Liturgy is a hot topic again. Cardinal Sarah’s opening address at the Sacra Liturgia 2016 conference in London in early July, with its advocacy of priestly orientation to the east rather than to the people when at the altar, has had the effect of bringing many to play their hands openly. However, that this reception can be neatly divided along the usual lines, into progressives as anti-Sarah facing off against conservatives—or “neo-Tridentinists” as they have inanely been called—has become impossible.
The “conservative” ranks might be conveniently, if not with absolute accuracy, divided into two columns when it comes to this liturgical debate: the reformers-of-the-reform and the traditionalists properly speaking (i.e. those who favour the 1962 Missal). The reformers-of-the-reform have embraced the cardinal’s appeal, because it accords with the rubrics of the new Mass even as it is, and because it is a feeling almost like liberation to hear such a senior pastor advocate the traditional orientation with equivocation.
Some among the traditionalists have shown themselves to be no friends of the reformers-of-the-reform. Dr Joe Shaw, chairman of the Latin Mass Society, has blamed the reformers-of-the-reform for the “hype heaped” on the cardinal’s words by some of them (and by implication, by me). Thus hype has provoked the reactions, it seems. More on this later.
No one claimed that Cardinal Sarah was laying down new regulations binding on all. Yet, those who disagreed with the cardinal’s remarks claimed to be responding to a confusion on the matter which, to be frank, I had not seen or heard at all. It was a straw man set up to justify the rebukes to follow. They could hardly attack the cardinal in the open. Far better to target the “confusion” he caused.
So with impressive speed, given Rome’s summer heat, the Vatican spokesman had to issue a “clarification” of the cardinal’s remarks. As Jeff Ostrowski has said, this clarification was unnecessary from a strictly logical point of view, since the cardinal had said nothing that needed clarification. Fr Lombardi, Cardinal Nichols in an email to his priests (again sent out with admirable speed), Archbishop Serratelli on behalf of the American bishops’ worship office in a letter to all the bishops, all reacted quickly to clarify not the rubrics of the Mass themselves, as these were totally ignored despite their direct and absolute relevance, but insisting on a mis-reading of #299 in the English translation of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (2002) (and not found, for example, in the French) to support the contention that the priest facing the people at the altar is preferred by the Church.
As I have argued earlier, the rubrics are clear and consistent in their expectation that the priest is facing the east, the same direction as the congregation. In fact, the rubrics assume it is the default position, with facing the people a permissible option. As with so many things in the wake of the Council, the option has become de facto the norm. And now this new norm is being defended to the hilt.
However, the rubrics have not been changed. Thus the priest may face East any time he wants to, and needs no one’s permission to do so. Given the postconciliar misdirection (pardon the pun) about the celebration of the Mass, it is no wonder that most Catholics might find themselves taken aback by a return to the 1900-year old tradition of Christian worship. A new catechesis is needed to remind the faithful what is involved in the priest, not them, facing east at the altar.
To be honest, I am more than a little bemused that so many should get worked up about the priest facing east (there is no change as far as the congregation is concerned). In an earlier post here it I wondered if it was fear, and tried to work out what it might be that so many are afraid of. The reaction of The Tablet has evidenced this same fear, and an obsession with a secularist understanding of things like “active participation”, in its lengthy reaction to Cardinal Sarah’s appeal. However, Fr Ray Blake identifies the deeper issue beneath that of orientation and participation, namely the nature of the Mass itself. Is it a fraternal meal (or love feast) or is it a representation of the Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross and a proclamation of his return in glory?
It is with Protestant worship in the sixteenth century where the idea of the ‘fraternal meal’ takes over from the proclamation of the Lord’s death and return in glory. Protestantism has a supreme discomfort with the notion that the Mass is a supernatural event. In the Catholic Church the 1960’s brings in an understanding of the Mass that is essentially one of the ‘meal’. It would obviously be foolish to suggest that the Eucharist is not set within a meal but for the New Testament and the Fathers, in fact everyone up to V[atican]II, this meal is the sacred act of the Pasch, a communion sacrifice with him the Lamb and Victim Priest.
