivant’s paper showed that according to the measure the Council Fathers determined for the proposed liturgical reform, that reform as implemented has failed. That will be a tough pill to swallow for many, if they even try to swallow it.
- If this is true, and the expansion of the Extraordinary Form is the ultimate fear for these people, then surely they should count their losses, as it were, and give some ground to the reform of the reform. Perhaps the new reformers can make the new Mass work far better as worship, and bring people back to church. Ad orientem would be intrinsic to this reform. If they can effect a new Mass that people can actually love and come to, then this would surely dampen the cause of the Extraordinary Form. I have argued before that the Order of Mass (not properly a Missal as such) from 1964/65 is the closest thing to a Mass that matches the Council’s document, then surely that should be given a chance again. The fearful could then console themselves that, if it worked, their commitment to Vatican II will not have been in vain.
- Of course, if their deepest fear is that even the reform of the reform might not work sufficient magic on the new Mass, then the conclusion for many might be that there is no hope for the new Mass at all. The reform of the reform, and facing east in particular, will have only served to show definitively the inadequacy of the new Mass, and lead to the inescapable conclusion that the only was forward is a restoration of the pre-conciliar liturgy. Is it 1962 they really fear?
- In comment on a previous blog post Mark pointed out that among his friends, formed totally in the context of the post-conciliar reforms and having known nothing else, there are some who reject outright the idea of a return to the pre-conciliar liturgy and find the debate about liturgical orientation and reforming the reform to be arcane at best, even irrelevant in a world in which so many suffer poverty and violence: is this abstruse argumentation merely fiddling while the world burns? they ask.Coinciding with the crisis of liturgy has been a crisis of catechesis. It is not unfair to say that there are Catholics who know no better than the paltry fare they have been served up under the label of haute cuisine (or to apply Fr Cullinan’s image, those who have been only ever been served gruel presented as luxury). These people will need a gentle and patient re-catechesis if they are to have their eyes opened to the light. The fearful will rely on them being kept content with whatever they have been served up.
None of the above is presented as gospel or divinely-inspired revelation. They are an attempt to understand why facing east, and the reform of the reform in general, have generated such a knee-jerk reaction and made reactionaries out of liberals. It is really most intriguing.