The loss of a sense of the Mass as being about Christ’s death and coming again has been the most significant change in both the Church’s understanding of herself and her mission. It would be ridiculous to suggest that this change is not signified by the 1960s re-orientation of the Mass and it is for that reason that Cardinal Sarah speaks about the return to the ancient (and correct) orientation of the Mass as being both ‘urgent’ and ‘necessary’.
The more I have discovered about the nature of Mass, what it actually is rather than what it has been alleged to be, and about the history of its celebration and the principles sure surrounding the celebration, I more and more understand the stridency of Michael Davies and even Archbishop Lefebvre, and the brave intervention by Cardinal Ottaviani during the Council, in identifying the alarming aspects of the reforms both as proposed and as, through quite differently, enacted. Any honest reading of the Council’s defined principles for liturgical reform cannot an adequate reflection in the reality of the reform that came to be made in its name.
So when prelates have recourse to a mistranslated paragraph of law referring to altars rather than orientation, in order effectively to try to render near-impossible the traditional, and still normative, direction of worship, it is difficult not to lose hope in the reforms, and indeed in whole the postconciliar edifice itself. So much of it was imposed citing the Council but barely obeying it (and sometimes outright contradicting it). This edifice has had 50 years of supporting catechesis that has flushed out much of the traditional understanding of doctrine and worship from the minds of the faithful. It will take longer to undo once (or if) a revised catechesis is employed.
Which brings me back to Dr Shaw. There is so much that is almost offensive in his latest post (linked to above). Take this for example:
The golden rule in such matters is that you don’t press for clarification unless you are sure things will be clarified in your favour.
This is the rule apparently forgotten by the organisers of the Sacra Liturgia conference, and their friends in the Catholic media, both on and offline. I certainly don’t attribute any blame to Cardinal Sarah… The problem lay in the hype heaped on his words by others. Not only was the hype false – as just noted there wasn’t anything new or big about what he said – but it meant that Cardinal Nichols, Fr Lombardi, and all the others felt that they had to respond. And what sort of response did the organisers imagine they would get? What sort of official atmosphere do they imagine pertains in the Church right now? Where, in heavens’ name, have they been for the last few years?
Dr Shaw, for all his doctoral logic, is prone to the ad hominem argument from time to time, and also to gloating just a little. For the record, with regard just to this small quotation:
- No one at the conference or those heaping hype were seeking clarification from anyone. If anything, Cardinal Sarah had offered the clarification that the tradition of worship still obtains in the new liturgy. The “clarifications” from Rome and elsewhere were reactions to the favour with which the cardinal’s appeal was received.
- So no one forgot the golden rule of Dr Shaw, as the situation for its application was not envisaged.
- There was something new in Cardinal Sarah’s remarks, not in content but in effect and in their coming from the head of the congregation for worship. If Dr Shaw cannot or will not see the significance of this then there is nothing I can do to remedy that.
- The official “clarifications” were not compelled by any real necessity in the Church, but by particular interests. In every way they appear purely as reactions.
- So the organisers did not have any expectation of response as there was nothing that required a response.
- Where have they (and by implication that includes me) been these last few years? Slogging away in the ordinary, grassroots Church. It is very easy to be snide and dismissive from the secure fastness of a 1962 worshipping community. The reality in the parishes and elsewhere is of a Church that has lost touch with its liturgical roots, and mostly does not know it.
Dr Shaw dismisses the whole enterprise of the reform of the reform, and clearly looks forward to its demise. No doubt this is in part due to his exclusive advocacy of the pre-conciliar forms of worship; the reform of the reform distracts from his endgame.
But what is his endgame? The full restoration of pre-conciliar worship, no matter what the Council said? The thing is, there is much to be said for that goal. It is the liturgy that, with only minor variations, nourished the Church in holiness and steadfastness for nearly all of its existence thus far. It was the liturgy that so often drew into the Church those outside it or estranged from it. And for one I very much regret that it was denied me as a boy. In fact the latest round of official obfuscation has convinced me to learn the old Mass, at least to be ready for that day when I am banished to some little chapel to worship with only the angels for a congregation.
Yet, if the full restoration of pre-conciliar worship is the goal, how to achieve it? By fiat, an imposition on the Church as violent as that in 1969 which made mandatory a Mass that few if any laity were really prepared for? Notwithstanding other factors, people voted with their feet, and it was not in favour of the reform: most fled to the traditional movement or left off going to Mass altogether.
As I and others have been at pains to make clear, liturgical reform and restoration requires a new catechesis. A people formed in the expectation that Mass is a family meal, a celebration of community, and that holy communion, if it is really the Body and Blood of Christ (and not just symbolically so), can be received by anyone who wants to participate actively, will not take to the imposition of the 1962 Missal, which will be to them a totally alien creature.
So one reason for advocating the reform of the reform, at least for some of us, is that we see it as a necessary part of the new liturgical and sacramental catechesis. Once people can be led to discover afresh the sacrificial nature of the Mass, the symbolism of the celebrant’s orientation at the altar as one with them, the true nature of active participation even in the new Mass, they will come to see how more faithfully and fruitfully these principles are met in the traditional liturgy. At the risk of reaching for a guitar and crooning St Louis Jesuits’ ditties, it has to be said that this is a journey for the Church today, a journey not least of discovery and nothing will substitute for that.
So it is very easy for those who have no pastoral responsibility before the Lord to advocate the extreme solution of the instant reimposition of the old liturgy. The risk of this, however, is a shattering of the Church even beyond that it has already suffered, and the vast majority of the faithful, unprepared for such a sudden change, leaving the liturgical practice of the faith, or even all practice of it, as a result. Unless, of course, that is precisely what is desired: a faithful remnant from which root and new plant can grow.
But what of those pruned away? Where are they to go? Who will give an account for them on the Last Day? Whether the reform of the reform is conceived of as seeking to return to what the Council actually asked for, or as a route by which to rediscover the pre-conciliar liturgy, it is for pastors pretty much a necessity in one form or another. That is “the real world – that annoying thing which gets in the way of so many fine theories. In this real world, which I at least am condemned to inhabit, this plan is not working.” Dr Shaw seems to mistake his traditional community for the real world of the universal Church
Lastly I do think Dr Shaw is quite mistaken in one thing especially:
…the Traditional Mass is not today seen as a poisonous, problematic thing at an official level in the Church. Although a much more radical departure from the reformed Mass than R[eform]o[f]t[he]R[eform] ideas, it is treated much more leniently.
It is more likely that for many bishops making such provision is a way of silencing the vocal body of traditionalists while looking magnanimous in the process. Many progressives, and so many bishops too I suspect, see the traditionalist movement as very much on the fringe of the life go the Church, no matter how they cater for it, and I suspect that they think it will remain relatively small and indeed die out in time, and so cease to be a problem. Is this leniency or pragmatism? Is this acceptance or merely tolerance?
Ultimately, when it comes to ends and goals, Dr Shaw and RofRers such as myself have much common ground, indeed it would mostly be common ground. This is one reason, and reason enough, for those who share goals and aims to stick together rather than white-ant our best endeavours and treat us like idiots or knaves. Perhaps more than one of us is thinking, Et tu, Brute? Life goes on, of course, and no doubt none of us will lose sleep or emotional health over something so unnecessary.
So this is not to start an online debate with Dr Shaw (and I suspect that a debate with me would be infra dig to him), but rather to highlight the way in which his article will have been received by so many with whom he shares ideals. Maybe the reform of the reform is nothing better than making the best of a bad lot, but it is still better than washing our hands of the majority of the faithful and retreating into a liturgical Mayfair, a luxury which priests and pastors cannot have.
So, if Dr Shaw is right and “it is not such a bad thing, all things considered, that the cause of the Reform of the Reform has been set back by twenty years”, then good luck to him! Most of us reformers-of-the-reform will just have to muddle on as best we can wherever we find ourselves, and trust God to make fruitful whose work He will.
PS For an fascinating insight into the motives of those who advocated Mass facing the people in the decades before the Council, do read this short and illuminating article by the Cistercian, Dom Edmund Waldstein.
And at CC Watershed you will find a page of really useful links on the matters discussed above.